The other night, coming back from work, we came across an incident at our local tube station. It was a drizzly, wet evening, the end of the kind of winter day that puts a chill inside you. Queues of people were backing up at turnstiles. Armed police patrolled the inside of the station. A mobile metal detector had been set up beyond the turnstiles, a cage of black metal. Outside on the street, rain slanted across the bright halogen. Cranes stalked the area like predatory robots. All the tall buildings were beaded with red light to warn the aircraft out of City airport. Behind the market, one of the few remaining markets in the city, I could see the glint of Canary Wharf. Two men stood at nearby charging point for mobile phones, their faces light by crystal screens. I realised I was living in the future.
Since I moved to the east of the city, my imagination has been fired by this kind of strangeness. The oft-repeated quote by geographer Doreen Massey has never been far from my thoughts, which, like most people who quote it, I first discovered in the work of Patrick Keiller: ‘For amid the Ridley Scott images of world cities, the writing about skyscraper fortresses, the Baudrillard visions of hyperspace … most people actually still live in places like Harlesden or West Brom.’ It strikes me that East London is currently at the nexus between these two visions of the future. After a long time of avoiding it, I’ve started writing fiction again, specifically a science fiction that is less concerned with what the future will look like, and instead how people will live in that future.
I spent the last few years living in North London. I lived on a quiet street, of faded elegance. Walks on Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill; the Northern line, that black vein. You soon feel as though you’re living in the same kind of worn out fantasy of bourgeoise bohemia, without the trust fund or the famous name to catch you when you fall. The east is different. It’s no surprise I’ve spent my first months here rediscovering fiction, that narrative has found a way animate the refined indolence that is at the heart of most poetry. I’m enjoying where it’s taking me. Let’s see what places we can go.
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