Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The shock of the new.

Early on a Sunday morning, before the birds or car-booters have woken, is a great time to see London. A few weeks ago, when the volcano did for all the 'planes, the view across Peckham Rye from the heights of Forest Hill was particularly spectacular.

The sky was a rich indigo canvas on this day, being peculiarly void of all vapour trails, smoke and noise. Through the van windscreen, as I crept over the precipice of the hill to begin the slow descent towards the heart of London, I could see the whole city spread out before me. It was quite some picture: St Paul's Cathedral, a handful of churches, a bridge or two, Parliament maybe, Monument certainly. These brick and stone relics from time glowed warmly under the young sun. The breaking day seemed warm and inviting to my tired eyes - but for one detail.

Overshadowing it all was the stamp of modern man. The Gherkin, the towers of banking commerce, the wire and glass around Liverpool Street all glowered over these lesser buildings like bullish older brothers. The littler constructs seemed like an irritant to their larger neighbours: they were getting in the way. Of progress. The low, fat moon added insult to injury. Nature and history - elegant, important history - were being swamped by this newness.

My rose-scented image of fresh London parkland grass was wiped from my mind's nose by a fog of diesel pumps, burning rubber and pollution. London suddenly turned ugly and damaged. But then, just as quickly, the scene flipped and these super-modern buildings took on a beauty of their own. The swollen, sunlit satellite glowing behind their walkways, elevations and mobile phone masts served to illustrate a unique, modern geometric beauty. Not so bad after all, eh?

And so, in different lights, London declares differing interests. I've no doubt that these historic buildings, in their original context, would have been surrounded by the ugliest of squalor, smog and disease-ridden streets. So this modern world must surely be better? Right? No?

That's the dichotomy of it all. As I look and wonder at London in the early morning, with its futuristic buildings towering over the landmarks like an opening scene from a far out 1960s sci-fi film, I have to wonder hard: which do I prefer? The here and now or the there and then?


  1. Hello Andy. London's character is typified by its absence of uniform and constant juxtapositions, that's what makes it the great mess it is. But i have seen tree's bigger than the post office tower, Explain that!! Bye Andy

  2. Hello Mal. That's a curious thing. Bye Mal!