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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner

Matthew d'Ancona's programme on Radio Four about the nature of Britishness was interesting – if not quite as enthralling as The Men Who Fell To Earth, a brilliant documentary about military parachuting that came later this morning – but the more I'm asked whether I feel British or English or European the more I think of myself as a citizen of another nation altogether – London.

I was born in Yorkshire but I've lived in London since 1968. My children have all been born and brought up in London. They think of themselves as Londoners and so do I. It's not that strange now, is it? Before there was a place called Italy people called themselves Florentines or Neopolitans. I wonder whether the world's going back that way.

In the time I've lived in the city London has undergone a historic transformation. One third of the people living in London were born overseas. Just think about that. One third *born* overseas. That's not counting the number of people whose immediate forebears came from overseas or the people, like me, who were born elsewhere in the UK. That doesn't disturb me at at all. In fact I think it's reason for rejoicing. This must mean that we are heading for the almost unique situation of living in a city populated by families who all somehow chose to be here.

I don't make any claim for London as some sort of rainbow community and, like all Londoners, I am sufficiently aware of its shortcomings to raise my eyes to heaven when a provincial visitor squashed into a tube carriage exclaims "Gosh, I couldn't do this every day!" but I identify with the place increasingly strongly. On 7/7 my dominant emotion, apart from compassion for the dead and maimed, was outrage that a bunch of misanthropic twats from mono-cultural streets in Leeds should let off bombs on tube carriages and buses in London, a place they knew nothing about. If they had done they would have known it was the one place on earth apart from New York where they were most likely to have slaughtered a representative sampling of the population of the earth.