Aside from what can only be described as a literary mountain of books that I am slowly but surely working my way through for my degree, it's always nice to also get some of your own leisurely reading in as I'm sure you all well know, (this blog for instance..one can hope).
Over the last couple of weeks I've been dipping in to the journalist and travel writer Stephen Smith's 'Underground London'. Whilst an informative insight into what lurks beneath the city streets that we all accordingly love and loathe, Smith also develops an abundant array of characters, quite cleverly accompanying and complimenting the necessary cold, hard facts with the quirks of his meetings: the rather unforgettable personalities alongside their tales and mishaps. Every chapter tells a different tale, of a different time of London and at different locations. Whether Smith is knee deep in human slurry or learning a rather interactive version of Guy Fawkes' tale under the Palace of Westminster, for every trip and tale, you become the journalist doing the wading, the exploring. You meet the people and become part of places that unfortunately a lot of us wouldn't be able to - or wouldn't dare to - visit.
Everyone has an 'explorer' side within them. Some wish to see it themselves, others do not. The beauty of Smith's tale is that whether you daren't or you can't, for at least the brief time that you read his accounts, it's the closest you'll get. From all the non-fiction I've ever read, Smith really knows how to cleverly combine the best differences between the necessity of fact and the delight of his personal touches. His informal, lucid and imaginative prose sets the scene remarkably and, not only explains objectively that these places exist, but he then subjectively takes it so much further. We might never be fortunate enough to go to secret underground government tunnels, or to Churchill's war time havens, but Smith's story is certainly a little closer.
Therefore, any Londoner, and one with a particular passion for the subterranean level (like myself) should definitely give this little gem a read. I also recently discovered that this book part of his 'Underground' book series (where have I been?!).
And on a slightly related note, you might also want to check out this short documentary series of some guys that do get to go to these kind of places, albeit in not so legal ways. It's a passion and craze known as 'Urban Exploration'. A few of my friends are really into it, but I'll let the video do the explaining. I've been meaning to write a piece on these guys for some time (watch this space) as, most importantly, I think they sum up the reason why Smith amongst many of us want to delve into the past, closed off and out of bounds. Whilst these guys might be the ones that take that extra step, there are still plenty of us who wish we had the courage to do the same.