A few weeks in England

As ever, a trip back to the UK stirred very mixed feelings.

A conference, a training workshop and visits to family and friends over a period of several weeks has meant that I have got to many different parts of the country. I had some lovely walks along the white cliffs of Dover and the undercliff on the Isle of Wight, amongst the colleges of Oxford and deep into the Yorkshire dales. It reminded me how beautiful the country is, though also how cold and wet it can be even in the heart of summer.

I had less time than I would have liked to enjoy the culture – I managed a superb concert at the Barbican (Konono No. 1 and Kasai Allstars in a “Congotronics v Rockers” evening) but didn’t manage the Afghanistan treasures exhibition at the British Museum, Viva Riva at the cinema or Richard III at the Old Vic. Shopping was also curtailed, this time by a lack of space to carry any purchases home, although I did find room for a Kindle and the time to load on over 100 free books (from The Iliad and Zen Buddhism to A Tale of Two Cities and The Communist Manifesto).

I was struck this time by the effects of the recession. Several well-known names went under whilst I was here (including Habitat and Jane Norman), Oddbins had already gone, and others such as Thorntons and HMV seem to be struggling. There were less people out shopping, and those who were out must be spending less judging by the predominance of Primark bags. & in a way I can’t quite explain, the place seemed quite shabby. Shabby morals (the News International phone hacking scandal following on from last year’s revelations on MPs’ expenses), shabby manners (too many people pushing their way onto the tube while others were still trying to get off) and lots of things of low quality. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that the megabus turned up 45 minutes late and had a toilet that didn’t flush given the £2.50 return fare from London to Leeds.

& worst of all, so many of the British population seem to be addicted to their mobile phones, frantically tapping away into them and oblivious to the real world around them.

I say all of this with the personal backdrop of wondering where I am going to go next, when my contract in Senegal ends, and where I am going to end up settling down. I love London in so many ways, and of course it is easier administratively to live in your own country than overseas, and so whenever I come “home” I have that question in the back of my mind as to whether or not I could live here again. I continue to miss London’s amazing cultural output, and I’m sure I will always feel a core of Britishness (a pride in our history and our inventiveness as a people) but apart from that there is less and less that draws me back. The problem may come down to whether I can find anywhere else to take its place.

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