Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Boris, Blake and the Chartered Streets....

Tonight, hopelessly lost in North London in the rain and twenty minutes' squelch in the wrong direction from where I needed to be, I found myself at a place called Bunhill Fields.
This blowsy little cemetery claimed in mossy mock-gold lettering to be the last resting place of William Blake. Without really knowing why, I went inside, and it didn't take me long to find the grave.
I lit a cigarette and, leaning against the rain-rilled headstone and feeling wildly adolescent, thought about the city, the old poem running in my head -

I wander though each chartered street
Near where the chartered Thames does flow
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe...

In every cry of every man
In every infant's cry of fear
In every voice, in every ban
The mind-forged manacles I hear...

I thought about the city. Three years ago we were reeling from a terrorist attack which killed fifty innocent commuters and wounded hundreds more. The young men with their mind-forged manacles who blew themselves up on the underground weren't the first desperate killers to target London, and they probably won't be the last. We survived. We said we weren't afraid, even if we were, and got back on the chartered streets with comparatively little fuss. One of those moments that makes a Maltese-Irish-Lithuanian kid like me proud to be a Londoner.

Chartered. A reference (possibly) to the Royal Charters of the late 1700s, put in place to control trade and slated by Thomas Paine as a manifestation of class opression. Chartered. Bought and sold, mapped and marked. The word was ringing in my head as I elbowed my way along the Jubilee line to work this morning.

He's a card, isn't he, that new mayor? Less than two months in office and already cocking up in good old Bullingdon style. Such a funny, funny guy. Well, I'm not laughing. This is my not-getting-the-joke face. Three years ago we held our heads high in the face of a senseless and apalling tragedy. We are better than this. I'm sick to the stomach that this city gave executive power to such an appalling, incompetent bigot, that we voted in the clunking fist of aristocratic patriarchy. And I'm terrified that another two years of this might not be enough to show the dissenting home counties just what happens when you vote for the Tory old boys' club.

As I finished my cigarette, the rain let up in a rather kitsch display of pathetic fallacy. I thought about Blake, and the city he loved. Let's have some hope, then, you mad old pagan you. We're better than this. Let's hope we realise it before too long.


  1. From "mind-forged manacles" to quoting Blake to...Well, everything. Yeah, this is the stuff I want to read.

  2. I hope you disposed of your cigarette end properly.
    Or did you add to Bunhill Fields litter?

  3. gah, that is depressing. and yeah, not sure how far to the left we're actually swinging, but seeing you guys pitch back toward the Tories is...well, gah. great writing, btw.

  4. what does the line cheartered streets mean


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