A somewhat confusing segment on BBC's Newsnight featured Iain Sinclair and journalist traversing the roads and elevated walkways of Stevenage and Peterborough, describing the open land as emptied of people, and discussing whether the glass-faced office buildings have any functional purpose at all, or whether they're merely unknowable alien structures. It seems a critique is being presented of Prescott's plans for new housing, but it's not really clear what kind of Middle England he'd prefer in its place. Will Alsop pops up to describe Barratt-box-encircled town centres as ASBO-land. So, read the book perhaps: Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare's 'Journey Out Of Essex' (2005) re-traces the 1841 march of "peasant poet" John Clare from asylum in Epping back to his home in Peterborough, a journey through the countryside and commuter hives of the A13. (You can watch this episode of Newsnight again online until 2230 Friday 30th Sept 2005.)
Sinclair in the media:
Diary: Iain Sinclair in London Review of Books:
Rusting English metal, from somewhere down the A13, near Rainham Marshes, rendered as a grid of delicately balanced reds and pinks, with just enough green to cancel the headache.
Bard of graffiti and broken bottles in The Independent:
Both Sinclair and Clare are united by a keen sense of space and place, coupled, paradoxically, with a wanderlust; ferociously fluent prose; and, above all, what Sinclair calls, "the cataloguing instinct": "But instead of Clare's fauna and flora, I note graffiti, broken bottles, the remains of a TV set."
Above the vaulted sky in The Times:
There is a subplot, a quest for a link between his wife Anna's family (and maybe even his own: Sinclair, St Clare!) and Clare's — a numbing trail through old photographs and gravestone epigraphs that leads nowhere. Except perhaps to underline the sacramental importance to us of roots in place. You expect these diversions in Sinclair's writing. He has an almost schizophrenic alertness to word play, visual puns, resonances. His narrative grows the way that ice cracks, feeling its way to the warm spots. He divvies Shelley's watch, Clare's snuffboxes (that the poet used in some sassy double-entendres about the Queen), invents ley lines between Clare’s pubs. Sometimes this seems gratuitous, the sound of a man muttering to himself, and registering, step by step, his foot-notes. But this is the way Clare himself walked and wrote, hopping from one side of the road to the other, taking in plant and weather and memory in one simultaneous, panoramic sweep — catching what Seamus Heaney called "the one-thing-after-anotherness of the world".
Interviewed at Londonist:
It kind of continues or completes the trilogy of Lights Out and London Orbital because the actual journey was exactly the same distance as the journey around the M25, but out into the country. It traces something that I've passed through in London Orbital which is Epping Forest and the asylum were the poet John Clare was kept; he did this phenomenal three and a half day march back to his village north of Peterborough and I always wanted to repeat that journey.
So the book starts with a reprisal of his journey, walking at exactly the same dates in July when it's sweltering hot and it was weirder than the M25 because I found that the whole of middle England was just deserted. There's nothing there once you're off the motorway. In the villages the pubs are shut, there were no obvious farmers, abandoned airfields, huge industrial fields of corn and a very very weird landscape. Whereas walking around the edge of London there were always people you'd bump into and stories to hear. This was like emptiness. Emptiness all the way.
It's a version of what's coming up which is John Prescott's motorway growth cities - Thames Gateway and another one that's going to go up Stanstead, Cambridge, Peterborough - that's the future. So without really intending it this third book has become the conclusion to this movement out of London.