Many people come to London in order to distract themselves from the emotional void and pain they feel inside of themselves. London is the right place to come to be distracted, it is full of people who want to meet others who want to be distracted, and full of distractions. It is one great big twenty-four hour distraction, a one million course meal in a restaurant with a menu of delights, and so the natural destination who need distracting. People come to London as spectators, to watch other people, to see things, to experience, taste and touch, to admire, they may even become part of the show. Londoners then create a fiction, a sense that things and experiences are better than people. Within London, the strange notion of foody has been developed, which seems to refer to someone who likes food, implying, strangely, that liking food is a minority interest or to a minority of people, who for whatever reason, seem to be of the opinion that they care more and appreciate more certain tastes and types of food, which elevates them, status wise, above the seething masses, who just eat what they are given, what is cheap or without thinking. They think that they are special because they see more deeply into food, they have somehow found the elixir in food, smug, self-righteous, hatred of people. Perhaps the love of food is an implicit message that they hate people. That food is more important than people, and there people are shit. They talk about shows they have been to, things they have eaten, bike rides they went on but not how they felt about the people they did these things with, or how the people who they did things with felt about them.
London is full of transient passions which are sufficiently transfixing, for the neglected and abused to suppress feelings of emptiness, rejection and hopelessness. It anaesthetizes, stimulates the conscious, its noise drowning out the screams of the subconscious. It is a place where people can forget about emotions, and memories, and the trials and tribulations of relationships. The distractions help people who arrive in London avoid feelings of distress and depression. It is a place where people can be with each other without being with each other. People seek sanctuary through the anonymity offered by London, from the dastardly behaviour of of other humans. This makes it a real help, a great place to come to turn off one’s feelings. One can loose oneself in London, it is said, loose oneself in London. It is full of people with trauma, who arrive in the Big Smoke, hoping the fumes will put them to sleep.
In London people can devote themselves to arts, cultures, landscape, architecture, money, careers, concepts, hedonism, food, sex, yoga, aesthetics, fashion – they engage all their physical senses, to avoid engaging matters of the heart. You can fuck to your hearts content in London, without engaging your heart. London is like a fuck, it is like casual sex.
Londoners let themselves get distracted by a whole range of things. They are distracted by things made by people. They are distracted by clothes. They are distracted by buildings. They are distracted by sounds. They are distracted by food. They are distracted by art. They are distratected by money. They are distracted by sex. They are distracted by worlds that might but don’t exist. The South London Warlords get lost in a world of wargames fantasy including Cloudships of Mars, Lower Level Hell and Star Wars Death Trench Attack, every Monday evening at St. Barnabas Parish Hall in Gilkes Place, Dulwich Village, London between 7:30pm and 11:00pm. Some compete against one another to visit all the stations on the London Underground as quickly as possible. Some decide to embark on monumental exercises in collecting and cataloguing, the immensity of London providing them with material, sufficient to require every last drop of energy to comprehend, energy which can be diverted away from the pain of one’s life. One new arrival became ‘depressed quite quickly’ on arriving in London and subsequently took it upon himself to visit 100 independent coffee shops, which he blogged about. Yours truly, with all his writings and ramblings on this big city, is another such example. One woman went on a new date each week for a whole year, and blogged her experience on a website called 52 First Dates. They are distacted by worlds that used to exist. People love getting lost in historic London, taking themselves back to a time, where everything can be controlled, where one can be, thanks to retrospect, be certain of everything, getting lost in the history of London, to avoid the uncertainties and anxieties of today, focusing on people who are dead than getting involved in relationships with people who are alive today. They go walking through tunnels underneath the city.
It is full of people who want to discover London’s hidden secrets, Hidden London, Underground London, the London that tourists do not get to see, the genuine London, the real London, as if there is some untouched part of London, where authentic Londoners live oblivious to the hullabaloo of the city and the marketing agencies, immune to the shifts and changes in energy that defy human comprehension. Blogging is of course the currency of London’s great distracted, and many blogs are obsessed with being able to provide other people with insights into hidden worlds. Little London Observationist aims to “uncover the side of London that many visitors and city-dwellers don’t get to see.”
Sometimes feelings of distress are projected on to those very objects, that one uses to avoid matters of the heart. One expresses feeling through arguing about the qualities of a film or a piece of art. A woman incessantly blogged about her feelings and life following the shock of being in one of the trains that had been bombed during the co-ordinated bombings of London’s Underground and Buses during the 7th July 2005. Rachel North noted, “The raw shock, anger, puzzlement, the furious drive to understand, amend, rebuild, which had so animated me, forced those hundreds of thousands of words tumbling out of me, left me too wired to sleep, shaking with tiredness as well as passionate urgency”. She spent all her time sitting at a computer, writing, or looking through documents, or going out and talking to people about terror, horror, justice, freedom, fear. The artefact becomes a way of mediating human relationships, of communicating with a protected veneer. This is not to deny that it can’t result in meaningful interaction and emotional engagement. Rachel North commented on, “the kindness, the comradeship, the advice, the support, the inspiration, and everything else… so generously shared” and said to her readers, “There were times when you kept me from going under. The hope you gave me was the antidote to the despair. I was grateful, I always will be grateful.”
The distractions of London, the predisposition to displace emotion with aesthethics and cerebrality, is glorified in the notion of fun. People who come to London because don’t want anything serious, they just want a bit of fun. It is a place for thrill seekers. Coming to London is like being dumped by your one true love and meeting a guy who just wants to have fun. London is like being on the rebound, disowning one’s home, one’s partner and falling half-heartedly into the arms of a faux super hero, into the arms of this big city.
It is a city which celebrates trends and fashions, it is fixated by the next big thing, whether it is music, street art or restaurants.
Exhausted by the distractions of London, Londoners can rationalize that there is simply no time and possibility of engaging in a committed relationship with someon. Carine Bee recounted to Christopher Long, “You’re so tired at the end of a day that it seems impossible that you could cope with a job, children and domestic chores. It’s a vicious circle. The less dependent you become on relationships to keep you occupied the more you find alternative ways of enjoying yourself. The fewer relationships you have the fewer you want”. In London, the culture of casual sex, and the large population of men and women who are happy to engage in sex as a leisure pursuit means that the need for a committed partner as a means to sex, no longer exists. Imi Bickford-Smith, a
model, TV actress and wildlife film-maker, explained to Christopher Long, “We [women] can almost always ring up and ‘get it’ if we want to… Instead of hot frustrated nights alone, a woman can order up alover and it takes the pressure off having to find a committed relationship.”