Last Sunday I had glimpse of the future, or hopefully the past. Canary Wharf is a swanky office and retail complex in East London’s Docklands. It was a favoured project of Margaret Thatcher and, as she smugly stated in her Canary Wharf inauguration speech, “…we started by getting rid of a lot of the obstacles to enterprise.” No doubt the obstacles she referred to were the inconvenient people that had been living where it was built. The ‘enterprise’ that she valued so much would have been her chums in the financial sector, the shining example of all that Thatcher’s Britain stood for.
Thatcher’s children are all still there at Canary Wharf, represented by their sky-scraping buildings that look like devotional obelisks to the big illuminated banking names at their summits. At the moment they are mostly devoid of human life due to the corona virus, not that they had any soul when they were full. I actually felt the cold dead hand of the financial sector on my shoulder when I tried to take a picture of my reflection in the curved glass at the base of the HSBC building.
According to the security guard, who ushered me away, they don’t like people taking pictures of what might be going inside their headquarters. I found out why, as four hours later the news broke on the BBC that HSBC were going to be one of the subjects of that week’s Panorama.
Security were obviously on the lookout for nosey people with cameras, even those that were obviously grinning like a lunatic at their own distorted selfie. Apparently, Thatcher’s children have been misbehaving and the UK has become the world’s centre for dirty money laundering. To be fair to be HSBC I didn’t see any evidence of this through their window, there were no washing lines with roubles hanging out to dry.
As well as being a ‘must-visit’ for criminals, dictators and drug cartels with suitcases full of cash, Canary Wharf also has a plethora of gleaming retail and entertainment facilities. This gives it the appearance of a sinister theme park, you even suspect that overblown sculptures dotted around the plazas have concealed surveillance devices.
I was surprised to see that there were plenty of people around taking advantage of the shops and restaurants on a Sunday. I can understand how the captive audience of a weekday lunchtime may have no choice in the matter, unless they wanted to risk the rickety Docklands Light Railway back into town. However, I couldn’t work out why anybody else would want to come to this joyless and God-forsaken place at a weekend. As I returned to my car I discovered why. Not only have office blocks sprung up to blot the landscape but so have residential towers, hundreds of them.
The flats and apartments are reached by taking a footbridge over the dividing waterway, which also appears to act as the gateway from one level of Dante’s Inferno into another. The other end of the bridge is where the homeless people line up, their grubby hats proffered up for donations. The bridge is as far as they are allowed, if they set foot in the gleaming marble squares they are probably vaporised.
So lots of people live in and around Canary Wharf now. Well, I presume they do unless they are all vacant investment properties. The going rate for a three-bedroomed apartment is about £2.3m. That’s an awful lot of roubles.
Are we are all going to live like this in the future? Where work, leisure and accommodation are all in one sanitised, secure but dismal place? All Canary Wharf was missing from this dystopian vision was a procession of Handmaids.
On the plus side, I did some research on the future effect of global warming on sea-levels and Canary Wharf could become another Atlantis. Its much touted waterfront location will become its Achilles’s Heel. Being at the water-level means that it will be one of the first to be submerged as London drowns. It will go down choking and spluttering, probably followed by the rest of the planet, as a result of its own corporate greed and exploitation. Canary Wharf, and all who sail in her, will one day be a thing of the past.
I hope Sir David Attenborough will forgive me for this, but I say bring it on.