London beneath our feet

‘One summer when I was growing up in the north London suburbs I dug a deep hole in the back garden. I was always digging holes, but this one was different — it grew deeper and deeper; I chopped through roots with the spade’s blade, I clawed out stones, old bricks and lumps of concrete with my bare hands. The rest of the family began to be vaguely impressed — my mother came and took a snapshot of me lying full-length in the bottom of my hole, listening to the big hit of that year (1974), on my transistor radio: Seasons in the Sun was a mawkish ditty sung from the point of view of a dying man saying goodbye to his loved ones; the refrain: “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun” seemed peculiarly apposite when you were supine in what, to all intents and purposes, was a freshly dug grave.

On urban explorers

‘A bizarre trial begins on Monday at Blackfriars Crown Court. Its proceedings are predicted to last at least six weeks, and the costs — no doubt extravagant — will be largely borne by taxpayers. At the centre of this legal circus are a group of so-called “place-hackers”, people who get their kicks from gaining access to derelict, secret or otherwise off-limits parts of the city. In recent years such “urban explorers” have become increasingly bold in challenging the official demarcation of public versus private space in our city. These conflicting visions of urban space will clash during this trial.

Will Self’s choice for London mayor

“I like the cut of Jenny Jones’s jib. I like the way she said she wouldn’t be Mayor even if all the others died – it showed a commendable humility. I have a few quibbles about some of the Greens’ attitudes, but I’m roughly in tune with them. I like Boris, he’s always been nice to me, but he is also ruthlessly self-centred and ambitious. I’ve never believed the mayoralty was an end in itself for him. I loathe Ken, I think he has come to resemble one of his newts. In a sense I would like to vote for the Labour candidate, but I can’t vote for Ken.”

The ‘revitalisation’ of Burgess Park

“Back in the early 1980s I worked for the GLC as a playleader (don’t laugh), and reported to the department that ran adventure playgrounds from a ratty prefab office at Burgess Park in Camberwell.

“I thought Burgess Park pretty much the arse-end of the universe, an oppressively thin ribbon of an open space which still showed the scars of the houses and factories that had been cleared to create it. A mere stripling, I had yet to appreciate the necessity of a park for urban dwellers, nor how even the most unprepossessing and debatable of lands can be a source of pride and joy.

An interview with John Hillcoat, director of The Road

“Arriving at the Hove flat the film director John Hillcoat shares with his wife, the photographer Polly Borland, and their eight-year-old son, Louie, I’m met by a great pile of plastic toys dominating the huge Regency room. There’s a child’s drum kit, crates full of toy cars, space hoppers, a play stove … actually, there’s so much stuff it’s impossible to grasp with the eye, let alone enumerate. ‘Oh, gosh,’ says Hillcoat, in his soft Australian accent, ‘we’re having a material cull. We realised we hadn’t thrown anything out for years — since we moved here in fact.’

London – the city that you just can’t stereotype

“I was walking to the local post office one morning this week when I came across a policeman looking grimly at a large pile of car tyres that had been dumped in the gutter.

“‘You’re looking tired out,’ I quipped, but when he failed to smile I went on philosophically: ‘Well, that’s London for you.’

“‘No,’ he replied, still stony-faced. ‘That’s Stockwell.’

“I went on my way a little chagrined at his stereotyping of my neighbourhood, which, while it may have its problems, still deserves a less negative attitude from its law enforcers.