I’m in New York. That means time spent pondering as to what nonsense I should up here is superseded by my love of those sugar and additive laden monster size iced teas for 99 cents, the Shake Shack near my hotel and a quest for chicken parms. As a fan of much that’s NYC, I’m fairly quick to ditch my Britishness in favour of vast portions.
It’s a shame that trips here are no longer based around the purchase of publications and footwear that’s the same as it is everywhere (motherfuck global rollouts and homogenized store shelves). The last bastion of NYC that hasn’t been imported or cloned is the food. So I’m eating my body weight in saturated fats and getting super sized. Box logo hats and Jordans everywhere. It’s important to maintain the identity of your city, or we’re all destined to become the same place with the same attitude, same look, but different weather.
Long before Recon ever expressed a yearning for the old New York, London’s changes had been duly noted. Illustrator and writer Geoffrey Fletcher `had been documenting London’s dark and disintegrating side throughout the 1960s in books like ‘Down Among The Meths Men’ complete with on-the-spot scratchy, haunting imagery, and his 1962 book, ‘The London Nobody Knows’ was adapted into a documentary in 1969, and it’s a bizarre slab of a time long gone. Andrew Bunney reminded me of the documentary’s existence after I hunted snippets from it, instigated into a hunt by an excellent article by Bob Stanley
The choice of subject matter, with a solemn James Mason as the guide is peculiar but absorbing — gas lamps powered by the sewer, oily foodstuffs, fish in urinals, an unnervingly aggressive escapologist, psychedelic electronics scoring kippers and fruit during a market montage and glassy-eyed transients guzzling methylated spirits. Bar a deeply unfunny attempt at humour with regards to an egg-shelling operation, it’s consistent and compelling.
The pallid faces, stern looks, flat caps and disembodied music hall soundtracking give the whole thing a periodically nightmarish quality that’s only topped by 1974’s hideously matter-of-fact ‘Incendio’ in the documentary darkness stakes. I heartily recommend the Darkest London blog for more on the topic of the nation’s capitals and the forgotten oddities it contains. It’s all there to be unearthed and celebration.
For such a supposedly mannered, straightlaced city, London is a very strange place. Looking at the lone figure of the lamplighter, trudging along and working with an increasingly limited workload, I couldn’t help but ponder as to whether he, and other characters depicted in ‘The London Nobody Knows’ are the wandering ghosts who preempt where bloggers and e-celebrities could be later in life. While these are frivolous times, those indispensable in the distribution of triviality could be that guy one day — the keepers of the flame that no longer matters any more.