The Londoner

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner

That I love London so

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner

That I think of her, wherever I go

I get a funny feeling inside of me

Just walking up and down

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner

That love London town.

(Have a banana)

Song: ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’ Written by Hubert Gregg

The Thames stands as more than just a river that runs from the chattering classes of Oxford into the heartbeat of London. It is an identifier, used by everyone to define their tribe.

In the past these identities were reinforced through the waterway activities up and down the Thames; the houseboats and barges transporting food and supplies to the cities, towns and villages along its banks.

Traditionally north London has had a better transport infrastructure than south London, so south has long been considered the poor cousin of the north of the river, and by association, its people. This is illustrated by the evolution of the London underground system, whose tentacles reach deep across north London, whilst the south has to manage with old overground trains and traditional buses.

Tube access to southeast London has only opened up in my lifetime, and even to this day there are parts of southeast London that are only accessible by bus.

The Thames used to be a working river that reflected an industrial London. Although it was unclean, Londoners still used to flock to the riverbank, and use the river as others might use the beaches on the coast.

The Thames also determined the culinary identity of Londoners.

Eastenders like myself would stagger from the pubs, to be warmly met by the cart, and later van, selling cockles and whelks caught fresh that day.

Our lunchtimes would be spent devouring jellied eels or fish pie with chips, all caught from the Thames, its estuary, or the bogs of Hackney Marshes.

This unique aspect of East London lifestyle was made possible by the location of Billingsgate Fish market in the East of London, and the service industries that grew up around a thriving fish market.

Billingsgate fish market was located in the East End and was later relocated to the Docklands, also in the East End, maintaining its traditional and industrial links with the east of London.

The West End of London was where the rich tended to live: Paddington, Maida Vale, Earls Court, before heading into London’s west for Hammersmith, Shepherd’s Bush and Notting Hill.

In contrast to the relatively fresh fish produce of the East End, the west gorged themselves on the meat from the then surrounding farms, and fruit from the fields of Ealing and Acton.

The fresh fish of the East End would become the fried fish of the west, as they traditionally needed to be packed in salt in order to make it across town.

These days the culinary identifiers have broken down, but it is still not unusual to see an old ‘Pie and Mash’ sign, tiled into the brickwork of an artisan bookshop, or notice the black and white tiled floor of what is now a hipster shop selling nothing but breakfast cereal.

 Have you seen the old dear who walks the streets of London

Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags

She’s no time for talking, she just keeps right on walking

Carrying her home in two carrier bags

So how can you tell me you’re lonely

And say for you that the sun don’t shine

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

Song: ‘Streets of London’ Written by Ralph McTell

 

London has the inner city problems of most inner cities.

Rising house prices and unaffordable rents mean that the homeless numbers are high and, due to the overinflated housing market, there is no solution in sight.

But for a commoner, owning your own home is something that appeared, and now disappeared, in my lifetime.

Before the 1950’s the majority of working class Londoners rented accommodation and generally did not aspire to owning one. Londoners were prepared to rent until they died, as all the domestic accommodation was bought by the aristocrats and the wealthy.

England had gained a reputation as a country of shopkeepers, and London was a reflection of this idea. Londoners aspired to rent, then own a shop, and from this place of business would come their accommodation, whether in the barrel cellars, or the storage spaces above the shops.

This working-class attitude of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is common in other cities, but was better expedited by the Thames, which acted to facilitate the meeting of the rich and poor through commerce, transport and opportunity by proximity.

London is not a ‘melting pot’ but a ‘tossed salad’ of cultures and classes that provides opportunities not found anywhere else in the world.

“For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”

Sir Edward Coke in The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628.

Owning a house became a realistic opportunity in the 1970s when prime minister Margaret Thatcher implemented a financial scheme that made every government- and council-owned flat or house available for purchase. This meant that every commoner who traditionally expected to rent for the rest of their life, could now realise the lofty aspirations of owning a home. This homeowner dream was felt nowhere more than in London, which is still awash with old worker tenements and council flats, that have been sold to Londoners, resold to outsiders, and are now expensive holiday listings on AirBnB.

Alright my son, Leave it out

As it ‘appens it’s your shout

Straight up, Pull the other

In a right 2 and 8

What’s the damage Chief?

Who’s your mate?

The geezer with the bunny in the trilby ‘at

Reckons he’s legit but he ain’t all that

Arthur Daley, little dodgy maybe, but underneath,

‘E’s alright.

Song: Arthur Daley (E’s Alright) by The Firm

The Thames defines the way that you will speak and the accent that you will carry with you for the rest of your life, albeit buried beneath hours of expensive elocution lessons, or defiantly sung from the vocal chords of those who proudly recognise their tribe.

“Oi Oi” is the call of a Londoner that is unique to those brought up in the city. Other regions of England have their own versions of the greeting, but it can be used to quickly identify someone how grew up in London.

The cockney accent, in particular ‘rhyming slang’, the language of the East End markets, is all but dead, replaced by a generic ‘Urban’ accent that has permeated the inner cities of Britain, and rounded accents into a modern day homogeneous incoherent eloquence.

However, the working class accent is not the only one affected by the urban drawl. Even the Sloane (posh) accents of Chelsea and Kensington have fallen at the feet of the musical influence exerted by Garage and UK Grime.

Now “Brov” and “Fam” can be heard from the mouths of rich and poor alike.

The London accent, once defined by where you lived, is now defined by what music dominates your social circle.

Walking round walk everywhere

Thru regions park down

Thru Trafalgar square

If you thinking this is my

Home ground yes I’m telling you

I’m London Town

Summer time is in the air

Those pretty girls are everywhere

In the morning under ground

It Takes you everywhere

On London Town

Under ground in London Town

I’m in love with what I see the

Scenes of London always

Anew to me.

See the children playing in the

Park… older couples making it

After dark

This could be your reality

In London Town

You could be what you you to be

Under ground in…

Song: London Town by Light of the World

 

London as a city has long been a backdrop for films and TV shows. The camera lingers on the familiar sights and sound that pulsate a rhythm that becomes a heartbeat, a heartbeat to a city that never sleeps.

The city not only has its own character, it has become a character in everything from cheap BBC Three comedy specials to the classic high production Bond movies.

London is as recognisable as Idris Elba or Chiwetel Ejiofor and as distinctive in her voice as Beverly Knight or Mica Paris.

We recognise the iconic skyscrapers of the City of London, the inner-city council estates, and the landmarks that adorn the Thames as it winds its way through the city as the lifeblood of the town, becoming the backdrop to our lives.

Now the river flows mainly silent, enclosed by tower blocks and spanned by elaborate bridges, hosting an evolved working city, where the air once thick with smog is now heavy with old white male privileged corruption.

However, the Thames is more than just an historic landmark, it is an identity which all Londoners absorb, and a status that all those along its estuary clamber to assume.

It is the unconscious source of your London pride and has often been responsible for violence most bloody and romance so forbidden.

My river is the Thames, which runs through my veins like it runs through my city.

My city.

The city of London.

~ by jeditopcat on 24 May, 2020.

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