This Other London – review

This Other London - John Rogers - 009

Author John Rogers

John Rogers breathes colour and character into suburban London in what’s an endearing chronicle of his expeditions across ten less-traversed patches of the city.

It would be easy to say that This Other London is like Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital made accessible over a pint of Speckled Hen, but that would be selling it short.

Yes, it is a topographical dip into the fringes of the city and it does seem to owe something to W.G. Sebald’s dreamy masterpiece The Rings of Saturn. But its conversational approach, lack of pretension and likeable protagonist make it distinct and enjoyable.

It does, however, take Rogers time to get going. The first 20 pages read like a quirky BBC documentary trying too hard to meet the intellectual expectations of the genre.

Descriptions like “the organisms we brand as weeds” don’t work, but by the time we arrive at a Beckford gasworks – used as a Vietnam battlefield in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket – he’s found rhythm.

A traveller’s rucksack full of historical knowledge and fun personal anecdotes see Rogers in full swing 140 pages later, looming on the brink of the Lea Valley.

Armed with a can of Strongbow and a bag of Bahlsen biscuits, our hero sets off to meet a wassailing group at Millfields, Clapton, via a typically round-about route.

On the way he breezes through recollections of a pub chat with filmmaker Ian Bourne about the creative culture of 80s Leytonstone, before a “road-building binge” by Thatcher’s government saw off “the E11 avant-garde.”

He also ventures an enlightening comparison between the Lammas Land protection campaign of 2006 and the Lammas Day protests of 1892.

But it’s an account of a collection of photos that he once stumbled across in a junk shop on Hainault Road, E11, that is perhaps most satisfying.

Rogers sifts through his memories of the 80s Marks and Sparks bag and lands on a summertime image of a group of young cyclists on Church Road in 1938. He ponders their post-war fate with eloquence and sensitivity.

He writes: “Maybe it never crossed their minds – they were too busy flirting and showing off, discussing the best route to take through Epping Forest.”

By the time we reach the wassailing rendezvous, where Rogers sups mulled cider and sings reservedly at an apple tree, we’ve learnt a lot.

There’s the architectural allure of East London’s electrical substations; the gentrification of the infamous ‘Murder Mile’; Philly Brook – a hidden waterway only remembered by those it now floods; pie and mash – “a core London tradition perpetuated by Italian immigrants” – and much more.

This Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked City is published by Harper Collins. ISBN: 0007494270 RRP: £12.99