OK this isn’t a political blog. Well, I suppose it is, because its about cities and peopel living in cities and what could be more political than that? But is not about political arguments. And no-one much reads it anyway unless I send them links to it so they can look at photos.
Overheard in a railway station:
“She’s been barred from McDonald’s”
Overheard on a train:
“You can’t say ‘Baa baa blacksheep’ any more, its racist. You have to say ‘baa baa rainbow sheep’”
“You can’t say ‘Baa baa rainbow sheep’! Its homophobic!”
(Teenage boys on their way to a football match – and both meant as a joke)
Heard in a gents toilet at a football stadium:
“Are you waiting for the trap?”
“Yeah, there’s someone in there”
“I’m right behind you. Well, not *that* close behind you.”
“This isn’t the Amex!”
For no real reason at all, my uneducated guesses at where the entire Football League + Premierhip will be in nine months time. No dount things will look different by tomorrow lunchtime… Don’t say you weren’t warned!
1 Manchester A
2 Manchester B
10 Aston Villa
18 West Brom
19 West Ham
11 Nottm Forest
13 Leeds United
20 Bristol City
21 Crystal Palace
22 Sheffield Weds
1 Sheff Utd
9 MK Dons
15 Notts County
16 Leyton Orient
1 Bristol Rovers
12 Oxford Utd
14 Port Vale
15 Dag & Red
16 Burton Albion
Nice weather for the time of year. Really.
I got sunburned on Saturday and Sunday. In Shropshire. Supposedly the wettest weekend in modern British history,or something like that, so we went camping on the Welsh border. Maybe some photos later.
But meanwhile back in London its not been that wet. It rarely is. I cycled to work regularly for years and on average got seriously wet maybe twice a year. It really doesn’t rain that much here. Honest. That stuff all happens in the North West. Its not even that foggy since they got rid of coal fires. (Not foggy like Shoreham near Brighton is anyway, the Adur valley must be the fog capital of England)
So I have no idea what was going on at Lewisham Station yesterday. These pictures were taken just after mid-day.
Semi-seriously, it was good fun. The wind blew up, the temperature dropped, the rain got heavier and turned to hail, the trains got more and more delayed, and everybody crowded into a small space under the station canopy (at least there still is one, they’ve taken the rooves away in so many of them) Most of the people on the platform looked bored or resigned, as commuters usually do (Yes, even at 12 noon Lewisham station can be packed with commuters – This Is The Age Of The Train, at least in South-East London). A smaller number looked angry or even scared. But a few (we happy few, for I was among them) were grinning like children who’ve found the secret chocolate supply. A storm, a real storm, in summer, and we could be out in it and keep dry! What’s not to like?
As usual select the little pictures to see bigger ones. Some v ery much bigger ones. You can almost see the hailstones.
But then on my way back home after midnight it was dry and I could see the breath in front of my face. In July.
Well. I just managed to see the recent BBC “Secret History of our Streets” documentary about Deptford. Right up this blog’s street. After all it is mostly about what I see and hear walking around London’s streets.
Obviously I was going to be fascinated by it, as I live round here myself, I’m a big fan of Booth’s map, I’m obsessed with the design and layout of London (which is most of what this blog is about) and I’ve met some of the people they interviewed (though I know none of them personally). I’ve also drunk in some of the demolished pubs they talk about and walked down every street they showed and been in the shops they filmed in. And those Abercrombie Plan and Motorway Box maps look scarier every time I see them. How could such well-educated well-meaning hard-working planners be so utterly ignorant of the way cities really are or how people live in them? (Maybe Alison and Peter Smithson could have told us – though as far as I know they never damaged Deptford with their misplaced buildings – yet I noticed that the TV sneaked in shots of what looked very much like a corner of Robin Hood Gardens and a bit of the Balfron Tower at one point)
This programme was genuinely interesting and well-made, It was a better film than “The Tower” was, though perhaps an even more unfair picture of the place. But so many problems with it. They literally demonised the West African preacher, yet a he’s just about the only person they showed actively trying to improve things. Almost the only West Indians they showed were, well, rather scary. Not to mention “lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal”. When listing the folk exiled to various other suburbs they lumped Greenwich and Brockley – places you can walk to from Deptford in ten minutes – along with Grove Park and Woolwich and Bexleyheath, which by comparison are the Outer Darkness.
They somehow managed to make Nicholas Taylor the villain of the piece. I’m sure he’s made his mistakes but he doesn’t deserve this. In real life he was one of the few voices on the council opposed to the new brutalist redevelopment, and perhaps the only architect who was. Yes the slum clearance reports they showed made the council seem like authoritarian bullies – but after all these years we don’t need to be told how anti-working-class the “regeneration” industry can be. But Taylor wasn’t was one of the people who warned us of that way back then, and he wasn’t even on the council when they did it. And he actually lived there, and as far as I know still does. At the end when it was obvious that they were going to show some gentrifiers taking over I was briefly worried that they’d be showing Nick Taylor’s own, presumably reasonably presentable, house, to complete the fix-up. At least they got their floppy-jawed wimps from somewhere else. And they were the only people in the show who felt alien to me. Maybe they were actors. I rather hope that they were. Though the Canadian-sounding woman was quite cute.
Yet again they show the local people, or the working class in general, as mere passive victims of the plotting of those set above them, whether to send them to war or demolish their houses or destroy their businesses or replace them with dubiously dark-skinned incomers. (The BNP and their friends will love this programme). On the surface it seems to be sympathetic and even radical but its a deeply, deeply, establishment rhetorical stance. Resistance is futile. Opposition is pointless. The working-class people they interviewed aren’t depicted as actors in their own drama, more as a kind of stage-cockney chorus of cheeky chappies, drunkenly staggering through events they cannot be expected to understand.
Getting that church to sing “May the circle be unbroken” at the end was a cinematic and emotional triumph. Even if its probably not at all typical of what they’d actually sing. Not that I really know what they would sing. I go to a quite different church in Deptford, even if most of our congregation are Nigerians.
Not sure what I’m saying really, its four in the morning and I’m not being very coherent. maybe time to go to bed. Or else look around and see what others are saying about it. But well-done as it was it doesn’t leave a good taste in the mouth.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the next morning…
Now I’ve had a chance to think about it a bit more, there are some other niggling doubts. The way it showed women was very strange. They were almost all entirely sitting still and talking quietly and sadly, both in the present day and in the clips from the past. Lively women, strong women, happy women, angry women, were only shown in still photos. Whenever they talked they seemed to be doing it in a spirit of passive obedience, quiet resignation. Especially the women in the clips from 1960s and 1970s documentaries who seemed to be portrayed as meekly putting up with whatever their husbands dished out to them, just as those husbands themselves were rather less quietly taking whatever the landlords and local authorities did to them, living in quiet desperation and getting through the day on pills. One of them said something like “I was so depressed till my husband made me go to the doctor and he gave me the pills.” The women are shown as the victims of the victims, the underclass of the underclass.
Yes it makes you cry and it ought to make you angry. And yes that is certainly how some women lived then. How some live now. Its partly true and entirely tragic. But its not how most people live now. And I think I remember enough about the 1960s and 1970s – I think I remember enough working-class women in the 1960s and 1970s – to know that it wasn’t how everybody lived then either. “My nan had very nice curtains”
OK, the filmmakers probably know perfectly well they are doing that. They are no doubt decent well-brought-up BBC journalists, sympathetic to the community they are filming, well-meaning activists. Maybe they reckoned they only had time to show the worst, maybe they want us to be angry at the abuse those women received. But they showed effectively all working-class people as hopeless and desperate, the men reacting with drunken violence and bitter humour, the women by sinking into depression. Like I said it leaves a funny taste in the mouth.
As does the way they conflated the social decline of the new high-rise estates with the arrival of large numbers of black people. I’m sure they would say that they didn’t mean to do that, but they did, by the stringing together the fact that the new high-rise estates were unpopular with local people and soon became hard to let with Nicholas Taylor talking about the council going to the bottom of the housing list to find tenants (if only there were any council in the south of England that had that luxury now!) and then showing Black and Asian people all of a sudden when everyone up to then had been white. Every picture tells a story and their pictures told a story that I hope they did not really mean.
Also the film seemed to mix up two levels of argument in a rather confusing way.
On the one hand there was the exposure of a genuine wrong done to a specific small group of people, the owners of the houses in a few condemned streets off Deptford High Street (and, as they didn’t entirely make clear it is the owners they were talking about, not the tenants – who if they hadn’t been moved out by the council in the 1960s and early 70s would have probably been priced out by gentrification in the late 70s or 80s). If the allegations they made about the council and council officers are true (and I suspect they are) then it was a disgrace. If it had happened five years ago instead of fifty there would be an inquiry, probably compensation paid, maybe even criminal charges. Perhaps there should be now. Though it would be a heck of a lot of compensation. Tens of millions.
On the other hand there was some much vaguer stuff, at a larger scale, repeating the now familiar litany mourning the “white working class”. There are shades of the Rod Liddle about this or even (god forbid) Garry Bushell. Or maybe more respectably Michael Collins (no, not that one – the one who writes about South London) Billy Bragg or Gary Robson (or Gary Younge even though he’s black – why do so many Garys write about this stuff?) Or the blokes in our local pub who will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about East Street Market or the Surrey Canal or various dodgy night clubs back in the day. (More than you want to know, not more than I want to know, I’m a sucker for this stuff) Amazing they never mentioned Millwall. And its a story that is worth telling, even though its been told again and again and again over the last fifteen years or so. And even though a very similar story is the basis of half the racist lies the BNP and UKIP and the others are peddling. Starting with the very dubious mixing of categories of class and race.
But its a different story from the one about why this house was demolished and that one wasn’t. And they didn’t make any connection between the two. Just laid them side by side and strongly implied some things that I suspect that they would deny meaning if you asked them directly. Yes you can link them, yes you ought to illustrate general points by showing specific facts, and yes you need to have a mental framework to understand isolated incidents, but you need to make the connection and I don’t think they did.
I didn’t get the feeling that they really understand how big cities work, about the balance, or tension, between change and continuity. They tried to suggest that there has been some kind of long-term stable community of settled families in 19th and early 20th-century Deptford. But there wasn’t really. Or anywhere else in inner London. Of course there were families who had been around for generations – loads of them. But they were hugely outnumbered by incomers. Every generation millions of new arrivals came to London and its suburbs, every generation millions left. In the mid-19th century there was almost no district in London where the average person had as many as half their grandparents born in London (I think Bethnal Green might have been and exception). In the late 19th century vast numbers of working-class Londoners moved out to the inner suburbs, including Deptford, and even larger numbers of non-Londoners moved in to the same suburbs because they were neither rich enough nor poor enough to live in the city centre. The fastest turnover was probably the 1880s and 1890s, just the time that the grandparents and great grandparents of the families we saw on the TV were living in the houses that were demolished. Things slowed down after the First World War, because London stopped growing, and from the 1920s to the 1980s huge numbers moved out entirely, to the outer suburbs or beyond. But all the time others were moving in, and in the last thirty years that movement in has outgrown the exodus again. Most of the population of most districts of London is replaced every generation or so, and that has been true since at least the late 18th century. That’s how great cities work, its part of their life rather than their death.
And yes the Prices seem to have been shafted. And yes, at least some of their neighbours and tenants and friends who moved out to the outer suburbs didn’t want to go and would rather have stayed in Deptford. (Though I suspect that given the choice between private renting in Deptford and a council house in Downham in the 1950s. 60s, or 70s most people then would have gone to Downham – and some woudl even now). Yes the new estates in Deptford mostly went bad very quickly (though not all of them) and on the whole they were a disaster. We already know all that. Yes the grandiose plans for rebuilding London from the 40s to the 80s were mostly shite. Yes the more recent private estates that turn their backs on the city are a different kind of disaster. (and need fixing) Yes the whole rhetoric of “regeneration” is loaded against city-dwellers, implying that they and their neighbourhoods are degenerate and that cities need to be saved from their own residents by wealthy outsiders. Ands yes Deptford is still a wonderful place (even at the Cold Blow Lane end) despite all the crap that’s been handed out to it Those are all stories worth telling.
But this documentary, wonderful as it is, still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, from the way it shows women, the way it shows black people, the way it shows working-class people, the wasy it shows some individual peopel who are my neighbours, and the way it shows Deptford.
And this rant has gone on far too long.
It is a thing little remembered – even by the Wise – that Dwarven miners had been laying or carving tracks along the floor of their tunnels to ease the movement of ore trucks and other gear since at least the end of the Second Age. Moria, in its time of glory, was completely spanned by such, and a cable-hauled gravity-assisted rack-and-pinion railway was laid in the to take mithril and gems down to Lorien, and return with such provisions as even Dwarves need.
After the fall of Moria the Orcs of the Misty Mountains copied the Dwarves in this, as in so many other things. Bilbo never knew it, but had he fled from Gollum only a few minutes earlier would have run into a band of Orcs using a pit pony to haul mine waste from the new diggings towards the eastern entrance.
Such labour-saving machines never spread from the free Orcs of the Northern Mountains to their Master in the South, Sauron – despite the slanders of some Elves and Men – was never a lover of mechanism for its own sake. And he had many slaves and did not see why he should ease their burdens by providing wheeled vehicles.His mines and armouries were worked by muscle and the whip.
Saruman however was obsessed with efficiency and progress. In the ruins of Isengard, near the base of Orthanc, the men of Rohan came across a detailed scale model of the Ring of Isengard as it might become after victory, and rails ran everywhere, complete with little working steam engines, stations with tiny model Orcs waiting on the platforms – some with tinier Orc babies, it was never true that Orcs were born from vats though some of the larger ones may have been grown in them – and troop trains full of Uruk-Hai in complex and colourful uniforms correct in every detail, The Horse-Lords could make nothing of this, thinking it some complex charm, and the layout was not understood for what it was till it fell into the hands of one of Peregrine Took’s grandsons almost a century later.
The first public railways of the Fourth Age were due to the ingenuity – and eye for profit – of the Men of Dale. The Dwarves of the Iron Hills were using rails to haul waste our of their mineworkings, as they had done for cenbturies. Bard IV of Esgaroth saw this while on a trade delegation and realised at once that a similar but larger pony-drawn system could be used to take iron or ore or manufactured goods to the Lonely Mountain and the Long Lake much more cheaply than the pack mules and handcarts used in the past. That would now only save money, it would lock the Dwarves into trade through Dale, with everything passing through the Lake and then down the Running River
Very sensibly – the Bardlings were nothing but sensible and cautious in matters of commerce – the Dalemen started with some experimental track along the sides of the river and up to the Mountain. With their experience of boatbuilding and toymaking and their love of ingenious tricks, they soon laid a few miles of wooden track and started running loads up and down. They soon found that they were making almost as much money from children paying pennies for the ride as they were from the few goods passing to and from the Dwarves of the Mountain, and embarked on their great project in the twelfth year of the Fourth Age.
Its hard to say whether the Old Iron Hills Railway was a success or not. The wooden rails, so simple to make and lay in the vicinity of Laketown, were a great burden to keep in repair on so large a scale. Wood had to be cut and shaped up to two years before then seasoned and bent into shape. Stocks of wood had to be kept at stages along the way and men had to be ready to repair any damage within a day. The output of the Dwarf mines was never quite large enough to pay for all this, and the Permanent Way often lay damaged and useless for weeks at a time, especially in winter.
On the other hand, and unlooked-for, the railway led to the growth of a new kingdom in the North. Ever since the death of the Dragon, men had been moving into the empty lands north and east of Mirkwood. Some flying from the horror in the South, others merely looking for wider room for their growing families. After the end of the War of the Ring, when Wilderland knew peace and security for the first time in over three hundred years, thousands of poor and landless flocked up the Running River from Rhovanion, to plant corn and children in the wide plains between the Mountains and the Wood. And as Men do they began to build hamlets and villages and to hold markets and fairs. At first these fairs were by the River, for all trade and travel was by the River. But as soon as the Railway was laid, and the staging posts and wood stores and horse-stables built, strangers began to gather around them. The Men of Dale were like to send them away but Bard, canny for coin, welcomed them in so long as they swore to obey the laws of the land, and offered them the use of the Way to carry their goods and their gear – for a price. Even when the Railway failed these new towns lived on. And so, three dozen years after it was builded, the Old Iron Hills Railway no longer just joined the Dwarves of the Mountain with those of the Hills over a hundred miles of wilderness, it ran through a fertile land of Men, stout farmers, eager and willing to trade their wheat and barley and beer and cider and leather and mutton for the trinkets and toys of the Dalemen and the Dwarves.
The next chapter in the Railway History of Middle-Earth is written far to the West, in the Shire. It is true, that on hearing of the Railway in Dale King Aragorn had a stone track built or carved to connect Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, and Minas Ithil, but it was never much more than a curiosity. However, on one of his many visits to the City in which he had served the Steward so faithfully in the War of the Ring, and about fifty years after the end of that War, Peregrin Took of the Shire happened to meet with Fror, the grandson of that Fror whose brothers Thror and Gror founded the Kingdoms of the Mountain and the Iron Hills, who was in Minas Tirith with some of his folk to restore parts of the Second Level of the City still bearing damage from the siege. There Fror told of the Iron Hills Railway among many other marvels of Dwarf-work at Dale and the Mountain, and the Took formed a desire to see this thing.
He never did of course – he remained in the Shire for the next ten years before returning to Gondor in retirement – but his son Faramir, Thain after him, and more especially *his* son Samwise II – later Thain and Shire-Reeve, but at this time still a boy with a boy’s enthusiasms – took up the idea, and made a garden railway on their own land between the Great Smials and Tuckborough. But this railway was made with iron rails – somehow Faramir had had carried to the Shire much of the metal left over from the ruin of Isengard, and some of the forges set up by Saruman in his brief period of rule were still in operation remaking it into whatever the Hobbits needed. And for three years not a birthday or a festival went by without the children of Tuckborough being treated to a ride up and down the garden and round the corner to the pond, drawn on iron rails by small, friendly, ponies.
However conservative they may be in other ways Hobbits are never slow to take up new ideas that both save work and please children, and this garden railway was all the rage. Three or four smaller ones were set up around the Shire in the next couple of years, but no truly working railway was built until the South Farthing Iron Road of FA54 which connected the farms and market at Longbottom with the Shirebourn so that produce could be exported down the Brandywine,
Then came one of those coincidences which make one wonder if history is indeed made by men and elves, or if there is some over-riding Story or Plot behind it all. Ever since the fall of old Cardolan, the lands immediately to the south and east of the Shire had been inhabited by a mixed bag of Men, Hobbits, and Orcs, living from hand to mouth in small isolated communities and in fear of each other as well as both the Orcs of the Mountains and the Elves of Rivendell. Its only surviving settlements of any size were Buckland, which was effectively an addition to the Shire, the villages of the Breeland, and the small hamlet at Sarn Ford. As is well known the land of Cardolan fell under the fear and spell of Saruman during the War of the Ring, and its greenways and rivers were used by him to trade secretly with the Shire and the Dwarves. At the end of that War Saruman’s rabble briefly tried to take over the Shire, but were expelled by the Ringbearer and his companions. Expelled, but not destroyed. They were forced to take to the hills. But now there was a King in Gondor, and trade and fair folk passed up and down the Greenway and the Brandywine. So the rabble and the heathmen followed the trades they had learned from Saruman, as carters and cobblers and bargees and ferrymen, and it was into their hands that that the Hobbits of the South Farthing placed their pipeweed and their broadcloth and their other produce, and from their hands that they received in return gold and goods in great store fromn the South.
And it was one of them who came to the Thain one night with a proposal for a new kind of railway. An ugly man, past the best of his youth, almost toothless with long arms and calloused hands, he had the look of a half-orc. It is said he was named Bill Ferny but we need pay no heed to such stories – all the heath-men and river-wanderers were called “Bill Ferny” in those days, for “Ferny” means nothing more than a man of the fens or the moors, and “Bill” is what the Hobbits would call any stranger without a name. This Bill Ferny’s father had been in Isengard in the War, and had – he said – there learned the secret of cunning engines which could drive a hammer or a wheel without need for horse or man to turn and pull. All that was needed was wood and water – or the black rock that burns that the Dwarves mine in the Ered Luin – and with such engines a new kind of railway could be built. But (there is always a but) the only folk who knew how to make such things were some of those who had been in Isengard before the war. And they were such as were not popular in the Shire, and avoided sunlight.
The deal was done. Peregrin Took was safely in Gondor, and in FA 56 Bill Ferny – or whatever his name was – and some rather strange friends of his moved into Tookbank and, working mostly at night or underground, constructed the first steam locomotives ever seen in Middle Earth. At the same time the Hobbits of the West Farthing extended the old garden railway from Tuckborough to Michel Delving. In September FA 61 – by coincidence the 80th anniversary of Bilbo’s eleventyfirst birthday – the Tuckborough and Michel Delving Railway had its Grand Opening. Everyone was there for miles around. Stout old Hobbits and little Hobbit children queued up for hours to take the five mile ride. And so the railway madness began.
Within another three years the Hobbiton, Bywater and Frogmorton was running east-west alonmg the Old East Road. Desperate to beat them to make a connection with Buckland the Tooks allied themselves with Hobbits of the Marish to lay the Green Hills Railway east towards Stock, just as the South Farthing Iron Road converted to steam and laid a new branch at great expense across the marshes to Deephallow. Not wishing to be left out, other Hobbits laid the Greenfields, Scarry, and Bridgeford in the North Farthing – with a branch to Long Cleeve, and the Sackville-Bagginses amoing others made a north-south line connecting Sackville with Michel Delving and Little Delving then curling east to Nobottle. Another, shorter, line the most profitable of all, the Hobbiton and Central Shire funded by the Proudfoots and Hardbottles, joined Bywater to the Tooklands.
This had a deep effect on the society and economy of the Shire and beyond. The new railways soon outgrew the iron scavenged from Isengard and were in the market for new Dwarf-forged metal. Some came from Ered Luin, and before long iron to make tracks and coal to fire engines was itself being brought in by rail – by the end of 64 the Hobbiton, Bywater and Frogmorton had extended west to Michel Delving from where, despite fiece competition within the Shire, the two co-operated on the Grand United Western Railroad across the Far Downs and Tower Hills to the Havens. The move west was also under the protection and direction of Elanor Gamgee Fairbairn, whose late husband Fastred had been appointed Warden of Westmarch by King Elassar in FA 41, and so became the first official of the Kingdom of Arnor to rule over any of the coastlands for over a thousand years, and who was still trying to establish her authority.
But the requirement for iron and steel seemed never-ending. Single-track railways were upgraded to two or four tracks, narrower tracks to Great Smials Standard Gauge (based on Peregrin Took’s greatest rumoured height, said soon after to have been four-foot eight-inches, though there is no record from his lifetime of either him or Meriadoc Brandybuck exceeding four-foot-six), ever-smaller settlements were connected to the system, so more steel had to come from the Iron Hills. This was taken by horse-drawn rail to the Long Lake then *up* the Forest River almost to Mount Gundabad, then, at first, down the Anduin all the way to the sea and by coastal ship to the Brandywine and up-river by barge to be unloaded at the rapidly-growing docks at Bucklebury. Other ships went all the way to the Havens of Lindon to meet the railway there. The Iron Hills Railroad was itself upgraded to use iron rails and steam haulage – with locomotive parts brought back from the Shire by sea and river. But as dwarves re-established themselves in the most ancient of all their delvings at Gundabad, increasingly the metal was transported overland to the Shire across an ever-decreasing gap as the North Downs Railway was built west and south of Gundabad towards Fornost, and the Buckland and King’s Norbury which was at forst built eastwards to meet it from the great bend of the Brandywine as it comes out of Lake Evendim, but then joined to the eastern bounds of the Shire. The old town of Fornost, re-founded by Aragorn Elessar in the early years of the Fourth Age as a garrison to protect the Shire and eastern Cardolan from the many wild things that still sulked around or beyond Carn Dum, once again prospered.
But these were small things compared with the changes in the life and ways of the Shire itself. Hobbits are hardy folk, but neither size nor temperament suits them to the life of an Inland Navigator. From the begining they employed others to dig cuttings, bank earth, and lay track. And those others lived in and around the Shire in their own camps and townships, with wages to spend and bellies to fill. So there was a second incoming of Big Men to the Shire – though mostly women this time – catering to the wants of the navvies, whether human or half-Orc. It would be an exaggeration to say that the streets of Michel Delving or Buckleberry were no longer safe for a hobbit-lass to walk on a Friday night, but things were certainly lively, and noisier, than they had been. This was all in spite of the Royal Edict of FA 6 expressly forbidding Big Men to enter the Shire.
Also, although – like the men of Dale – Hobbits were keen-eyed, nimble-fingered, and well-learned in machineries such as millcraft and clockwork, they had none among them skilled in forging large iron structures, nor the boilers and other pressure vessels needed for steam engines. The masters of that craft were found only among the scatterlings of Isengard, where they had learned from Saruman himself. And many, maybe most of them, were Orcs. And so, for the first time anywhere in Middle Earth, small numbers of Orcish folk lived among Men (for the Hobbits in truth were naught but the smallest kind of Men) not as slaves or warriors or prisoners but as workers, and well-paid well-skilled workers at that.
There were few direct intimate liaisons between Uruk-Hai and Hobbits (if only for obvious reasons of scale) but that did nothing to stop a rather unpleasant campaign of printed posters saying “Would you want one to marry your sister?”. There were, however, a large contingent of half-orcs and orc-like Men and, as said above, large numbers of women of various sorts providing for them. So slowly, over a few generations, fpor the first time in Middle-Earth, Big Men and Halflings and Orcs merged into one mixed people, brought together by the Railway. And by the middle of the Fourth Age the Shire Folk, no longer as small and slight as their forefathers before the War of the Ring, had come to rule over much of Eriador and Arnor and the coastlands. Many of the Wise think this to be the origins of our modern European populations – our long arms and stout legs compared with other humans, our pale, clammy, skin, or vestigal brow-ridges – these were not the features of the ancient Men of Numenor.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. None of this was in sight in FA 70 when, in the year of Peregrin Took’s death, Matt Brockhouse and Ham Clayhanger, signalmen of the Overhill, Brockhouse and Bree Railway (despite the name the extension to Bree was still a distant dream – no road has ever been cut through the Old Forest for some reason, and Bree was not connected until the line coming north out of Sarn Ford paralell to the Great North Road was completed in 92, the first major section of what was to become the Gondor and Arnor Railway, the greatest engineering feat of the Age) began their experiments with block signalling in response to the Stockbridge Disaster of the year before…
And after Milton Keynes, to Cranfield University for our meeting. Cranfield shows it history in its architecture, which is quite unlike any other university I’ve seen (though bits of Loughborough are remniscent) Its a 20th-century RAF base slowly morphed into a 21st-century university.
The building we had our meeting in looked like a typical bit of 1960s or so public-service surburban architecture. Vaguely reminiscent of some of the newer and tackier bits of the Inland Revenue site at Durrington when I worked there in the 1980s, or of the now-demolished Bungalow Building at Lewisham Bridge School. Thin partition walls, slightly corroded casement windows, an oddly inaccessible internal courtyard or lightwell or atrium (that word sounds far too grand) with pieces of disused aircon equipment lying around on a floor made of pebbles.
Slightly older buildings looked something like my own old primary school on a larger scale. 1950s red-brick-repectable council-estate suburban, fitting in well with older areas laid put round a fake village green with a sturdy little bus-shelter that looked like the better sort of Army married quarters. Maybe that’s exactly what they used to be.
But on top of that there is 1980s corporate business-park building that could be in one of those vast and unfocussed shedlands near Heathrow, and shiny 21st century stuff.
I’ve never really been to Milton Keynes before. Well, I suppose I haven’t really been there now, but I got off the train and caught a bus to go to a meeting at Cranfield University and spent at least two hours being driven around the vicinity so I am obviously a huge expert on the place, seeing as how important first impressions are
And the first impression is that Milton Keynes inverts, turns inside out, the “natural” pattern of a city that has grown piecemeal over time and governed by market forces. A gradual-growth unplanned city, like London – well, no-where is quite like London but you could compare about half of the older cities in England tends to organise itself around pre-existing roads going from place to place, node to node. If unconstrained by local government these tend to form mostly radial commercial strips, such as the long rambling linked shopping streets of inner suburban London, with lots of little gridplan residential areas gradually filling in behind them, often following the existing private land ownership. You can see that in Sheffield or Shepherd’s Bush, Brighton or Brockley. LA has much the same layout on a larger scale, as does Houston. A patchwork of gridplans hanging off roads that connect places together.
But it also – and I really hadn’t realised this till I saw it – doesn’t closely resemble typical planned cities either, whether the old late 19th-century gridplans of so many US cities, or the swirly-suburban Radburnised, Swedified layouts of the typical British “New Towns” like Crawley or East Kilbride (I strongly suspect that it is impossible to truly learn to navigate the streets of East Kilbride on foot unless you were exposed to the place before puberty – you have to have it ingrained in your brain)
Milton Keynes has an outer gridplan, a large-scale (about 1km a side) checkerboard of horizontal and vertical “avenues” that deliberately avoid going to most of the places you might want to go. These aren’t – or weren’t in their original conception there seems to have been some withdrawal from the strict plan since and some shiny new shops and offices opening directly on to them – these aren’t big shopping avenues or boulevards such as we think we know in Paris, they are more like internal bypasses, a complete network of roads that narrowly miss going anywhere interesting. So when you drive round the city you spend most of your time on dual carriageways with odd glimpses of buildings in the gaps between the almost-but-not-quite grown trees lining both sides of the road – and they are often not just single rows of street trees, they are deep plantings of parkland trees.
Its like a chessboard the lines between the squares represented by motor roads, and a roundabout at each place where the corners of squares meet. The actual places are in the centres of the squares, a different suburb or neighbourhood in each, and each one at least in potential distinct and different from all the others. Not that you can tell, because you can’t see them. Commercial centres, new residential neighbourhoods, parks, older villages or towns, are all separate from each other and from the roads. The apotheosis of the “access without propinquity” fantasies of the 1940s to 1970s. Houses next to houses, shops to shops, offices to offices, everything ten minutes drive from a main road. No-one need meet anyone or anything they didn’t plan to other than cars. Lots of tasteful shopping and green living in carefully segregated spaces. Victor Gruen come back to Europe and pupped.
Its amazing what you don’t see.
OK, it is hard to see what is really there in this light:
But I must have passed this spot hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. On my bike, on foot, on the bus. I have taken photos near the spot. I have walked or cycled down each one of the three streets that join there. But I never saw it until after I had read that it was there on someone’s blog. And then it was obvious. You can’t miss it. Huge and shiny and in full sight no more than twenty metres from one of the busiest roads in London. Except I did miss it. Its been there for OVER TEN YEARS and I never even noticed it. Or if I did I’ve completely forgotten about it.
So can you see the tank?
Its in there….
There it is!
A genuine Russian T34 tank, slightly foxed:
And while I was there taking the photos someone came up to me and asked, in a strong Eastern European accent “Do you come from round here?” I said I lived not far away, and then he asked “Are you Russian?” I told him I wasn’t and he told me that Russians come to look at it. And then he said that he used to drive one like it. I asked him if he was Russian, and he said no, Polish, but when he did his military service he learned to drive a T34. I said he looked a bit young to have used one – he doesn’t look as if he is fifty years old – but he said that conscripts got to practice on them. The Russians and the professional soldiers used T72s. Apparently the conscripts weren’t allowed near them. Not even to touch the outside of them, security guards at all times.
Which is kind of an interesting thing to happen on a Sunday afternoon after church. So I thought I would blog about it.
I wonder whose house the gun is pointing at?
Since I wrote that I’ve looked at the pictures again and realised how well camouflaged it is. Its right next to a white gate with a car behind it, and the gate and car are much smaller than the tank, but much easier to see. All that shiny graffiti is actually good camouflage for this urban environment – which is basically the end of a traditional street, and right next to some post-industrial desolation now mostly morphed into a mixture of inappropriately suburban-style strip-mall shopping and wannabe posh flats cut off from the world by 3-metre-high brick walls that keep out the neighbours and let in the burglars.
When our TVs were full of pictures of British soldiers shooting or getting shot at in Northern Ireland we were used to seeing squaddies in full combat dress with fake leaves in their helmets squatting down behind some tiny privet hedge in a street that could easily have been one of the dingier districts of Croydon. The clothes seemed strange. In that environment the green and brown and khaki DPM must have stood out a mile. It shouts “I am a soldier” at anyone watching, just as much as a red jacket with piping and epaulettes used to. Maybe that’s why they did it that way. In Belfast in the 1980s I saw a policeman (I think, it was hard to tell) sitting in the turret of an armoured car with a big machine-gun at the entrance to a shopping street, wearing a black flak-jacket, and a shiny black helmet with visor down so you couldn’t see his face. More Darth Vader than Dixon of Dock Green. Maybe the army weren’t trying to hide or blend in but they were using their clothes to show who they were, to intimidate rather than blend in. Camouflage repurposed as livery. The old red coats turned green.
Perhaps there were other soldiers hanging about in T-shirts, jeans, and trainers – genuine urban camouflage. Come to think of it there almost certainly were.
Edinburgh must be the most three-dimensional of our British cities. I like that. It appeals to my inner sf fan. All those old illustrations covers with bridges between towering buildings and streets in the sky and monorails and personal jetpacks.
OK, this is the steampunk version of that, with all those 18th and 19th century buildings, or perhaps a little earlier than that – we could call it the cobblepunk version. One of the characteristic sounds of the city being buses rumbling down cobbled streets.
The four bridges or viaducts that have the biggest effect are all 19th century – North Bridge, South Bridge, Regent Bridge, George IV Bridge – the latter two names are a bit of a giveaway – so they really are the gaslight era, but somehow they look and feel older. The basic layout of the Old Town and its immediate surroundings is mediaeval even if a lot of the buildings themselves are later Scottish Baronial imposters. And that mid-century cobbled Edinburgh was the one Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle were born and brought up in, so its one of the original homes of steampunkery and gaslightery, even if London (and a little bit New York) are where such things found their dark corners to hide in.
And some nice plants to show its not all doom and gloom even in January:
Just managed to upload some photos from the brief circumnavigation of Britain a couple of weeks ago. (A picture may be worth a thousand words, but its easier to write a thousand words than it is to make a good picture. Doubly so online) Maybe I’ll post the half-written items about Edinburgh and Glasgow soon… but in the meantime, does every city have to have a Ferris wheel?
Glasgow’s is shiny:
York’s is retro:
And here is one I prepared earlier:
A genuine stereotype observed in its natural wild habitat! Teenage obsession with trainers! OK, its a but last-century, and it was never as extreme as the The-Youth-Of-Today whingers made out but it not only did exist it still does. At least in Deptford.
Yesterday, on top of the 47 bus making my way in the general direction of the Den (don’t talk about the match. We was robbed). There was a group of girls sitting behind me chatting loudly. Very loudly. All black, most mid-teens I guessed, maybe 14 or 15 – from what they said at least some of them were deciding whether to stay at school into the sixth form or else go to a college so they are certainly about that age.
Another young woman got up to go downstairs and get off the bus. As she got to thte top of the stairs the girls still behind me started giggling and shushing each other and stage-whispering: “Be quiet! Don’t say it yet! She’ll hear!” When she had got downstairs they started laughing and joking about what she had been wearing. “It looks like its going to burst!” I assumed this referred to the rather tight white trousers she had stretched around her somewhat large rear end. Though I couldn’t help thinking cynically that the general effect was somewhat pleasing from a bloke’s point of view, and that at least one of the girls doing the talking was quite a bit plumper all over.
And then they moved on to footwear. Apparently the trainers she was wearing were hilarious. How can she bear to go out in them? Can’t she save up and buy a proper pair? I couldn’t quite hear all the conversation – the stage whisper had subsided into ordinary quiet talk and buses are noisy places so I wasn’t sure whether the problem pair of shoes were Reeboks or they were suggesting Reeboks as a cheap but acceptable alternative. I know there are symbolic codes and agreed protocols to assign meaning to these things but, being a Bloke, I don’t know what they are and even if I learned they would be changed soon after, partly because people like me knew them. So I have no idea what Reeboks signify to these young women.
Then they moved on to classmates not present, demolishing their pathetic choice of trainers one by one. The worst of the losers seems to be a young boy whos Dad bought him a pair of Dunlops. And he wore them! “That’s so African!” Apparently, no Jamaican Dad would let his children be seen out wearing no-brand shoes like that! They would insist on proper brands. Like… well, like I can’t remember because the two or three examples were completely unknown to me and by the time I’d been to the match (don’t mention the match. I blame the ref. And that idiot lino) I’d forgotten their names if I’d ever heard them clerly in the first place.
But I’m not meant to remember the names of shoes. They are numbered amongst those Things that Man is Not Meant to Know. The rules of fashion are impenetrable to blokes. Deliberately so, because they are partly about demonstrating publically that you are not like people like me, so if people like me started dressing a certain way the fashion-struck would stop doing it.
Its not only women on buses. Last week, on a train to Waterloo, I overheard two young women talking about what they had been buying recently, and what they intended to buy in whatever shops it was that they were going to visit that day. One asked the other if she was going to buy a handbag. Oh no, she said, no handbags, none of the current styles suited her, so she never went out with a handbag any more, and for the last month or so she had been wearing hats instead, so she intended to buy another hat.
Someone who thinks that hats and handbags are alternatives to each other lives in a completely different universe of discourse to me.
Briefly to Islington to see my brother for a Christmas drink. Its easy to get to now that the East London Line goes to Highbury and the Northern Heights are almost connected to civilisation
Revisited some old haunts to see what;s changed. Mor his old haunts than mine I was in Durham, Kenya, and Brighton for most of the time he hung around there in the late 70s and early 80s, but I still have some memories of it. Like taking snuff and wering a proper hat at some gig in the basement of the Hope and Anchor. Which is where we went first. Not a good idea even for nostaligia. A pint of rubbishy beer badly kept in a pub which isn’t even a parody of its former self, despite the handful of out-of-place old band posters. Its more like a standard off-the-shelf 1990s London Pub interior, with fake flock wallpaper, fake chandeliers, second-hand cheap oak tables, coffee machine, and large clear windows so you can see in and decide not to enter and join the small numbers of customers. It looked like someone bought it by mail order. A soulless place. Too clean. At least last night. Maybe its more fun when there is music downstairs, but there was none last night.
Walked down Upper Street which these days seems to be made up almost entirely of different sorts of Asian fusion restaurants. You want Japanese style roast beef, Mexican/Turkish wraps, Australian vegan pies, gluten-free Thai? I’m sure its here somewhere.
So we took refuge in the Camden Head, which (like the eponymous Camden Passage) has confused generations of last piss-artists by not being in Camden. It still looks like it used to (which is pretty amazing) and it wasn’t too cold to sit outside smoking, nor too crowded to get a seat inside. Most of the customers seemed to be 30-something women with posh accents out on the piss, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Beer the now-ubiquitous Doombar, which was a great improvement. So we stayed for three or four.
And then as if to prove that North London always was connected to civilisation I managed to get back to Lewisham in half an hour by tube and train. OK, it was a bit jammy and I had to leap through closing doors twice, but it worked. Left the pub at 10:26, got off a train at Lewisham at 10:50. Would hardly have thought it possible.
No photos as it was dark and I didn’t take my camera…
The programme info for BBC Match of the Day on Virgin cable really does say “A***nal”. A joke? Please tell me its a joke!
Its a funny sort of autumn this year. More like a damp summer. I suppose it goes with our funny sort of recession that seems to involve vast amounts of construction everywhere I go, and record corporate profits.
I didn’t take my camera to church this morning. Which is a pity, as it was a glorious sunny day, and after the service as I walked up towards New Cross through what this website tells us should be called Deptford New Town there were loads of things I wanted to take pictures of.
So you will just have to put up with what I could do with my phone. As usual the pictures link to larger versions on Flickr, and to others of similar things.
The first thing that caught my eye was a heavily amputated horse chestnut that had just come back into leaf, In the last week of November. It doesn’t show too well in the pictures but these leaves are soft pale green and brand new.
Also the Deptford Railway Meadow is looking good. Well, it is if you are a botanist with an aversion to neatly mowed lawns, like I am. And there are even a few flowers in bloom there – mostly the sort of yellow composites that you need a hand lens to identify so I can’t really say what they are from over the fence.
In fact the most striking thing after that was the number of flowers around. A beautiful day.
A beautiful day.
And the best-named park in London!
So I’m in the pub and talking to V our resident Texan about accents. And this black bloke from Deptford that I don’t know says he is originally from Queens, New York. But his accent is totally local, so I say he sounds more like Queen’s Park than Queens, A lucky phrase – it turns out that he was in fact brought up in Brighton and lived near Queen’s Park. His parents moved there from America when he was a kid and he lived just off Southover Street for years. Supported the Albion, He’s a couple of years older than me so we were both in Brighton in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. We remember some of the same places and pubs. I probably put leaflets through their door in election campaigns.
But proud to be a Brightonian! (A word we both knew but the Londoners around us didn’t recognise – neither does this spell-checker)