I like to imagine there is a spirit that guides my fugues at times – that rewards me for surrendering to its lure. The rewards come in the shape of stumbling into unexpected corners of the city at the end of unpromising schleps. But sometimes they come in the form of books. Today I succumbed to the fugue and found these four books virtually side by side on the same charity shop shelf.
Rising in the East (1996) unlocked the door. A book of essays on East End regeneration written in a pre-Cool Britannia London – when to talk of a renaissance of the East may still have sounded optimistic or opportunistic. The first eager read turned up an essay on the importance of the North London Line Overground train at a time when it was fighting for its life. I skimmed the first few pages of this thesis as I glided eastwards from Haringey to Leyton on one of the brand new trains running on the 160- year old line. ‘Traversing the Great Divide: The North London Line and East London’ the essay is grandly titled, by Bruce Jerram and Richard Wells, and such is their passion apparent for the NLL that they produced this brilliant diagram demonstrating how it arcs West – East across the capital, or as it was viewed at the time from “a rich desirable west to a poor, dull, possibly dangerous east”. With the stations being upgraded, gleaming pre-graffiti trains and the East London Olympics at the end of the North London Line, it looks like they won their argument.
The Romance of London from 1910. The first pages pouring cold water of talk of the myth of King Lud but all the same acknowledging Tacitus’s observations that in AD61 he finds London “celebrated for the gathering of dealers and commodities”. A Roman refuting the idea that the Romans founded our city.
A guide to Camden written at the height of Britpop and an archeological examination of the relationship between town and country in Roman Britain (wonder whether urban sprawl was an issue back then?)
Headed out for a wander beside the Lea in the late afternoon sun. They’re building a whole new world over the road – the pace of building of the Olympic Park is startling. We duck down away from the madness and into the quiet shade of the willow trees.
On a section of the bank that looks prone to flooding the boys spot a dead hairy crab washed up with piles of rubbish. The eldest suggests that the pollution must have killed it and he then returns the decaying crustacean to the water.
We pass through dense thickets of pink flowers catching the sun. Using my 1950’s wildflower book I posit that these may be Himalayan Balsam, that this tattered tome tells me are commonly found by rivers and streams.
The boys can’t resist the pull of the open sea of pitches on Hackney Marshes and they sprint across. We follow the water again along the Hackney Cut past the barges, joggers and fishermen and reach Lea Bridge Road at the magic hour of last light.