Saturday, 3 September 2011

Motorwayed out

My friend rang me from the Hoylake branch of Oxfam yesterday to ask if I wanted a copy of the Shell Book of Roads for £4. Reader, I passed. I’m motorwayed out. As John Updike wrote about writing about marriage, it is a subject which 'if I have not exhausted it, it has exhausted me'.

However, I did like this bit from Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Dennis Potter which reveals that Potter began his writing career in a west London flat in 1961, while the Hammersmith flyover was being built outside. ‘I live on the top floor of a block of flats on a bloodshot-eye level to the thing,’ he wrote to a friend. ‘Only a few yards of exhaust-laden air separates us from The Start of a New Age, as Transport Minister Marples threateningly called the thing … For months and months they have been building [it] – pneumatic drills, monstrous creaking cranes, shouting foremen, acetylene burners, bulldozers, portable radios, and all the other things which more than justify a tea-break.

‘I spent a little time leaning out of the window, in a vain attempt to foment a strike, when our second baby was born in July, but she came into the world while a grotesque new machine was dropping concrete girders into position with all the gentility of a front-row rugby forward bearing down on a tiny full-back.’

Which reminds me ... Neal Ascherson argued in the Observer in June 1962 that the Hammersmith flyover had transformed the atsmosphere at Royal Ascot. ‘Once, in a vast tribal corroboree, Society congregated at Ascot in house parties for the four days of racing, renting mansions and entertaining splendidly in the evenings,’ he wrote. Now communications between London and the racecourse had become ‘fatally efficient: one of the last inducements to stay overnight at Ascot vanished with the construction of the local by-pass and the Hammersmith flyover, which allows the tired racegoer a chance of getting home to London in the evening at a reasonable hour.’

Mundane quote for the day: ‘Bankers’ genes were Wall St. genes, especially in the big cities. If the banks were conservative just now [1955], it was because bankers still awoke in the middle of the night, trembling and sweaty with thoughts of the Crash. But in time a new generation would take over: ambitious, overcompetitive young men to whom 1929 wuold be merely a date on a page; such men would sever the roots of memory as if with an ax, not realizing that those tendrils were also the rudder cables.’ – Michael M. Thomas, The Ropespinner Conspiracy, 1987

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