Monday, December 28, 2015
Poet of places
The man who fought the planners
For many, I know, the period between Christmas and the New Year is a dead time, especially for those who don’t fancy what in the UK are still referred to as ‘the January sales’ – the post-Christmas time when the shops lure us on to the High Street with promises of massively discounted goods. Now many of the the sales start before Christmas anyway. But there’s always television or that Christmas-stocking box-set or whatever the online suppliers can offer…
Or maybe something a little different. I thought one or two of my readers might like The Man Who Fought the Planners, a documentary about the writer and broadcaster Ian Nairn that was made a while back and has surfaced on YouTube. Ian Nairn (1930–1953) was a writer, broadcaster, and poet of descriptive prose whose work I’ve enthused about before. My review of a an excellent book about him will fill in the background for those who don’t know about him; my account of Nairn’s London, which I think is his best book and one of the all-time best books on London, is here.
If you want something to cheer you up in the post-Christmas gloom, this video may not be a good idea. This is, after all, a documentary about a man who drank himself to death, who spent a lot of energy lamenting destructive planning decisions, and even whose enthusiasms, which are many and revealing, are expressed with a kind of melancholy. But fans of Nairn will know that his observations on buildings and, especially, places are the things that make this unlikely and unglamorous broadcaster worth watching – the insights into townscapes, the sense of space, the love of the unloved. The memories of those who knew him, worked with him, or who, like me, are simply people who like his writing and have benefitted from his perceptions – all these are valuable too.