I arrived in London yesterday for my first visit in three years (apart from an overnight stay due to a delayed flight). The sun is (uncharacteristically) shining , making it more pleasant to walk around and see how the place has weathered the recession. People are extremely cautious about spending money, or commiting to it, a PR friend tells me. She says they prefer to wait until the Labour party is sent to Coventry for another 17 years after the next election. Exactly what difference the Tory party or a coalition Tory/Lib Dem government will make to companies is unclear. Presumably they will roll back some of the proposed taxes that will make the City untenable as a place to work and do business. Like 1979, when I first moved to London, the shops are the first evidence of recession. Every third shopfront in the Kensington/Notting Hill/Chiswick route I took yesterday is boarded up. There is a lot of construction in residential areas, however. Perhaps City bonuses were not as bad as the media made them out and City boys bought in-town digs at the lows of the property market. I say 'lows' with a deal of sarcasm. A two-bed, two bath flat in Notting Hill - my old neighborhood - is still going to cost you upwards of 800,000 pounds (around $1.3 million US).
The strangest thing I saw yesterday was the one-year new Westfield shopping mall. It is the largest shopping mall in Europe and I cannot even describe how big it is. It is plunked down smack in the middle of grotty Shepherd's Bush, right behind the tube station and it looms over like a gleaming giant spaceship. Inside are all of the most exclusive British and Italian designers plus a few American shops - the Timberland shopfront looks like they transported a whole Canadian forest to build it. There are champagne bars and comfy seats with wireless connections and sparkly Xmas displays that stretch to 100 foot ceilings. De Beers has a diamond shop (imagine your significant other saying 'I want to marry you, fancy going to Shepard's Bush to pick out a ring?'), and there is the biggest Marks & Spencer's I have ever seen. The whole thing looks like a nouveau-riche Russian's dream come true. And it was busy. On a Wednesday afternoon. My friend tells me that the parking garage is full on any given weekend day. I can only imagine that it is the new gathering place for the unemployed. There were dozens of people using their laptops in the comfy seating areas - looking for jobs perhaps? The climate-controlled space means that you can escape the cold and rain (it is clouding over again right now) and do some web-surfing and people watching at the same time.Very odd indeed give the economic climate.
I'm off to the City now to see a friend and employer of my freelance services. I'm curious what I will find there.