Posted in London on Saturday 15th July 2006 at 11:38pm
Once again I've come away from Literary London feeling energised and enthusiastic about the City and it's stories. A strange conference in some ways this year - the theme of 'The River' was so appropriate, given that the Thames flowed sluggishly just feet from where we discussed its representation. Many more of the contributors spoke on the conference theme than ever before, and there were far fewer papers on Iain Sinclair and such like.
Personal favourites this year were Finn Jensen's paper on 'The New River and the Regents Canal' and Professor David Skilton's 'Sweet Thames Run Softly - Constructing a Clean River'. Both drew on topography, history and literature in describing places I've walked and wondered many times. Perhaps the most challenging paper was Alex Murray's paper on 'Gentrification and the New East End'. I think I found it challenging because in a sense, I stood accused. Was I one of the chattering class gawpers who staked a claim to the East End on the basis of some alternative take on tourism? The paper also posed the question about where London writing goes from here, post-Thatcher and somewhat bitterly for Murray, post-Sinclair and Moorcock?
The demonstration of Christian Nold's 'Biomapping', which combined GPS, Galvanic Skin Response and Google Earth, was interesting but perhaps unsuccessful. It was clear that to Nold, London was a city - a complex and changing environment no different to any other city. In a room full of people who give it priviledged consideration, this seemed to fall flat. It was also clear that Nold found his results interesting and diverting, but was not prepared to read any conclusion into them - either scientific or otherwise. Still a fascinating talk however.
It was quite incredible, between papers, to step out into the formal spaces of the Royal Naval College and sit in the sun, still strong at four in the afternoon, staring across at the Millenium Dome or the shiny towers of Docklands. I started each morning with breakfast near the Cutty Sark, watching crowds of naval officers and besuited dignitaries heading for a ship moored nearby. Each evening was spent wandering the small town centre - enjoying the atmosphere of London outside London, and trying in vain to find a pub which could serve a decent pint - finally settling on The Plume of Feathers on Park Vista. I liked Greenwich most particularly because it managed to be a small, bustling and down-to-earth place despite the monumental historical backdrop which is always present on the skyline - in the masts of the Cutty Sark or the tower of the Observatory.
This morning, having sat near to Greenwich Pier every day and watched the commuters dashing for their ferry to work, curiosity overcame me and despite a fair cargo of luggage I found myself heading for the pier to enquire about times. Several companies serve the pier, and something of the old Thames watermen survives in the way they compete for business. A Thames Clippers representative was canny enough to claim to some tourists that the next boat to Westminster was one of theirs, despite it only going to Savoy Pier. Admiring his approach I boarded. I haven't been on the Thames for 25 years - almost to the week I think - so this was special. Making a fair pace we scudded over the murky waves to Canary Wharf, St Katherine's and Bankside. Finally I got to see the rather unimpressive grating under Blackfriars Bridge where my beloved Fleet River empties into the Thames in it's new guise as a sewer. Finally, we reached Savoy and after negotiating a charity fun-run I found myself beside the York Water Gate - subject of David Skilton's opening paper. I'd come full circle, so it was clearly time to head home. Every year I think this conference is beyond my grasp, but somehow I make some sort of sense of it. I'm already looking forward to next year.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.