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Dan about town! CNJ reporter publishes his lockdown ‘love letter’ to London

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Dan Carrier’s book Untold London is out now
MAYBE correspondent-at-large would be his best title. Sometimes nobody has a clue where he is and then he’ll pop up with a wonderful story that you can’t possibly not put in the newspaper.
At other times you’ll find him in his chaotic cavern corner of the news­room regaling colleagues with a thousand perfect anecdotes. A bundle of energy, there’s no point trying to be an editor to Dan Carrier: you just let him roam and see what happens. For a long time now, this has all been to a great benefit to Camden.
Not only has his restlessness brought us great scoops and interviews, it also led him to set up the food aid van which took provisions to people isolated during the Covid crisis, and later to the edge of the warzone in Ukraine where he took our donations to refugees dashing into Poland.
There was no chance that he was going to sit indoors during those lockdown days and instead he used his “daily exercise” and press pass well, walking the city and writing about his tour in the diary page of our sister paper, the Westminster Extra. As the weeks turned into months, he was amassing too much for a column and hence the book, Untold London, which is released this week.
He calls it a love letter to London but I think his romance with our city has advanced well beyond first base. Within the first 20 pages, we’ve learned about the crocodiles that once called St James’ Park home and how we are all wrong every day when we think the statue in Piccadilly Circus is of Eros. “Ah-ha, but here’s the thing…”, his explanation that it is actually meant to be the Greek god’s brother Anteros begins, and it feels like he’s telling it to me across the office.

His skill with this stuff is that he makes history so accessible, switching with ease from dusty tales from the Civil War through to the legends of 1960s and 70s London, and then up to the present day: an ever-evolving city documented in this lovingly stitched patchwork of stories.
Every corner has a story, and so does every pub. It is probably good that he didn’t sink a pint in every one mentioned here, but it must have been sad to see so many places which provide so much fun – bars, theatres, nightclubs – shut to curb the spread of the virus.
There are laments about buildings we have lost altogether, lost cafes, lost shops and more than a couple of mentions as to how money has often been the root reason for tearing down places that were loved, even if they were not the greatest profit generators in the world.
Perhaps one of the segments that best sums up Dan’s mentality is the story of the fountains that used to flow outside Centre Point, Grade II-listed modernist features designed by Jupp Dernach-Mayen. Maybe you remember them, although they were circled by traffic – so even though the swimming pool-blue must have meant children were desperate to splash in them, they always appeared cut off and a curiosity if anything.
Most of us probably forgot them when the redevelopment facelift around St Giles began and they were removed. Not Dan. He recalls here how he tracked the fountains down. Half of them were in a barn in Norwich, the other half left forgotten in a lock-up in Wembley. This didn’t seem right and Dan helped persuade the powers that be to allow them to be transferred to the grounds of the Architectural Association in Dorset.
It’s a little vignette which captures in one the character of the book, and its author. Some of the walks detailed here will take you to places you already know but might need reminding of, others will head off into new parts of Westminster worthy of exploration.
For years now, I’ve been walking down the road with Dan and you cannot get 10 yards without someone saying hello or asking about a street party he is organising or a party he is DJing at.
You won’t get another 10 yards without him pulling out some outrageous fact about a lost watering hole or something hidden behind a faded facade With this book, now everybody can take a stroll with him too. You’ll have a lively old time.
Untold London: Stories From Time-Trodden Streets. By Dan Carrier. The History Press, £19.99
 

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Graduate Organist vacancy in London and Home Counties – Church Times

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Graduate Organist vacancy in London and Home Counties  Church Times

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The dwindling case for living in London

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The recent debate around ‘levelling up’ may be missing something. I would argue that there is another way to consider geographical inequality – and, by this alternative measure, a levelling has been under way for more than 20 years.

I’ve spent three decades working in advertising, so it’s unsurprising that I tend to view economic life through the lens of consumption. By contrast, mainstream economists tend to view disparities through the medium of earnings or wealth. To me, measures of wealth should include not only the quantity of money you have but the breadth of worthwhile options available in choosing how to spend it.

Let’s put it another way. If you live in a boring village, and suddenly a great pub or café opens on the high street, then by my measure you have become richer; by the economist’s measure you have not.

Things that would once have been available in London decades before the provinces now appear everywhereat once 

There was undoubtedly a time when you were richer in London in two ways. You had more money, but you also had a far more exciting range of ways to spend it. Now not so much.

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London is a great city but, in terms of consumption quality, it has not improved markedly in the past 20 years. Over the same period, many smaller cities and even towns have advanced rapidly, significantly narrowing the gap. The kind of things that would once have been available in the capital decades before making it to the provinces – like sushi – now appear everywhere at once. Consider Turkish barbers, who seem to have taken over the country in only five years. (I can remember a time when it was enough just to get a haircut without having burning methylated spirits flicked in my ears. Back then I just didn’t know any better.)

This levelling is especially true of anything in the digital world: Amazon gadgets, Netflix films, Asos fashions and PlayStation games hit Aberystwyth the same day they hit Islington. But it also applies to the physical environment, as anyone over 50 can attest. I went to Manchester and Sheffield for the first time in 1989. Compared with London, they were then, let’s be honest, utterly rubbish. Now, when I visit those same cities, I experience mild ‘northern envy’. There are interesting places open everywhere. Northerners have better cars, because they have more money left over after paying for housing. And they are much better-looking, because they can nip home to get changed before going out.

Relatively speaking, London has improved far less dramatically than these provincial cities have. (New York, many aficionados argue, has got worse.) OK, the Tube is better than it used to be. Uber is a handy addition. But some things are awful – the last pleasure of driving in London ended when they put speed cameras on the Westway. Accommodation costs for the young wipe out any salary gains.

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By my measure, high property prices won’t just hit Londoners once – they’ll hit them twice. Not only do high rents wipe out what you earn, they also put at risk London’s once unassailable advantage as a great place to spend what money you have left. Creative businesses of any kind require space at a price which allows them to take risks. For a time, London found this space by moving its heartland from west to east. But suppose the people supporting what Douglas McWilliams calls ‘the flat white economy’ flee altogether? In my own experience, Kent suddenly seems weirdly full of fascinating restaurants founded by London exiles. If more of these people leave, the case for staying weakens further.

Londoners always say things like ‘Yes but there’s the theatre’. Let’s face it though – even Shakespeare left London for Stratford in his mid-forties. As he no doubt found, the theatre is all very well, but it’s nothing like being able to park outside your house.

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Gentrification is not a sin

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Gentrification is not a sin – UnHerd

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