Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Samuel Johnson

Broken Promise Land

This was the first article I had published in Lanka Monthly Digest (LMD). It appeared in the December 2007 issue.

 

“When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends,” said Mark Twain. “Unless it would impose the silence of slavery, no government can afford to ignore its obligation to the truth,” said Michel Foucault. And Rauf Hakeem said in a recent interview: “The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.”

 

 

In daily life, we all constantly encounter the kind of broken promises and untruthfulness which Hakeem sees as a natural part of political life. Associated concepts are trust, loyalty, confidence, frankness, sincerity, right livelihood, betrayal, perjury, smear, spin, manipulation, hypocrisy, self-delusion, forgetfulness and corruption.

 

None of these issues  are exclusive to Sri Lanka, but this is my home and here are some Sri Lankan examples I have encountered,  which illustrate how frustrating and exhausting it is to get the simplest task done- and how corrosive a lack of truthfulness can be in friendship, business and politics.

 

Promises, by their very nature, have consequences. A friend who is a vet agreed to perform surgery on our dog, which she told us to starve. After six months, we haven’t seen or heard from her. If we had taken her at her word, the dog would be dead by now.

 

A roofing-tile company agreed to view our site and provide an estimate. I telephoned the salesman when he didn’t show up. He was in Ratnapura and couldn’t get to us. We didn’t buy that company’s tiles. Its Managing Director said when I complained: “That’s Sri Lanka, no?”

 

 

The CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board) said that its staff would come on Thursday. They didn’t. They said that they would be there on Friday. They turned up a month later, but we were away. In its office is a sign that says: ‘The Customer Is King’.

 

Hakeem is echoing the American philosopher Richard Rorty, who wrote: “Language is just human beings using marks and noises to get what they want.” The doctrine that there can be no absolute truth seems to have sprung from the discovery that scientists can err and that cultural factors inevitably colour our perceptions.

 

Other philosophers such as Mary Midgley combat this post-modernist relativism, maintaining that without a concept of absolute truth, “how, then, could we describe the world?”

 

 

All jurisdictions punish perjury, because justice cannot be done unless all parties adhere to the truth. The absolute language of the oath has a pragmatic purpose. Professor Bernard Williams writes about the two virtues, accuracy (doing everything we can to make our beliefs sensitive to the truth) and sincerity (expressing what one really believes without deception). He cites as an example the tobacco company executive who knows that his product may kill,  but his own life and peace of mind depend on avoiding that fact. He may accommodate himself to this by wishful thinking about the evidence. Williams sees any person lied to as a victim of an abuse of power who has been put in a powerless position that results in resentment and rage. The tobacco salesman may simply lie. The victim might die.

 

In our imperfect world, the white lie is hard to avoid. Frankness may prove costly in both public and private life, and it is not necessarily scheming or devious to hold back from absolute honesty. The man who prides himself on his bluntness may also have to be content with his own company, as he may not retain any friends. We might call this withholding of, or economy with, frankness tact – rather than insincerity.

 

Does more good than harm flow from the telling of a lie? According to Henry Sidgwick, in The Methods of Ethics, we must weigh “the gain of any particular deception against the imperilment of mutual confidence involved in all violation of the truth”. Practices of deception tend to multiply and reinforce one another and it takes an excellent memory to keep the thatch of one’s untruths in good enough repair to keep the rain out.

 

Mostly, the real reason for a lie is simply the advantage to the liar. Politicians use the white-lie justification to vindicate self-serving manipulation. The electorate is masochistic enough to let them get away with this. We are complicit, but delude ourselves thus: “Politicians are corrupt, but what to do?”

 

Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, was recently grilled by a tribunal investigating corruption. Few doubt he took large sums of cash from businessmen on four occasions. His testimony has been described as “rambling and incoherent”, and he has changed his story so many times that some of it has to be a lie. Polls show that less than one-third of voters believe him, but also show a sharp increase in support for his government and a corresponding drop in support for the opposition. At a recent public appearance Ahern was described as adopting a demeanour of martyred vindication. Some commentators see the public’s complaisance as evidence of the corrosive effect on the Irish nation as a whole of corruption at the top.

 

 

Denying the inevitability of falsehood in politics is seen as naïve – but there is, at the same time, tacit agreement that lying is wrong. It was said that British Minister of War John Profumo’s greatest rime wasn’t betraying his wife or compromising his country by sleeping with Christine Keeler- a call girl who was also the mistress of a Soviet spy. Rather, commentators took pains to assert that they were not concerned with his sexual morals, but with the fact that he lied to Parliament.

 

 

US Government officials told ABC News that they concocted the story of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to give legal justification for war’ “We were not lying. It was just a matter of emphasis,” they asserted. Dr Samuel Johnson quoted Henry Wyatt’s definition of a  diplomat as “a man paid to lie abroad for his country”. (It is interesting that Johnson was writing about journalists and their tenuous relationship with the truth.)

 

The Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) was created in 2001 to lie overseas for the US, but after an outcry, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quickly announced its closure. He was not telling the truth when he said the US government had stopped lying. The OSI’s duties were taken over by the Information Operations Task Force. “I’ll give you the corpse. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done,” he said. Lies about lraq have led to over 85,000 real corpses.

 

George Bush Jnr., like Richard Nixon before him, used smears and lies to become president. Dan Rather is suing CBS for firing him for allegedly presenting forged evidence on revelations in 2004 about Bush’s National Guard years. Bush, the coward, was running against war hero Senator John Kerry, but the Republicans discredited Kerry’s greatest asset to compensate for Bush’s liability. Witnesses remember Bush drunk and never going near the National Guard while Kerry was being decorated for bravery in Vietnam. CBS wanted Bush to win and branded one of its own as a liar for exposing the truth.

 

Deviation from truth throws a spanner in the works of social interaction and business life. We can organise our lives more effectively if truth is the accepted currency. Johnson said that the devils themselves do not lie to one another, since even the society of hell could not subsist without the truth. His devils didn’t have the benefit of email, SMS and mobile phones. With modern technology, there is no excuse for wasting my time because someone has more important things to do than make our agreed meeting. If I tell someone that I am going to do something by a certain time, they can effect their arrangements in the confidence that I will deliver. Punctuality is the politeness of princes.

 

Broken promises have a domino effect. Society will not prosper if people lie and boost their egos by making promises which they have no intention of fulfilling. In his bestselling little book On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt defines lies as statements that are not germane to the enterprise of describing reality, promises unconnected with an intention to fulfil. Lies arise when people are pushed or tempted to talk about things they know nothing about or when they don’t care about the truth.

 

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has said in LMD that “there was a time when the people were very vigilant, vibrant and alive to numerous issues affecting society … civil society seems to have gone to sleep. It could still be a powerful force if it came forward as one body.” His job is dealing with the big issue of corruption. We can all play a small part in affecting the environment in which corruption thrives by addressing the ‘what to do?’ mentality in daily life whenever a company disrespects us by dishonouring a commitment or a friend lets us down.

 

Defy the petty quotidian corruption of unreliability and negligence. Businesses and state departments will carry on lying and breaking promises if their ‘customers’ allow them to. Businesses will prosper if truth is respected and customers can rely on companies keeping their promises. Governments will thrive if they embrace openness and sincerity.

Work – Blessing or Curse

 A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday November 12 2014.

Colman's Column3

Work is the curse of the drinking classes. ― Oscar Wilde         

I have a t-shirt, which bears the legend on the front: “Work has ruined my life”. The label that would normally give washing and ironing instructions says: “When this garment is dirty give it to your Mum to wash”.

In his poem “Toads” Philip Larkin asked

 

Why should I let the toad work

Squat on my life?

Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork

And drive the brute off?

 

Six days of the week it soils

With its sickening poison –

Just for paying a few bills!

That’s out of proportion.

 

 

Ah, were I courageous enough

To shout Stuff your pension!

But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff

That dreams are made on.

What Does “Work” Mean?

It is quite difficult to define the word “work”, which has come down from the Old English noun weorc and the verb wyrċan. The large Oxford English Dictionary has 34 meanings for the noun and 39 for the verb. The modern word is a general term for doing something, or the product of that action. Contemporary usage has tended to modify the idea of activity, effort or achievement to a narrower concept of doing something for money.

Sometimes the concept is narrower still and confined to physical labour for a wage. Basil Bunting has The Chairman telling Tom that writing poetry is not work:

It’s not work

You don’t sweat

Nobody pays for it…

 

What you write is rot.

 

Bunting neatly combines the idea that real work has to be unpleasant as well as remunerative.

 

Travail, Labour, Pain

 

The word “labour” has connotations of pain, as in the pain of giving birth. “Toil” came from a Latin word meaning crushing, and first came into English as a synonym for trouble,  before it acquired the meaning of arduous labour in the 14th Century. Similarly, the French for work is travail, which has come to mean trials, tribulations and torment.

 

The specialisation of the word work to mean mainly paid employment is a consequence of capitalist productive relations. To be in work came to mean being in a relationship with an entity that controlled the means and financing of productive work and paid the worker’s wages. The meaning of the word then shifted again to mean not the physical or mental activity itself but the relationship between employee and employer. So the “Mum” who is expected to wash t-shirts is not considered to be in work until she leaves the home to work for an employer for a wage.

 

Religion and Capitalism

Work has long been thought a curse- humankind’s punishment for Adam and Eve’s crime in the Garden of Eden. Work is a sacred duty and a remedy for vice. During the Reformation, Protestants denounced monks as idle parasites because the elect did not consider contemplative life as proper work.

In his book, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (1904), German sociologist Max Weber wrote that capitalism in Northern Europe evolved when the Protestant work ethic persuaded many to engage in work in the secular world, and accumulate wealth for investment.  RH Tawney (whose ideas contributed to the welfare state in Britain) explored the relationship between Protestantism and economic development in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In his book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), Tawney “bemoaned the division between commerce and social morality brought about by the Protestant Reformation, leading as it did to the subordination of Christian teaching to the pursuit of material wealth”.

In Victorian times, commentators as different as Ruskin and Samuel Smiles extolled the virtue of work and saw it as man’s highest earthly calling. “One more day’s work for Jesus!” A popular book of Victorian sermons was called Blessed be Drudgery.

Leisure and Idleness

The other dimension is what happens when one is not working. The positive word is “leisure”; the negative word is “idleness”. However, even the word “leisure” is morally tainted as it comes from the Latin word licere, which means “permit”. The root is the same as it is for “licence”. Leisure is freedom to put aside rules and obligations. The devil finds work for idle hands.

Rabanus Maurus, Abbot of Fulda (c780-856), wrote: “The idle man grows dull in carnal desires, is cheerless in spiritual works, has no joy in the salvation of his soul, and does not become cheerful in helping his brother, but only craves and desires and performs everything in an idle fashion. Acedia corrupts the miserable mind which it inhabits with many misfortunes, which teach it many evil things…May the servant of god never be found idle! For the devil has greater difficulty in finding a spot or temptations in the man whom he finds employed in some good work, than in him whom he encounters idler and practising no good”.

The development of capitalism makes possible a clear distinction between work and “free time”. Working for an employer enables or even compels one to have a structure to one’s life, the rhythm of weekends off and an annual holiday. The word “holiday” comes from the old word for a religious festival.

Others have seen something positive in idleness. Samuel Johnson wrote: “Every mode of life has its conveniencies. The Idler, who habituates himself to be satisfied with what he can most easily obtain, not only escapes labours which are often fruitless, but sometimes succeeds better than those who despise all that is within their reach, and think every thing more valuable as it is harder to be acquired.” “Every mode of life has its conveniencies. The Idler, who habituates himself to be satisfied with what

Busyness can even be pernicious. Bertrand Russell:”I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached”.

 Precariat

 sEven in the 19th Century, the most usual contract in Britain was terminable at a week’s notice or less. In the 1870s, hiring fairs gave way to employment bureaux but the commonest way to find work was through family or personal connections. The distinction between skilled and unskilled workers was blurred and came to rest upon lack of organisation rather than lack of skill. Wharfingers and stevedores who were organised into unions were seen as skilled while unaffiliated dock labourers whose work was irregular were seen as unskilled casual labour.

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by the end of the 20th Century, technology would have advanced sufficiently to cut the working week to 15 hours. What has happened is that many are living in poverty because of unemployment; others are complaining about being stressed out by overwork. Huge armies of people in Europe and North America, spend their lives performing pointless tasks for unseen and unknown employers.

David Weil explains in his book, The Fissured Workplace that corporations have used “subcontracting, franchising, third-party management, outsourcing” to fragment employment. They have maintained the quality of their brands and products (and their enormous profits) at the same time as shedding the cost of maintaining an expensive workforce. Workers have seen their remuneration stagnate and have lost benefits.

Employment is becoming increasingly unstable. Privatisation of government services, short-term and part-time contracts, temping agencies and low wages undermine job security. The British economist Guy Standing has coined the term precariat. Professor Standing argues that the dynamics of globalization have led to a fragmentation of older class divisions. The precariat consists of temporary and part-time workers, interns, call-centre employees, sub-contracted labour – those who are engaged in insecure forms of labour that are unlikely to help them build a desirable identity or career or guarantee them secure accommodation.

Whereas in the past, one might have hoped for (often vainly) some reciprocal loyalty between employer and employee, that is no longer the case. There is little chance these days of working for the same employer for forty years and getting a gold clock at the end of it. Today, there is no single, easily identifiable employer but a web of intermediaries. The outside contractor demands high performance, at the same time as driving down wages, job security, and benefits.

In these circumstances, there is scant opportunity to organize or join a union. These are the conditions that the EU deems helpful to “ease of doing business”. The entire structure of worker protections and benefits legislated beginning in the New Deal in the US , and the social contract of the post-war UK, is predicated on the assumption that the employee is on the payroll of the company that makes the product. “The modern employment relationship,” Weil writes, “bears little resemblance to that assumed in our core workplace regulations.”

As the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution no longer provided employment, investors and traders gained power over managers in the era of financial deregulation that began around 1980. New technologies made it easier to outsource work while retaining control over worker performance. Fissuring became the new employment norm, because capital markets, the new masters, demanded it.

Disaffected Youth

Alice Goffman was raised by professional parents in one of white Philadelphia’s upper-middle-class neighbourhoods. She wrote a book called On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City based on her first-hand experience of spending years associating with black families in Philadelphia. She started off tutoring some black children while she was at Penn State, became friends of the families and then lived in the 6th Street area for another four years. She took notes on everything she saw while pursuing a doctorate at Princeton. The book has been hailed as a potential ethnographic classic.

Goffman describes the world of young jobless blacks who had almost all served time in prison. The police constantly harass these black young men. Older residents want violent crime and drug use to be reduced but do not believe standard police methods can achieve this. While Goffman accepts that the police are doing what they were hired to do she also recognises that the young men are doing what they have to do in order to eat.  They are usually short of money Their womenfolk support them up to a point.

Economic dependency humiliates them, fuelling anger and resentment that easily turns to violence. Crime, in particular drug dealing, is their job. Even the men who spend months looking for work seldom find even part-time or short-term work. A prison record does not help them to find work.

When I lived in Bandarawela, I sometimes felt uncomfortable to see groups of Sinhalese youths hanging around looking menacing and seemingly without gainful occupation. One remembers that youth unemployment was one of the factors leading to the JVP uprisings. Where I live now, I have similar anxieties about Tamil youths. I have given many of them employment with generous pay when I could and they are friendly and respectful to me, in general. However, one of the most respectful and skilled of them robbed me and seems to have gone off the rails with drink and drugs. I do feel insecure sometimes in this remote spot and one does hear tales of burglary and violence.

RECESSIONAL

 

In Mayhew’s time, purefinders hunted dogturds

For the Thames tanneries. In London’s interstices

Today, lurk practitioners of queer trades.

Some sell flesh to serve obscure perversions.

Others lease their souls to corporate perversities.

                                                               

Grimy-nailed commuter, feet a foot above the floor.

Seething under his warty dome, recondite arcana,

Incunabula of redundant costings-lore,

Depreciation value of cabinets, the best deal on staplers.

Good and faithful servant homeward,

To supper alone on  a cold pork pie.

                    

In Whitehall, mandarins pander to ministers

In the morning, dissipate afternoons

Restructuring, rightsizing, diminishing.               

Producing no good, only paper and ‘policy’.

 

In Sofia’s streets, old men with scales,

Wait for citizens willing to pay to be measured.

Be-suited men in Lima  with open-air typewriters,

On park benches, type legalities for the illiterate.

 

Raped Congo women succumb to heavy sacks of cassava

Or squat to sell single tomatoes. Vicious  commodity wars,

Fragmenting nations, flotsam of refugees.

Globalisation drowns Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay.

 

Kipling’s “Lesser breeds” shrewdly subsist

Under imperial global mammon’s awful hand.

In the city of dreadful night, deformities displayed for cash.

At ancient Vijaynagara, the guide’s right-hand man

Demonstrates the pillars’ musical properties.

Con brio, he smites the columns to achieve a melody.

Confident to smugness, he has status.

His hand is bent, swollen and covered in calluses.

 

In concert with worms, I prepare soil for sowing.

The ponies tame the meadow and give manure for hoeing.

The wounded earth affirms the atavistic cycle still.

In the indigo sky, a double rainbow joins hill to hill.

Under every rock toils a society of ants.

Oregano quivers Gregorian with bees’ monkish chants.

 

 

Tired of London? London in the 21st century. A tale of two Sams.

A version of this article appeared in the July issue of Echelon magazine although they forgot  to  put my name on it. I originally used a strapline – Capitalist capital of crap. London in the 21st century – but the editor did not like that.

 

 

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” — Sam Johnson

johnson

Dr Samuel Johnson’s biographer, James Boswell was a Scot. Johnson was not a Londoner. He came from Lichfield and spoke with a harsh Midland accent. Boswell and Johnson were discussing whether or not Boswell’s affection for London would wear thin should he choose to live there, as opposed to the zest he felt on his occasional visits from Scotland. Boswell wrote in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides “By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can shew.”

 

‘London claims to be a world city – a modern, 24-hour metropolis – but this is mostly just a pretence put on for visitors.” – Sam Jordison.

 

Another Sam, Sam Jordison came up with the idea of a league table for crap towns of Britain. The original Crap Towns was a publishing sensation in 2003 and came out of a conversation between Jordison and Dan Kieran, deputy editor of the Idler magazine, (Dr Johnson published a book of essays called The Idler) about the respective awfulness of their own home towns.

The city of Kingston-upon-Hull proudly sat at the top of the league for five years. Hull was Hell and “smelt of death”. It may come as a surprise that London was the city that toppled Hull.

How can London be crap? London is a major world metropolis. It has recently also been voted top city in the world in terms of overall attractiveness in a survey organised by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in cahoots with the IMF and other multinational financial groups. Financial houses, multinational corporations and management consultants form a major component of what makes today’s London unattractive to humans.

The PwC’s survey boasted: “The women and men of PwC reflect the highly skilled, globally mobile services sector whose personal investment of themselves and their family is so critical to the ongoing progress of urban communities worldwide.”

 

So, all urban dwellers should be grateful to PwC? Many people in London are less blessed than the golden PwC employees are. Significant numbers of families across Britain are skipping meals in a bid to make ends meet. Every region of the country is affected, but in London, the proportion rises to 28 per cent of families.

leather bottle

When I moved to London from Manchester, I had to double my mortgage to get a much smaller house. True, I was able to drink alongside Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones in the Leather Bottle pub, but he lived in a six-bedroom house on the posher side of Kingston Road in Merton Park. Back in 1982, I wondered how the lowly paid people, whose contribution was vital to the operation of the city and the comfort of PwC’s golden employees, managed to find homes. The situation is worse now.

 

I lived in London from 1982 to 1998. I visited it many times before and many times since. I still love many things about the place.

London_National_Film_Theatre

I can also understand the perspective of those who voted it crappest town in Britain. I was living in London at the time of “greed is good”, when Thatcherism was forcing many to sleep on the streets. Travelling to work on a jammed up underground train, I witnessed an incident that epitomised the tenor of the times. A pregnant woman was straphanging. A gentleman of the old school stood up to offer her a seat. Before she could sit down, a Yuppie type slid underneath her and claimed the seat with a look of triumph.

 

Towards the end of my stay in London, I was paying GBP 2,000 per year for a season ticket to commute to central London from Lewisham (posh Blackheath/Greenwich side).

blackheath-and-the-clarendon

It should have been a ten-minute journey but took longer because all the trains were full after six a.m. With privatisation the trains got shorter and shorter. I never got a seat – on these cattle trucks we were just grateful for a small pocket of breathable air away from armpits. One day I thought I  saw an empty seat and made my way towards it. As I approached, I saw that the seat was occupied by a pile of human turds. People were standing all around this without complaint. That is my enduring image of London.

Sam Jordison said that many who live in London are fed up with queuing, rocketing house prices, the chore of commuting, “the dangers and pure exhaustion of living there”. I once enjoyed a memorable night at Charlie Gillett’s World Music Disco but getting home after was a problem. I was a member of Ronnie Scott’s Club and saw many jazz legends perform there. Ronnie’s shuts at about 3.30 am, but the Tube closes its doors around midnight. People complained to Jordison about city bankers and a transport system that abandons late-night revellers to the mercy of rickshaws, minicabs or night buses. Cab drivers do not like going “south of the river”. Taking the night bus is a not recommended- it is a vomitorium on wheels full of drunks and psychopaths.

The annual Cities Survey, organised by the website Trip Advisor, collates the opinions of travellers to the top 37 urban tourist destinations around the world. Moscow came last. London came 11th, but achieved a respectable second place for nightlife and third for shopping. London’s worst performance was in value for money – visitors voted the city 34th in terms of how far a pound will stretch. London came 32nd of the 37 cities when the question was “how helpful were the locals?” The Trip Advisor website provides many horror stories of squalid and expensive London hotels. The horrors experienced by the Griswold family in Chevy Chase’s film National Lampoon’s European Vacation understate the awfulness of the reality.

griswold

London was rather drab in the 1950s and took some time to recover from the war. Years of decline and depopulation made much of the centre affordable. Artists, writers, musicians flocked in. It was possible, even up to the 1970s, to leave university and get a flat with your mates in Notting Hill, Marylebone or Camden Town. I stayed with people just as poor as me in Islington and Hampstead and Kensington. These days, only rich Arabs or the Russian mafia can afford those areas. Central London is a ghost town that only benefits absentee investors. The art students, musicians, and people starting out in the creative industries can no longer walk home from clubbing in Camden. The young creative class will continue to move further and further out. Soon there will nothing cool left about London. Cool will be residing in Bristol or Falmouth or Newcastle.

London has already changed irreparably. Rich financiers have made it unaffordable for the working class. The real threat comes from governments giving incentives to wealthy elites to take up residence. Russians receive a quarter of the “investor visas” that the UK gives to those who can pay a million pounds. The proprietor of the London Evening Standard is Alexander Yevgenievich Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and former officer of the foreign intelligence directorate of the KGB.

Alex_Lebedev

 

To end on a more cheerful note: If you do decide to visit London, there is still much of interest (if you can manage to find somewhere decent to stay). I have many happy memories of walking around central London and the periphery. I was lucky enough to have done several jobs in the heartland of the metropolis, which enabled me to walk easily to Lincolns Inn Fields, Holborn, Bloomsbury, Clerkenwell, Smithfield, and Covent Garden and to eat my lunch to the accompaniment of brass band concerts on the Embankment near the Adelphi.

Half-Moon-Putney

My first residence was in Putney and on long summer evenings I could walk from Putney to Barnes, stopping on the way to enjoy Young’s ambrosial nectar at the Half Moon (also purveyors of excellent live music – I saw Dr John and Maria Muldaur there among many others). The Bull’s Head at Barnes also purveys Young’s ales and fine live jazz.

Iain Sinclair on the south bank of the river Thames, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2011

Before you visit, I would recommend reading the writing of people like Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd who explore the psychogeography of London and examine the prehistoric atavistic mind of the city that entranced Dr Johnson, Dickens, Blake, and TS Eliot. Ackroyd and Sinclair explore the mythic strata upon which contemporary Londoners walk. Much of Sinclair’s recent work consists of a revival of occultist psychogeography of London. In London Orbital he wrote about a trek around the M25, which JG Ballard described as: “A journey into the heart of darkness and a fascinating snapshot of who we are”. Andrew Duncan’s walking guides provide practical help for those wishing to explore this magical world. Duncan’s Secret London tells you how to find London’s buried rivers, underground tunnels, abandoned tube stations, elegant squares, dark alleyways and cobbled courtyards and explains who owns most of the freehold property. Duncan, Ackroyd and Sinclair help to keep alive the magic of London.

 

 

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