Pimlico Sunset

Anyone unfamiliar with London who hears the name Pimlico might think of Passport To Pimlico, in which a community of knees-up-muvver-brown cockneys spend a mad fortnight seceding from the UK; but then that was the 1940s, when Islington was considered a slum… the real Pimlico has always struck me as weirder than the black-and-white Burgundy. A dozen years ago, when I was just taking up permanent residence in London, I remember people discussing this anomalous district. Sat between Belgravia and the river, flats in its grandiose stucco-fronted Regency buildings went for scarcely any more than those in Zone 2, despite Parliament sitting round the corner (pretty much everything has tripled in price since, it’s just that the hitherto unfancied areas we now flock to started from a lower base).

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Alfriston: On The Endangered Rural Buses

Having always lived in British cities I’ve never needed to drive, and consequently never learned. I shudder at the thought of those American towns whose layout was planned by the car industry and makes pedestrianism an impossibility. The only times I miss it are on holidays, when you must limit yourself to one destination a day instead of being able to flit between independent champagne producers or Italian hilltop villages. I forget that there are places beyond the reach of any public transport, where the car is an absolute necessity of life. When I try to negotiate them I feel like an outback aborigine from before the Botany Bay landings, teleported without warning into the heart of the Moscow Underground.

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Myth, Romance, and the Portuguese Highlands

With apologies to anyone wondering what any of this has to do with Nairn’s London, I shall attempt to quickly round up my Portuguese trilogy with the day trips taken from Lisbon. The most interesting of these was Sintra. Close to Lisbon yet high up in the mountains, this strange little town served as the summer retreat for successive Portuguese monarchs, and around its boundaries are scattered so many funny-looking palaces that one would need a car -and two or three days- to see them all.

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The sightseer sees what he wants to see; the received ideas he carries around with him will be projected onto the places he goes, and will mould the memories that he takes away with him. Lisbon had a dreamlike quality to me, like the stage set for a disquieting film; but I went there specifically hoping for experiences out of the ordinary, I didn’t have to work in some ghastly job, or commute twelve miles in rush hour, or stay long enough to get used to those giddy flights of constantly descending and ascending steps, those monochrome mosaic pavements, silent stifling middays and midnight pandemonium, that dazzling, brilliant afternoon light…

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Era um vez no Porto

This guide to the Porto metro system for the colour-blind (which may only add to their perplexion) provoked a conversation about colour-blindness, and how colours don’t actually exist. Dogs can’t see red or green because they’re not actually there. The eye projects them onto whatever it sees, to help us digest and make sense of the world around us. Our brains crack open the pack of Crayola and diligently apply red to a rose, blue to a summer sky, Marseille to a suspect whiff in a dockside alleyway, Verona to a waiter who has little English but gets everyone through by playing the role of a bumbling footman from a comedia dell’arte, Amsterdam to the scent of someone’s fat joint in a backstreet bar, Brighton to a snooze curtailed by a cacophony of seagulls…

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Cavendish Square: Behind the department stores, la plage

Here’s another from the school of “places I have rushed through a great many times without ever looking at.” At the weekend I needed to run a few errands on Oxford St and found myself for once looking up at the buildings, and thinking that as ghastly as many are there’s a pluralism to it all, a coherence in the incoherence, and wondering if it ties into our never having had a nationalist dictator with narcissistic plans to rebuild the capital in his own image… but I’m getting miles ahead of myself.


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