“We’re right on the crest of a slump,” said the football manager, in the soft west-country burr that was his career-defining gimmick. He made it sound like a boast. “Royt on the crest of a slump.”
The sea did its thing.
“My sense was that London, my home for 50 years, was being centrifugally challenged to the point of obliteration; of being unable to say just where, and why, it began and ended.”
As the diarist John Evelyn remarked, after another conflagration, the Great Fire of 1666: “London was, but is no more.” The city of words, referencing other words, etymologies of respect, was done. The metropolitan virtues and vices of former times had migrated, with the property boom, the rent hikes and fire sales of public housing, to the coast: a strategic destruction of the local. Seaside post offices were shut, jobs lost, counter services removed to a shopping-mall branch of WH Smith. With the brigandry given a positive spin as forcing obese geriatrics to take exercise by hobbling a mile or more into town. There were no trains on which to rely, but legions of disgruntled drivers, guards and travelers. Blue-and-white tape decorated the latest hit-and-run death sites. Self-medicators were followed around the shelves of pharmacies where they employ more security guards than nightclubs or supermarkets. Raging afternoon drinkers ram-raided budget vodka bottles from Asian minimarts before another evening breaking up benches for warmth. Awayday beggars tried their luck on a reserved pitch outside the Co-op’s automatic doors. This was London as it used to be, a broken democracy of warring clans; humans making the best of the mess in which they had landed themselves. Damaged content for the next bulletin.
Back in 1909, Ford Madox Ford, in an essay on “The Future in London,” predicted all of this: that London, our stretched city, would encompass Oxford, Cambridge and the south-coast settlements, a 60-mile sweep from Threadneedle Street. Proving his theory with action, Ford relocated to Winchelsea. He said: “It has to got to come. All south-eastern England is just London.”
I had walked here—and I would soon walk on, I’m not sure where—because my sense was that London, my home for 50 years, was being centrifugally challenged to the point of obliteration; of being unable to say just where, and why, it began and ended.