Saturday, May 16, 2009

The web of London

click photo to enlarge
As I stood on my son's Thames-side balcony the other day, and watched the sun going down over the city of London, I reflected on the journey that I'd made down to the city that day. The final leg of my trip had been on the M11 motorway until I joined "A" roads and and minor roads and threaded the car through London itself. In his poem, The Whitsun Weddings, Philip Larkin described a journey into the capital by train from the northern city of Hull. He describes the "slow and stopping curve southwards" of the railway that takes him there and thinks of "London spread out in the sun, Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat..."

My mind's-eye view of the city was, however, different from Larkin's. I saw the lines of motorways and other major roads converging on the capital from all directions, and, encircling it, the orbital roads and the M25: in fact, the image I had was a spider's web. And, as I dwelt on that simile I considered how appropriate it was, for just as the spider entices all that it needs to the centre of its construction, so too does London attract the country's people and resources from the regions, leaving the provinces depleted and relatively impoverished. William Cobbett (1763-1835), the radical pamphleteer and author of Rural Rides (1830), called the city "the great wen": that is to say, a pathological swelling, a cyst, on the face of England.

There are not many who would be so harsh today, but the pull that the capital exerts has been recognised by government and large institutions, such as the BBC, who have made efforts to relocate London-based parts of their organisations to the regions. During my brief stay I looked for signs that the city was suffering the same slow down as the rest of the country during the current recession. But, the bustle, building, and frenetic energy seemed much the same as ever: maybe my provincial eyes couldn't see the signs. Or perhaps London is, to modify L.P.Hartley's phrase, "...a foreign country; they do things differently there."

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 42mm (84mm/44mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/3200 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -2.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On