Stories from A Fractured City- Tales of Two London’s.
Edited by Claire Armistead
Published in 2018 by OR Books: London & New York
Paperback: £13.00 E-Book: £7.00
This book was recently launched on 22nd March 2018 and is a collection of short essays and poems depicting the disparities of life in London, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. Contributors vary from the well-known to the amateur who either give candid real-life collections of life in London, or succinctly describe life in the City through their fictional characters.
Edited by Armistead; currently the Associate Editor (Culture) at the Guardian; the collection reflects her vast experience in editing and understanding of cultural and economic diversity.
The first short essay titled ‘An Atrocity in three Acts’, collects three separate works by Jon Snow, the Grenfell Action Group and an anonymous letter writer. The result is arresting, and the reader cannot help but re-examine his own shortcomings on the failings at Grenfell. Snow’s poignantly reflects during a lecture at the 2017 the Edinburgh International Television Festival that,
‘…. I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present day society ….’
The second act from the Grenfell Action Group Blog dated 20 November 2016 started with
“…. the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the incompetence’s of our landlord….”
and less than a year later these words were proven to be true resulting in the loss of 71 lives and disrupting many others. The damning blog then goes on to outline why they thought this would be so and concluded that the Kensington & Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) cannot say that they hadn’t been warned.
The final act ends with an anonymous letter written by one of Kensington and Chelsea wealthier residents who wanted to return the £100.00 one off payment from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for the ‘careful management of their finances over the years’. He managed to give it to a local church hosting refuge for the affected families and explained
“…it was guilt money and he was doing me a kindness by taking it off my hands”
There are a number of poems in this book and one poem by Yumi Sode explores the life of Jonny a newly arrived migrant from Nigeria who shivers in the cold. Jonny represents many migrants who arrive into Britain each year and the no-nonsense Yumi uses word expertly to dispel the stereotype that migrants are made of hard stuff and thus do not feel as much. The poet reconfirms to the reader that Jonny is not just a number or a face but a person who thinks and feels. Jonny’s story ends with the vans of Brexit and you tube clips telling him to go back where he came from,
‘…Inside, a part of him dies, inside
He felt this was home, outside though’
There are short historical accounts as well with the story of the London Fields by Jo Glanville who explores the heyday of the lidos in the 1930’s where swimming was considered to unite the divide between the rich and poor to a ‘common standard of enjoyment and health’. However, as a market survey in 2015 showed, 80% of visitors to the Lido were white and under 40 and ethnic minorities are twice as less likely to know how to swim.
The most enjoyable visual in this story was where residents interested in reopening the lido were being shown around the derelict building only to be met by squatters who had moved in in 1998 and ‘As locals were shown around, the squatters sat on the ground in front of the changing rooms, purple buddleia growing above the doors, and gazed mutely upwards at the visitors’.
Overall, I have enjoyed the book immensely. The layout flows well from one story to the next and the integration of the different literary genres has done justice to bring to life the diverse story of London the vibrant City where lives can be so drastically different according to your postcode.