Tuesday, December 06, 2016

This isn't my London

This is London by Ben Judah
Picador 2016
It's not all so bad: reproduced from https://www.flickr.com/photos/dgeezer/6141438138
I wanted to like Ben Judah’s This Is London, and certainly it’s a book which will stick with me for a long time. Partly undercover, partly through interviews, Judah investigates the hidden lives of migrant London. The haunting beginning sees him spending the dawn hours at Victoria Coach Station, ‘our miserable Ellis Island’, as the buses arrive from across Europe bringing new people to stay and work in the UK’s capital. In the chill grey rain, he follows a group of Roma people until he finds someone who will speak with him. His dedication cannot be understated, and at times, such as when he interviews the addict sex workers of Ilford Lane about the murder of one of their number, I was overwhelmed by his bravery and his honesty.

Judah reports faithfully on the homeless, the destitute, the beggars and addicts and jobseekers of the four corners of the city, from Barking to Shepherd’s Bush, Kensington to Peckham. A sociologist or anthropologist would be horrified by his style: he neither reveals his methods nor investigates his own motivation, after a short and troubling introduction:

I was born in London but I no longer recognise this city. I don’t know if I love the new London or if it frightens me: a city where at least 55 per cent of the people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 per cent are living illegally in the shadows. [1]