Victoria Coach Station in the early hours of a Monday morning looks more like a scene from Ellis Island in the 1870s than it does a corner of one of the most affluent streets in modern London – Buckingham Palace Road, beside the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. People arriving off buses and coaches from every town in Britain and from all over Europe, others standing about or sleeping on benches or on the floor waiting for their connections, give the place the look and feel of a homeless shelter at Christmas. During daylight hours the station is less than a five minute walk – in all directions – from the homes and palaces of the British Establishment and the super-rich. We’re not talking about the merely well-off, the comfortable, or the rich here; we’re talking of the grade of wealth that is stratospheres beyond earning potential, the sort of inherited wealth and power that comes from vast estates and the crème of imperial spoils. The well-off with whom we are familiar, the doing-well and the relatively rich, have no place here. These streets are not for Hyacinth Bucket! A walk around this part of London puts the world in perspective in much the same way as watching infants dying of starvation does. This is the other side of the scale.

Having next to no Sterling in my pockets and a twelve hour wait until the next coach to Dublin I decided to walk through St. James’s Park, singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ at the top of my lungs as I passed the bottom of the Mall and Buckingham Palace, towards Piccadilly where I might find some affordable food and a coffee. What a difference a single street makes in a cesspit like London. No sooner had I left St. James’s Street and turned onto Piccadilly than I entered into a whole other world – more akin to that with the starving children than the one I had only just departed. At the statue of Eros a young man from Athlone approached me in the hope of selling me some ‘gear’ or guiding me to some ‘girls,’ and we got talking. Once he realised I was broke his sob story became a sad story, and I told him it was very sad. His answer was frank – “Every story here is sad.” He took me to an all-night coffee shop on Greek Street where a sign on a door across the street advertised a Model Downstairs. At the café we encountered a young woman, no more than twenty, who was out making some money but was upset because she was pregnant and “bleeding down there.” She high-tailed it before we could get help for her. Such wealth as London knows is costly. It costs the lives of our sisters and brothers.

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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