Will has also written a comment piece in icon magazine, “Who are the outer Londoners?”.
Read about it here in the Evening Standard.
‘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.
“To be a true Cockney you must be attuned to Bow bowels quite as much as Bow bells”
‘Not that I felt morbid about my plague pit — for me it was just another attempt to tunnel my way into underground London. I was already sensitive to the truth every Londoner comes to intuit: our city inheres just as much in the ground as it soars skywards, and to be a true Cockney you must be attuned to Bow bowels quite as much as Bow bells.
‘Of course, like any other London 13-year-old I was already riding the Tube, and so was sensitive to the distinctions between the sub-surface, cut-and-cover lines such as the Circle, and the deep-level tunnels of the Northern and Central. But this utilitarian boring was augmented by my trips to the model mine which sank down several sub-basements beneath the Science Museum; I also liked crawling through the culvert that took the Mutton Brook under the North Circular, and I was thrilled when I discovered the foot tunnel under the Thames from Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs.
‘It wasn’t that I was any more troglodytic than the next Londoner — after all, we all go underground, just as we all ride the lifts up the blocks we live and work in. It’s often in this radical juxtaposition, between, say, rising up from the stygian hugger-mugger of London Bridge station and then shooting up the glassy sides of the Shard, that we most actualise our urban selves: to be a city-dweller is to embrace the extremes of the manmade; its ying and its yang, its pits and its pendulums.
‘As we grow older we all acquire a smattering of lowdown London lore: we learn about the mythical black cattle that are supposed to graze the Fleet River’s underground banks from Hampstead Heath to Farringdon. We become conscious that there are many other rivers that have been interred beneath our feet in pipes and tunnels. I well remember meeting the investigative journalist Duncan Campbell at a New Statesman party in the early 1980s, and him telling a spellbound group of us how he had descended through a manhole in Aldgate into the secret network of government tunnels that snakes below our streets. He’d had the foresight to take his folding bike down with him, and he spent an entire night cycling through brightly lit but utterly empty nuclear emergency command centres.’
Read the rest of this article at the Evening Standard.
‘Transport for London, in conjunction with the British Transport Police, has spent 20 months gathering evidence against the 12 accused, but the charge levelled against them is merely that they “conspired to commit criminal damage”. I can only assume that this is because, despite the lengthy investigation, the police have found insufficient evidence of actual damage, and so have resorted to prosecuting what’s effectively a thought-crime. Be that as it may, if convicted, the place-hackers may well receive lengthy prison sentences.
‘I’ve no doubt that TfL and the police are justifiably annoyed by the place-hackers’ antics. Entering abandoned Tube stations, the Crossrail tunnels, the old Post Office railway that runs beneath London — these are breaches of security, without doubt, but if any punishment is appropriate for such behaviour it’s some form of community service, not a jail term. These trespassers hurt nobody and damaged nothing, yet their doors were broken down with battering rams in the dead of night, and one of the defendants was arrested on the tarmac at Heathrow and hauled off his flight handcuffed.’
Read the rest of Will’s piece at the Evening Standard here.
“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.”
Fun interview between Will Self and David Tennant in the Evening Standard about Will’s short story The Minor Character, which has been turned into a short film on Sky Arts, and which stars David Tennant as “Will”, 12 April, 9pm on Sky Arts 1 (sky.com/arts).
“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.
“Thirty years, four children and a dog later, I know my London parks; and when a friend who’s a local resident called to tell me she was concerned about Southwark Council’s plans to “revitalise” Burgess Park I happily agreed to take a tour with her, confident that nothing – and I mean nothing – that could be done to the place could fail to improve it.
“How wrong I was. The Mayor – who I often think looks a little like a tree himself, what with his impressive blond canopy – has divvied up £2million of our money to add to the £4million (also, of course, ours) that Southwark is spending. Boris isn’t only dendriform but he also spent more tax money on a pamphlet called The Canopy: London’s Urban Forest in which he urged: ‘We must also ensure that we reverse the decline of existing mature trees that has occurred over recent years and seek opportunities to increase their numbers.’
Read the rest of Will Self’s piece on Burgess Park at the Evening Standard website here.
If you couldn’t make it along to the Royal Academy last night to hear Will Self talking about why Stockwell Bus Garage is the most important building in London, then you can read a short version here at the Standard’s website.
“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.’
“It’s a nice irony, for The Road, the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel that Hillcoat has directed, is — looked at one way — all about stuff and the culling of it. Shot over the winter and spring of 2008-9 in four US states and more than 50 locations, The Road depicts with uncanny realism the halting progress of a father and his 11-year-old son (played, respectively, by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) across a post-apocalyptic America.
“All the useful stuff they have is stashed in a shopping trolley, while their desperate search for food is conducted against a backdrop of civilisation’s discarded toys, its smashed cars, crushed houses and defunct machinery.
“On the afternoon I speak with Hillcoat, he’s just learned that the film failed to secure any nominations for the Golden Globe awards. Despite this weighing a little heavily on him, he does his best to shrug it off: ‘The Globes are voted for by anyone in LA who’s ever written for a foreign newspaper or magazine,’ he says. ‘That means, like, Romanian cookery writers.’
“Nevertheless, the coming Baftas and, of course, the Oscars, are a real worry for the director — which is a shame, I think, because The Road is such an artistic triumph it should elevate Hillcoat above such mundane concerns. But that’s not the way it goes with the movies — and John Hillcoat knows that better than most. ‘It’s not awards per se that bother me, it’s entirely to do with the impetus they give for marketing a film.’
“The Road is only his fourth feature in more than 20 years, and while a lesser man might be tempted to blame the studio system, or the almighty dollar, Hillcoat owns his stuff: ‘Basically, I frittered away the Nineties making pop videos and being pretty self-indulgent.’
To read the rest of Self’s interview with John Hillcoat, visit the Evening Standard.
“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.
“But then it occurred to me that I was guilty of propagating a stereotype as well – and mine had been even broader, reducing the entire metropolis to a zone of petty crime.
“We all do it, though, don’t we: view this great and infinitely varied city through the reducing lens of stereotypy?
“I think it’s a coping mechanism: after all, if we stopped to consider the individuality of every single person we came across in a given day, we’d probably go crazy.”
Read the rest of Will Self’s Evening Standard column here.