05 May 2006

London Redux

The weather finally got it together to produce a perfect almost-summer day in both New York and London, and I spent most of it suspended in mid-air somewhere between the two cities. But the sun was still shining (for me, anyway, if not for Tony Blair) when I landed at Heathrow at 6:30 Friday morning, where I and the human contents of 17 other jumbo jets (we're all doing our bit for global warming, but let me tell you, I still needed a jacket tonight) then got to spend two hours in the customs queue waiting for three harried agents to ask each and every one of us how long we were staying and what the purpose of our visit/stay was. Having been through this business upward of 50 or 100 times in recent years, it occurs to me that you can make up practically any story you want, so long as it's plausible and/or (preferably) interesting.

I also learned that if you're trying to do something marginally dodgy (like the time in 1992 when I was wheeling in a hand truck of several hundred Green Day records for the band's tour for which I rightfully should have paid double their list price in import duties), what seems to work best is if you inundate them with far more information than necessary (again going for the plausible and/or interesting factor). I think I was just getting started on the biographical data for all three members of Green Day (and possibly the original drummer too) when a weary customs official said, "Never mind," and waved me through, completely duty-free. Who knows, perhaps it was Green Day's ability to sell their merchandise at Stateside prices that first helped set them apart from the pack in the UK, and for that we can thank HM Revenue and Customs and my big mouth.

They were still counting the votes from Thursday's local elections when I landed, but the extent of Labour's dismal showing had already been widely reported, and by the time I got home (the two-hour customs queue followed by a slo-mo ride on a packed Piccadilly Line train that crawled along at half speed because the first warm (a blazing 24C/77F) day of the year had made the Tube tracks "unsafe." This happens like clockwork (one of the few things about the Tube that can be said to have anything in common with clockwork) every time we have a "heat wave" (i.e., above room temperature), but if you're wondering either a) why someone hasn't yet put two and two together and figured out that it gets warm (at least once or twice, anyway) every summer and that perhaps maybe something should be done to the tracks to prepare them for this eventuality; or b) how a nation incapable of running a Toonerville Trolley across its capital under any but the most temperate of conditions managed to march conquering armies across tropical colonies around the world, don't bother. That was then, this is now. From an imperial arrogance that took for granted that all the world could benefit from a bit of British paternalism and know-how to a genial, self-deprecating cluelessness in little more than a century. One might suggest that America has embarked on a similar downward trajectory except that it's hard to picture America ever being genial or self-deprecating about its brand of cluelessness.

Anyway, Tony Blair has responded to his election debacle, not to mention his Home Secretary's having been found to know next to nothing about either the convicted prisoners or illegal immigrants he's supposed to be in charge of and chubby John Prescott's penchant for touching up the help in rather crude and vulgar ways, by firing half his Cabinet. The only trouble is that he's already had to replace most of the original first-stringers due to previous scandals, and now that he's having to sack the second-stringers he replaced them with, he's stuck with promoting some of the rankest incompetents and nonentities to the highest posts in the land. For instance, the new Home Secretary, John Reid, has previously distinguished himself for little more than trying to scupper the (tobaco) smoking ban on grounds that it was oppressive to the working classes and for the cannabis that was recently found at his home. Apart from Gordon Brown, whose hopes of ever making it to Number 10 look to be steadily receding, and Jack Straw, and of course the egregious but hilarious Prescott, who I assume has some incriminating photos of Tony Blair - how else to explain his tenacious hold on office? - almost no one remains from the New Labour superstars of 1997.

The Conservatives got the most votes, followed by the Liberal Democrats, with Labour bringing up the rear, unless you count the British National Party, which is gaining in political power and respectability almost as fast as Labour is losing it. There hasn't even been as much hand-wringing as might have been expected over the far-right party's winning at least 13 local government seats, its best showing ever. Look for one or more of the major parties to suddenly "discover" that crime and immigration are major issues with the great unwashed and to attempt to adjust their policies accordingly without, of course, changing anything much at all.

Still, life goes on in the big city. A second consecutive semi-warm day saw half-dressed Brits congregating and passing out on the pavements outside pubs and beer gardens all across town, and there's a heady feeling that we'd better make the most of this taste of summer, since most of us know from bitter experience that two beautiful weeks in May are sometimes all we get before a deep dark depression moves in off the Irish Sea (they're moody, those Celts) and ushers in three months of rain. As for me, my time here is limited: a deal has been done, and the Larry Livermore road show relocates to New York City (well, Brooklyn, but that's close enough) on or around the first of June. I expect to be back in London - at least temporarily - this autumn, but one never knows, does one?

1 comment:

Wesley said...

Not to worry, it rained all afternoon today.

Damn that siren song of New York City. Sounds like we'll need to round up the full West Country Walkers crew for a send-off.