(The London Spy has been investigating amusements serious and comical
since 1666. For more information contact the Institute of Fatuous
Research, BM Jed, London, WC1N 3XX)
LONDON is a world by itself; we daily discover in it more new countries and
surprising singularities than in all the universe besides. There are among
the Londoners so many nations differing in manners, customs, and
lifestyles, that the inhabitants themselves don't know a quarter of 'em.
Imagine, then, what an Alien would think of such a motley herd of people,
and what a diverting amusement it would be to him to examine with a
traveller's eye the remarkable things of this mighty city. A whimsy takes
me in the head to carry this stranger to some parts of the town with me; no
doubt but his odd and fantastical ideas will furnish me with variety, and
perhaps with diversion.
I will therefore suppose this Alien dropped perpendicularly from the
clouds, to find himself all on a sudden in the midst of this prodigious and
noisy city. At first dash the confused clamours of the Southern quarters
stun him, fright him, and make him giddy. We have arrived in Brixton, so
shall we drift aimlessly around the busy market stalls on Electric Avenue,
amongst an infinite number of different people and machines, all in violent
motion, hurriedly going from this way to that?
My Alien, being an inquisitive sort and not too concerned with any hurry
of objects, wishes to be taken to some place not to be found on those
terrible tourist guides, and therefore we make the direct way to that great
place of noise and tumult, the Anarchist Centre at 121 Railton Road. Along
the way I lecture him briefly on recent events in the area, namely the
process of gentrification of the very street we were now walking.
'And so you see my friend', cried I to him, 'that though they build new
homes and shops, these are only benefits for those that can afford them.'
An expression of puzzlement on the face of my companion, I venture further
with my explanation.
'This program of urban renewal, called here City Challenge, is to be
regarded as a plan to connect people to the dictates of the market.
Spending power is a prerequisite for participating in this vision of a
bustling, busy community of happy shoppers and workers, but if you are
lucky enough to be without employment, then the lifestyle designers trust
that the soon-to-be-built ten-screen picture house will keep you amused.'
'Now', say I to my Alien, 'is not all this social control, setting the
boundaries for what shall be deemed permissible behaviour?'
The astonished traveller replied, 'Without a doubt, there are plans afoot
to make a majority conform to a life of wage slavery and senseless
So seeking some seeds of sedition, we entered the infamous Centre,
wherefore, to rest ourselves a little, and recover our ears from the
deafness which the confused noise of the street had occasioned in 'em; and
at the entrance of the room, according to ancient custom, saluted the
handsome young people at the bookshop, and took our seats. But we had no
sooner placed ourselves, than a gentleman whose clothes were in mourning
for his extravagance, came and sat down beside us; and perceiving us to be
strangers, under pretext of civility, accosted us with discourses relating
to the town etc. To begin, he recounted some statistics concerning the
matter of housing in the country as a whole, there being 175,000 vacant
council houses presently in need of repair, there being over 818,000 empty
houses in Britain, that the number of homeless could be as high as two
million. Then he regaled us with the true facts of the matter, that
homelessness exists not because the housing system is not working properly,
but because this is the way that it works; that houses remain empty because
this is the way the market functions. For most of us, he told us, live in
someone else's architecture, places we had no control over the design or
'So how do you propose to change this wretched situation?' said the Alien.
'Why, with an anarchist-communist revolution, of course!'
And then he proclaimed a diatribe full of ideological propaganda that we
both had become accustomed to. So many contradictions fell from the mouth
of this would-be-an-oracle, with his hat buttoned behind, that the
judicious Alien was in haste to be gone to a place where he might have more
instructive discourse. Wherefore we left our impertinent and his
abstemious comrades, and taking our leave of smoke, noise and nonsense,
made the best of our way down to the River Thames, without making any other
observations, than that there were too many cars about.
'Our government seems to care more for cars than homeless people. In 1987
the Department of the Environment announced a budget of 23 billion for new
road schemes over the next ten years, whereas between 1980 and 1990,
spending on housing fell from 2.5 billion pounds to 1.6 billion.'
And after a happy deliverance from the brawling concert of traffic, we
made our passage by St. James' Park and over The Mall, and entered in 6
Carlton House, to attend a meeting of the Royal Society on Chaos and
'While I behold this town of London', said our contemplative traveller, 'I
fancy I behold a prodigious schizophrenic. The streets are so many hidden
agendas, wherein the people circulate. With what hurry and swiftness is
the circulation of conspiracies performed?' 'You behold', cried I to him,
'the circulation that is power, but it moves more briskly in the hearts of
the citizens; they are always in motion and activity, their study and
labour is always about profit and their only pleasure earned by buying
those commodities they worked so hard to afford.'
My Alien had indeed heard of the Royal Society and those schemes this
powerful institution had advanced to maintain the machinery of society. So
we took a free tea and compared our notes.
'Founded in 1660, and, two years later, receiving it's Charter from the
restored King, Charles II, the Royal Society promotes the interests of the
ruling class in that supposedly objective zone of Science.'
'Yes indeed', I replied to the learned Alien, 'and we should also
contemplate the origins of this institution, formed so soon after the
collapse of the revolutionary regime and the restoration of the old order,
one wonders what secret alliances were formed preventing further upheavals
to the ruling class. Surely this Royal Society represents the newly
appointed power of intellectuals, artists, and scientists to explain and
organise the world, installing the cogs of rationality in the clock-work
machinery of control.'
We then listened for several hours to a merry multitude of top boffins
pronouncing their conclusions on ways to make use of their Chaos Theory.
All of these revolved around attempts to obtain results from predicting the
behaviour of various mathematical models. Practical applications were
being made in the forecasting of market behaviour.
At tea-break, I mentioned to my Alien that in 1671, Georg Monck, the Duke
of Albermarle and the Great Architect of the Restoration to the throne of
Charles II, published his 'Some Directions for the Preventing of Civil
Wars'. In this text, the esteemed General laid down four principles, the
first three of which were reliable control of strategic forces, one
religion in the state and a rich public treasure, while the fourth was the
diversion, occupation and domination of the hopeless poor. I suggested to
my Alien that we should add a fifth tactic, a hierarchical, male-only
secret society that confers merit, status and power on its
members-Freemasonry. Every founding member of the Royal Society had been a
Growing tired of this babble of scientists, we left the Royal Society.
Walking from hence, I had leisure to ask my Alien his opinion of all that
he had seen.
'Now', say I , 'is not all this hodge-podge, a pleasant confusion and a
The astonished traveller replied, 'Without a doubt, the undigested chaos
was but an imperfect representation of this congregated huddle, this city of
London. But what most amuses my understanding is to see
that nobody really knows what in Heaven's Name is going on.'
And with this thought in our minds, we retired for a round of Chips and
Beans in one of London's very excellent greasy Cafes.