A book by Smoke: A London Peculiar.
Reviewed by Travis Elborough.
As someone who mostly writes books of a historic bent, it is something of an occupational necessity for me to spend substantial periods of the present day dipping into the recent – and not so recent – past. But two projects I have been working on during the last couple of years arguably nudged that dipping closer to full immersion. The first was co-compiling an anthology of London diaries and the second was helping to write the script with Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley for a new Paul Kelly film composed solely of BFI archive footage. ‘The past’, George Orwell maintained in Coming Up for Air, ‘is always with us’. And in my case this proved rather more literally true, since practically every day was spent either looking at old films in a broom cupboard-sized screening room in the attic at Stephen Street, or in the British Library near St Pancras leafing through volumes of personal reminiscences from largely, long dead diarists. I only mention any of this, because it strikes me that decades from now future historians wishing to get a handle on London around the time of the Olympic games will fall upon From the Slopes of Olympus to the Banks of the Lea like manna from heaven. Edited by Jude Rogers and Matt Haynes, co-founders of Smoke: A London Peculiar, this book echoes, if greatly expands, the form of their original much-loved, and much-mourned, print journal. Serving up a mix of Olympic and East London inspired fiction, poetry, memoir, reportage, travelogue, hoovered up tweets, snippets of overheard conversations, stuff culled from press releases, statistics, you name it, all accompanied by a plethora of illustrations and marvellous photographs, it has the feel of a lovingly cultivated scrapbook. Turning its lustrous pages you can almost sense yourself being carried off to Hackney Wick and back to that now almost surreal-seeming sporting summer. Buy it now and pass it on to your grandchildren when they ask what life was really like in 2012.
A London Year, edited by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison is published by Frances Lincoln and available now from all good independent booksellers.