London has fallen.
It hasn’t quite collapsed. Yet. But it is not the place it was as recently as four years ago.
The iconic buildings are intact. London Tower Bridge still majestically spans the Thames River, and modern millennial class tour boats still load and unload passengers for a scenic trip down the river toward Greenwich with great precision. You can still see the reconstructed Globe Theater clinging to the bank and the wharf where the Mayflower set sail to America in 1620 and the ancient warehouses that have been converted to condominiums for the ultra-wealthy.
Big Ben no longer chimes the hour. He is covered with scaffolding from top to bottom, undergoing a major refurbishment, which may or may not be completed within the next five years.
Westminster Abby and St. Paul’s Cathedral are still gloriously prominent amidst cranes and dust and dirt of construction that is billed as progress, and the Horse Guards and the Beefeaters still stand ceremonial guard over their respective posts — some days.
Iconic red telephone booths still dot the cityscape, but precious few, if any, have actual phones inside. They are just for show now, like a lot of London is just for show. The double-decker buses that you could once hop on and off so easily to take in the sights around the city have been replaced by streamlined and fuel-efficient electric buses that lack the character of their predecessors — and travel the streets half empty half the time.
Fear not. You can still buy giant postcards in any cheap souvenir shop depicting the aforementioned phone booths, the Underground symbol and all the members of the Royal family. Queen Elizabeth is by far the most popular. She’s a tough old broad and worthy of the attention she receives. Surprisingly, Prince Harry has fallen from favor, a bit, after his recent nuptials, despite the birth of his son, Archie — of whom there is not nearly as much chatter as I would have supposed.
No, on the surface, London is still a passable charade of its former self and millions of people — Londoners and tourists alike — go about the daily business of being a part of one the largest and most noted cities in the world.
But the problems are obvious, and if you take time to listen to longtime residents of the city, as I have tried to do all week, they are not shy about pointing out the problems, and what they believe to be the reasons behind them.
First of all, the city is filthy. I don’t know exactly when the people who frequent the city decided that the streets of London were their own private trash receptacles, but they have. The statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus was surrounded by discarded garbage of all descriptions when we were there, and the crowds that once represented a wide cross-section of people from all cultures and all walks of life and all stations, had dwindled and seemed to represent only street ruffians and tourists like us seeking a nostalgic look at the past. The excitement and energy of Piccadilly used to be compared to that of Times Square in New York. Now there is no basis for that comparison whatsoever. Even the brightness of the ever-changing Coca Cola sign seems dimmer than on my last visit four years ago.
Traffic is at a constant standstill. As one disgruntled taxi driver told me, “London used to move. Now the blooming Labor Party mayor and council have put in so many regulations that you cannot get anywhere in the city.” I can’t swear to the reason, but I certainly attest to the accuracy of the cabby’s remarks.
The city is far too overcrowded. The stiff-upper-lip spirit that was once so evident is missing from the attitude of the general citizenry. An alarming percentage of the people who now work in the shops and restaurants seem to have an alarming degree of apathy toward their jobs and the people they are serving.
The newspapers are full of articles bashing the chief resident of 10 Downing St. for failing to act on the Brexit mandate that the British people voted on two years ago. Immigration is being blamed for a plethora of the city’s and country’s woes. The socialized medicine system is going bankrupt. People are having to wait months or even years to receive rationed treatment for serious illnesses — and months and years will be too late.
Great Britain was put into a position of having to become a haven for people who were not Brits and had no concern for maintaining the culture that made the country unique, and now London has lost her identity and is on the verge of losing much more.
London has, indeed, fallen.
Let him who has ears hear.