Monday, 5 December 2011

shadowlands

I have been reading Sukhdev Sandhu's brilliant book Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night (Verso, 2010), an Artangel commission exploring and articulating the experiences of some of those people who inhabit the city's nocturnal edgelands. Avian police. Cleaners. Samaritans in a Soho call centre. An exorcist. 'Flushers' in Joseph Bazalgette's drains below London. Mini-cab drivers. 'Graffers' (graffiti artists). Bargers. An urban fox-hunter cum suburban sniper-marksman. 'Sleep technicians' researching insomnia and apnoea in a hospital ward. And the nocturnal prayers of the nuns of Tyburn and a friar in Camden Town. As an ec-centric map of London, it provides a startling displacement of the familiar, exposing shadowlands and invisible under-worlds, and offering a compassionate critique of some of the day-world's blind spots.

"It's rare nowadays to hear anyone talk about 'night time in London'. That phrase, and its suggestion of a distinct, cordoned-off territory in which we may immerse ourselves in strange possibilities or make ourselves susceptible to off-kilter enchantments, seems rather old-fashioned. It has been emperilled by New Labour's vision of London - a blinging, pigeon-free, glass-fronted, private-finance-initiative-funded, cappuccino-sipping, Barcelona-mimicking, Euro-piazza festooned, Vanity Fair-endorsed, live-forever, things-can-only-get-better fantasia. The city in recent years has witnessed a bevy of real-estate moguls, foreign investors and film directors trading in a slicked-up form of commodity urbanism; equally, the 'London night' has morphed into, and been rebranded, as 'London nightlife'' (12).

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