Friday, July 25, 2008

Isn't She Lovely

I had to go into Central London today. It was the hottest day of the year so far, but the temperature barely crawled up to 26 degrees, and I never once broke into sweat. This eventual arrival of summer was obvious from the number of tattoos visible on rough labourers who, surprisingly, still have jobs in this lame recession.

Enfeebled on the way home by the Lurgy I suffered mid-week, brought on by the trauma of losing my bike last week, I walked with heavy feet, and looked at the London Wall. The City gardening contractors are still obeying Chelsea Flower Show practices: using rubber rakes, wasting water on the grass in this dry weather, and teasing the flower beds to look as crisp and clean as china flower vases. There is a healthy fig tree, heavy with fruit, and a herb garden in honour of the herbalist John Gerard, in front of the Worshipful Company of Barbers (they were the original surgeons and medicine men, because they had knives). The garden bends into one of the Barbican's modernist rectangular ponds, softened with lovely water lilies to catch the splashing water of its plain fountain. Already I was seeing here people who had the saintly beatification of being "lovely" about their person.

What is "lovely"?

It must have been sometime before the millenium that Britain got fed up with "nice". Then we had nasty. It must have been at some time after the 2004 London terrorist attacks, that "lovely" became de rigueur. Corporations had to demonstrate social responsibility, including caring about humanitarian and green issues, and their human resources assets.

When I arrived in Finsbury Circus, the largest green oasis in the City of London, all my dread was hardened. There they were, all being "lovely", as the lunch hour was beginning on a summer Friday, on the grass, on the benches, in the sunshine. The internal melodies of R.E.M. Shiny Happy People kept their loveliness at bay from the pain I feel so easily when I am unwell. Indeed, to wander through London whenever you are not feeling well is the opposite of all medicine, even the crudely effective sort that John Gerard practised 450 years ago.

All of these Lovely People in Finsbury Circus were young, fit, healthy and good-looking. If they had not been born onto the Conveyor Belt of Success, then their youth and looks meant that they were quickly put onto it. Here we are, in a darkening recession, where even the people of Glasgow East, despite being the most sheepish form of Labour supporter, have finally thrown eggs into the unlovely face of Gordon Brown, our Scottish prime minister. Here we are, in another global food crisis, where over a million people in Ethiopia are waiting for a grain shipment from South Africa, or they will starve in the next month. Here we are, in London, where there are plenty of people whose pain needs to be shared.

And there I was, seeing the lunchtime workers in Finsbury Circus, being "lovely". Before Lovely, people in the City had to be thrusting and sexy, so this is a new social phenomenon.

When I saw the shop, The White Stuff, advertising "Lovely Clothes for Lovely People", I knew it was time to blog about "lovely". Attack!

"Lovely" has nothing to do with Love. In the English language, there is only one word for Love, which is a stunning reflection of the naive level of understanding of love in English culture and history. Sorry, I have to tell it like it is. As I have said before, in English, Love is just another four-letter word.

So what is "lovely"? To be Lovely is:

1. to appear absolutely harmless and non-threatening, and
2. to portray an aura of compassionate intelligence,
3. to appear to be able to extend kindness to anyone in the vicinity who should need it.
4. to appear to have an easy laughing heart
5. to know you must hide all your pain underneath lest it might violate the fragile fantasy of happiness of those around you.

Yes, "lovely", is superficial as it gets, even if it is the nicest form of superficial you can get. This is because Lovely is the old Nice.

The most "Lovely" people seem to live in North London, for miles around Crouch End, but they are not alone. They are just green enough so that they feel worthy. They are just humanist enough that nobody can say they don't care. They are all so terribly lovely, and live in such gilded lovely worlds.

"Lovely" is also endemic in the workplace. To see it in the City is a recent social phenomenon, but it has been brewing in the public sector for years. Particularly in the NHS, it has been adopted as the perfect camouflage by those staff who know that they are overpaid in relation to what they produce.

At least Lovely People are not bicycle thieves, knive stabbing murderers, or coke-snorting greedy City Traders, but their problem is this:

Lovely people are not part of the solution, so they are nonetheless part of the problem. "Lovely" does not solve any problems, let alone pressing ones. "Lovely" is a form of mutual social masturbation, akin to sitting around making cups of tea while bombs are falling on your neighbours.


Onward to Spitalfields market, where Loveliness acquires Grittiness, and what do I have to report, except that the devastation of Spitalfields Market is finally completed, since I first blogged about it 4 years ago. Indeed, even the Health Food Shop near where the Spitz used to be, was finally moved out two months ago, and is now across the road while this last bit of the market is given the same tacky makeover worthy of a BBC Television programme. Yes, London is now for sale to those who couldn't give a damn about authentic historical places: so long as it has been modernized with the bling of Millenium Oil-Powered Industrialization, someone will pay more for it. Russians and Kazakhstanis, I suppose? Or Malaysians and Middle-Easterners, maybe? Who knows. It is all Global Capital, and the Lovely People of London who gather in Finsbury Circus, are quite happy to take home their wages while fostering this globalization.

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