05 Jun 2009 – Sensible Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

An excellent book.  Collins takes his family, past and contemporary, as a starting point and constructs a (not "the" – he is clear about this from the start) narrative about their personal histories as representative of the history of the urban white working class.  Centered around the Elephant & Castle, this is strongly about South London, although would have resonances for other inner-city areas.  Waves of middle-class do-gooders (and he is as scathing about slum novelists and missionaries as he is about more modern people bending old ladies into odd shapes in "performance spaces") try to "improve" the area, and most changes, from monolithic housing estates with terrifying walkways, to the contentious but well-handled issue of immigrants from outside the UK, are imposed upon these people from outside, without consultation.  Without condoning racism and fascism, he explains how they can come about, and he mourns with real feeling the communities which have been lost as areas are cleared and people move outside London.  Interesting, melancholic and well-researched, and a good companion to other volumes on London such as Peter Ackroyd’s and Roy Porter’s.