06 April 2011

Laurie Lee's first sight of London

A few mornings later, coming out of a wood near Beaconsfield, I suddenly saw London at last - a long smoky skyline hazed by the morning sun and filling the whole of the eastern horizon. Dry, rusty-red, it lay like a huge flat crust, like ash from some spent volcano, simmering gently in the summer morning and emitting a faint, metallic roar.

No architectual glories, no towers or palaces, just a creeping insidious presence, its vast horizontal broken here and there by a gasholder or factory chimney. Even so, I could already feel its intense radiation - an electric charge in the sky - that rose from its million roofs in a quivering mirage, magnetically, almost visibly, dilating.

A little later he continues describing his first impressions of the city:

My village, my town, each had a kind of duck-pond centre, but London had no centre at all, just squat little streets endlessly proliferating themselves like ripples in estuary mud. I arrived at Paddington in the early evening, and walked around for a while. The sky was different here, high, wide, and still, rosy with smoke, and the westering sun. There was a smell of rank oil, rotting fish and vegetables, hot pavements and trodden tar; and a sense of surging pressure, the heavy used-up air of the cheek-by-jowl life around me - the families fermenting behind slack- coloured curtains, above shops and in resounding tenements, sons changing their shirts, daughters drying their hair, waistcoated fathers staring at their tea, and in the streets the packed buses grinding nose to tail and the great night coming on. 

From chapters 1 and 2 of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, the second volume of Lee's memoirs.

1 comment:

Geosi Reads said...

This looks like a vivid description from Laurie. Thanks for this post.