Interview with Iain Sinclair

Craig Taylor

Earlier this year, Craig Taylor met Iain Sinclair at Keats House in Hampstead to discuss Swandown, Ghost Milk and London after the 2012 Olympics. The following is an extended version of the interview that appeared in the print version of Peninsula.

CT: I remember the day when this manuscript came in to Simon [Prosser, of Ghost Milk’s publisher Hamish Hamilton], who I work with. We looked at the title and thought, ‘Only Iain Sinclair could take these two words and force them together in this way.’ ‘Ghost Milk’, what does it mean? Maybe we could start with that term.

IS: It becomes a question that I ask myself – ‘What is this?’ That’s what I wanted to solve. I don’t want the book simply to be some kind of polemic against the Olympics or against great projects. It’s a much more mysterious thing than that and I feel that at the moment in the world there is a substance hovering almost like ectoplasm between the virtual and the actual.

We’re being overwhelmed by computer-generated imagery, I saw it when the lower Lee Valley was enclosed in blue fences – suddenly these images of something that doesn’t exist came into being. They were pin sharp and they included a vision of London that people were persuaded to believe, that was totally contradicted by the toxic reality that was going on underfoot. Between the two there has to be a kind of buffer substance and I think we had to invent something that became that.

I think of ghost milk like a photographic developing fluid into which the impressions I’ve carried back from the world are put, and something emerges that isn’t digital and it isn’t analogue. It’s another kind of form of reality that I’m struggling to get at. That’s the grand metaphor for Ghost Milk. The other side of it, the simpler instruction, is that on the breakfast table, when I started to think having coming back from a walk around Hackney, is a bottle of goat’s milk and, not having my glasses and being slightly dyslexic, I interpreted that as ghost milk and thought ‘that works’ and so there we are.

CT: This quote from the book I found particularly lovely: ‘CGI smears on the blue fence, real juice from a virtual host, embalming fluid, a super photographic negative, soul food for the dead, universal element in which we sink and swim.’

IS: That’s the most important, I think, this ‘universal element in which we sink and swim’. Because now, London is – and the media reinforces this so strongly – such an atomised, fragmented city. French newspaper Le Monde wanted and asked a number of London writers recently to define what London is now from their own point of view. My sense was there was no London any more to become something else. The zone I’m in has essentially become Westfield. You can only enter by the transport hub of the station, [it] leads you through this shopping city into a satellite which is the Olympic stadium. So my sense of London and what you get from here [Hampstead] or what you get from being further down in Camden Town or whatever, it doesn’t exist.

There is a new kind of London emerging. We have to have a medium between the two, through which we sink or swim, and that’s our challenge, I think, as writers. And you’ve done it [in Londoners] with a very nice solution. Almost like [Henry] Mayhew, you analyse London by wandering and talking to people, just to voice it for themselves. So it becomes a sort of choral history. How you chose the people I’m not sure – that’s another question. Out of the mass of London the impression you get with Mayhew is of this endless remorseless journey, almost like a detective with his notebook, questioning and interrogating people. I don’t feel that you did that [with Londoners], I felt that it was a different process. I don’t know if that’s true but it felt like they were people who were almost social extensions or people you might have met in the passage of the day.

CT: I certainly didn’t attack it the same way that Mayhew did with his facts, figures and endless lists. It was reportorial. It was also an exploration of my own London, so some of the voices were friends, old acquaintances.

IS: I think there’s room really for a Mayhew now. Locally there’s a place called Broadway Market which has become a symbol of regeneration. It’s a very successful and quite expensive place. There’s the sort of food you can get in Borough Market, and it’s changed the nature of what used to be a chartered market in a part of Hackney, where once upon a time cattle, geese were fattened up on London fields and they were taken through to Spitalfields to be slaughtered. And the particular pathway that came through London became a chartered right to hold markets on. This – having gone into complete dissolution for a long time – is revived, it becomes enormously successful.

On a Saturday morning within 100 yards of that market, and I was there last week, there are thirty people sleeping rough in bushes alongside a bus garage, which is just one street away. There’s a wall and there are some scabby bushes that hide you from sight. There’s this number of people who are sleeping there and moving on to London fields, London benches to drink. So the two cities are visible in a way that really hasn’t been there since the Dickensian period and I think this is quite shocking because you’re getting an underrated, invisible population alongside a highly visible population which is used to promote the kind of projects which I’ve been discussing in the book.

CT: In this book especially there’s a lot to do with lost, forgotten space – space that’s changed. In one part you talk about what this land was: football pitches, a cycle track, a river shared by oarsmen and narrow-boat dwellers . . .

IS: I think the big question initially, for me, is the corruption of language in all this. That it’s actually a mirror image of what’s true. We’re being presented with the fact repeatedly that this was a wasteland. There was nothing there, that was the starting point, we’re told that all the time. I picked up a directory from one of the fences that were enclosing the site early on, which was a list of expulsion, a list of what was there, and the fact is that there were thousands and thousands and thousands of names of people and businesses that have gone from there.

It was all there, and not only that, everything that’s being promised to be brought in was already there and was allowed to decay. You had the little running track that someone built in Hackney Wick in the back of his pub in the Victorian period, enormously successful, at his own expense. There were the Manor Garden Allotments and the sporting facilities that were brought in and provided by patrons and then allowed to decay because they wouldn’t put any money into them. And all the little neighbourhood swimming pools, like where I taught my children to swim, round the corner from me. All of that has gone, to go into the big, grand, showy thing.

So I think that’s my argument, that’s the picture of what we had and was visible to me when I worked there in the 1970s on what is now the Olympic site. And to see it gradually decay because there was no showbiz value, there was no political value in putting small amounts of money in to keep these things going. We would much rather have something grand and use the smokescreen of that grand thing to put up very indifferent housing.

Apart from the fact that this land is very seriously radioactive and contaminated. And I know that therefore it’s a good thing to remediate, but that remediating process takes twenty to thirty years and you’ve got to do it in four. And so thorium from a luminous watchtower factory has leached into the water table and the Lee is now the most polluted river in Britain.

CT: You talk at one point about ‘wanderers who are not filmed, not challenged by security, trusted to make their own mistakes’, which I thought was a good phrase. And that’s something that perhaps is less tangible than a disappearing sports field.

IS: [In Hampstead], with the presence of the Heath – it allows you this kind of escape valve whereby your consciousness can float away and take its own forms, in drift and reverie and engagement with nature. And so you move, but you move across the landscape. In East London this is more difficult, because it was a much more impacted place, it was very dense with housing. And they created, in Victoria Park, the first non-Royal people’s park, and the Lee Valley served as a wonderful safety valve; walkers, fishers, people who wanted to follow the bird life on the marshes, as well as all forms of industry, all went into this same landscape. It was a release, it was a break.

It was so important to have that liminal land, that edge-land accessible for people to walk to within twenty minutes or half an hour. And once that’s enclosed, then there’s a deeply disturbing psychological effect that takes place which I always relate to the poet John Clare. He’s promoted as the peasant poet, the worker poet and Keats is the cockney poet and Keats has been destroyed by the critics and his books are not selling. Taylor, Keats’s publisher, turns to John Clare and has a big success with his first book.

So Clare is removed from this small village life that he knows very well and has to pretend to be himself as a celebrity in London where he meets Coleridge and he meets everybody, and this is deeply disturbing. And there are other reasons for this disturbance, one of which is enclosures, the agricultural enclosures that take place, so that he is no longer allowed to drift and move through his own landscape that he knows so well around Helpston. That has become land that belongs to somebody and is parcelled up. The energetic and dynamic peasants around him become tenant farmers and push upwards, but the great mass are just dispersed and drift off into the cities or into breakdown.

The Clare breakdown gets him into Epping Forest, where he’s in a small hospital asylum run by Matthew Allen. And he walks away and he walks back to try and reconnect with his self through walking. Three and a half days up the Great North Road. Without food, chewing the grass of the verges, all of this stuff, for me a classic image of what is needed in this sense of walking to get to . . . to heal yourself psychically.

I was at old Ford Lock with some French radio people. And the woman doing the recording was becoming more and more disturbed. It was a programme they were doing about water. The producer had decided, having been in London for a while, that actually London was a city where water was most important. She saw that London had grown up out of the sediment of the Thames as a kind of water-city and a port. And now, with the Lee, water was coming back. So she was trying to do this thing about water, but, standing quite close to the Olympic stadium, couldn’t do it, because the overload was immense. She said, ‘I’ve never heard such electronic interference in my life.’ There were three helicopters overhead, they were all buzzing stuff down. Photovoltaic scanners and a mass of surveillance. There were security guards talking to each other, there was an absolute hum and buzz of electricity. Layers and layers and layers and layers.

Just walking through actually creates a state of paranoia. I think that we’ve invented the geography, the topography of paranoia and made it manifest. And we’ve imposed it upon Izaak Walton’s ‘sweet Lea’, where he describes walking on to this sweet river after a long walk out through Tottenham and he gets himself into this beautiful pastoral place, where he’s going to fish, where he discovers maidens under willow trees and notes the different birds that are there and has an enormous sense that this is available as an artery flowing out of London, and London’s dark, smoky, dirty entity is saved by having this.

CT: I’m glad you mention the Lee, because another phrase that struck me was when you spoke about the ‘accessible obscurity of the Lee, the knowledge that nothing is explained or morally improving, overwhelmed by great public schemes’.

IS: I found, when I was browsing about, that there was a book of poems called The Lee Valley Poems, by a Chinese poet called Yang Lian. The cover of the book was almost like a classical Chinese landscape of reed beds. I thought, this is very interesting – why the Chinese poet wanted to write about the River Lee – so I decided I’d track him down.

I was very pleased and excited, because I wondered if there were any connections with Beijing. Anyway, I found him, he was living in Stoke Newington. He was living there like Joseph Conrad, who had gone there in his exile. We started talking and it turned out that he was expelled from China at the time of the cosmetic clear-up of dissidents around the Olympic moment. He finds himself exiled and he’s in London and he wandered in the way that I’ve described and he finds himself in Springfield Park and moving on to the River Lee. And there’s a tremendous recognition. He says that the River Lee is actually like a Chinese classic landscape and he’s very drawn to it. And then he decides that one river is all rivers and this is the most important thing to understand.

And then – my God, his horror – the Olympics move here and it’s coming over the same horizon. And I interviewed him in the same way that you’ve done so nicely about this. And he was very interested when I pointed out to him that the Chinese scholar Arthur Waley, who’d done so many translations, was actually obsessed by the River Lee and nobody could understand why. Waley said, ‘Because it’s the end of everything, it’s the end of London and I love to get out here on a boat.’ He’s sitting there in the twenties or whenever, meditating on his version of China through the River Lee.

CT: We’ve talked about land and we’ve talked about the water. One of the other interesting elements of the book for me was light. One of the people I spoke to when I was doing my project was a street photographer who spoke about the way these big projects changed – actually changed – the light of London. In his case he did a lot of street photography in the City of London and spoke about this light that came off the Gherkin and how it illuminated parts of London in a way that had not been done before. And you talked, when it comes to Westfield again, you talked about manufactured light and imported light – ‘quotation light’ is what you called it.

IS: There are two kinds of light, or three even. There’s the interior light and there’s the confusion between interior and exterior. In the Shepherd’s Bush Westfield, what you get is an entirely enclosed environment, a space station. And it has this great play of artificial light, so it’s a sort of film set that gives you a bizarre experience of the world, because it has restaurants that are genetically attached to France, Italy, Mexico, wherever – Vietnam. All of them around a single, central court, so that you could sit down and eat and experience in a sense; all of the places in the world in a kind of Disneyland version, without having to go anywhere.

There’s the other light that you mentioned, the kind of bonus light, reflections off the glass buildings. But then, there’s also the darkness that’s cast by the enormously tall buildings. Certain places that were in a light are now in deep shadow. And the rules and regulations concerning how close you can build have been torn up.

In a house like this, the privilege of light is what gets you. The astonishingly tall windows of wealth and privilege and comfort. Looking out at the sparrow hopping in the garden, whatever, you know; those moments of empathy are available at the top of a hill. Light is the whole question of the city and the best of it is always on the river. There is nothing to touch walking out along that river for a day.

The last landscape that’s remotely wild and free for the kind of wandering that we have described is the Isle of Grain and the Isle of Sheppey, at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. And the threat now is to put an airport there and obliterate this final moment of mental release, and reverie and potential, which I touch on in this book. Undertaking a walk from the mouth of the Thames up to Oxford, vast areas were completely privatised and had you detouring around grand projects and retail parks and new blocks of private housing and Windsor Castle. So the idea of a free walk on the river is a nice concept, but it isn’t actually true.

CT: I think with 101 days left before the thing kicks off we should talk about the Olympics. There is some wonderfully imaginative ammunition about the Olympics [in Ghost Milk], including this section which I particularly love:

‘Californian chemists running their eye-popping, vein-popping, vest-stripping androids against degendered, state laboratory freaks. Bearded ladies and teenage girls who never have periods. Medals are returned by disgraced drug cheats and passed on to others who weren’t caught that time.’

It takes, in your own very particular way, a very funny view in parts, but tragic too. Because you say at one point it’s unstoppable and all we can do is bear witness.

IS: Yes. There are other things we can do as well, there must be benefits. The quality of the opposition has provoked people to actually respond, to think, What is society? What is local? Do we allow the qualities of the locality and the details of the locality to be set aside for global, corporate entities? Do you realise that the only water that you can get in there is Coca-Cola, the only food you can get is McDonald’s? You know, What are you giving up for that?

So people have begun to occupy buildings, begun to undertake interesting, strange art projects, or to keep records. Walk, and absorb and record this as a period in history, like the period of the making of the railways, which was in many ways disastrous and aggressive. Numerous private companies just ripped down whole shards of London to put up the railway. Then, with time, it settles, it finds a pattern. It becomes a national enterprise and the railways bring benefits as well as the reverse. But in the initial period it’s pretty horrendous and a lot of the railway lines are disastrous and don’t go anywhere and collapse. But, nevertheless, London is organic enough of an entity to take on anything that happens.

CT: That’s the danger in some ways, that this feels so hermetic; this feels so sealed in that even in a place as organic as this city, it feels – as you have described – ringed in, fenced in.

IS: I was lucky enough to find a project [the July 2012 film Swandown] that had in a sense relieved me from what had happened in the course of this book. I got into a friendly relationship with a filmmaker / artist Andrew Kötting. We were talking about endlessly doing journeys. His filmmaking is often about difficulty and his famous film is Gallivant, where he takes a campervan all around the whole coast of Britain with his elderly, cockney grandmother and his young daughter who is suffering from Joubert syndrome. And the two travel with him on this impossible journey, which is nonstop for three months and they make a film about it. So, I was going on about the Olympics and I said, ‘I really would like to do some kind of marathon journey of restitution.’

We decided to take a swan pedalo from a pool in Hastings and take it into the sea – would it sink or not? – and then pedal it all the way along the coast to Rye, and go by rivers all the way across Kent until we hit the Medway; drag it across land on to the Medway, on to the mouth of the Medway, down the Thames to the Olympic site. A kind of epic journey and we’d make a film about it. And what was absolutely fascinating was that there were astonishing communities I had no idea about, who live on rivers and live in a peculiar, old English way, hidden in woodlands.

We found a man between Tunbridge and Maidstone who was in a woodland that was only accessible by dangerously crossing this railway. And he’d built himself a hutch from things that floated by, he kept chickens and he raided supermarket skips. And he also had a trick, he told me, that he went into supermarkets and switched off the deep-freeze system and then he would wait at the skip outside for it to be thrown away. It turned out to be all ice cream!

CT: When I heard about that project, I thought, What would you guys talk about all this time?

IS: It became absurd and epic. And also it became a kind of great dialogue, because we were pedalling along very slowly for hours and hours and people on the bank would continually think What is this weird thing? and get into conversation with you. And so you uncover all of that. An anarchist, a man called Spider – who had the names of all his seventeen children tattooed up and down his arms and back, living on this narrow boat, who’d never been anywhere except between Tunbridge and Maidstone for twenty years – he insisted on coming with us and opening all the lock gates and stuff, because he recognised this swan as a kind of anarchic, English presence – like something out of a pre-Raphaelite painting that got away.

The three, four weeks coming through Kent, the river is bucolic, the people on it are wedded to the river. There’s even a community at the mouth of the Isle of Grain who are living on wrecked boats that have been bought from all over the world into a kind of graveyard of boats, which they’ve moved on to and live on. And they customise these to create a bizarre, independent world of their own. And then you suddenly hit the River Lee, and the water is this mass of floating plastic and green algae. And the swan goes bump up against the yellow barrier at the Olympic site and there are police voices and helicopters – ‘GET THAT SWAN AWAY FROM THE OLYMPIC STA–’; ‘WE WILL SHOOT’ – and all this stuff. And the story is there in an absolutely very simple metaphor.

CT: So, the positive thing is it brings about these sort of gestures?

IS: Yeah, this is only one of numerous gestures I have heard about in the light of it. And it has stimulated that, you know – it’s stimulated a mass of other activity. Because you’re challenged – do you let this thing roll over, or do you invent, create, record? And that’s what I’m trying to do.

CT: There’s a lot of talk [in Ghost Milk] about these CGI, imagined environments you see on the hoardings of new buildings. I wanted to talk to you about this, because I felt, in my time here – being someone, a writer, who rents a room – I get seduced by this ‘ghost milk’, and I wondered what I should do. Because it’s out there and I feel its pressing force, these bright shiny faces on hoardings.

IS: I feel like this is an age thing, you know [laughs]. I talked to several groups of students and they just said, ‘I don’t believe you, we’ve seen the footage, we’ve seen –’  and what they’d seen were these computer-generated images where the water’s blue and everything’s gleaming. And they really would prefer to believe that to any kind of written text. And pushing further, you discover that they actually don’t read books at all.

One guy, who’d got a First in English Literature from Cambridge, admitted to me he’d never completed an entire book in that period. You get the skill in kind of sampling, you know, you can go through the Internet and you’ve got a book like this, you can pick out bits and pieces – enough to give you a flavour – and you can tune into the interviews and things. So it is another world. And I’m still in a world that asks that you do this very difficult thing of following the architecture of a book. And I think it is a process that is slowly disappearing from the world.

CT: And that [process] helps when you encounter these things in the real world?

IS: Yeah, exactly. Because otherwise you get into a very fast-twitch way of reading the world. Your attention span is short and you want something exciting and you want it here.

I remember when the [images of the Olympic athletes’] flats first went up, it was beautifully cheated that you were in Hackney and you saw this and there was no Hackney. It was the canal and suddenly you were down to the Gherkin and the Shard and whatever else, this fabulous landscape. But the real thing in between was just eliminated, it was gone. They very subtly often combine a real horizon with a computer-generated foreground. And so the middle ground, which is an interesting place, just disappears.

I did a book a while back, called Dining on Stones, or The Middle Ground, a book about Hastings and the A13. I felt that the territory of the A13, which I thought of as the middle ground, was going from the story. And this was borne out when the whole Olympic thing started. Before anything had been built, VIPs were being bought in on a special train to pass through to the territory. And they erected fences purposefully to hide what was there. The just put up fences for no other reason than to blank out the landfill site at Rainham or wherever. Car-crushers’ yards were hidden, they didn’t exist. The middle ground was gone. You had a horizon with a river glittering, and you had a foreground with the grand project, but you had nothing in between.

CT: You do talk about the people who bring these visuals about. The way that the grand projects depend on a kind of weightless pitch of showmanship. I liked the name you had for people like this: ‘air-miles conceptualists’.

IS: Well, I’ve met them, you know. This endless stream of conferences are convened and I made the stupid mistake myself of being sucked into one of these; it was going on at the Royal Geographical Society, so it seemed kosher. And as I was going to it, my wife said, ‘You do know who is running this?’ And I said, ‘No. Someone called Maxwell.’ And she said, ‘Yes, he’s the grandson of Robert Maxwell.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I said.

So anyway, I go off and do this. And it’s one of these epic things with fabulous presentations run by air-miles conceptualists. I thought it was a bit weird, because they were almost all huge corporate entities apart from me who was put up to be the comic relief. And I met the people who are these air-miles conceptualists. They’ll be in Gothenburg one week, the next week they’re in Verona, they’re in Sao Paulo. And they’re doing the same pitch, they’ve got their laptops. And they’re beyond tired, they’re kind of hyper-tired – they’re . . . actually, they’re dead. They’re floating. And they arrive somewhere and the laptop goes in and stuff starts rolling.

That was one of the reasons I first got excited by it. I was in Stavanger, which is a Norwegian fish town that got lucky with oil money and so it was a city of culture. So it got its Anthony Gormleys first, which is what you have to do. In that case, they were all over the whole town – it was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So you get to where the thing is and Rem Koolhaas is supposed to be there. Of course, he isn’t, but one of his acolytes is, [presenting] these fabulous images of what was going to happen in Beijing. None of them were built, they were theoretical buildings with a presentation. I think it was six or eight orbital motorways spread out from Beijing and I thought, London Orbital is nothing, I haven’t started, I mean there’s eight. I could be spending the rest of my life going round here. And I really thought that was going to be the next project – tramping round Beijing’s eight orbital motorways. Luckily, I wrote this [Ghost Milk]instead.

I really solved, to my own satisfaction, what should happen, with the whole business of these games. In Athens, the site was really very beautiful, except that it was deserted, abandoned, I mean there was nothing there at all apart from the Olympic stadium, that was turned into a football stadium. The rest of it was just wilderness, it was full of economic migrants and people living rough and feral dogs and things growing through. And I said to a young Greek architect, ‘Do you approve of this? Because, you know, you’re down the tubes. You’re bankrupt.’

‘Oh yeah,’ he said, ‘we definitely approved of it, because we knew all along they were ruins and we’re a culture of ruins and these are just new ruins. So we were very happy with that.’

My solution to everything is really quite simple. The Olympic Games of the future should always take place in Athens, which is kind of the cradle of it. So you don’t throw money away in the Greek economy just at random, where it disappears into a black hole. You give them money to support this Olympic entity, which different countries could patronise. Nothing has to be built anywhere else, none of this stuff goes on and you have an eternal city that is funded and so the Greek economy picks up and you solve the whole problem of this Olympic devastation that occurs in country after country. So there it is, all solved in one step.

CT: There was a nice moment, where you’re on the Metro, and you admit that the improved Athens Metro is a good thing.

IS: We were sailing along and the stations were beautifully lit and there were archaeological remains and posters. My wife really doesn’t like going on the London tube, I mean she did when were living in Hampstead, but she’d have to be persuaded. But I got her on to the Metro and I was doing my speech about how this was one of the good things about the Olympics and it ground to a halt. And we were tipped out on to the street. There was a strike going on, the lines were up, the whole thing was kaput. And we were just chucked into the bus system, which made Hackney look good.

CT: You talk about obsolescence and the distinction between the right and wrong kind of obsolescence that you’ve touched on a bit with the Athens scene; the wrong kind – the junked prototype. But then you talk about the pure, obsolete status of poetry, the obsolescence that’s earned.

IS: It goes back to something the poet Ed Dorn said to me. We were talking about poetry of a particular kind and he was saying, ‘You know, there may not be a place for it in the world. The kind of poetry I was writing in the 1960s was avidly attended to. But it doesn’t matter, because there is a kind of honesty, there’s a morality in that form of obsolescence. Even if nobody’s attending to it, it has a kind of beauty. Its moment might have passed, but whilst some people are doing it, it’s beautiful.’

He compared it to the light, you know. When he’d grown up in a cabin that was lit by kerosene, it had a particular kind of glow. And even though that’s now redundant or obsolete, it’s still beautiful. And I compared that to the remnants of the Earth Centre outside Doncaster, which was one of these Millennium projects which cost many, many millions and ended up with nothing, except the one building that Will Alsopp had made along the whole stretch of the M62, which was the Earth Centre lavatory. And it’s now surrounded by a sealed-off park, the whole thing derelict and abandoned after a year and a half, because nobody came there.

CT: A film-maker couldn’t ask for a better image for the failures of New Labour than a toilet sitting in the middle of Doncaster.

IS: Well, I think top-downism is all about parachuting in your own cultural impressions of what something will form a heritage or legacy, whereas I think those things have to be earned from the ground up. So you respond to what is demanded, what is part of something that is already there. And you support it and build it up. Because otherwise it’s an invasion.

I went round the [Olympic] site with a writer the other week, an American who was formerly in the Marines. He said, ‘This is amazing, this is completely military. I recognise it as exactly how the Marines were taught to behave.’ You secure the centre, you go out in rings, you get surveillance points all round and you get the helicopters going. And you’ve even got the drones in from Afghanistan flying over there now. The technology is being road-tested there to be the surveillance for the whole of London after the games is over.

CT: Ghost Milk is a book of righteous anger, there’s some sadness in it. Do you still wander through London and feel wonder?

IS: Absolutely. It’s an embattled wondering through the particular territory I describe there, but then why not wonder in a different direction, come through places that you haven’t seen for a long time. It doesn’t go – it shifts. London has always been a series of tectonic plates where the particular values move and drift. And the things that were in Hackney when I moved there in 1960 are now out in Loughton or Essex. The city revives. And wonderful new communities have grown up. It’s the most multicultural spot on the face of the earth. I move down the canal and I’m hearing Russian, French, Chinese, Vietnamese, Polish – all the languages of the world. And very little English.

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