The mind is like one of those chrome grabby things at the end of the pier, fauxmanipulate, that steadfastly refuses to grab the thing itself, only touch a few surfaces of the furry toy or dubious-metalled wrist watch at one go before necessarily letting it pass.
The train South, from Farringdon, through Blackfriars, Herne Hill, and on to East Croydon affords a pretty clear view of the broad topographic fronts along which the city is changing. You begin with a preponderance of neoliberal glass, steel, struts, sprouting, vulgar eruptions of sameness posing as newness, and then you get further out, and nearing Croydon you are scraped back twenty years: corrugated iron, weathered wonky wood, scrubland, half-painted brick, stasis fringed by entropy, all as sorry as something neglected for two decades, which is mostly what it is. This is punctuated by the occasional hideous monolith of glass and trespa, luxury prole stacking for the professionals who can’t afford the first clutch of zones. Creeping banlieuisation is creeping pretty fast. Comfortingly logical, topologically hygienic, in service to the decanting tendency of bubbles. The suburbs are, as Ballard suggests, the last great mystery. What happens in the suburbs has never, yet, troubled the people at Whitehall. But these are new tensions, more frictionful than those 90s postmodern dystopias.
“This isn’t a suburb of London. It’s a suburb of Heathrow and the M25. People of Hampstead and Holland Park look down from the motorway as they speed home from their West Country cottages, they see faceless interurban sprawl, a nightmare terrain of police cameras and security dogs, an uncensored realm devoid of civic tradition and human values.”
“It is. I’ve been there. It’s a zoo fit for psychopaths.”
“Exactly. That’s what we like about it. We like dual carriageways and parking lots. We like control tower architecture and friendships that last an afternoon. There’s no civil authority telling us what to do. This isn’t Islington or South Ken; there are no town halls or assembly rooms. We like prosperity filtered through car and appliance sales. We like roads that lead past airports, we like air freight offices and rentavan forecourts, we like impulse holidays to anywhere that takes our fancy. We’re the citizens of the shopping mall, the arena, the internet and cable tv. We like it here, and we’re in no hurry for you to join us.”