One of the defining features of cities is the dense web of connections that characterise them. This week I was sharply reminded of this by the appearance of industrial action at my workplace organised by people I know from elsewhere. I was taken by surprise, but it was exciting to have this part of my life intruding on my normally dull workplace. Since industrial action is likely to be ongoing for some time, I now find two of my worlds caught up with each other. This makes me a little nervous as well as excited.
There is certainly plenty of opportunity to gain new knowledge and skills and build new relationships. But alas we live in a country afflicted by repressive legislation, which means I have felt some uncertainty about the best way to show solidarity. Meetings over the coming days should clarify what is possible and how best to support the actions of my colleagues and comrades. The nature of the repressive legislation is draconian, affecting what I would consider to be my right to associate in ways that make sense to me. I am reminded of former times in this country when many forms of association were banned, and people met in back rooms of pubs or on remote heaths and spoke in whispers and codes. This history of repression and resistance is now largely unknown, and the memory of what type of country we live in has disappeared with it. Repression is the knee-jerk reaction of the majority of our elite, and continues to this day.
No wonder the overlords of Londres are committed to a different model of the city to myself. I find the accidental connections made in a city to be beautiful and hopeful. They fear them and pass laws against them.
In the east of Londres, not far from the Tamesis, is a sweet swimming spot in an old dock, beside some thriving lime trees and a thirty seconds walk to the nearest pub. People have enjoyed swimming here for some years, their enjoyment not at all affected by the signs up around the dock saying ‘No swimming’. It is true that there has been one death there from a man jumping in from the side, but this is widely known, and people still choose to swim there.
Choice in Londres, however, is for shopping. Choosing your own risks is not permitted. The local Mayor has lately taken an interest in the swimming spot, by which I mean he has tried to shut it down. There are now fences around the pontoons where people used to sunbathe. Police have been reported instructing people to leave the water. There are new cameras up. So another common space, free to all, has come under attack.
Today I went to the dock knowing this and wondering if I would be able to swim there. Perhaps it would be surrounded by guards on all sides to prevent people enjoying themselves in an unpaid manner. But what I found instead was more people there than ever. The appearance of the swimming spot in the local news appeared to have alerted more people to its existence. To the usual alternative middle class demographic was added working class teenagers arriving on their bicycles. The effect of the fence around the pontoon has been to scatter the sunbathers around various parts of the dock. Now anywhere with a ladder is considered a suitable spot from which to swim.
It gave me, I have to admit, considerable pleasure to see the quiet authoritarianism that governs much of British life backfire so badly. I’m all for informing people better so that they don’t disturb the bird pontoon in the middle of the dock, but in the city of my dreams, adults will largely be allowed to take their own risks.
The sun is back and so is my sleep, which means a better day with a sense of wellbeing. I have been wandering the streets of a rich part of town enjoying the sun and feeling jealous. Jealousy of the property of others is frowned upon, but mostly by those who own the houses and feel they deserve them, or those with religious morality. It seems to me entirely reasonable to be jealous when I struggle to buy even a basic house to meet my needs.
Yes, I feel jealousy is not so bad as a political principle. It says that those few people have something that we lack, that would improve our lives, and there’s no justice in that distribution. Perhaps we ought to amplify our jealousy, weaponise it in campaigns. We could create jealousy maps across the unequal city, and show the wealthy enclaves under siege in a landscape of jealous renters. Perhaps then those who own too much would feel the need to defend their position. Perhaps then it would become more clear that many of them even made decisions that created this inequality, or at least implicitly supported them.