City of Iniquity

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.

Image: Pixabay

13 Comments

  1. Wow Anthony, you’ve developed the skills to work one of those things! I’ve never been on one myself, except I guess one of the older non-electric versions that we bought for our son a decade ago. Out here in suburbia we don’t see them too much. Still my younger brother did outfit his family with them in an equally suburban setting for neighborhood excursion. To me it’s wonderful that injury lawsuits haven’t killed their hire in metro areas, both here and over there… yet, I suppose. But then I guess there’s little risk that they’ll kill all sorts of bystanders. Not so for assault weapons. You’ve got us on that one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is very therapeutic, gliding along the streets of London. As an observer of the absurd, I have found no better way to view my fellow man going about his daily life in our capital. There is also a bizarre joy in the humble nature of the machine – it is certainly better suited to me that the heavily guarded and blacked out limmo!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine if they noticed me at all, those gods would have looked down their noses at the odd old tramp rolling along the streets. I have become a sort of inverted snob, particularly where wealth is concerned. I would not say that I am disgusted by life – but I would say that our society does not impress me. Such extremes of rich and poor.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, Anthony! Not over your scooter abilities, but your ability to pull us into the streets of London’s districts with nothing more than words. Who could read this and not “SEE” that limo pull out of the gate with the armed guards standing by or the old man sitting on the curb!?
    Wondering who else recognized your Habakkuk reference? A profound prophet that begins his conclusion with “O LORD, … In wrath, remember mercy.”
    Even so, come Lord Jesus.
    your Kentucky connection, c.a.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most kind. The experience was a genuine one – I returned home well exercised but puzzled by the world and London in particular. No doubt I would have had a very similar experience in Beirut, Tel Aviv or New York. The quote from Habakkuk is so apt. Pointless to complain but were I a believer my faith in the existence of original sin would have been amply supported. What a strange species we are……

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My wife found her belief in “original sin” confirmed when we helped babysit for a group of 12 two- four year olds for some missionaries so the adults could have some “rest time” meeting together. 😄. She saw these kids were pure evil unless Jesus saved them! 😱

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with capost2k on the uncanny effect your detailed descriptions have on our ability to visualize your experience, and I have to admit that as I read, I imagined the scene being narrated by Orson Wells in a film noir production of Anthony Garner’s “London Sojourn.” Your potent use of language and your keen observational skill really came through in this posting.

    Still, I found myself wondering about your willingness to acknowledge how you might not have noticed the true conditions and circumstances of London as a younger person, and to suppose that what you recently observed was likely to have been the same even then. Your observations may well be accurate on this trip, but since they are at least somewhat speculative in nature, it struck me that your estimation of at least some of the gains might have been acquired honestly shows the possibility that it might not be as dark as it seems even now.

    Marvelous prose in this one…John H.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words John, as ever. We recently had my favourite vicar staying with us and of course as vicars will, he talked of the doctrine of original sin. Now I do not happen to believe in the Christian dogma and yet it does occur to me forcibly these days that we are indeed mere animals and as such our behaviour is little different to the fox, the dog or indeed the lion. We urinate on trees to mark our territory, we kill and main and swindle to protect our own and to obtain more material goods.

      You are right of course that I use dramatic effect and poetic licence. That I let my mind wander as it will. And yet I’m perhaps not so far from the truth in my speculations.

      Perhaps the doctrine of original sin has a basis in the reality of evolution and that when push comes to shove, given the right circumstances, we are all prone to behave in a less than ideal fashion. I know that my own behaviour is certainly prone to lapses!

      But perhaps my punchline was what I was trying to get across – that the old man looks and listens and then sits back and laughs at the absurdity of human life. The Sisyphus like endeavours we all endure.

      And in laughter and acceptance of what is comes ease and a sense of contentment.

      Perhaps my prose is an attempt to define a “way”. Or even a “way out”!

      Like

      1. Wanted to do a Like but the app. wont let me.

        Loved this soliloquy. Glad your old man got to the stage of realisation where the humour of the enlightened starts, where the new buddha’s joyful laugh emanates?

        Keith.

        Liked by 1 person

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