Posted in London on Saturday 16th July 2005 at 7:25pm
Its become a tradition that around this time of year, the bulk of the bulk appeals out of the way, I will head for a conference. Each year I feel somewhat intellectually dwarfed by my co-delegates, and to some extent I question if I should be there. But every year so far I've come away with the conviction that even a slow-moving autodidact like me has a place at these events.
So once again the Literary London conference was revealing, reassuring and enlightening. Firstly, its always a relief to be among people who regard London with the same mixture of interest, awe and curiosity as I do. Also, its amazing to hear how people are reading the city. Finally, I've once again come away with a much expanded reading list - fuel for another year. The truly multidisciplinary mix of literature, history and topography produces some unusual but entertaining results - Professor Stanley Wells' paper on 'Thomas Dekker - Londoner' being one of those moments where things come together in the most unexpected of ways.
It was always going to be strange, being so close to London and discussing its representation in literature so soon after the events of recent weeks - especially so when considering the mythologising of the blitz and suchlike. The scorching streets of Kingston and Surbiton seemed, of course, very far away from any sort of threat. Despite some concerns about its potential for interest, the conference theme of 'The Suburbs' made for some of the most interesting material. Professor Elizabeth Wilson's opening plenary 'The Painted Backdrop of the Suburb' set the tone for discussion of the suburb as a contested, creative space, challenging our usual view. Other views on the theme included a fascinating look at the history of the uniquely British semi-detached house, and a suprising account of T S Eliot's contribution to the effort to ensure new suburbs had Anglican churches.
Once again found myself most comfortable in the 'London in the 1930s' panel. Papers on George Orwell, Patrick Hamilton and John Betjeman were all thoroughly interesting - and added to my understanding of a decade which my work on William Kent is opening up to me. I was also looking forward immensely to the final plenary - Julian Wolfreys on 'The Tortured Geography of the Night World'. I confess much of it bewildered and confused me at first. I set about making copious notes, and now I think I grasp Professor Wolfreys ideas better. A strange and haunting set of ideas on which to end the conference.
Left the campus in blazing sunshine, found much needed coffee and caught the train to sleepy Shepperton, home of J G Ballard. Pottered around aimlessly for a while, mulling over the conference before heading back to Surbiton for beer and food.
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.