The Null Device

Welcome to Britain

Expatriate citizen-of-the-world Momus returns to Britain -- and hates it; on returning, he finds squalor, shabbiness, crass consumerism and an edge of latent aggression.
The marketing is slick and constant, nothing works, and it's twice the price it would be back home. And there's some sort of druggy, boozy menace hanging over the streets at night. Blame the binge drinking sprees! Have a happy smashed British Christmas!
We stop at a filling station on the Shoreditch High Street to buy some food. A homeless man is sitting at the entrance. 'Spare some change, please? Spare some change?' A black man gets out of a BMW and comes over to reform him. 'Look at yourself, mate, you've got to stop using the stuff. Go to a gym, man, do a workout, get out of this state you're in, it's a fucking shame on you, man!' He's a winner, the junkie's a loser. Go to a gym, start a business, buy a BMW, join the winners. It's dog eat dog.
The next morning the taps in the bathroom don't seem to work, and neither does the flush in the toilet. Fuck! At least I'm able to shower. I don't think I could bear to be dirty in London. It already feels like a gigantic toilet. Crossed with an advertising agency. An advertising toilet? Why not? Clever marketing idea! Out on the street, I see a bus with an advert on the side that says 'More Glitz! The Brent Cross Centre, feed your addiction'. Feed your addiction? Fuck, you mean become like that junky we saw last night at the filling station? Have drugs and celebrity become metaphors for everything in Britain? Are they marketing heroin yet? Welcome! Fuck!
The atmosphere didn't feel benign at all, nothing like soft, safe neon nights in Tokyo. `it felt brutal. Minicab sharks, cars pulling up behind pedestrians. You're in there, protected, and I'm out here, not. I'm just going to have to hope you have a good heart. People in hip hop hooded tops looking hard in kebab shops. It all feels like one of those Streets videos where a bunch of tanked-up British guys end up with blood streaming down their faces. 'Mate, mate, I don't want any trouble, mate.'
The kids in the next seat just said 'Bling bling!' The phrase is everywhere in Britain, an R&B-rap-pop fashion as widely adopted as the flash white sportsgear people wear on British streets, minus all the gold, silver and diamonds that stars like J-Lo and Britney accessorize it with. I open the Virgin Trains magazine. (Wow, marketing! Trains never used to have in flight consumer magazines! Then again, they once had basic services like running water and hot food.) There's an article about shopping in Birmingham. It begins 'Diamonds, platinum and all things bling lie ten minutes from the city centre in Birmingham's jewellery quarter...' Later in the journey, bored, I open the new tabloid Times and there it is in the financial section. 'Bling bling: fashion designer John Zhao shows off his crystal encrusted iPod'. Britain speaks fluent bling bling. Britain, from top to bottom, embraces the showy materialism. the 'I won, you lost' mindset of hip hop and R&B videos. Bling bling, I win!

I've noticed some of these things since coming here; the ubiquity of branding, often taking priority over other things (for example, anything to do with live music here has the Carling brand (which is a rather generic lager) slapped on it, and band venues have advertising billboards on the walls), the "ATM attendants" stationed beside every cash machine, trying to guilt the relatively well-off user out of one of their tenners, the chav kids looking hard and dead-eyedly cynical in their hip-hop thugwear (Burberry baseball caps worn under hooded tops, to hide faces from the ubiquitous CCTV cameras, seem to be a big part of youth fashion here), drunk arguments in the streets, with couples screaming "FUCK OFF, YOU FUCKING WANKER!" at each other, the dozens of different posters on every form of public transport, from buses to long-distance trains, warning passengers not to assault staff.

There are 2 comments on "Welcome to Britain":

Posted by: Chy http:// Wed Dec 29 01:23:39 2004

Britain has always been rather like this. I grew up there (Australian born, went to UK as a kid, went to school there, came back to Oz asap). Surly people, aggressive culture, obdurate ugliness & over-use of outdated American trends rendered in Thames-Estuary English, despite a lefty hatred of anything from across the pond. Strange bunch, the Poms. But, even though I agree with this post, London is still one of my favorite places. Strange, eh? You have to live there a while to find the beautiful aspects, I think. There are places of sweet quiet & vibrant sensuality, although admittedly rare. Don't work there, though. Sends you mad.

I think there are too many people in the UK. This is where the surliness & aggression springs from.

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org Wed Dec 29 01:45:55 2004

I've noticed the beauty, yes. Even in inner north London one can find it.

As for not working here, doing so would probably beat wiping out stocks of Australian pesos living here. I'm planning to spend a few years living in London to properly get a feel for one of the world's great cities.

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