I teach at Brunel University in Uxbridge on the outskirts of London – I’m not claiming I could have any academic job I wanted, but I did decide to work at Brunel for a reason, and that reason is Britain. Or, to be a bit more precise: Little Britain. The Brunel University campus was built in the 1960s, and to my way of thinking it’s a superb example of Brutalist architecture – Stanley Kubrick was certainly impressed, because he chose to shoot some of A Clockwork Orange there, the university’s lecture centre doubling for the sinister Ludovico Institute where Alex the droog is brainwashed into non-violence. Yet it isn’t the university’s association with this dystopic vision of a future Britain which drew me there – rather, it’s the physical location.
Immediately to the west of the university is the course of the Grand Union Canal, which, looping through the settlement of West Drayton, then curves around and heads north towards Birmingham. The canal is at the edge of a strange hinterland of old gravel pits, overgrown landfill sites and breakers’ yards that stretches as far west as the M25, London’s orbital motorway, and as far south as Heathrow Airport, some three miles (5km) distant. At the centre of this strange interzone, that is neither urban nor bucolic, sits Little Britain Lake, a tranquil, brownish canvas of a lagoon, swirled with weed and splodged by the occasional lily. From time to time a waterfowl will dive down, its feet marking out a strong oblique. Around the shores of the lake, half-hidden in the thick shrubbery – and along the tow path of the canal – are the dwellings of those I’ve dubbed ‘shedonists’: people seeking the good life, for a weekend or a lifetime, who’ve emigrated to this odd patch of land, at once in the cockpit of present-day Britain – and yet curiously under-imagined.
Read the rest of Will’s article for the BBC here.