Highgate Cemetery: “Nothing seems real but death at its greyest and clammiest”.
Photograph: Paul Grover/Rex Features
Ian Nairn’s London, originally published in 1966, is being republished today by Penguin Books. I had a copy on my long-lost London bookshelves, and it would make a much appreciated present for my Jakarta library … hint, hint.
This review says it all: It is a detailed vision of a city, and what a city should be like, that has never been bettered.
And that city is my city, one I got to know through my school days. and and for three separate periods of work. I saw it change, and was part of it having been involved in the housing cooperative and squatting movements of the early to mid seventies.
Jakarta isn’t my city, even though my name is on a still selling book about it . I only have a sense of belonging, a recognisable attachment to the small enclave area I’ve lived in for some 25 years. It seems that every time I venture out from here that a new unimaginative structure has sprouted mushroom-like where once there was a verdant vacant plot of land, or a Jakarta-style house which had no need for air-conditioning.
Yes, change is necessary, but eradicating the soul of a place in order to erect a monument to self-aggrandisement is not. Neither are the collections of massive blocks of little boxes. the rabbit warrens designed by bureaucrats sitting in their little cells in faceless offices.
Half a century ago, Ian Nairn could see the disaster that awaited a city where money was a centrifugal force for those without enough.
I’ve half a mind to buy two copies and give one to Ahok, the Jakarta Governor in all but inauguration. I think he would have liked Ian Nairn.