Global Dispatches: Gravitational Pull

March 3, 2011 Updated: April 10, 2011

LONDON—I can’t help but notice that London’s British Museum isn’t very British, as we traipse past endless Roman, Persian, Egyptian, Thai, and Indian exhibits. Strangely named indeed. Perhaps “Museum of Archaeological Plunder of the Empire,” just wasn’t pithy enough.

But then again, London itself isn’t so British these days either.

“I felt comfortable the moment I moved here,” says an American voice in the crowd behind us, as we walk through the crowds in Russel Square on a day trip to the capital. “It’s just such an international city, anyone can fit in.”

His words stir my thoughts, bringing to the surface something a Chinese friend of mine said to me not long ago: “Well London’s not really typically British is it? It’s full of foreigners like me!”

I look around me with fresh interest, absorbing the different nationalities etched into the faces, accents, and clothing around me. Indeed, I am hard pushed to pick out an Englishman, let alone a true Cockney.

Admittedly, we are in a particularly international bit of the city, but nonetheless, the impression is representative—London is really an international city that stands apart from other British cities in many ways.

It is this difference between London and the rest of the nation that has recently worried the BBC’s bosses who have decided that with all its broadcasting headquarters in London, the corporation is too London-centric in its output. The solution, a hugely expensive relocation of various departments, is highly controversial.

Many argue that Britain itself is fundamentally London-centric. So many things of vital importance are in that one city: the seat of government, the financial district, the West End theaters, the fashion houses, the history, the tourist attractions, and so on. (Not to mention 8 million people.) Other countries might separate these things into different cities. Not in Britain. In terms of size alone, London is in a league of its own—seven times larger than any other city in the U.K.

The capital exerts a powerful gravitational pull—it is the social, political, and economic axis around which we spin, sucking in much of the nation’s talent, resources, people, and energy.

It is often said that those in London naturally regard it as the center of the universe. To those outside, it is the wormhole that sits towering on the edge of the known galaxy, full of mystery and foreboding, only to be entered by those who can make the jump to financial light-speed.

Around one in 10 people in the U.K. lives in London. To be honest, I have no idea how so many people manage it. As an outsider, the task seems an impossible contortionist’s trick that requires bending your life around various obstacles at unnatural angles: ridiculous commutes, impossible workloads, and mind-numbing prices.

But I also know that London is populated by people who once thought that way too. People who swore they would never move to “that crazy place.” People who were almost personally insulted by the sway the city has over the rest of the nation. People who were drawn there, like moths to the brightest light. People who now love the place.

Standing at the gift shop line contemplating taking out a new mortgage to pay for the scarab beetle and paper Viking ship, and wondering if I can learn to write “rip off” with the hieroglyph print set, I see I am no different from all the visitors standing shoulder to shoulder with me. I might as well be in the Smithsonian, or in the Louvre. In London, I really am an outsider, the same as everyone else.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Simon Veazey
Freelance Reporter
Simon Veazey is a UK-based journalist who has reported for The Epoch Times since 2006 on various beats, from in-depth coverage of British and European politics to web-based writing on breaking news.