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

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006
    Beautiful, chaotic squalor
    Smoke #9 arrives - always a welcome arrival, this beautifully-written, closely-typed occasional collection of paeans to London - in the same post as the soundtrack to Saint Etienne's cd What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?, their new film about the lower Lea Valley.

    Nice music; it would be, it always is from this gifted group. And a lovely set of sleevenotes from Bob Stanley which really wouldn't be out of place in Smoke:

    I don't know anyone who has ever been on a field trip to the lower Lea Valley. It's the kind of place you would never visit, and only intrepid cyclists seem to know it exists. So what's the lower Lea Valley ever done for us? Petrol was invented there. Plastic was invented a hundred yards up the road. The Labour Party was born there. How's that, Ironbridge?

    Having established the credentials of this area of industrial innovation, trauma and decline Stanley takes the reader on a very detailed walk around it. Much as, I guess, the film does (I've yet to see it, hope not to wait too long). He's persuading me that one of my two free days in London next week might be well spent retreading his carefully-journalled steps. After all, it can never happen again:

    The Olympic village will wipe out all of this, and it's a good thing too. The pylons will all be buried underground, the Northern Outfall Sewer will become a majestic grassy thoroughfare, the dilapidated Eastway cycle track will be replaced by a new velodrome, the waterways will all be cleaned up. But lovers of urban decay and fabulous dereliction are urged to go there sharpish. It's your last chance to take a field trip to the birthplace of the twentieth century in all its beautiful, chaotic squalor.