Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Lights. Action.

This is the café I mentioned a few posts back, the one with ceiling fans that would make a fine bookstore; the one that many months ago stocked copies of Days and Nights in W12 and then closed down, and the books vanished; the one in which today something – a story? an ad? – was being filmed, and the photo has so much reflection in it you can’t tell what’s outside and what’s in.

A confusion between fact and fiction was one of the points of Days and Nights. Though if Jack was doing the book now, it would include at least two more items of historical fact that at the time escaped his notice. One is Urania House in Lime Grove (almost directly opposite this café), a hostel founded by Dickens in 1847 for ‘fallen women’. For its time, the regime in Urania House was liberal and practical. The education provided was to be ‘steady and firm . . . cheerful and hopeful. Order and punctuality, cleanliness, the whole routine of household duties – as washing, mending, cooking – the establishment itself would supply the means of teaching practically, to every one.’ There was a garden, and a piano. A prison governor warned that ‘the love of dress is the cause of ruin of a vast number of young women’, but Dickens disagreed: ‘Colour these people always want, and colour I would always give them . . . in these cast-iron and mechanical days.’

The second historical item (just slightly outside the border of W12) is Frestonia, a community of squatters who declared their independence from UK in 1977; Heathcote Williams served as ambassador to Great Britain. In the way these things go, the independent republic became a housing co-operative; now there are new houses and, of course, an arts centre.

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