Sunday, 16 March 2014

We Didn’t Have a Television When I Was Growing Up. So I Read. All The Time…

David writes…

This post ends with some turds.

Not where it starts, though. It starts, primly enough – even fastidiously – as follows:

Now about Adam’s recent Daily Constitutional post

And about me (David) I suppose…

So that’s how I come across. Or came across.

“LW's  David is prone to sudden fits of poetry and philosophical insight. So rather than grab passing strangers by the lapels and sharing his enthusiasm with them (his previous modus operandi) he now fires 'em out on Twitter. Like this…"

Adam then wheels out that tweet of mine – which I’d completely forgotten –

“The London paradox: it's hoary with age but doesn't seem to age. Or maybe it's just that it ages well. The eternal youth composting its past”

And yes, guilty as charged. But a bit of back story, Your Honours. Offered up in the spirit of that wise old Chinese saw that “to understand all is to forgive all”.

I’m the last dinosaur. Yes, I know – you thought alligators were. But I qualify as well.

The last dinosaur because – shock, horror – we didn’t have a television when I was growing up. And, yes, I’m old – but not that old. And no, we weren’t that poor. We just didn’t have one.

So I read. All the time. Anything and everything. And still do, decades later. Mine’s a world class instance of suffering from an incurable case of bibliomania.

And what do you know, a lifetime of that activity – well, it’s shaped me. Hardly surprising then that for better or worse bits and bobs of some of that reading find their way into some of my walks. It’s not just my contrail – it’s some of the lenses – some of the various and sundry lenses – through which I see London. Or maybe another way of putting that – it’s one of the seas I swim in. “One of the seas” – London is of course the big one, the mother sea.

The fact of the matter is there’s not just one London. There are several million Londons. Like snowflakes. Each of us has his own London. Every single one is unique.

Adam owns the most lapidary utterance ever about what we do, about guiding – “it’s all about making connections”.

One of the reasons that you should walk with London Walks is this: the second reservoir is very deep.

The “second reservoir” is what the guide knows. The first reservoir – and boy is it ever deep – is London’s history. That first reservoir – London’s history – is just there. It is what it is. In a sense it’s public property. It belongs to all of us.

Belongs to all of us but it’s like the ocean. For most people it’s all but unknown, unmapped, unexplored. Acqua incognita.

The ocean – the first reservoir, London’s history  – is there. And no question that it’s 20,000 and more leagues deep. The question – the one that matters, is how deep is the second reservoir. The second reservoir – bears repeating this, is what the guide knows. How deep’s he gone? How far afield? How much of it has he explored? How much of it has he mapped?

That’s the reservoir that counts. That’s the one that has to be deep. Because if it’s not deep it’s, well, superficial.

And that reservoir has a great deal to do with how much you’ve read. To get it properly deep – London Walks deep – it’s a matter of years of reading. Which is why this isn’t “a summer job”.

And not just deep. But way out along the other axis as well. The reading also needs to be very broad, very wide.

The upshot – for me – it’s not just my, David’s, London that you’re getting on one of my walks. You’re also getting Herrick’s London and Milton’s and Norman Nicholson’s and A. P. Herbert’s and Betjeman’s and Middleton’s and Thackeray’s, etc. (As well as Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ – and that’s just on my Sunday afternoon S & D walk.)

                  Those are pearls, that were his eyes;
                  Nothing of him, that doth fade,
                  But doth suffer a Sea-change,
                  Into Something rich and Strange.

If that’s suffering it gets my vote.

So let’s end with an example. Let’s make the connections. And, part and parcel of same, get to the turds.

Up the page a ways I described myself as “the last dinosaur.” And that tweet used the word “composting”. A word I hear all the time – a word we all hear all the time is – is the American (“Valley girl” we would have called it back when) “awesome”. (The Urban Dictionary takes no prisoners on this one – it describes awesome as “a ‘sticking plaster’ word used by Americans to cover over the huge gaps in their vocabulary.”)

That’s a bit snotty. For my part, I like hearing it. It fires one of my synapses. Sparks a (mental) in-gathering. Makes a connection for me. Puts me in mind – every time I hear it – of the first stanza of Maxine Kumin’s The Excrement Poem. (Oh and Kumin, by the way, is a compatriot – as I am – of all those awesomers.)

Here it is. (The same synapse is fired as well – by the way – every time I set foot into the Central Hall of The Natural History Museum. Diplodocus is, well, awesome.)  And gosh, look what this old repeat offender is doing – “manhandling passersby to assail them with poetry”.

Here’s the magnificent Maxine Kumin.

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

Really really hope that some of my guiding – and indeed some of these posts – amount to “spoor of considerable heft”. Especially in the second (Webster) definition of the word.


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