Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood and stablisheth a city by iniquity.
Unaccustomed to his birthplace after years of absence, a recent visit left him questioning its very foundations.
From fashionable young Fulham to Sloane Square, from Hyde Park Corner through Kensington and back home along the river from Hammersmith, he quietly stole along on a push scooter. His vehicle of choice in this bustling, bursting, heaving metropolis.
Was he ever really a part of this great city. Did he ever belong there amongst its gilded rogues, living in the high palaces of gods, a mere stone’s throw from the unwashed, little different except for their luck. More ambition perhaps. A lack of the drive or reckless energy of the hardened street fighter may be all that separates he of the glittering tower from the downtrodden of the bleak government housing estate. Or worse; the man on the street, soused in the oblivion of alcohol or some other narcotic of choice.
A shabby old man in hiking trousers and an old pair of black trainers can glide quite unobserved along even these most glamourous parts of the city. Largely unnoticed, like an urban fox or a tramp sleeping it off under the arches.
Until his way is barred along the Embankment. On a pavement outside one of those tall, wide, grand mansions of brick built in older days, for hard men of a different age.
The way was blocked by two swarthy men in dark black sunglasses and the swaggering walk of men not unaccustomed to violence. They wore black, tight, shiny suits and their muscles bulged through the expensive cloth. Shiny black winkle pickers on their feet, they emerged suddenly and silently as two huge gates drifted quietly apart and a large, black, pearlescent limousine emerged from the luxury within and shot out into the traffic, across the pavement. Blacked out windows hid the occupant as well perhaps as bullet proof glass, run flat tires and armed protection inside this chariot of dark apocalypse.
The surly hit men melted back into their masters domain and the great doors slid back to exclude the common man from this hallowed ground. Once again free to tread his way along the public footpath, with a gentle push, the old man passed by, thankful perhaps that he had not come to any harm greater than humiliation and a vague sense of unease.
Who was he then, this Titan in his cloud of blackness? A magnate of some great enterprise, so much was clear. Minister of some government perhaps, living to peddle influence and distribute fat contracts. Drugs – who knows, perhaps this was some London bolt hole kept by the head of a ruthless cartel in some far flung continent. Here perhaps to spend some of his gains, to play in the casinos, to feel the warmth of a call girl.
And so feels central London, and so perhaps it always has. Huge wealth and barbed wire to keep out the people, barbarians if you will who might seek revolution or justice. Street upon street of magnificence all with tales to tell. Some wealth perhaps honestly gained, albeit jealousy guarded across generations. Dukes and Earls with hundreds of acres, worth billions, housing the iniquitous and somehow managing to escape the ravages of inheritance taxes.
And so to the more rural glories of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, grand still, but less obviously populated by gangsters and other super rich. Until that is, the grand palace of Kensington comes into view, behind which stand more stately mansions along the enormous avenue of Kensington Palace Gardens. Shared admittedly, this road, by foreboding and dread embassies.
London was always thus of course. As a younger man, perhaps you do not notice its character. Perhaps you aim to join the elite yourself and hire your own armed guards, bury yourself in your own fortress in this capital of gold.
Perhaps you dreamt of selling enough Eurobonds to build your own Bonfire of the Vanities. Perhaps in those early days you were not driven by a keen observation of the absurd. Then perhaps, you may have thought nothing of currying favor with an Eastern despot. Of helping to bank his money, or rather that of his subjects, underneath the streets of Zurich.
But the old man on his scooter laughs; sits on a pavement with a cold drink and an ice cream, somewhere west of Kensington in a less salubrious area called Olympia. Drapes his feet over the curb and watches the world go by.
And that is what he tends to do these days. Watch the world go by. Taking nothing too seriously, least of all himself.