A few decades ago, as deindustrialisation in the UK gathered pace and the Thatcherite attempt to make us a nation of rentiers sold off public assets and council houses and closed factories and mines, blowing the windfall of North Sea Oil revenue in the process, a fashion began to build banks as if they were factories and tube stations as if they were power utilities.
This was part hubristic appropriation, part a backward look at a seemingly more solid and secure source of wealth. The tower block at the back, with its heating ducts and other innards on display displays this effrontery rather well; and is a counterpart to the older building in front of it, from the time that emerging capital felt it had to clothe itself in classical architectural forms – in the same way that stately homes built on the proceeds of the slave and sugar trades, or loot from the East India Company did – trying to give themselves a timeless, unchallengeable authority; the legitimacy of a fake continuity.
In the tube at Camden Town, an impossibly happy small boy, who looks like a younger embodiment of the Mark Lester version of Oliver Twist, chats incessantly to his mum and, when the train comes in, gives the driver a delighted wave. The driver smiles and waves back. The first time I’ve ever seen that in London.
Less happily, a couple of families with small children emerge from the Christmas Fayre at the Holy Innocents Church Hall on Roe Green Park. All the kids have had face paintings done that are exquisite miniatures – snowmen and Santas like illuminated letters on their cheeks. Two of them are grizzling. One wanting to get the bus not walk. His mum with an East European accent. Him sounding London. Although she sounds a bit bewildered and placatory, Mum isn’t going to back down, so he escalates his complaints as he walks reluctantly along behind her. The Asian family in front is going through exactly the same thing. Not December yet and its already a bit much.
In clear blue skies I see our epitaph; sky written in the vapour trails.