Sunday, 22 April 2012

H.V. Morton's London - One-a-Day Audio Challenge

As a Canadian daughter of English parents I am fortunate to hold a British passport.  Six years ago my partner and I travelled to London in order to explore the country from whence my family has sprung.  Certainly, the London of today is a far cry from the London of my parents childhoods.  Many a time I have heard my Supergran proclaim nostalgically that "London is not what it used to be".  After each proclamation she would embark on lengthy tales of the good old days, "when Londoners  had an innate sense of what was right and what was wrong".  One particular story never ceases to bemuse me.  Supergran spoke of London Transport's now long gone, honour system. She  remembered a simpler time when there was a box at each station into which commuters dropped their fare before stepping onto the platform.  She assured me that every commuter paid the fare, as it was the decent thing to do.  Well, today's London commuters are certainly a far cry from yesteryear!  I can't imagine the team of London Transport 2012 trusting passengers to pay their fare voluntarily into unmanned boxes.  Nor can I imagine that if the boxes were bursting to the brim with fares, that they would remain in an unattended station for more than a matter of minutes.

Several years ago while browsing through the basement of a Pimlico charity shop on a lazy grey weekend, my partner Matt discovered a treasure of a book, H.V. Morton's London. London is pure gold!  Within its covers lie stories, poems, and musings of 1930's London. I absolutely adore Morton's enchanting descriptions of the streets, buildings and districts that I now pass by every day.  My Canadian upbringing was against a backdrop of new buildings that were only built to be destroyed and then rebuilt.    It is therefore not surprising then, that I have a great appreciation for the wealth of history that lies within the bricks and mortar of London.  As I stroll along Piccadilly, I can smell the air and see the characters that Morton describes so clearly in his book.  

London is a compilation of three book written by Morton:  The Heart of London, The Spell of London, and Nights of London.  It was first published in October 1940.  I have a copy of the fifth edition that was printed in 1941, and bears the following inscription on the inside cover: "To Dad, From Edith + Alf with love, Christmas 1941".  The cover notes explain that the book contains "short, impressionistic 'snapshots' - as the author calls them- [which] have caught, in a peculiarly vivid way, the atmosphere, the humour, the tragedy and the pathos of the world's greatest city".  

London did not easily ingratiate itself to me, and in fact it is only recently that I have come to enjoy living in this city.  It has grown on me.  It is a city for which I have a love/hate relationship, yet also a deep and endless fascination.  Although Morton recalls a London that has long since disappeared, the echoes of those times reverberate off the pages of his book, and into today's London streets.  I would like to share these stories with you as they are far too special to be contained within heavy tombs on dusted shelves rather, they ought to be aired, read aloud, and breathed into life, so that London's rich folklore can be shared with its citizens (and others) of today.

The book seems to no longer be in print, although I have come across collectable editions online. I would like to share Morton's London with as many people who are willing to listen as possible. Every day over the next year, I am going to record and post one of the stories, musings, or poems contained within London.  I hope that they resonate as much with you, as they do for me.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sockless - excellent post, many thanks. I am a great Morton fan and London was one of the first of his books I read. His 1951 "In Search of London" is still in print.

    How did your recordings project go?

    All the best,

    Niall Taylor