Michael Palin on London

London during the Blitz of 1940. (asisbiz.com)

London during the Blitz of 1940. (asisbiz.com)

Here’s another passage, this one from Diaries, 1969-1979: The Python Years, about development trends in London. Sadly, this is from 43 years ago. I wonder what Palin would think about the same subject today.

Friday, Oct. 27, 1972. From the Methuen lunch – feeling full of cigars and brandy, which ought to be Rules’ coat of arms – walked back through sunlit Covent Garden. Knowing that the whole area will be redeveloped (keeping odd buildings of “historical merit”), it’s rather like one imagines walking through London in the Blitz. You know what’s happening is not going to do the city any good, but you’re powerless (almost) to stop it. However, pressure groups of all opinions seem to be more successful now – Piccadilly and Covent Garden have both had big development plans changed by community action and protest. The sad thing is that the basic thinking behind these redevelopment schemes never changes. Blocks (of offices mainly) dominate. Where there was once a gentle elegance and a human scale, there is now concrete and soaring glass. The City of London is rapidly getting to look like a Manhattan skyline, which doesn’t worry me so much – but the blocks creeping into the West End are more sinister, for they are forcing a primarily residential area into acres more of hotels, offices and widened roads, and the scale of London’s buildings – which are, by and large, reasonably small, friendly and non-monolithic – is every day being lost.

And this was more than a decade before Prince Charles’s reference to the Luftwaffe!

Toppers a-poppin for my friend Steve Mields, who sent this to me from Alexandria, Va., in a manila envelope festooned with a dozen Amelia Earhart stamps (8¢), plus two of Slater Mill (25¢). Steve is a confirmed philatelist, and his envelopes, addressed with his striking print style, are almost always nearly as amazing as their contents.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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