Review: Journeys Through Urban Britain

As part of the Writing Britain exhibition, The British Library hosted a talk considering the decline of Britain’s urban landscape. Alexander Mee joined the discussion. Read his review after the jump.

On a train back to London looking at the rushing green fields under a Parma violet and orange sherbet sky, I’m considering the political and social importance of construction, the merits of gentrification and the inadvisability of ever purchasing food from First Great Western. Most of all I’m pondering the few hours I just spent in Bath.

Bath is the city that I call home. I had my first taste of cigarettes, cider, whiskey, kisses, love and failure in these streets. My dreamscapes and memories are sculpted from and engraved in Bathstone (sandstone if you will; I won’t). I like, like like this mini metropolis. ‘Journeys Through Urban Britain’ may have ended that. I suspect I’ll never look at my favourite places the same way. Bath has been extensively redeveloped, regenerated, renewed and remixed. On seeing it, I realized that:

1: the prefix re- is a wanton slattern
2: the city I grew up in is not the city of my youth.

And for one of these epiphanies I blame the speakers from Journeys Through Urban Britain.

Owen Heatherly, who gave the impression of an Oxbridge educated alpaca, made me understand that buildings, good and bad, are the texture of political history. I understood that his appreciation of a building is intimately tied to its history. Still further, that the location provides context and setting for any building. He made me understand architectural criticism in a way that I had previously believed impossible.

Owen Jones, who I follow on twitter and read regularly in the Independent seemed to exist to provide gnomic statements about the callousness of politicians. My favourite being when he quoted Hazel Blears on Housing policy. Her name got a pantomime hiss, and her assertion that social housing was not a government priority because no one in government cared about building silenced it. That seems very new Labour; shocking, confusing and entirely self-fulfilling without being right.

Laura Oldfield-Ford, formerly of the zine, ‘Savage Messiah’, now of the book ‘Savage Messiah’, made me very sad that I left my glasses at home. Her biro drawings were entirely wasted on me. Though I squinted and gurned as hard as I could to gain any kind of focus, they remained too delicate for my brutish gaze. My companion praised them most highly, and I’m inclined to trust her, and you’re inclined to trust me (or you’d not have made it all this way). So, we cool?

The talk was not without shortcomings. Oldfield-Ford seems to put so much into her art and writing that her speech becomes lackluster. She preaches fire and fury in the voice of bored teenager. The Chair person, Elaine Glasser, was way to eager to prove that she was very clever, and thus that we should accept her, and maybe buy her book. Most annoying was that this felt like an evening with an author you like mashed up with two other authors you like. The Publishing Industry vs Cassette boy if you will.


Annexe regular, Alexander Mee is an audio producer, creating work for Roundhouse and Fuel. He is also a co-producer on our upcoming production of The Odyssey.


One response to “Review: Journeys Through Urban Britain

  1. I enjoy what you guys are usually up too. Such clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve added you guys to blogroll.

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