“That’s an interesting accent, where’re you from?” – every stranger who talks to me on the train, ever.
I’ve always found the question far too complicated, in that I don’t feel great ties to either the land of my passport or my surname. The closest thing to nationality that I have ever felt is a fealty to London. It is the city in which I was born, where I grew up in an interstitial suburb of nowhere in particular and taught to commute at an early age in search of interesting things.
What I like about the city comes out whenever I’m talking with people from other parts of the UK: London’s a patchwork marvel where should its inhabitants want something new or different, they could go to the other end of town. Or even the next borough over, if that. Hell, there’s that road off Liverpool street where the sheer glass literally gives way to smoggy bricks. So much variation in its pockets of people and buildings. Cultures meshing together and going about their day to day, or not, as the case may be.
A while back I read Kate Griffin‘s Matthew Swift books. They’re one of the best pieces of ‘urban fantasy’ that I’ve read for many reasons, most mainly because it engages its setting. It’s been a while that I’ve read a book that truly, deeply, cared about London. Yes, books are set here, but they don’t breathe its geography. There are many books more developed at its denizens and communities, but for sheer personality of the city’s nooks and crannies itself, Griffin is unparalleled. It’s funny, actually, because I read them after Ben Aaronovich‘s recent detective series, which amused me mainly because it was specific in its name-checking of streets that I knew (down to a chase down Richmond’s George Street). But it doesn’t necessarily engage to the extent of the Swift books, which understand the city better (as they should, given the central character derives their power from it).
But the city is troubling too. The spectre of upcoming events that seem to have trademarked every possible word from their SEO (which will be horrific to enforce and quite frankly seems idiotic), its stranglehold on transport and business and oh, I don’t think I can deal with Johnson’s voice on the Tube. It does make me despair a little.
Map of the London postal district in 1857,
from Illustrated London News, 17 January 1857 p.46
(nicked off Wikipedia, for my shame.)