Monday, June 2, 2014

A soul for sale?

What is it about the letter 'f'?  It precedes not only 'fear' and 'fight', but also 'finance'.  What's more, finance, when it reaches the higher brackets, would seem to breed both fanciful fears and fanaticism.

No, I'm not just having fun playing with words, I'm speaking from personal experience.
Finance and fear have invaded the house where I live.

An unpretentious house in a quiet, residential area of West London, it is part of a Victorian terrace that surrounds a garden square.  Many years ago, the two houses at the end of the terrace were knocked into one which, in turn, was converted into eighteen flats.  I have one of the flats, and, like most of the residents in the building, have been here for many years.  We are a friendly, supportive group . . . familiar with each other's lives, sharing the communal garden, and taking an active part in the local community.

Not many months ago, into this peaceful, untroubled scenario came an unexpected arrival.  The top floor of the house, previously two flats, was bought by a wealthy purchaser in the Middle East.  It will, so we learn, be occupied twice a year for short periods.  In the meantime, the work of reconstruction has been phenomenal.

Every wall had been taken down, every inch of flooring taken up and now, richly adorned in marble, the luxury penthouse is almost ready for its new owner's first visit.

But what has shocked those of us who live below has been the extent of the security measures installed.  Not only does the flat now boast bullet-proof dooors, but a series of cameras follows every visitor up the communal stairs and around the top floor passages.  In addition, an alarm has been attached to the communal lift, which now gives voice to any unexpected arrival on the top floor.

On learning of these excessive security arrangements, the residents united in taking action.  The purchaser had no right to instal his cameras in a communal area.  We insisted on their removal.

Why had our new neighbour felt the need for such measures?
Why the bullet-proof doors?  Who is he afraid will visit him?
We have no idea.

But extreme wealth would seem to breed fear.  It is also noticeable that this invasion of wealth and fear is permeating the neighbourhood.  As you walk down our residential streets, many of the garden gates that once opened easily to allow entry have now been replaced by heavy metal structures.  The casual visitor is no longer encouraged.

What's more, in recent years developers in the area have favoured gated communities, communities that, once again, provide shelter for their residents behind protective barriers.
Shelter from whom . . . from what?

I wonder, will the new owner above me share the use of our communal garden?  Will he and his family attend the local church or mosque, and will they become members of the local residents' association?
Their brief and infrequent visits makes it doubtful . . . we can only hope that they will.

But there remains the bigger question . . . will London homes continue to be purchased, largely by overseas buyers, mainly for their investment value?

Looking at the district where I live, is it too fanciful to say that it feels as though it is being slowly consumed by a rapacious and many tentacled octopus.

Could it be that, in the not too distant future, purchase power will succeed where the power of Hitler failed?  What if an invasion by the invisible force of economics ousts the Londoners from London?  What if the streets around my home, streets which fostered Chesterton, Brunel and Pinter, become little more than a series of sterile bank vaults, vaults that are flanked by shuttered, unoccupied investments?

Next week our local residents' association holds its annual Garden Party.  A local caterer provides the food, a local Jazz Band keeps us entertained.  It's a highly popular event . . .  attended by teachers and pupils from the local school and supported by the local church.

Ultimately, can fellowship, kindness and goodwill prove stronger than the corrosive power of finance?
Can community spirit prevail?

If not . . . then surely London will have sold its soul, and, whatever the City's economists may say, no price-tag can be put on that.