SAD CAFÉ

Amidst the twisted tapestry of massaged stats, misinformation and denial, one concrete casualty of the catastrophic Government approach to combating Covid that can penetrate the blind spots of even the most committed lockdown fanatics is the wholesale destruction of the hospitality industry. You can’t avoid it; the cold, hard evidence is there whenever you stroll along any urban parade. When it comes to businesses that have been laid waste by the illogical laws, rules and regulations rushed through and imposed without any evident care or consideration for the economy, cafés, clubs, bars, restaurants and – most visibly of all – pubs have arguably suffered more than any other outlet patronised by the public in 2020. Of course, many pubs were already struggling long before any careless Chinese scientist dropped a test tube thousands of miles away; they’ve been vanishing at a record rate due to various factors over the past decade, beginning with the smoking ban of 2007. But that most traditional (and though I detest the phrase I’ll use it) ‘community hub’ of these islands has been discarded this year with a casual criminality by the powers-that-be that makes a mockery of the faux-Blitz Spirit that the fatuous ‘we’re all in this together’ guff seeks to generate.

Ironically, one way – and the worst possible way – that the ‘we’re all in this together’ slogan actually rings true is in the across-the-board massacre of an industry that employs millions; the humble taverns in the town have been brought to their knees, yes – but so have those higher up the food & drink chain. Yesterday it was announced that London’s prestigious Café de Paris would not be opening its doors again, just four years short of celebrating its centenary. If ever proof were needed precisely how much of a leveller the nihilistic policies drummed-up by public health ‘experts’ drunk on power have proven to be, the closure of such a legendary venue with such a rich history is it.

Naturally, it’s easy to play the yardstick measurement game and regard the demise of a classy nightclub situated in the capital as not being worthy of sympathy when lined-up next to a small provincial business that was utterly inclusive and affordable and provided its proprietors with their sole income; indeed, how can a club in the ownership of a notable restaurant group be remotely comparable a tragedy? Well, for one thing, the Café de Paris wasn’t staffed by robots. It closure means more numbers are added to the unemployment figures, and if you’re made redundant it makes no difference if your P45 came from the Café de Paris in London or Roy’s Rolls in Salford – you’re still out of work.

The moving of time’s goalposts has already seen what used to be referred to as ‘the Naughty Nineties’ rebranded simply as the 1890s both because there’s nobody left alive to recount just how naughty they were and those of us left alive have since lived through another 90s; and now we’ve reached the third decade of the 21st century, will ‘the Roaring Twenties’ suffer a similar fate? The generation that made it out of the First World War in one piece and the one too young to have experienced it first-hand famously shook off the shackles of lingering Victorian conformity and were determined to have a party – those that could afford it, of course. Corsets were cast aside, hemlines rose, cocktails were consumed, cigarettes were smoked, and a frenzied new music called Jazz soundtracked the hedonism. Yes, it all came crashing down along with Wall Street in 1929, but it must have been fun while it lasted. The Bright Young Things that Evelyn Waugh observed and satirised saw various night-spots spring up to cater for their extravagant tastes, but the one that lasted the longest – almost by a full century – was London’s Café de Paris.

Opening in 1924, the Café de Paris was an instant magnet for the It Girls and Boys of the age, one specialising in ‘cabaret’ when that word evoked images of Art Deco-draped decadence most famously associated with the Berlin of the period rather than the naff ‘chicken-in-a-basket’ connotations it later acquired. The Café de Paris swiftly garnered a glamorous reputation as an epicentre of movers and shakers when the playboy Prince of Wales became a regular patron and Hollywood icon Louise Brooks introduced the Charleston to these shores on the venue’s dance-floor. Just as the Swinging London of the 60s was enjoyed by a small group of affluent youngsters, the Swinging London of the 20s was reserved for a similarly exclusive set, if not more so, with the class boundaries far more rigid then than 40 years later. Things only relaxed during the Second World War when the club had no option but to introduce a more democratic door policy in order to remain in business; the premises also took a direct hit from a German bomb during the Blitz, an incident that resulted in over 30 deaths, but enabled what had previously been an elitist enclave to look the London beyond the West End in the eye.

Unlike the Windmill (‘we never closed’), the Café de Paris didn’t reopen until 1948, but even if the Jazz Age was over by then, it didn’t take long to re-establish itself as both a place to be seen and to perform; ‘cabaret seasons’ from the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward, as well as performances by A-listers such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, were regular attractions in a post-war era sorely starved of glamour. Changing pop cultural fashions and the eventual rise of a generation eager to establish its own night-spots left the Café de Paris as something of an irrelevant relic in the 60s and 70s. However, as is always the case, the circle eventually comes full and by the 80s the Café de Paris had acquired a certain retro hipness that resulted in a new role as an ideal location for shooting movies set in the recent past; both ‘The Krays’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’ made use of the venue’s charmingly faded grandeur.

By the dawn of the 21st century, the Café de Paris seemed to be in good health again; a postmodern, kitsch concept of cabaret became one of its weekly features and a refreshingly rare dress code was upheld that made the venue one of the few contemporary clubs to spare patrons the blight of the slob ensemble characterised by trainers and sportswear; ditto the fancy dress clichés of the shrieking hen party. One had to make the effort to pass through its doors – and why not? In its heyday, the Café de Paris had been the place for those keen to be seen on the cultural cutting edge; but in its later years it had offered an old-school alternative to the modern nightclub, trading on its past and reinventing itself as an oasis of antiquated sophistication. After WWII it was symbolic of the good life for those prone to dreaming of one in the bombsites of monochrome Blighty, and it could have served a similar purpose in the post-Covid bombsite we’ve all got to look forward to. Alas, it won’t get to perform that function for tomorrow’s dreamers.

The permanent closure of the Café de Paris is due to Maxwell’s Restaurant Group, the club’s parent company, going into liquidation with the loss of 400 jobs. The constant uncertainty surrounding all hospitality venues, the dramatic cutting in customer numbers on account of coronavirus restrictions during the brief spells when they sporadically reopen, and inevitable rent arrears on premises denied making money have all played their part in bringing to a sad end a chapter in the capital’s nightlife that was one of the few surviving links to an era now very much beyond living memory. Surrounded by the obliterations of livelihoods far lower down the social scale, many will perhaps regard the disappearance of the Café de Paris with a shrug of the shoulders and an opinion that others have got it far worse; but when depression hits, escapism and dreaming matter. And we’re going to need them more than ever in the years to come, for we won’t have much else.

© The Editor

SPACED ODYSSEY

It’s not much of a gamble as gambles go, but purchasing anything on the strength of a good review and a feeling that ‘this looks right up my street’ sometimes pays off. I would occasionally apply this logic way back when there was such a thing as a music press and ‘Single of the Week’ would praise an unknown song by an unknown band; once or twice, I struck lucky, whereas there were far more occasions when I realised the enthusiastic reviewer had probably received a handsome backhander from the band’s manager to shower plaudits on the atrocious single in question. Anyway, when it comes to buying DVDs on Amazon, every once in a while I gamble and I did so last week. ‘The Tyrant King’ is about as obscure a TV series from the 60s as you can get – a children’s drama serial, the first-ever production by Thames Television before it had even superseded ABC and Rediffusion in the London region, filmed in colour but broadcast in black & white, shown once in the autumn of 1968 and never seen on TV again – i.e. it looked right up my street.

Indeed, having now watched this six-part series, I’m still not quite sure if I dreamt it up or not; it certainly has the feel of some imaginary kid’s show from the 60s I’d be watching in a dream and then wake up from, wondering if my mind had concocted it or if it had genuinely existed. To be fair, it does have an exceedingly dreamlike ambience, bearing more of a resemblance in style to a European Art-house movie of the era than something intended to air at teatime. Then there’s the inspired – and, considering the context, quite avant-garde – soundtrack; the likes of Pink Floyd, Cream, The Nice and The Moody Blues are so expertly woven into the surreal fabric of the series it’s as though the bands had scored the show. If my imagination had invented ‘The Tyrant King’, it’s precisely the kind of hazy interlude between Psychedelia and Prog Rock I would have selected; the chosen songs still possess the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ vibe of 1967, but also point to the darker decade just round the corner. With the three lead characters all on the cusp of adulthood, albeit not quite there yet, one might say the soundtrack mirrors their one-foot-in-both-camps status.

As was the case with all ‘child actors’ in TV dramas produced for an audience of under-16s up until ‘Grange Hill’, the trio whose strange adventure the series follows are frightfully middle-class, continuing the ‘Famous Five’ tradition that proved surprisingly durable until well into the 70s. As with Enid Blyton’s gang, this one is inadvertently caught up in a mystery involving sinister grownups, a mystery only they can solve; but this is Enid Blyton if she’d dropped acid en route to Toytown. Yes, the three are archetypes – the brainy, sensible boy; the ‘cool’ kid; and the pretty girl; but the latter two – brother and sister – exhibit a dazzling array of Carnaby Street threads. Bill could almost pass for Monkee Peter Tork whilst Charlotte’s hemlines would undoubtedly be deemed a tad too high for a 14/15-year-old girl these days. All three leads reside in comfortable Suburbia, though the striking house Bill and Charlotte call home looks like it had won some 60s ‘design a luxury pad’ competition, the kind of dwelling I could imagine George Best having as his address.

The two main villains of the piece remain elusive and mysterious figures until the big reveal in the final episode. The charismatic and dependable Welsh actor Philip Madoc – who always possessed a natural flair for simmering villainy – first crosses the gang’s path in a threatening way during a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral; they nickname him ‘Scarface’ because…well, because he’s got a scar on his forehead. Then there’s the gloriously camp Murray Melvin, still best-remembered for his groundbreaking performance as Geoffrey alongside Rita Tushingham in ‘A Taste of Honey’, who goes by the slightly unsettling name of ‘Uncle Gerry’ and dresses like a gay Doctor Who – hat, cloak, cane and all. The gang first stumble upon him whilst exploring an old house they assumed was empty, a house crammed with the sort of eccentric and creepy Victoriana ephemera that was going for a song in antiques shops on the King’s Road at the time. They overhear him on the telephone and the intriguing mention of ‘the Tyrant King’ sets them off on their quest across the capital to discover the secret of something they suspect is dangerous but nonetheless must pursue. Let’s face it, it’d make a pretty dull six episodes if they’d bottled it and decided not to bother.

As the series was shot entirely on 16mm film rather than being slowed down by long videotaped scenes on studio sets, the pace is far quicker than one traditionally associates with dramas from the period; it also enables the full, exhilarating whirl of the toing and froing around Swinging London to be enjoyed in the breathless spirit of the time. The sequence at Kew Gardens in particular is reminiscent of the Maryon Park scenes from ‘Blow Up’ in the way the picturesque location seems simultaneously serene and spooky, but director Mike Hodges shot it with a cinematic eye that pointed the way to his future career (three years later he directed ‘Get Carter’); one wonders if Hodges also had a hand in the ‘out there’ soundtrack that older TV execs probably wouldn’t have opted for in 1968. Even though the series was effectively sponsored by London Transport to encourage folk to travel around town by bus or train, each location visited (including the obvious ones) is shown in a fresh and often disturbing light that works well with the additional snatches of detached dialogue accompanying the disjointed travelogue, ones that seem to be beamed in from a radio picking up the discharge of Numbers Stations.

Inevitably with a series shot wholly on location (and such a visually fascinating location, to boot) there’s the nostalgia factor of a London looking as we grew up believing London looked from snow-globes, biscuit tins or postcards; but it’s equally marvellous to see how the cutting edge of contemporary pop culture (including drugs!) even infiltrated the cosy enclaves of children’s television in 1968, something for which there was precious little evidence until ‘The Tyrant King’ was excavated from obscurity by the ever-reliable DVD company specialising in vintage TV, Network. The series was written by Trevor Preston, one of the great television writers of the era and one who went onto create another weird and wonderful kid’s show, ‘Ace of Wands’, as well as eventually penning the memorable crime miniseries starring Tom Bell in 1978, ‘Out’. Coupled with an adventurous, up-and-coming director such as Mike Hodges, the presence of a writer of the calibre of Trevor Preston shows how much talent was invested in children’s television back then. Yes, it could still dredge up the music hall pantomime of something like ‘Crackerjack’, but when it came to drama, every effort was made to ensure it wasn’t just a watered-down, cheapo version of the adult variety.

With its inaugural project an exclusively film-only one, Thames learnt the lesson of ‘The Tyrant King’ and gradually put together its offshoot company Euston Films, responsible for ‘Special Branch’, ‘The Sweeney’, ‘Van der Valk’, ‘Minder’ and ‘Widows’ amongst many others. ‘The Tyrant King’ is certainly an enchantingly uncharacteristic genesis for a company that became renowned for gritty dramas labelled ‘kick, bollock and scramble’; but in 2020 it serves as yet one more diversionary sidestep into a world almost faintly recognisable, yet one so removed from where we are now that it may as well be taking place in Wonderland after all. And why not? Any series that can have a song called ‘The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack’ as its theme tune is worth a look.

© The Editor

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

Bloody hell, talk about painting yourself into a corner. To come up with a title like that at times like these implies there are reasons to be cheerful when the gut reaction of most right now would be to declare there aren’t actually any reasons to be cheerful at all. I must admit I can’t really think of any that come straight outta 2020. What about straight outta the 30-odd years after the end of the Second World War, though – the timespan that still feels like home? If this wretched century can do one thing to suggest there are reasons to be cheerful it is by enabling the past to be seen again via the technology of the present. The insularity that has been imposed upon the majority this year has exacerbated personal viewing habits that would’ve probably have served me well without a lockdown; however, the circumstances unique to 2020 seem to have provoked a binge on the familiar that has little precedence.

Some opt for Netflix, whereas in 2020 I’ve sat through the following box-sets: ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Strange World of Gurney Slade’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Department S’, ‘Jason King’, ‘The Protectors’, ‘Budgie’, ‘Colditz’, ‘Softly Softly: Task Force’, ‘Callan’, ‘Special Branch’, ‘Public Eye’, ‘The Sweeney’, ‘Angels’, ‘Casanova’, ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, ‘Out’, ‘The Sandbaggers’, ‘Shoestring’, ‘Steptoe and Son’, ‘The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin’, ‘Law and Order’, ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ – all since March, and that’s not even mentioning numerous one-off productions or documentary series that have filled out my own private schedule. Sometimes, such as these nuclear bunker moments, it pays to have amassed a library of archive TV; the fact that I’d seen all of these shows before didn’t really matter, because there’s a ‘Painting the Forth Bridge’ factor that means whenever you’ve done the lot, it’s time to go back the beginning. All very sad and pathetic, I know; but if you don’t build shelves or knit, what else you gonna do to unwind? I only ever feel alive when I’m creating, and I can’t think of any better way to experience facsimile living during downtime than by remembering how we used to live.

After revisiting the contents of the library, the good thing about being online is the prospect of stumbling upon something absent from that library, and I was momentarily cheerful this morning when I found an old Fred Dibnah programme on YT. I genuinely lost all sense of time, instantly enraptured by the fearless Bolton steeplejack ascending a chimney he was laboriously demolishing by hand. Anyone whose palms become sweaty watching John Noakes’ famous climb up Nelson’s Column needs to see Dibnah manoeuvring his way from ladder to chimney-top as he clambers over shaky scaffolding and wobbly planks positioned God knows how many hundreds of feet above ground. No safety harness to prevent him plummeting to his death, not even any gloves to combat the cold; once in place, he chips away with his chisel, lights another cigarette, and dismantles the brick edifice with the same artisan dignity as the man who erected it a century earlier. The gentle manner of the demolition is almost like Dibnah is showing his respect for his predecessor in a way that simply blowing it up doesn’t.

These films radiate so many different layers of melancholy – melancholy as the industrial landscape that made Britain the workshop of the world was being rapidly erased along with the nation’s global standing; melancholy that doorstep sandwich-chomping, fag-smoking, beer-drinking blokes like Fred – from a time when no working man had a weak handshake – are not so much a dying breed now but an extinct one; and melancholy at the realisation that so many restrictions have been placed upon freedoms which had been hard-won by the generation before Fred, freedoms that have been removed gradually by the generation after him, sneakily and slowly so that few noticed. What we are seeing now, however, is the blatant and ugly acceleration of that process courtesy of a pandemic that waives the previous hesitancy that anticipated resistance. I guess the problem with dependence on the riches of the past to provide sustenance for the present is that cheerfulness is always one step away from melancholy because there’s no escaping the fact it’s all gone.

To borrow a phrase I used in an earlier paragraph, ‘How We Used to Live’ is also the title of a wonderful 2013 film put together by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley, they of long-running musical ensemble St Etienne, and a film I watched again last night. It could almost be seen as a visual companion piece to Wiggs and Stanley’s superb CD compilations of overlooked and obscure gems from the nation’s neglected record libraries such as ‘English Weather’. It takes ‘travelogue’-type Technicolor footage of London from the Festival of Britain to the end of the 1970s and paints a poignant portrait of the capital as it was before money moved in and natives moved out; the footage is the kind that comprised Pathé and Movietone cinema fillers in the 50s, 60s and 70s but in this case is primarily lifted from similar shorts dispatched to the colonies and not shown in the mother country. Eschewing straight chronology, the film instead mixes the eras together in a delightful dreamy collage accompanied by a suitably lugubrious narration from Ian McShane and a complementary St Etienne soundtrack. Anyone who has a soft spot for old London needs to see it.

Again, however, the viewer comes away from the viewing experience somewhat overwhelmed by sadness. It’s not just the vintage cars or the way people are dressed or even the way the city looks – i.e. before it was scarred by bland glass towers that could slot into any non-dom billionaire’s ghetto on the planet; no, the impression the footage gives is more a lost world of community, consideration, shared values and, I guess, simple politeness – the people’s manifestation of the political consensus that collapsed in the 80s. What the images magically generate is a less rude, obnoxious, ignorant, aggressive, selfish and self-centred country, not to mention less authoritarian; all the worst human characteristics that Thatcherism and Blairism at their most nakedly avaricious legitimised are absent from the Britain of ‘How We Used to Live’. Yes, the exquisite stitching together of the footage could be accused of manufacturing an imaginary past, but it actually works in the same way memory does, far more effectively than if it was a conventional chronological documentary.

Having seen the unnecessary prevention of the public from marking Remembrance Sunday last weekend – and with every day seeming to bring one more despotic and undemocratic curb of civil liberties proposed or introduced by the UK’s devolved administrations under the guise of ‘saving lives’ – one can’t help but compare the world of ‘How We Used to Live’ to the world we’ve allowed to be remade and remodelled by such appalling individuals and not end up wondering how the hell we went from that to this. Of course, you can’t go back, only forward – but forward to what? I’d like to look upon this period as a periodical trough, yet it’s more tempting to view it as the last row of lights going out as it becomes increasingly difficult to detect any reasons to be cheerful on the horizon. Oh, well; if nothing else, documenting decline and fall makes for more gripping reading than trying to describe rise and shine, I suppose, so what am I complaining about?

© The Editor

NEW CASTLE DIVIDED

So, as one Utopian experiment dies before our eyes – i.e. the United States of America – following the first unedifying debate between two corrupt cadavers (and all those hoping Trump cops it are as much a part of that slow death as the man himself), another kind of Utopia gradually vanishes whilst nobody’s looking. This one is part of an ongoing process to erase a uniquely 20th century concept of Utopia from the landscape, and the latest chapter will be underway once the bulldozers belatedly move in to begin a demolition that has been on the cards for the best part of a decade – that of the perennially-controversial eyesore known as the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. Even if this particular precinct isn’t personally known to the reader, it represents a specific shopping experience familiar to anyone born and raised in any British city during the first half-century of the post-war era.

The Elephant and Castle seems to have specialised in retail outlets for a hundred years or more. Before the Second World War, it was a highly-regarded destination for shoppers, nicknamed ‘the Piccadilly of South London’; it boasted several cinemas, a branch of Burtons, and also had its very own illustrious department store, something which – much like malls in more recent times – no neighbourhood claiming to be a leading shopping epicentre could be complete without. However, as was the case with great swathes of the capital, the Blitz laid waste to the locality and Elephant and Castle was earmarked for redevelopment; along with new housing, the planners intended to provide grandiose leisure facilities which were inevitably dominated by that ubiquitous addition to the post-war urban landscape, the newfangled shopping centre complex.

London wasn’t unique when it came to these concoctions, but it being London, everything had to be on a far larger scale than anywhere else. Belonging to a generation of architects inspired by the futuristic – if impractical – cityscapes of Le Corbusier, the designers of Elephant and Castle’s contribution to the concrete jungles of the New Elizabethan Age weren’t short on ambition, even if predictable budgetary restraints somewhat diluted the drawing-board sketches. Opened for business in 1965, the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre shared similar hopes for housing a dozen old streets of shops under one roof as Birmingham’s equally optimistic Bull Ring Centre around the same time. Both suffered from a scaling down of their original vision. Pre-opening hype at the Elephant and Castle may well have boasted of 120 shop units on three levels, but by the time it opened, only 29 were filled; the Bull Ring faced the same problems, with the high rentals there dissuading the old market traders from relocating indoors.

Even a Brutalist enthusiast – and they do exist – would be hard-pushed to make an aesthetic case for the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. It’s a tatty sow’s ear of a building that no amount of tinkering over the years has managed to transform into a silk purse. It has no real architectural shape or form, with the various tacked-on ‘improvements’ having enhanced its irredeemable ugliness whilst failing to improve upon what photographs show was far-from impressive even at the time of its initial opening. As with the simultaneous decline and fall of the neighbouring Heygate Estate – another product of well-meaning but poorly-executed post-war town planning – the Shopping Centre gradually acquired an unsavoury, rather grubby reputation that deterred the big chain-store names from investing in it. However, the one unintended benefit of the precinct being shunned by high-street giants was that it enabled independent traders to plug the gaps, creating something of a community ambience, especially for the area’s notable Latin American population. So, in a wholly unexpected way, the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre eventually became that which it was originally intended as – a community hub for the community that live in the area.

The motivation behind so much of the 1960s housing and retail stock that is disappearing from view with remarkable rapidity was undeniably laudable; if WWII air-raids could be said to have had any positive impact on Britain’s cities, they at least forced councils and elected representatives to address urban environmental issues that had required urgent attention for decades. Not only was there a concerted attempt to improve the nation’s homes, high-streets and road network, but it was a project in which the lives of everybody were included. As with the political consensus that lingered until the arrival of Thatcherism, this hangover from the One Nation approach required to repel Hitler meant the great housing schemes of the era were built to provide homes for anybody in need of one, regardless of social demographic league tables. That so much of this ambitious and brave concept failed to deliver really is something of a tragedy.

Cut corners, cheap materials, shoddy workmanship, poor designs, diminishing budgets and behind-the-scenes corruption all played their part in the collapse of this admirable Utopian operation, as did the almost manic verve with which perfectly sound streets, houses and civic buildings were bulldozed not because they were bomb-damaged or decrepit but simply because they were old and didn’t fit the master-plan. A blend of old and new complementing each other would have been the best solution, but local councils and politicians became drunk on redevelopment and saddled any Brutalist building with the same undesirable label as those that were the worst, most unloved examples of the school – which is why so many of them have gone in the past couple of decades.

The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre closed its doors for good at the end of September; the whole area is to be redeveloped yet again, with the ominous spectre of ‘gentrification’ looming over the locals. Many of the traders that served to give the kiss of life to the Shopping Centre have not been offered units in the emporium scheduled to replace it, but I’m guessing the usual suspects will move in to make its replacement just like every other mall anywhere on the planet. Southwark Council have promised 35% of the dwellings accompanying this new retail hub will consist of social housing, but one can’t help but think non-dom Chinamen, Arabs and Oligarchs are probably already top of this particular housing list. At least the 1960s redevelopments, however much they got it wrong, were designed with ‘ordinary people’ in mind. Today, the plebs have to be content with whatever scraps are leftover from the rich pickings overseas investors at the head of the queue get their hands on.

Many similar heroic failures have bitten the dust this century – the old Bull Ring met the wrecking-ball almost 20 years ago whilst Portsmouth’s equally-ambitious Tricorn Centre (described by Prince Charles as ‘a mildewed lump of elephant droppings’) was demolished in 2004. Love them or loathe them, such buildings embodied a vision sorely lacking today. They may have become – like the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre – distinctly shabby within a very short space of time; but they had character, something that 21st century redevelopment does its damndest to smoothly iron out.

© The Editor

TUNNEL VISION

Considering all the cynical baggage accumulated on life’s journey, retaining a little lingering magic in relation to a specific source of childhood fascination doesn’t do any harm; even if utterly illogical, it serves a purpose as a welcome interlude from the grown-up grind. I’ve often found that magic via the London Underground. Yes, we’re all aware of its numerous faults and no sane person would use it during the rush hour unless work made doing so an unavoidable necessity; but for me it’s the nearest non-Time Lords can get to owning a Tardis. You arrive in one station, jump on the train, you arrive at another station that looks like the one you just left, you travel up the steps and you’re in a completely different corner of the capital without having witnessed the route from A to B as one would over-ground. I’m well aware of the science, but it’s still magical to me.

However, from its innovative inception in 1863, the London Underground has regularly inspired as much dread in some as it has magic in others. A train service that could travel below the surface of the great metropolis naturally provoked shivers; perhaps it was the thought of people being ferried about in a neighbourhood previously reserved for the dead. These kinds of associations have continued to exert an influence over popular culture’s view of the Tube, something the numerous abandoned lines and ‘ghost stations’ have aided and abetted.

The 1967 ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Web of Fear’, played on these old superstitions by taking Patrick Troughton’s Doctor and his companions deep underground, where the alien Yeti were plotting world domination; and anyone who has seen the 1972 horror movie, ‘Death Line’, will never have heard the familiar Tube phrase ‘Mind the Gap’ in quite the same way since. But there have also been occasions in which genuine horrors have visited these subterranean departure lounges; and while they remain amongst the most used suicide sites in London (643 were attempted across the network in the decade from 2000-10), death has often struck without premeditation.

Bethnal Green 1943, Moorgate 1975 and King’s Cross 1987 – three stations and three dates that marked a trio of disasters. The first was an awful accident, a stampede to Bethnal Green Tube Station’s wartime use as a makeshift air-raid shelter when the crowd mistakenly believed an air-raid was taking place; 173 were crushed in the panic, mostly women and children. It’s believed to be the largest single loss of civilian life during WWII on the home-front. The cause of the Moorgate tragedy of 1975 remains disputed, though many have accepted the driver drove into the tunnel end beyond the platform, killing himself and 43 passengers in an act of suicide. The King’s Cross fire of 1987 killed 31 and was thought to have begun when a lit match or cigarette ignited debris beneath the wooden escalators that were subsequently replaced; the incident also marked the start of a more rigorous enforcement of the Tube’s smoking ban.

There have also been more deliberate attempts at slaughter below street level. The IRA had a crack as far back as 1939, during a mainland bombing campaign that tends to be overshadowed by other events of that year; their more well-known assault on the city from 1973-76 saw various stations targeted, though the intended roll-call of casualties was mercifully small. It wasn’t until the 7/7 attacks of 2005 that the London Underground was the scene of a successful terrorist outrage, with an overall death-toll of 52. For many, the carnage of 7 July 2005 served as a good reason to avoid the Tube altogether, though as we have come to belatedly realise this year, any location in which crowds of people are liable to gather will suffice. Perhaps it’s the instinctive fear of being trapped underground that imbues this particular method of transport with such horrific resonance for many.

Today’s events at Parsons Green seem to have been the work of an amateur or maybe the mechanism simply cocked-up at the crucial moment. The home-made device was planted in a bucket inside a carrier bag in a carriage travelling along the District Line from Wimbledon and was detonated as the train was pulling into the station; its detonation appeared to cause what has been described as a ‘wall of fire’ that left 22 commuters with burns. Taking place at the height of the rush hour (around 8.20am), the device was obviously designed to provoke greater damage than it turned out to and police have already claimed to have identified a suspect via CCTV footage.

I think we can all probably write the script of what follows next, though the surname of the suspect and the mosque he frequented will remain a mystery until all is eventually revealed as the event continues to play out on rolling news channels for the next 24 hours. The well-oiled counter-terrorist machine rattled into action minutes after panicked passengers exited Parsons Green and the obligatory COBRA summit was arranged in record time. But will any of that mean we can sleep easy in our beds? Well, I reckon those of us who don’t suffer from insomnia probably do so regardless of whatever lunacy is currently gripping the waking world. The real concern surrounds public, rather than private, places.

For some it’s simply a convenient means to get from one part of London to another; for others it’s an unnatural incursion into a netherworld that should never have been disturbed; for some it’s a nightmarish, claustrophobic approximation of life as a sardine; and for others it’s one of the greatest engineering achievements those ingenious Victorians left behind for us. It’s all of these things and more, both good and bad. All that life can afford, as Dr Johnson might have said.

© The Editor

WHAT A WASTE

The convenient aspects of plastic, at least from the corporate perspective, have facilitated its compulsory usage in all manner of household goods over the last half-century, though the belief that plastic goods have easy disposability when compared to the wood, glass or tin objects that preceded them is something of a fallacy when it comes to their actual disposal. The substance in its myriad forms possesses a notoriously slow rate of decomposition, and one that has served to inflict long-term damage on our oceans as well as even the world beyond our earthbound atmosphere. Any manned spacecraft launching into space has to contend with the proliferation of plastic-based junk jettisoned by earlier missions and the perennial dangers of discarded plastic trash on undersea life-forms is one that the creatures we share our planet with have to contend with on a daily basis.

There are occasions, however, when we are confronted by the realities of plastic’s ‘convenience’ – or at least those whose job it is to deal with the ramifications of our dependence on it are. The revolutionary and intricate London sewer system, devised by the visionary Joseph Bazalgette in the 1860s, arose from decades of open sewers and indoor cesspits in the capital that gave rise to regular outbreaks of cholera amongst the poor, not to mention the notorious Great Stink of 1858, when the accumulated combination of human effluence and animal carcasses that flooded into the Thames doused London in a noxious odour that, once it breached the barriers of Parliament, prompted belated action.

Londoners had become begrudgingly accustomed to the nauseous aromas that infected the city every summer by the middle of the nineteenth century; but advances in medical science and a growing awareness that the traditional theory of disease being transmitted on the air was little more than a glorified old wives’ tale led to demands for something to be done. It’s also worth noting that the establishment of cemeteries in this country came about due to the increasingly limited burial space in churchyards; when bodies were being piled so high that they were barely a few feet from the surface, any serious flooding could cause recently-interred cadavers to be uprooted and swept away, usually finding their final resting place in the river, a major source of London’s drinking water. Hygiene was certainly in short supply at the time, but have we advanced much since?

150 years later, though the sewer network Bazalgette mapped-out remains an effective barrier to outbreaks of diseases that were once commonplace in this country, it is nevertheless struggling to cope with a factor Bazalgette couldn’t have foreseen – the legacy of the contemporary dependency on plastics. In 2013, the London sewer system was faced with a new phenomenon called a ‘fatberg’. For those not in the know, a fatberg is perhaps the most apt physical manifestation of the consumer society and the inbuilt obsolescence of its produce: a hideous greasy ball of wet wipes, used nappies, condoms and other undesirable articles that hundreds of idiots flushed down the toilet rather than chuck in the bin – all assembling into one repugnant juggernaut of garbage that was out of sight and out of mind to those free from the job of dealing with it.

This particular congealed turd weighed 15 tonnes and was the size of a Routemaster bus, blocking a tunnel in Kingston-upon-Thames and presenting sewer staff with quite a challenge. Four years on, another colossal accumulation of Londoners’ carelessness has clogged-up one more corner of Bazalgette’s network, this time in Whitechapel. The latest fatberg is estimated at 250 metres long and is reckoned to weigh the best part of 130 tonnes. To put that into perspective, this fatberg is the equivalent weight of 520,000 packets of lard or 11 double-decker buses; it measures 6 metres longer than Tower Bridge.

Matt Rimmer, one of the lucky souls entrusted with removing the vile discharge of twenty-first century acquisitiveness, describes it as ‘a total monster’, adding ‘It’s basically like trying to break up concrete.’ The unenviable task of dislodging the oily carbuncle is in the hands of eight men charged with the responsibility. To do so, they need to call upon high-pressure hoses they hope will suck it bit-by-bit into tankers that they then intend to drive to a Stratford recycling site. Recruitment ads for their particular profession wouldn’t be the easiest sell imaginable.

The London sewer system proved to be a blueprint for the provincial metropolises that sprouted in the wake of the Industrial Revolution; a growing population naturally required a greater emphasis on waste disposal, though this initially centred on the waste emanating from the human body. Few could have anticipated a system superbly tailored for this kind of waste would eventually have to cope with disposable goods, for disposable goods on the scale we’re used to today were largely unknown at the time of its design. The convenience of these goods only covers the period in which we make use of them; once they need replacing, we want rid of them ASAP. What becomes of them thereafter is someone else’s problem. That’s the theory, anyway; the reality is considerably more gruesome.

© The Editor

GARDENERS’ QUESTION TIME

Maybe a glorified paddling pool was the most fitting tribute to our ‘Queen of Hearts’; the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, which opened to an underwhelming fanfare in 2004, was, like the public image of the woman it was supposed to be a tribute to, an impressive triumph of style over substance. In the years immediately following the premature death of the former Princess of Wales, many such fanciful schemes were suggested, some considerably abstract and bearing little obvious relation to the woman herself. Perhaps the unintentionally hilarious statue of Diana and Dodi in Harrods was at the forefront of the minds concocting these prospective memorials.

Joanna Lumley, an actress who doesn’t seem to act very much anymore, suggested a ‘floating paradise’ as one more bizarre tribute to Diana barely a year after events in Paris; this somewhat vague concept eventually morphed into the notion of a bridge that also doubled up as a garden – with or without the Diana brand attached to it. Following her successful campaign to gain Gurkhas the right to settle in the UK, Lumley suddenly had a public platform that proved immensely attractive to politicians hoping some of Purdey’s star quality would rub off on them. One such politician was the ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson. Riding high on the PR victory of the 2012 London Olympics, Bo-Jo gave the green light to what became the London Garden Bridge project.

Ah, yes – the Garden Bridge. It is now officially an ex-bridge, bereft of life and all that. The ambitious (if rather impractical) idea of another shortcut across the Thames that would serve as a novel rural facsimile in the heart of the capital looked good on paper, yes; but the proposed location wasn’t a part of London in desperate need of another bridge and the locals whose lives would be disrupted by its protracted construction weren’t even consulted as Boris took it upon himself to be the project’s salesman; when he gained planning permission in 2014, Johnson’s record in facilitating the ongoing despoiling of the capital’s skyline by constantly ruling in favour of developers over opposition didn’t give cause for optimism.

Initially, the public were told the bridge would be financed by private investors, but the struggle to raise the required funds necessitated the diverting of taxpayers’ money into the project – a total that now stands at around an estimated £46.4m. As Chancellor, George Osborne promised Boris £30m from the public purse, and a chunk of that squandered cash found its way into the black hole of the Garden Bridge courtesy of David Cameron; Dave ignored the advice of his civil servants by throwing more taxpayer’s money at it when the failure of recruiting enough private investors revealed a £56m shortfall in the accounts of the trust set up to handle the lucre.

The Garden Bridge had its critics from day one; they viewed it as an expensive vanity project that could be to Cameron’s Government what the Millennium Dome was to Blair’s. Its proponents, such as chairman of the trust, Lord Davies, claimed the Bridge would be a ‘beautiful new green space in the heart of London’; but it’s not as though Central London, for all its traffic bottlenecks and overcrowded pavements, doesn’t already have an abundance of spacious parks and green squares to breathe in – most of which have been part of the London landscape for well over a century.

The Garden Bridge could well have gone ahead as a felicitous white elephant for Japanese tourists if enough private investors had been prepared to pay for its construction as well as the projected £3m a year needed for maintenance once open; but for so much public money to have been squandered on ‘a public space’ without public consultation is outrageous, especially now the whole thing has been abandoned.

A review into the project chaired by Dame Margaret Hodge was severely critical of the methods of raising money for it and also of Boris Johnson for his inability to justify the public expense; Hodge’s conclusion was that it would be better to call time on the Garden Bridge before any further costs were unwittingly incurred by taxpayers. Johnson’s successor as London Mayor Sadiq Khan has finally pulled the plug on it following the findings of the review, though some say he could have spared even more expense had he done so earlier; his predecessor claims Khan has killed the Bridge out of spite, saying ‘The Garden Bridge was a beautiful project and could have been easily financed’, though his own failure to finance it without regular recourse to the public purse hardly backs up his response to the Mayor’s belated decision.

As another cheerleader for the Garden Bridge, even Lord Davies admitted earlier this year that the project was not currently ‘a going concern’. The trust still hadn’t purchased the land on the South Bank of the Thames that would serve as the bridge’s southern landing and no private investors have been persuaded to part with their pennies for a full twelve months. The total provided by private investors is alleged to be around £70m, though how much of the public money wasted on the project was spent on courting potential private investors is unknown.

Ultimately, the London Garden Bridge can join a list of other intended attractions for the capital that never made it beyond the drawing board, though some came closer to succeeding. Watkin’s Tower, London’s planned answer to the Eiffel Tower in the 1890s which, had it been completed, would still be taller than the Shard, made it as far as 154ft before being abandoned and then demolished, eventually making way for Wembley Stadium. But it’s interesting to note that one of the proposed ideas for the Wembley site prior to the partial construction of the Tower was a replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza, in which food would be grown in hanging gardens. Perhaps the committee responsible for the Garden Bridge should have studied their London history books beforehand.

© The Editor

THIS CORROSION

A notorious scene in the cult crime serial from the late 60s, ‘Big Breadwinner Hog’, jammed ITV switchboards at the time of its original broadcast; in it, a gangster throws acid in the face of a rival. The scene is unusually violent for 1969 and still seems pretty horrific today; indeed, the relative rarity of such a vile crime gives it added shock value. Unfortunately, the stringent gun laws in this country and the heavy sentences for knife crime have now forced real-life villains into utilising what was an unusual weapon in a make-believe drama fifty years ago, making it a grim and gruesome reality.

It doesn’t really do much for one’s diminishing faith in human nature when human beings are so inventive at devising new and unpleasant means of inflicting pain upon their fellow man. The news that two teenagers (aged just 15 and 16 respectively) have been arrested in the unlovely London borough of Hackney following five separate and unimaginably awful acid-throwing sprees from a moped last night is the latest in an increasing series of robberies and attacks involving corrosive substances in the capital; while some are believed to be gang-related, others appear callously random, done without either knowledge of or, (more likely) an absolute disregard of, the serious disfiguring damage acid can cause.

Throwing acid is not a specific crime in itself; most arrested for it have been charged with GBH, whereas knife attacks are regarded as attempted murder. The easy availability of corrosive substances and the fact sentencing isn’t in line with knife crime combine with relative ignorance of the long-term effects acid can have on victims of it. In a week in which some brain-dead chavvy dimwit hit the headlines by subjecting her baby to utterly unnecessary and unbelievably cruel cosmetic surgery in the shape of ear-piercing, it’s worth realising surgery of a different nature is the usual aftermath of an acid attack; the most serious injuries can require upwards of 20 painful plastic surgery operations, and even then the legacy of the damage done is usually evident somewhere on the body.

There is also understandable psychological damage caused by acid attacks, something partially dealt with by a charity called Acid Survivors Trust International. Although there have been a small handful of well-publicised acid attacks in recent years, many have been on pretty girls whose jilted lovers or spurned stalkers have sought to ruin the looks of. The current rise of such attacks in London has largely been reserved for men, and the increase now means, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International, the UK is the shameful world leader in them.

In this country, there are no age restrictions on purchasing household cleaning products that contain acid; some of the few restrictions are related to bulk-buying of such goods for businesses, something that falls under ‘explosives, precursors and poisons’ rules; another restriction is on the sale of sulphuric acid, though mainly due to its status as a potential ingredient in the manufacture of explosives. Otherwise, anyone can buy a bottle that can easily become a dangerous weapon, though why would anyone be carrying a bottle in their jacket pocket unless intending a premeditated attack? Only last month, two men were seriously maimed when acid was thrown at them through their car window; and there was an equally appalling attack at a Hackney nightclub in April that left 20 people with severe burns and two blinded in one eye.

Police figures released earlier this year showed acid attacks had risen from 261 in 2015 to 458 in 2016; a third of them took place in the east London borough of Newham, with few making it to trial. 74% of cases from 2014 onwards were abandoned due to the reluctance of many victims to press charges, which would certainly support the theory that corrosive substances have become key weapons in gang-related violence. Still, since 2010, there have been 1,800 reported cases, which make for pretty depressing reading.

Gang culture itself is a side-effect of poverty and urban depravation, when those who feel they have nothing will grab at anything that provides them with the status and importance that cleaning tables wearing a paper hat probably doesn’t. Not much gang-related crime in Chipping Norton, one imagines. And, of course, gang culture as a product of poverty is nothing new; some of the worst poverty-stricken areas of the UK have had gang violence as part of their makeup for centuries; one could go back to the infamous Gorbals tenements of Glasgow in the 1930s or even to Fagin’s den of thieves in ‘Oliver Twist’ for evidence of that. The weapons of choice have depended on how far gangs have progressed to professional organised crime ala the Krays or the Richardsons, from razors to knives to guns and now to corrosive liquids.

Even if one takes gang culture into account where the current upsurge in acid attacks is concerned, however, the likelihood of someone who has no connection with gangs being targeted just because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time seems extremely high. When gang members are busy killing each other or their rivals, it’s easy to step back and leave them to it; when members of the public are added to the hit-list, as appeared to be the case in the barbaric series of assaults in Hackney last night, then it becomes particularly scary for everyone. And that’s when action is usually taken. We can only hope that this time it is.

© The Editor

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

‘They thought they could snub the conventions of decent society when they seized the sixty-room mansion and transformed it into hippie house!’ No, not a Daily Mail leader, but the booming tones of the British Pathé News reporter covering the end of the celebrated squat at 144 Piccadilly in 1969. The film clip covering the Met’s raid on the property after it had been taken over by the London Street Commune, a loose collective of ‘hippies’ formed to highlight homelessness in the capital, is unsurprisingly one-sided in its perspective as what the narrator describes as ‘the spongers who call themselves hippies’ are evicted from the residence they’d occupied for a week. The commentary goes onto say ‘by their shameless actions, (they) disparage the plight of decent people who cannot find homes’. Decent as in those who regularly visit a barber, one wonders?

There’s no doubt what began as an admittedly ‘radical’ (in the jargon of the time) attempt to bring homelessness to the public’s attention worked as a PR campaign, and whilst there would have been deserving cases taking advantage of the operation, there would also have been a fair few rich kids slumming it and bumming around from one squat to another as they indulged in a bit of counter-cultural backpacking; the additional infiltration of Hell’s Angels and drug-dealers then made its dramatic ending inevitable. But the roots of many homeless charities we take for granted today were in such stunts and in that respect they served a purpose, even if the media coverage was more or less entirely from the viewpoint of the short-back-and-sides generation.

It’s interesting when watching the Pathé report to notice that virtually all of those being herded out of 144 Piccadilly look to be under 30. A good half-decade of Swinging London propaganda had attracted young people to the capital from across the globe, like monochrome moths drawn to a psychedelic flame, even though many of those arriving soon found themselves in a similar situation to the one that befell the lead character in Ken Loach’s landmark BBC TV play ‘Cathy Come Home’ in 1966. Today, London retains its attractiveness to the overseas eye, though there’s a glaring divide between those imported as a cheap labour force (with employers recycling the hackneyed excuse that ‘British workers won’t do these jobs’) and those with the big bucks to buy up huge chunks of the capital.

The tragedy that occurred at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in the early hours of Wednesday morning has already been politicised, though not necessarily by politicians themselves. Whilst the cause of the appalling event would appear to have been an accident, the shoddy corner-cutting workmanship and lacklustre fire safety precautions that enabled the inferno to take hold of the tower block with such frightening speed seems to be symbolic of a vast chasm between rich and poor, not just in the capital as a whole, but in one specific corner of it, where the haves and have-nots sit cheek-by-jowl. London Mayor Sadiq Khan received a rough ride from residents when he attempted to give a media statement at the site, whereas Theresa May’s decision to avoid residents and speak to fire-fighters away from cameras and microphones was the latest PR own-goal of a PM giving Gordon Brown a run for his money in the ‘most unsuitable candidate for the job ever’ stakes.

Far be it from me to imply there’s any political mileage to be got out of this terrible disaster, but Jeremy Corbyn seems to have captured the mood of the moment in a completely natural manner that contrasts sharply with his awkward opposite number in Westminster. His ease with the general public has been demonstrated yet again in the wake of Wednesday’s events; of course it won’t do him any harm with the electorate, though it really would be churlish to suggest his visit to North Kensington and to the church where many of the survivors have congregated was some sort of points-scoring exercise. If it was, then he once again trounced Mrs May, who doesn’t seem capable of doing anything right at the moment.

During an emergency session of Parliament, briefly recalled to respond to the tragedy, Corbyn made a salient point about the housing crisis in London. ‘It can’t be acceptable that in London we have luxury buildings and luxury flats left empty as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live,’ he said, and then added: ‘Kensington is a tale of two cities. The south part of Kensington is incredibly wealthy; it’s the wealthiest part of the whole country. The ward where this fire took place is, I think, the poorest ward in the whole country and properties must be found – requisitioned if necessary – to make sure those residents do get re-housed locally.’

The new MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, is (lest we forget) Labour, though it has emerged she was actually on the board of the discredited quango running the flats on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea Council, the one that gave the green light to the fatal refurbishment of the block last year. That naturally doesn’t look good, though this fact has been overshadowed by the predictably hysterical headlines from the likes of the Mail claiming Jezza has called for private property to be ‘seized’ for the benefit of those made homeless by what happened at Grenfell Tower. This isn’t another example of his so-called ‘Robin Hood’ policies, but seems to me a genuine attempt to once more underline the social inequalities of life in the capital.

It goes without saying that these social inequalities have been part of London life for centuries; after all, what better chronicler of the capital than Dickens, who documented the disparity between rich and poor in fictional form over 150 years ago? Yet, the nightmarish scenario in North Kensington now looks like something that was a long time coming, just as the collapse of the Savar sweatshop in Bangladesh was in 2013. Jeremy Corbyn has managed to articulate the anger arising from Grenfell Tower better than any other politician, but people are angry. And they’ve every bloody right to be. That’s why they stormed Kensington Town Hall today. This could prove to be a crucial turning point in the way this country is run as much as Hillsborough was for the way our national sport is run. Time will tell.

© The Editor

CLAD IN BLACK

I suppose there’s a genuinely valid point to be made about the manner in which Central London has descended into a shameless, superficial whore exclusively opening her legs for every disgustingly wealthy, greedy, grasping Oligarch and Arab to buy her favours and own her outright. Maybe. The appalling inferno that consumed Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in the wee small hours has led to a loss of life that we’ve yet to be told the extent of; but the suggestion that the spread of the fire may have been caused by the cladding recently installed around the tower’s exterior in order to make a characteristically ugly 70s council block more aesthetically easy on the eyes of the building’s luxury apartment neighbours could be summarised as the story of our capital city over the last twenty-five years in a nutshell.

The shocking extent of the blaze, engulfing what appeared to be the entire building, was reminiscent of a similarly horrific fire that destroyed the Summerland entertainment centre on the Isle of Man in 1973. Summerland had been opened for just two years, boasting swimming pools, games rooms, restaurants and dance halls all under one roof; it was intended to increase tourism by appealing to families, but the untested modern materials used in the building’s design proved to be fatal for those trapped inside when a fire broke out on 2 August 1973. The fact the fire exits were locked and bolted to prevent people sneaking-in without paying exacerbated the tragedy that unfolded, one that eventually claimed up to 53 lives – at the time, the worst loss of life via fire since the Blitz.

Images of the gruesome Summerland carcass were echoed in North Kensington today; the charred remains of Grenfell Tower even resemble a hideous evocation of HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, whilst the horror of a tower block going so badly wrong is reminiscent of the Ronan Point disaster in Newham, East London, in 1968. And if the insulation wrapped around the building was indeed to blame for the speed with which flames swamped the building, there’s a hell of a lot of questions requiring answers.

Part of a social housing complex of the kind we will probably never see erected again – certainly not in Central London – Grenfell Tower has stood for 43 years. It was only last year that an £8.6 million refurbishment under the guise of ‘regeneration’ came to that corner of the capital, motivated in part by a desire to upgrade the appearance of the building, surrounded as it is by the architectural hallmarks of the mega-rich that have indulged in a ghastly game of Monopoly in recent decades. Planning documents for the regeneration of Grenfell Tower claimed the changes, little more than cheap cladding suggesting ‘gentrification’ of the shallowest order, was clearly intended to improve the view seen from apartments of a different nature in the nearby neighbourhoods.

It’s emerged in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire that residents had repeatedly aired fears of the block’s safety relating to fire, and it’s not too far-fetched to speculate that the materials used to insulate the tower were not necessarily the expensive variety proven to be non-flammable; such cladding is apparently commonplace when it comes to representatives of an unfashionable architectural era and corners are undeniably cut, especially when the residents of such residences are amongst the poorest in London. Fires have broken out in other London tower blocks in the last few years, few of which actually contain sprinklers; but it would seem potential dangers have been overlooked and ignored. And look at where that has got us.

An early and somewhat unlikely story of the fire starting via a tenant’s exploding fridge appeared to be one of those that are usually circulated, especially in the 24/7 news age, before facts have been established. But it’s seeming more and more likely that the materials used for the cladding of the building played a large part in the terrible disaster that has reduced what was home to hundreds of people to a charcoal skeleton akin to those we’re familiar with seeing in archive film of the Blitz. An outsourced private company running the flats on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea Council had been criticised by residents associations online long before what happened last night, but ears have been deaf to such protests until now. And now it’s too late.

ANITA PALLENBERG (1944-2017)

A Swinging 60s It Girl and one of many women whose immersion in the unhealthy circle of The Rolling Stones both made her and came close to claiming her, Anita Pallenberg was one of her era’s most exotic and alluring butterflies. Of Italian and German descent, she’d been amongst the hangers-on at Andy Warhol’s Factory until leaving New York for London; she then became the woman on the arm of the Stones’ most stylish member, Brian Jones, with the couple morphing into the stunning Siamese Twins of what Twiggy’s mentor and manager Justin de Villeneuve referred to as ‘the new social aristocracy’.

However, Jones was a troubled soul and it would seem the pair weren’t exactly well-suited; an ill-fated trip to Morocco with Brian and Keith in 1968 saw Pallenberg swap partners; she and Keith were partners in both the romantic and narcotic sense for the best part of a decade, though she bore him three children. Early on in their relationship, she played one of Mick Jagger’s two female companions in the sublimely dark ‘Performance’, a part that Keith remains convinced wasn’t entirely acted.

Anita Pallenberg had a few more notable movie roles, including a deliciously sexy villainess in Roger Vadim’s ‘Barbarella’, but her reputation as a Swinging 60s survivor in the decades thereafter was largely based on ‘Performance’. I pen this brief obituary because that film, as disturbing as it occasionally is, remains one of the most unforgettable and irresistible cinematic temptations I’ve ever been seduced by. Part of me still wants to be Turner Purple and still wants to inhabit that malevolently erotic household; Anita Pallenberg sold a dream that was also a nightmare, but I can’t see anyone today opening such a lascivious portal to such a divinely decadent world; and our world is all the blander for it.

© The Editor