Yes, I mean you, England.
The British may not have noticed, but it's true. The only thing keeping the illusion alive is foreign money, either shoveled into the banks by foreign "investors" or dropped by tourists. I was recently one of the latter. The Empire has disappeared (Commonwealth does not count), and manufacturing has moved away (this country is a partial preview of what will continue to happen in the US).
Hotels and restaurants are still bustling, and shop windows are still full of the latest excesses. These establishments carry products that will remain unfulfilled dreams of the majority of the population. At least Top Shop and Zara let the masses pretend.
The biggest surprise of this trip was a pleasant experience at Heathrow--the first ever. Okay, there was a long walk from the gate to customs, but you get that in most large airports. The first surprise was lack of line at immigration. Arriving at midday might have helped, but I didn't care. An even bigger surprise was being processed by a friendly, young woman. I am used to surly civil servants that question your right to enter the country and resent the fact that you can afford to travel. Next, we were offered tickets to the Heathrow Express to Paddington outside the door of Customs--quick and easy. The trip into the city was relatively fast. I say this because I expect "express" to be a bit faster than 10 MPH, but English tracks can't handle greater speeds. Of course, there was a line for a taxi at Paddington, but it was not too bad. So, compared to past experience, this was rather pleasant.
I can't list all the hotels I have tried in London over the years. They have been cheap and they have been expensive: the bottom of rankings and the top. None has been excellent, despite their reputation. England has a way of adding an patina to every establishment. This time, I chose a well-known Asian chain, because I had been impressed by their hotels in other parts of the world. They forgot to import the same quality, when they put their logo of the outside. And, they certainly did not impose Asian service levels. Even hotel staff seem to not know that former English arrogance does not play well in the New Reality.
If you are willing to separate yourself from your money, you can find some pleasure in London. There are decent restaurants, although the price-quality ratio is a bit out of whack. Retail is, perhaps, the best in the world, because one can find almost anything. The variety on offer is unparalleled, and the creativity is unmatched. Bargains can be found. If one enjoys the "museum of contemporary life" as I call retail, then one must visit London. Another benefit is theater, perhaps matched only by New York (but I hate New York, not love-hate).
All-in-all, the love-hate relationship is alive and well. I will go back and I will complain. A few years ago, I considered writing a book called "Fix England", which would have covered all aspects of modern-day life. I decided that it would be a waste of time. After seeing the progress since that decision, I can see that no one cares about the state of the country. And, they have no money to fix things. The circus has moved one...
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.