Morning salmagundi 7/7/15

Inspired by the fevered brain machine that is Warren Ellis and his, I’m going to start blogging again the way I used to: regularly, randomly, selfishly as a way of getting the fingers and brain warmed up for the day.

Today seems a good day for it: the tenth anniversary of 7/7, the only day I ever felt a genuine stab of fear that someone close to me might be involved in a terrorist ‘incident’ or ‘event’ or whatever your ambiguity of choice is. My wife was ‘somewhere in London’ and I was at the Guardian when the news came in of the tube and bus bombings on that day. I thought it likely she was on a bus. Tavistock Square was very close to the Institute of Education. Those facts connected themselves together with wilful disobedience and suddenly I was certain that she must be on?that bus. She wasn’t, but I’ve had some respect for those panic-stricken by sudden terror events.

People are walking to work today in memory of the bombings, which I find a rather odd memorial, but there you go – at least it’s healthy. For me, this is a better memorial:

And while we remember events of a decade ago, Greece plunges ever further into a mess of …. well,?whose making exactly? I found myself asking the question on Facebook a few days ago, inspiring quite a few comments,?and this particular link, which for me expresses the appropriate amount of rage at the lenders.

Some links from yesterday:


  • Manda Scott’s masterly slab of histfic/crimefic?Into the Fire
  • Old Delano-era Hellblazers, for reasons I cannot explain


  • Game of Thrones, series whatever-we’re-on
  • Fury – watched last night on Tivo. First half brilliant, second half Call of Duty




There’s always someone standing and watching

Spitalfields Life introduced me this week to John Thomson’s Street Life in London. Thomson gave us the monthly photographic magazine Street Life from 1876 in which he published photographs of London life, each with pen portraits and vignettes from Adolphe Smith. The photographs are available to view at the Bishopsgate Institute, which has copyright on the photos themselves (sidenote: can there really still be copyright in photos that are almost 140 years old?).

The main thing that struck me looking at these images was the nature of watchfulness which existed on London streets. Many of the pictures (like the one of the shoe-shine I’ve shown here) are haunted by onlookers, often children, just gazing out at the camera, which presumably was still a pretty unusual sight in working-class London. They stand as if they’re just there, hanging out on the street. It struck me that all these people would today be collapsed into sofas gazing at their television screens. But back in the day, when no televisions existed, no radios even, people must have watched life itself out in the street. The thought that connected to that was that so much of the literature of the 19th century, principally that of Dickens, is all about appearances and action and external events. People watched people doing things. I wonder what the flight to the sofa and the living room in the 20th century did to our thinking, and did to our literature. Did it turn us into more internalised, self-obsessed things? Or did the images from around the world and beyond the world that the television made available to us broaden our horizons? Or are soap-operas just another way of standing in the street and watching the world go by?

Anyway, there was another picture which was more directly relevant to my work at the moment. Two men on a barge, out on what is described (by Adolphe Smith, presumably) as the Silent Highway:

“their former prestige has disappeared, the silent highway they navigate is no longer the main thoroughfare of London life and commerce, the smooth pavements of the streets have successfully competed with the placid current of the Thames.”

Beautiful, that, isn’t it?

A beautiful audio history from the Guardian

The Guardian have put up something rather wonderful: an audiovisual tour of the Caledonian Road in London. It combines words, commentary and pictures against an interactive map, and you really do get a feel for the place. As oral historian Alan Dein, the man who put it together, says:

The availability of cheap, increasingly sophisticated technology has meant that sound trails have become increasingly more popular to make and distribute. Hopefully, we in turn will become more and more adventurous in the way we interpret and disseminate the stories of the places around us.

via The sound of the Cally | Society |