Caught by the River

The Sound of Smithfield: something festive from the London Sound Survey

24th December 2014

Each Christmas Eve a couple of hundred people gather in the street outside Hart’s the butchers for the annual meat auction. The customers shake banknotes above their heads, yelling and shoving while the butchers hoik hunks of meat through open windows down into the crowd. Christmas can be a time of fierce pleasures for adults as much as children.

If you were there in the middle of the crowd it’d sound something like this:

This is a remnant of unregulated London street life holding out in one of its last historic redoubts: the Smithfield of Great Expectations and Bartholomew Fair. The po-faced excuse for recording such places and events is that you’re busy ‘documenting’ them, supposedly doing everyone a favour, but the pleasures are personal. It’s a way of building Utopia from fragments of the present, as if all the disagreeable parts of the world had vanished and the bits I liked were merged under gravity to make a small brick-built planet of railway viaducts, green-painted tea huts, quiet avenues and canals, junk shops next to libraries, Jodrell Bank among the allotments.

Part of this Utopia is the slow-moving and gently melancholic period between Christmas and New Year, which can be better than either and doesn’t have a name. Whatever you want to call those six days, I hope you enjoy them.

Ian Rawes – London Sound Survey