Friday, May 19, 2006

Liverpool Street Station

Interesting article recently in the Sunday Times from Andrew Sullivan, one of their regular columnists. His thesis: Britain and America have a lot more in common than we like to think about, particularly since old Dubbya is so unpopular this side of the Atlantic. Actually, he's getting that way over there as well.

A recent visit by friends from Independence brought this to my attention in a big way. Having travelled around Scotland and done the tourist trail in London, one lady friend expressed her positive amazement at the pristine condition of the public conveniences here in the U.K.

Got me thinking and agreeing with Andrew Sullivan. He contends that despite the antipathy of Britons to the present American administration the two countries are closer than they have ever been. Andrew feels that Britain is far more like America now than it was two decades ago. I agree.

Strolling through the capital with American friends I was struck by how like an American city it really is now-a-days. Starbucks are everywhere, followed closely by the ubiquitous McDonalds and Burger King. Tourists are catered for extensively - with special signs pointing to historical places you used to have to find for yourself. Bar staff are mostly immigrants. Low paid jobs are becoming the province of the black, the brown and the yellow. This is pretty much the America of the 1970's.

And, the toilets are clean.

Liverpool Street Station is a shadow of its former grimy self. Swank shops and arcades cater for the weary traveller. What ever happened to the proverbial greasy spoon? Where are the soot-encrusted bricks, bygones from an age of steam, that used to positively ooze Old World charm? Instead, armed police wander about rousting homeless drunks and their dogs from the dry and insisting they are causing a nuisance by just sitting in the station. Can't get more American than that.

Now, I know this is what passes for progress in Blair's conservative brand of socialism, but, really, shouldn't Britain retain some of the "old world" charm before the tourists dry up and say to each other, "Gosh Mabel, this looks just like Des Moines." When this country was dirty, cheap and somewhat backwards you at least had the feeling that you were in a foreign country. I know the language gives it away - but at least if you imagined that the people weren't speaking English you could transport yourself to a world of Andy Capps, King Arthurs, Shakespeares and Robin Hoods.

Actually, in those days many people did not speak English as they do now. Regional accents abounded. Now they seem all to have been swallowed into Estuary English and imitators of American pop culture and language. There used to be a real feeling that England was a foreign place to American tourists. I'm not sure that applies now, and I regret it.

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