With Mr P I am currently in London. Though not in our usual London. Here too we are based in a temporary address, expanding our horizons of this great global city, one might say, looking over the rooftops of salubrious Westminster, no less. (Many thanks are due to Mr P’s relatives.)
Along with the unusual view we have also noticed the soundscapes more than we did before our sojourn in Helsinki. There’s the traffic. Speed is noisy. And then there’s the accents. Posh, rounded vowels from young and old alike in this part of town, particularly when we popped into the Royal Academy to catch the latest work of that sculptural wizard, Anish Kapoor. “Mummy, that was the coolest art I’ve ever seen”.
Later I found myself at a bus stop not far from the building below on the Old Kent Road (you know, the cheapest property on the Monopoly board) hearing the sounds of anger expressed as sentences punctuated at short intervals by the f-word.
It’s never gone without saying for me that class and its effects in Britain is noticeable as well as challenging and I’ve always thought it’s because I was brought up Finnish. What strikes me now is that the last decade or two in Finland might have started something like a new division of people into classes. And people do discriminate. Only recently a friend there was talking about how in Helsinki’s eastern parts people speak differently because they’re so likely to use the v-word (the c-word, in English, but pragmatically the exact equivalent of f**k as used in English).
London is now a jigsaw city with extreme poverty and extreme wealth located almost cheek by jowl. Not just upstairs versus downstairs, but increasingly also geographically separated. Posh bits of Chelsea and some bits of Canning Town have long added up to a city based on extremes of wealth and poverty. Charles Booth mapped out poverty in London in Victorian times. Charles Dickens made it meaningful and arguably affected the philanthropic impulses and quite probably the material conditions of his contemporaries in the different classes.
Sure, something similar developed in Helsinki’s geography over time (of which more on this blog later). But in many places, certainly in Töölö’s new housing of the 1910s and 1920s, the city planners and architects were proud that their buildings contained both very large homes for the very rich as well as rather small for the less rich, as well as rooms for the live-in maids. From the outside one wouldn’t be able to tell which was which and that was deliberate. The beautiful streetscape would improve everyone’s life. Disingenous perhaps, but lucky for later generations.