“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Walking the streets.

Iain Sinclair trudges the perimeter of the Olympic Park contemplating the loss of London's last remaining wilderness. Ian Bone criss-crosses the City retracing the steps of Thomas Venner as he researches for the Fifth Monarchist  'Ephiphany' film. No books or films result from my own wanderings of the capital's streets and open spaces. There is no point to these excursions  beyond curiosity and the pleasure of discovering something unexpected, if unremarkable, round the next corner.  A mate once remarked that walking across London was like walking through geological strata. But the strata are not formed of differing layers of rock but bands of wealth and class, and just as tectonic movement forces geological strata into syncline and anticline, so does the pressure of the market distort the bands of social strata that make up the metropolis. Streets of done up houses with BMW's parked outside are forced into uneasy proximity to deprived looking estates. Much of London's housing stock has come full circle from grand bourgeois residence to run down multi-occupancy and back to large family homes for the new well to do.
Writing in the 1930's, Norman Collins in London Belongs To Me says, "Yes, that's London. Mile upon mile of little houses.......  If you start walking westward in the early morning from somewhere down in Wapping or the Isle Of Dogs by the evening you will still be on the march, still in the midst of shabby little houses - only somewhere over by Hammersmith by then".  Collins was writing before the blitz, developers, councils and well meaning modernist architects had combined to put their stamp on London. But there are still mile upon mile of classic Victorian terraces. Bay window, small front garden, neat privet hedge, net curtains. This was the home of the "respectable" working class and the aspiring lower middle class.
Yesterday I set off from Peckham Rye Station walked down Rye Lane with it's dozens of African shops, surely more fishmongers than any other street in town, butchers selling chickens feet at £1.99 a bag and shoulder of goat a snip at £3.50 a kilo. I turned east to take in Nunhead and walked up once posh (and soon to be posh again) Telegraph Hill. Swinging in a wide arc I marched through New Cross  and made my way to Canada Water. Despite all the recent (and not so recent) development I walked along street after street of solid old Victorian terrace housing pretty much unchanged from when Collins was writing and then as now - this is the real London.

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