THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Book Review: “How to survive the most critical five seconds of your life”, by Tim Larkin and Chris Ranck-Buhr

The late Mrs P was a rational pessimist. She used to say;

”Pessimists like me live a life full of pleasant surprises. Optimists like you live a life of unpleasant ones”

As I blundered around places in Eastern Europe whose dangers I didn’t even trouble to evaluate, she used to tell me off about it. I’m a big guy - 2 metres tall and 140kg - and though I’m gentle by nature and have no fighting experience it was always a fair bet potential predators would choose softer targets. So I never had a problem and used to pour scorn on her loving concerns. She used to say that such thoughtlessness would get me in trouble one day when the predators began to evaluate me as “big, yes, but old and slow.”

I remembered those warnings as I read interviews with dangerous criminals in the last book I reviewed. They took place in places I pass frequently as I wander around London taking photographs and otherwise enjoying my leisurely life — places I never considered dangerous. I also now subscribe to various local news services and to the Metropolitan Police’s OWL messaging service These also tend to give a darker picture than is apparent to my still-optimistic eyes.

In consequence, as I advance into my sixties, I have started to look around me nervously as I make my way home at night. I bought this book in response to that unaccustomed feeling and frankly it’s made things worse.

It encourages the reader to forget all morals, to dispense with any lingering sense of John Wayne-style fair play, and to be prepared to respond ferociously to threats. It encourages the law-abiding to assume that any attacker will be a ruthless sociopath and to act (if there’s no option to escape) with unhesitating and relentless violence. All this, in order to mitigate the criminals’ advantages of surprise, youth, strength and endurance. 

By way of encouragement, the authors assure us that, if we cast off our fears, we all have it in us to act thus. They scorn the study of martial arts and methods of self-defence that are inherently rules-based because the criminals know no rules. They use violence thoughtlessly, naturally and in keeping with humanity’s essential nature. The authors insist we can (if we shed our scruples) do the same. A key advantage of that is the more respectable we are, the less our attackers will expect it.

Consider these words of “encouragement” for example;

“You are a predator born, with stereovision for hunting prey and teeth for ripping and tearing flesh. You are a member of the only species that makes an art of war. The average human body is an awesome engine of destruction, driven by the most dangerous thing in the known universe: a human brain. You are a survival engine, the descendant of winners; your ancestors didn’t get you here by laying down and giving up. They made the losers do that. Violence is your birthright.“

Call me a sissy, but I’d rather believe my “birthright” is (a) the Rule of Law and (b) the protection of the police force here where policing was invented. The authors’ scorn for that rather echoes the long-ago warnings of the late Mrs P.; far gentler soul than them though she was. 

I hate this book or rather in my naivety or high ideals (you decide) I hate that it needed to be written. It forces me to look at a world I don’t want to be real.

In many other countries I could carry a concealed weapon to give me a chance if attacked. In Britain (though the criminals have all the guns they need and more — a young man was shot outside an East London hospital only yesterday) that would make me the criminal.

As for the police, I am more likely to hear from the world’s first police force for having written this incendiary review, than at any time I actually need them. I don’t want to accept the authors’ advice as to how to act in the face of danger but I can’t argue with their assessment that the cops likely won’t be there until it’s far too late. I’ve never seen one in the nine years I’ve lived in London. Apart from at football matches, demonstrations I’ve attended or happened upon, I’ve never seen a Met Officer at all other than in a car passing by.

I accept the bona fides of the average London constable without hesitation but I know in my bones that the Met’s leaders don’t give a damn about the likes of me. Their most likely involvement in my life story would be in offering hypocritical “thoughts and prayers” over my corpse, while telling the press that the incident in which I died was a “one off” and “untypical”. 

I don’t want to think of the pampered body that carries my brain (and camera) about as “a survival engine.” I don’t want to evaluate every passerby as a threat and assess how I would gouge out his eyes with my thumbs if he attacked me. I really don’t. But as I age and London remains more dangerous than New York, the late Mrs P.’s warnings are in my mind’s ear.

Are they true? Are they wise? The optimist in me resists the authors’ answers. Gentle readers, what do you think?


Book review: This is London - life and death in the world city

I have been too delicate (or is it fearful?) to comment much on how different the London to which I returned to live in 2011 was from the one I worked in twenty years earlier. To friends I’ve remarked that the monastic silence I used to enjoy on public transport has been replaced by a bazaar-like Babel. I’ve mentioned that Londoners no longer make way politely for each other in the street or on the Tube. Most remarks I could have made however would have exposed me to allegations of “racism” and those are best avoided in casual conversation. If I’m going to say something dangerous, I prefer to do so in writing that I can take care about and revise!

A remark between friends in a bar that “it doesn’t feel like home anymore” or “it’s not at all like an English city” could get one into hot water — however harmless (and true) such observations might be. So, cyber-warrior for free speech that I would like to think I am, I keep (mostly) shtum. Who needs censorship when we are all self-censoring so assiduously?

This book, by Ben Judah, has no such concerns. It tears into those issues and does so without qualms. It does more than merely put statistics on such observations, though it certainly does that too.

“There is a whole illegal city in London. This is where 70 per cent of Britain’s illegal immigrants are hiding. This is a city of more than 600,000 people, making it larger than Glasgow or Edinburgh. There are more illegals in London than Indians. Almost 40 per cent of them arrived after 2001. Roughly a third are from Africa. This is the hidden city: hidden from the statistics, hidden from the poverty rates, hidden from the hunger rates. They all discount them: a minimum 5 per cent of the population.”

The author, a journalist, takes his readers into the parallel universes that make up modern London; universes that know little of each other and share one major truth — to them my London is a legend and Londoners like me (and the few of our descendants that still live here) are fabulous beasts. They are as likely to know a unicorn as us.

“Between 1971 and 2011 the white British share of London’s population slumped from 86 per cent to 45 per cent. This is the new London: where 17 per cent of the white British have left the city in the first decade of this century.”

He spends time with street people around Hyde Park. He hangs with a Nigerian policeman and a Nigerian teacher. He visits with the pampered wife of a Russian minigarch. He hangs with the drug dealers who serve my part of West London in a market I pass most days. He smarms and lies his way into the company of people who probably shouldn’t open up to him. At times I worried for the safety of his subjects such as the prostitutes talking about their murdered friend. Sure, he changes their names but the details are so specific that their identities are only protected by his assumption that no one connected to them will do something so “old London” as read his book. 

The pace of the change he documents statistically (he’s a recent arrival himself and has no emotional baseline against which to measure it) is phenomenal. The new arrivals have had little chance (even if old Londoners had reached out to help them — and we didn’t) to absorb the local culture or adapt to our customs. Not only do they keep themselves to themselves - they remain in the siloes of their specific identity group.

“There is a whole African city in London. With more than 550,000 people this would be a city the size of Sheffield. And it has grown almost 45 per cent since 2001.”

The cheery slogan of our age is “diversity”. It’s as real as slogans usually are. A black teacher in an East End school observes (having first asked to adjourn to an offsite location where she feels free to speak):

‘They say this is a multicultural school. But it’s not. The school is dominated by Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims, with some blacks, a few whites and EUs coming in. I went to a Muslim school in Nigeria, so I can recognize this.’

Asked if the children she teaches are becoming English, she answers

‘With black children they do. But with Asian children they try not to. The Muslims I don’t think they will ever be English. They don’t want to be at all.’

As the Guardian’s review of the book says (casually smearing Nigel Farage as a racist with its usual disregard for truth or justice)

It’s easy to imagine how Nigel Farage or the Daily Mail might exploit his material.

but someone should be exploiting this material, surely, in order to address the issues it raises? God knows the Guardian never will because these poor exploited people are cleaning its readers’ lavatories and keeping down the costs in their Mayfair restaurants. The native workers who might best be hoped to sympathise with their plight are too despised by Guardian readers these days to be listened to. 

The lost souls living in misery amidst London’s wealth have been drawn here by lies. Not ours but those of people traffickers who hold many of them in near slavery among us; making them pay off at 100% interest the debts incurred to get here while threatening to harm the families back home they came here to help. Or their lies and those of compatriots who came here before them who make up success stories to “protect” their families from the squalid truth.

They dared to come here illegally because of half-truths about our respect for legal rights — portrayed to them as weakness. Yet those rights — pace the Daily Mail — are not the problem. It’s the weakness of the enforcement of our laws that leaves them here in legal limbo.

The book is not well-crafted. A good editor could have made it more pleasurable to read but this is not literature but journalism. It’s the literary equivalent of a visit to Auschwitz — a moral duty from which enlightenment, not pleasure, should be expected. I commend it to you not for your enjoyment but for the benefit of your soul.