Days After

As the reality of the UK’s vote to leave the EU sinks in, I’m left comparing my feelings on four very different ‘days after’…

Obama’s first victory in the US Presidentials: I walked a full foot taller. Proud of America. Looking at passers-by: smiling and feeling we all felt a foot taller because America had done this. For all its racism and inequality America had elected the most amazing man – who was also an amazing black man – as its president; and in so doing took the world to a new place. Everything is possible and we all have a say. PROUD


The riots of 2011: blazing buses and rioters at the end of my street; on one hot sticky evening it felt like we were all barrelling out of control. A ‘towering inferno’ that was just one blazing furniture shop, dominated the world news. Hardly Mogadishu, but a day when our society wobbled, people became frightened and frightening and entropy reigned over order. ASHAMED.


London 2012 Paralympics: a month on from the amazing 2012 Olympic opening ceremony our family day at the most amazing venues; beautifully, proudly and brilliantly British in design and execution. Exceeding anything I’d ever hoped or believed my country could do. Smiling volunteers, the kindly helpful lads of the British Army, fast transport, high spirits, even a McDonalds which hit a standard of service friendliness, warmth, welcome, inclusivity and diversity beyond our dreams. And then the ‘Superhumans’… Paralympians: recast as supremely able not disabled, all brought to life by our second great ‘for profit’ public service broadcaster: Channel 4. PROUD


Brexit: what have we done. How do I explain this to my children. How do I explain it to to people overseas I’ve lived among, cared for and kept in touch with; people who were yesterday fellow EU citizens and today feel we have made them foreigners. We used to share ‘Ode to joy’. Now I feel we on this island don’t deserve to feel a part of it. This ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is a small minded place; divided among ourselves and no more a part of a great unifying European enlightenment ideal. I believed in the EU’s motto that we could be ‘united in diversity’; and we all should be. We are now where we were in the 1700s: a backward, self-absorbed and ruddy faced caricature of ourselves. ASHAMED.

I am a Londoner

  

I’m not from London, so I’ve never felt a real Londoner. Still, I’ve lived here on and off nearly half my life; my family is here, my life is here, both my kids were born here.

On Friday, I found myself walking across one of London’s bridges by night and took a photo (above). The people I walked past were from many different places, indeed many different countries; all enjoying a beautiful London evening.

Of course it’s not all fantastic. Too busy, too expensive, often choked with people and traffic. And you see people struggling: sleeping rough, struggling with booze, drugs, crime and poverty; people who are really up against it. 

But London is a great city. Of all the great capitals I’ve visited, only central Paris beats it for beauty – and maybe New York for chutzpah. There are places of antiquity with stunning sights and history – amazing Istanbul or Rome. There are places I’ve lived with more steel and glass: Hong Kong the most obvious. But London has pretty much everything you could ever want or need.

But why London is so special came home to me the other week; on the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings. 

July 7th 2005 was a terrible day. One I will certainly never forget, and was followed by anxious weeks for everyone in this city. Ken Livingstone, then London Mayor (and whatever you think of him, a true Londoner) said this at the time: 

“In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.”

“They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.”

I arrived in London 25 years ago, and as Ken said, this great city has enabled me to achieve my potential, and fulfil my dreams. Just as he describes, I have been free to live the life I have chosen, and to be myself.  

I’m proud that this city – my city – finds a place for all sorts of people, and lets them be who they want to be. Ken Livingstone’s words from ten years ago made me realise; although I wasn’t born here – I am a Londoner.