Your England Revisited. By Ian Nairn. (Hutchin- son, 30s.)
OUR England, his London, in which angry young Nairn has now had ten years viewing buildings and drinking beer. Appropriately, he highlights London Pride from Fullers, next to Chiswick Church, as his favourite small-firm brew. This is a postscript to 450 entries and eighty-nine pic- tures, mostly taken by Nairn himself, and there- fore as highly personal as his comments.
The courtyard of the Royal Academy 'is an indigestible lump of classical pudding,' while Paxton and Whitfield's Jermyn Street cheese shop 'is a bit of real gold.' A random compari- son that shows only that it is total atmosphere and personal reaction that is presented here, not just another architectural ramble, though it would be odd if Nairn's London were not mainly concerned with appearances. He also likes to get below the surface, on the principle that finding out can be fun. In some areas the higgledy- piggledy semi-secrecy of London is exploited, as in the Savoy Chapel and the hotel: 'neither part is memorable but the tension between them is.' This little book is full of insights of this sort, and I found it hard to sit still reading it.
But it did remind me that once upon a time there was a Greater London Plan, and once upon the same time there was a plan- ning fervour, which was put down to a mixture of post-war misplaced enthusiasm for Utopianism (which was All Right) and Socialism (which, of course, was All Wrong). When all
the plans were out of date, the times all along having been out of joint, planning became a Good Thing once again. Not Town Planning, which had been given a Ministry to keep it quiet, but economic planning, which nobody really understands and therefore does not matter so much. At least, not to Local Authorities.
Your England Revisited is a sad 'I told you so' from the author of Outrage and Counter Attack. Here it all is, from Coronation Street to Cumbernauld, Harlow New Town to Ham Common, East Kilbride to Kingston-upon- Thames. The message is simple enough for the smallest, most selfish mind to absorb, if not to act upon : to see towns and villages, com- munities and corners of cities, as individual places 'just as though they were people.' Plate 50, of a startling and bizarre selection, shows a road sign on the A2 near Sittingbourne, Kent. It says:
NO OVERTAKING FOR 223 YARDS except of pedal cyclists in
single file Nairn comments : 'We sometimes try to make the whole landscape into a legal document.' But there is no legal document so far to compel remedial action in our spreading metropolitan maze, so that people do not lose themselves, each other and their social senses.
The South-East Study tells coldly that during the next twenty years the South-East of England will have to accommodate three and a half million extra people. Given present trends and tendencies, they should be able to look for- ward to a prosperous desert of concrete, with no grass off which to keep and few trees to keep the sun off their plate-glass.