Pluto author (Penny Red: Notes from the New Age of Dissent) and journalist Laurie Penny recently spent a whole day in subterranean transit, riding around the London Underground. Her motivation being that, particularly in the pre-Olympic climate – characterised by the feverish hyper-cognisance of the city’s inhabitants – one can pick up a great deal more from riding a city’s subway than the prosaic unpleasantness of dirt, germs and free newspapers. As Penny observes,
Forget the official face – forget the Olympic Park, the London Eye, or Buckingham Palace – if you’re a stranger in this city, there’s no better way to see it than to spend a day traveling the London Underground. It’s more expensive now that Mayor Boris raised the Tube fares, pricing many of the capital’s neediest people away from public transport altogether. But it’s still here, down in this strange otherworld, with its own rules, its own weather system, the warm winds blowing out of its tunnels, the garish avalanche of rotating ads, it’s here that the lifeblood of the city beats closest to the skin. Where better to take the pulse of a place than through its intestinal walls?
Understandably, much of our focus on the alienation, militarisation and injustice swept into town by the ‘Games’ has been lost amidst the furore that accompanied some genuinely captivating sport. Even fierce detractors of the Olympics, concerned with the dark shadow its legacy will inevitably cast, could not help but get caught up in the rare event of British success.
Penny’s article in the New Enquiry comes as a timely reminder, therefore, of the underpinning reality of a city and of its people, police and politicians; of its beauty, history and deprivation. As we’ve come to expect from Laurie Penny it’s a joy to read, and will doubtless continue to ring true long after the Olympic euphoria has ebbed, and the circus has left town.
The article was originally published on July 27th, and can be found in full on the New Enquiry website.
Notes from the New Age of Dissent
Laurie Penny. Foreword by Warren Ellis
Selected writings from a prominent voice of the new activist left. Reflections on being young, broke and angry in the twenty-first century.
“Cuts, sexism and riots, Laurie Penny’s fresh and angry voice captures the moment and the important issues – highly recommended.” – Polly Toynbee
“Penny is re-inventing the language of dissent, delivering verbal taser-barbs to the left and right, and causing apoplexy among the old men in cardigans who run the British blogosphere.” – Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC’s Newsnight