"The Future's not what it used to be Mr Angel" says the mysterious Robert De Niro character in one of my favourite films and in London that has certainly always been (and will always be) the case. Walking around the town, I often think about things the way they might have been. There are two aspects to this - firstly, if the Luftwaffe hadn't bombed us and if the post-war planners hadn't had their way, London would be a very different place. Better? Perhaps - certainly if you read the book "Lost Panoramas of London", it is tragic to realise just what has gone.
At one of our Salons for the City recently, St Etienne were talking about the excellent 1960s documentary "The London That Nobody Knows" narrated by James Mason. Certainly that is in part a mourning for a London that was passing away but as Bob Stanley said: "You are also struck by what a shit hole much of the city was!". St Etienne's "Mervyn Day" film documents the area of East London which became the Olympic Park. Whilst the park itself seems like some other-worldly Huxleyian Utopia detached from London proper, I can assure you from personal experience that what it replaced was hideous and not to be mourned. I briefly lived in a house on a hill which has been completely obliterated by the very groovy Velodrome. (I was actually more shocked by the removal of the hill than of the house until I discovered that it was only a Victorian rubbish dump..).
The Olympic Park is a vision that has actually been built but the other thing about London not being the way it might have been, is the ghostly presence of all the plans and dreams that were never realised - either for lack of will, money or conviction, occasionally because the citizens successfully resisted them or because they were completely barking mad.
Mile high towers, gigantic pyramids of death on the Thames, a 75m statue of Britannia on Greenwich Hill, Jetsons style monorails, a motorway through Covent Garden - it could have all been so much...different. Of course the visionaries are still at it. At our next Salon, Matt Brown of Londonist and London planner Andrew Collinge will be discussing some of the crazy and not so crazy ideas that have, or haven't, got off the drawing board.
But we all know one thing for sure about the future don't we? That is that it will end - well at least from our point of view. I don't think even religious people believe that time persists after death do they? This of course, along with the city itself, has long been of fascination to me so I am very pleased that we have programmed a London Day of the Dead as part of the Hendricks Carnival of knowledge at a beautiful Georgian house in the centre of town. It will be on October 12th and I have to say it looks absolutely fabulous.
Hendrick's Carnival Of Knowledge from Hendrick's Gin on Vimeo.