A secret but increasingly popular London?
28th May 2011 - Benjamin Lovegrove
Recently I've been noticing an influx of alternative London 'guides' at our One New Change branch. Abstruse titles such as 'Night Haunts', 'Lights Out For The Territory' and 'London's Strangest Tales' are becoming de rigeur, Time Out's '1000 Things to do in London for under £10' less so. It would appear that Londoners, or those just visiting this wild cosmopolitan jigsaw are less interested in panoramic joyriding on the London Eye and becoming more au-fait with taking a waltz through the arcane. So what does this all say about the London consumer and our changing cityscape?
It could be cynical to propose that publishers are trying to reclaim the alternative and to re-sell the underworld back to us, a la pop-punk remarketing, but there may be some truth in all this. It is their job to unearth the bubbling truths, that's the duty of literature after all, and if this detours into the sanitisation of a previously unknown subject matter then so be it.
A more enlightened approach may be that as consumers become more astute, attitudes to the underworld are evolving. There will always be a market for the plain old London 'tourist' Guide but as we gain the means through interactive media and handheld apparatus to take things into our own hands as it were, people want to go and independently explore off of the beaten track. These are the texts to evoke such moods and inspirations.
I'd suggest though that these aren't 'guides' as such and would like to create a new travel genre, that which chronicles the adventures of a new breed of social drifter, that of the 'Grand Dérive'. To take inspiration from Guy Debord, godfather of the Psychogeographic movement, we are now all on our own journey, seeking fissures in the reality tapestry, questing for the apocryphal, and experimenting with these urban landscapes rather than being led through them. We also have a greater sense of our social profile, manufactured through web 2.0 sites such as Twitter and Facebook. On one hand it could be suggested we are becoming more introverted as a species - a by-product of this digital immersion. But Psychogeographic roamings and the logging of this specific data stream demand an engagement with our surroundings and the need to hear about people's responses to it. So it in turn nurtures quite the opposite.
It is also an attractive and exotic to position ourselves in the alternative. You look a lot cooler reading an Iain Sinclair on the wonky old District Line out to a disused factory in Bow, than grasping a 'Rough Guide to London', idly freefalling towards Trafalgar Square to check out that bottled boat on a plinth.
Here's a little rundown of the more significant titles on the market.
London Orbital - Iain Sinclair
Sinclair's first trip into the Psychogeographic fields he's been harvesting with such flair ever since. His voyage around the M25 unearths a sinister London containing forgotten asylums and sooty retail parks, hemming in the city like a wicked hula-hoop of hate. A truly twisted travel guide filtered through the hidden energies and 'acoustic footprints' rarely identified. Like the journey, his prose is often impenetrable but this is definitely worth the trek.
Incidentally, Iain Sinclair, surely the man at the forefront of this esoteric crusade will be putting in a turn as part of 'Listen*Read*See London' at an event on May 31st at our flagship store talking about his new book 'Ghost Milk' an exposé upon what's been referred to as the 'grandest of grand projects', the 2012 Olympics. It is sure to be an enlightening look at the future landscape of our Secret London.
Night Haunts - Sukhdev Sandhu
Sandhu romantically re-establishes London as a city see-sawing precariously between glass-fronted prosperity and sedimentary bordello. A very Dionysian view of the backstreets, canals fronts and taxi drives throughout our capital - The London that none of the 400,000 known CCTV cameras can spy upon. He reveals the minutiae and the massacres that go beneath the radar on any ordinary night.
Secret London - An Unusual Guide - Rachel Howard and Bill Nash
More akin to a conventional guide but no less insightful and awe-inspiring. This breaks London down into tasty sprite-sized vignettes ranging from Lord of the Panopticon, Jeremy Bentham's, auto-icon at the U.C.L to the wonderfully spooky Hunterian Museum at Lincoln's Inn Fields (embalmed cow foetus anyone?) This is also pretty succinct and factually sound. Ever wondered where to find Britain's smallest police station? Look no further.