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

    Monday, June 30, 2003
    The best of England
    Travelled many miles today without leaving the settee. Travelled with Iain Sinclair on the north-northwest section of his wander around the outlands of the M25, London Orbital.

    His powers of description are fantastic. Every paragraph is quotable. Take, for example, two passages describing breakfasts he and his walking companions had at different stages of their pilgrimage.

    In an Italian coffee-bar in Waltham Cross Sinclair observes the women customers, 'Walnut-coloured leisure wives, still steaming from tanning beds. Metallic blondes with vivid nails. Very trim in fiercely pressed jeans.' Noting that 'Victoria Adams (Mrs Beckham, Posh Spice) ... tarty with class ... is a local', he continues,
      Visit Waltham Cross and her otherness comes into focus. All the women in the coffee-bar have that hard sheen, the laminate of non-specific celebrity. Interspecies. They look as good as the photographs in the magazines. Their faces are stiff, moving like heavy paper. You can acquire, if you concentrate, follow the regime, a toxicology of fame. A fake cosmetic. Like whacking up the colour balance. Achieving alien status: part ennui, part peevishness, part camera flirtation.
    Later (he's travelling counter-clockwise), on the outskirts of Watford, among the sheds of scrap metal and recycling merchants Sinclair discovers a fine eatery:
      Our breakfast, in the Mad Max kingdom of these war lords of waste, is a treat. A caravan, an awning, white plastic tables. Strip-lighting on the strobe. A large lady with big gold rings in her ears. And a face as featureless as a satellite dish. Eggs in their dozens, ready to break into the pan. Pink and yellow notices with handwritten specialities of the house: TOASTED SANDWICH VARIOUS FILLING FROM £1.50. In France this vehicle would have appeared in half a dozen movies. In California it would (as a replica) have its own gag-a-minute TV series.

      We swill our mugs of near-coffee, lick our plates and congratulate ourselves on being somewhere we'll never find again; a morning epiphany among stacked containers, long sheds. The best of England: close to a canal path, close to allotments, close to a football stadium, faces deep into a (£2.50) 'big breakfast' in a culture that only does breakfasts.