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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, April 08, 2005
    Prospecting
     
    You can tell the sort of people who read a magazine by looking at its classifieds. And a glance at the back pages of Prospect reveals that I'm not in their regular market: rooms to let in Tuscany, Westminster flatshares and the opportunity for self-improvement under the guidance of Maria Drimoura BA, MA, Life Strategist - none of these are really 'me', y'know. But I bought it for the first time today. Along with the Fortean Times which is far more me (ads for t-shirts saying I'm not paranoid - they really are after me and I smile because I have no idea what's going on).

    Some stuff in Prospect caught my eye. Particularly a detailed piece on the bureaucratic disaster which is Croydon's Lunar House, Immigration HQ, whose shoddy service to some of our country's most vulnerable people continues today. I did some of the programming on the dinosaur computer system in the early 1990s, thus contributing to the chaos there, though all in good faith. And an article on that singular architectural critic Nikolaus Pevsner whose 1950s guides to the capital broke the mould by venturing out of the tourist centre into the suburbs where, he insisted, some of the finest buildings were. The article is about the recently revised and expanded version of his brilliantly-titled guide, London Except the City of London and Westminster, known to Pevsner fans as London Except, and fondly asks, 'Who else would tell you all this?' after quoting some fine examples of Pevsner's particular eye for local distinctiveness:

    On the south side of Ilford High Road, you read, Barclays Bank (1913) presents a "highly distinguished temple front... calm and dignified." But "harder to love" are the 13-storey council offices (1960s): "reinforced concrete with floor bands faced in rough, dark aggregate." More cheerfully, in and around Glebelands Avenue, Woodford, you find "exemplars of different phases of suburban development," including "a particularly sumptuous array of half-timbered and turreted" 1890s villas. Meanwhile, back in Tower Hamlets, the old churchyard of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, has been renamed Altab Ali Park, in memory of a young local Bangladeshi who was murdered there. A Victorian drinking fountain is set into the wall, with the inscription, "Erected by one who is known yet unknown."

    Prospect itself seems a mag for the chattering classes and I shan't be subscribing, but hey, I'll be thumbing it in Smiths in future for gems like these.