Saturday, 17 May 2014
It's all in the past.
The gentrification of mile after mile of London's old housing stock has gone hand in hand with the transformation of the capital's skyline into something resembling Dubai and the almost complete decline of the small workshops that could be found down every side street in Central London. As long ago as the 1950's Ronald Searle and Kaye Webb could see that the writing was on the wall for the old shambolic unhygienic street life and decided to capture some of the flavour in drawings and prose. The classic, Looking At London (and people worth meeting), was the result.
Nothing lasts forever and all cities are in a perpetual state of flux. I know that but I can't help feeling that we have lost something irreplaceable anarchic in return for a sterile metropolis suitable for international tourism and the global property market. London has been replaced by the "London Heritage Experience". Wandering around town, and even here in the suburbs where I live, I frequently come across a "development" and wonder what was there before. Sometimes of course I already know the answer and such is the case with a small part of the Kingston Upon Thames riverfront. Kingston had a thriving river industry at one time with coal and timber being unloaded at what are now blocks of expensive apartments. One small oasis of higgledy-piggledy delight survived right into the 1990's as the headquarters of a passenger boat and marine film services company. When Jerome K Jerome and his chums hired a skiff for their Three Men In A Boat adventures it was from this already well established firm. At that time such was the enthusiasm for pottering about on the river that at Kingston Railway Station a man was employed for the sole purpose of shouting, "This way to the boats!" as the crowds descended from the trains. By the time that I became acquainted with the it there were half a dozen passenger boats operating from the site with an engineering shop, a house that had once been the family home being used as an office and also a large store containing an amazing collection of small boats and nautical odds and ends that were hired out as film props. When I was a young seaman getting ready to take my Able Seaman exam I had to learn about a piece of kit called a Kelvite Sounding Machine. I had never seen this machine nor met anyone who had used one. I'm not even sure if the National Maritime Museum had one, but years later I would find one here in this store. The whole site was patrolled by a large number of semi-feral cats who helped control the rat population. There was also a pub. The Outrigger was not the kind of establishment where the chattering classes meet for lunch. The ceiling was papered with old navigation charts stained brown by the smoke of a million roll-ups. I once walked into this salubrious establishment to find a bloke standing at the bar with a goat on a piece of string. He had bought the animal in Southall Market - as you do. Looking at the area now it seems almost inconceivable that such a haven of wonderful chaos existed there only a few years ago.