Greetings from London town by Ben Laycock
We land in London in the depths of winter, amazed to see throngs of cyclists, covered from head to foot, merrily riding in the rain. It turns out Red Ken Livingston has slapped a 5 pound congestion tax on the CBD, so the only cars you see have chauffeurs.
By this stage of the journey we are absolutely skint of course so we find the cheapest room in all of London, a bargain at $1200 per week, but with four beds it is standing room only. Our chief form of entertainment is riding the buses from one side of that vast city to the other, sitting up top in the front row with a cut lunch, watching the world go by. One particular bus is heading for Crystal Palace, a place I have heard so much about: built at the height of the British conquest of the globe, standing like a gothic cathedral made completely of steel and glass. After hours winding through drab English suburbs we are regurgitated on a windy hill overlooking the satanic mills of industry, but no sign of any beautiful palaces, in fact no sign of beauty at all, so I accost the nearest passer-by and enquired as to the where-abouts of said Palace. After suppressing a chuckle at my antipodean accent and quaint Colonial understanding of the world he stated plainly, “My dear fellow, the Crystal Palace burnt down in 1876 and was never rebuilt.”
We soon found the suburb was inhabited by black people with broad cockney accents, something I found strange until I learned that many of them could trace their English ancestry back to way before Australia was known to exist by anyone except those who existed there.
London is a city of museums; some say it is a museum, a monument to past glories. On every second block we come across some marble edifice stuffed with loot, and The British Museum would have to be the largest cache’ of stolen goods in all the world. Fortunately this makes it really easy to get a thorough grounding in the history of civilization simply by strolling through the place on a Sunday afternoon. Here goes …
The Egyptians, having just emerged from the woods, were still worshiping wild beasts, but they soon adopted the thoroughly modern obsession with immortality. Just down the corridor we find the Greeks, who soon lose their connection to the natural world and become fascinated with their own bodies and what can be done with them – mainly chasing other bodies and raping them or smiting them, sometimes both. Apparently there were also quite a few bohemian types who eschewed such vulgar pursuits and whiled away their time chatting about what we now refer to as Philosophy.
By the time we get to the Romans, all the fun has gone out of raping and pillaging and it becomes a bureaucratic exercise administered with clinical efficiency, until of course the Barbarians rear their ugly heads again and plunge the Christian world back into darkness, leaving the ‘Moslems’ to carry the torch of civilization. Alas they waste far too much effort building beautiful mosques and endlessly copying the Qur’an. It takes Christendom seven hundred long and gruelling years for the merchant class to throw off the yoke of the Church and wrest the torch of civilization from the Moslems and begin that magnificent orgy of creativity we so lovingly call the Renaissance.
But that is another story. www.benlaycock.com.au