“Once I used to know and love you, but lately we have drifted, as old friends sometimes do. You were there for my student years; there, too, for the first ten years of my working life. You were there when I fell out and into love; there when I met my wife; there, by a whisker, when our first boy arrived late on a hot night in Lewisham.
I may have been born in Bristol and raised south of Manchester, but you owned me. But not anymore; after 27 years in York, my affection for you has dimmed. Partly this is because you’ve changed, or maybe we just drifted, as that can happen too.
You thought you had everything sewn up years ago, all the way back in seventeen-something-or-other when you had Samuel Johnson say those words in your defence, immortal words more or less: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…” The concluding part of that quotation is not always mentioned, but here it is: “for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Now there is in London little that ordinary people can afford. Soon you will have to be a millionaire to buy a two-bedroom hovel in your less fashionable outer reaches. Or even maybe just to rent one.
Don’t get me wrong, London. For a day or a weekend, my fast fidelity to the north might be temporarily forgotten in the busy rush of your charms. But you have grown greedy over the years – greedier even than in my day, and that’s saying something.
For months now, I have been reading about this garden bridge of yours. This folly says it all really. Dreamed up by Joanna Lumley, apparently, this Garden Bridge was due to have been built by the “philanthropy of private enterprise” as the always readable Ian Jack put it in his column in The Guardian on Saturday. When the cost rose from £115 million to £175 million, the bankers’ pockets turned out not to be so deep. So your mayor on Earth, Boris Johnson, stumped up £30 million of public money from Transport for London, while George Osborne – you know, Mr Austerity himself – said he’d match that with £30 million from the back of the Treasury sofa.
So once more you are snaffling up funds denied to those who live elsewhere – especially in the north.
In his column, Ian Jack wonders how you can have £60 million of public money for such an absurd project, while in Lancashire five museums will close at the end of next month, as the county council has been forced to cut its museums budget from £1.3million to less than £100,000.
Is your river-spanning vanity project really worth five museums in the north? And that’s only to mention Lancashire. Not far away in Liverpool, the city has, according to its mayor, Joe Anderson, lost 58 per cent of its annual budget since 2011.
The thing is, London, you may be an old friend but this has to be said: you just have too much of everything nowadays. And the last thing we need to spend public money on is a plant-populated bridge across a river spanned many times already.
Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, believes plans for your new bridge should be suspended and scrutinised before more public money is spent. And she is right about that.
You see, London, apart from anything else, that bridge will suck up £60 million in public money, while remaining essentially a semi-private corporate space. The writer Will Self joined a mass protest the other day against the way public areas in London are falling into corporate hands, with open spaces in the City being governed by the rules of the corporations that own them.
And you know, London, Self is right about this. Okay he may too often pick a long word when a shorter one would have done the job, but his thoughts on the privatising of your open spaces are worth listening to.
Personally, London – my old mucker – I don’t think you should get a penny of public money towards your ridiculous Garden Bridge until all the threatened museums, all the closed-down libraries and all the struggling theatres in the north and other ‘distant’ environs have had their fair share.
Sorry for it all to end this way, London. I have fond memories, but really nowadays you are just taking the mick.”
No longer yours, Julian.