Friday, December 26, 2008


As of Christmas Eve, we must look elsewhere for our greatest living dramatist. But we must continue to heed Pinter's warnings about the mastery and perversion of language, and we must also continue his struggle against war and imperialism. This is from Harold Pinter's Nobel acceptance speech:

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became
The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

Language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time. But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Monday, December 15, 2008


In this 20-year old film, made by activists as part of their protest against the redevelopment of the King's Cross Railway Lands, one character suggests that if local people could obstruct the developers for just a little longer, the economic climate might change and the plans to dot the area with "30 Centrepoints" might prove unviable.

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That was in 1988. Shortly after the film was made, the country entered a period of recession and London & Continental Railways' plan to fund the cross-channel rail link by building office blocks was shelved. Fast-forward to 2008, and another recession is underway, this one more severe than the last. Argent's plans to tempt the retail and finance industries into King's Cross (at the expense of community facilities) now look archaic. The rather melancholic set of posts I wrote earlier in the year (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) may yet have a happy ending.

Aside from the continuum, the film itself - entitled King's Cross People - is a delight. Hammy acting; lines learned not by rote but through genuine passion; a thrilling rooftop view from Culross over to the now-demolished buildings around the German Gymnasium; some fascinating scenes of an embryonic Docklands - the whole thing is a perfect evocation of 80s activism.

Some of its predictions have come true - St Pancras International might as well be an airport terminal; the number of people on Camden Council's housing list and the number of homeless families have grown; many of the coal and fish offices have been demolished, and local shopkeepers were forced to give up their stalls on Pancras Road. But King's Cross has not lost its edge - it is the only place on earth that thrills me so much I sometimes find myself choking up a little. The 30 Centrepoints have never been built, and Argent's oleaginous plans for regeneration look increasingly vulnerable.

Six months ago, the King's Cross Railways Lands Group (still in existence after all these years) may have felt pretty gloomy. But now they are once again in a position to argue for a different future: one which provides for its local people, welcomes people from all over the world, and resists the incursions of yuppies and financiers.