High flying, adored
What happens now —
Where do you go from here?
On top of the world
The view is not exactly clear
Evita — Rice & Lloyd-Webber (1976)
I spent much of the summer visiting financial institutions in the City of London.
The fallout from last autumn’s global economic meltdown is still drifting through our streets. The world didn’t end last October, but it felt a close call at times.
For the moment, it seems as if the worst is behind us. The dust is clearing slowly, and yet in the City uncertainty still clouds a faintly growing optimism. For many in the Square Mile, waiting out the storm a while remains the wisest game of all.
When recovery comes, what will it look like? Or is it here already, lurking in the lunchtime swagger of those traders who survived the carnage, and the evening calm of bankers working now for different masters?
Looking back, the causes of this crisis are clear to see. It was all about the price of risk.
In 2007, the City thought it had abolished risk, or at least knew how to measure it.
I love this city tonight
I love this city always
It bears its teeth like a light
And spits me out after days
Snow Patrol — October 2008
A Northern Irish band playing London — on the night before St Patrick’s Day. It really has been been quite a week.
In Snow Patrol’s home town of Belfast, as in Omagh all those years ago, an outbreak of mindless violence has lent passion to the public desire for peace. Shootings carried out by dissident republicans of the ‘Real IRA’ and designed to break the peace process have proved to have the opposite effect.
Accessibly tall and inspiring from the riverside earlier, the Gherkin hides shyly behind Liverpool Street’s offices now.
And it’s true – this building recedes as you draw ever closer.
Five minutes later, she lurks half-hidden down an alleyway off Bishopsgate, and by the time we reach St Mary Axe, the hem of her crystal skirt is all that remains.
Far above, Norman Foster has urged glass and steel triangles into unseen high perfection, but from here only memory and reflections conjure the peak of her profile.
Imagination in architecture – that is the Gherkin.
The second anniversary of this site passed midway through a busy August. An office move and a new computer have diverted me since, but the milestone seems worth marking all the same.
There hasn’t been much time to write. This isn’t a site for daily updates – the past twelve months at Roads of Stone have seen just 28 posts.
Still, that adds up to around 20,000 words, squeezed into odd moments here and there, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve been busy.
Those words have extended to travel writing on Kenya (seven posts), Scotland, Texas, Bermuda and France.
Conversations have extended to cover geology, music, golf, UK and US politics, the history of horseracing and Shakespearean theatre, petroleum economics, global warming, the urban development of London and French cooking.
Posted in 2008, Africa, France, geology, global warming, history, London, politics, Scotland, Surrey and Sussex, travel
China. America. Russia. The world order changed this August, as I’m sure you must have noticed.
I found myself in Greece for the Olympics, back where it all started. Four years late for Athens, and half a world from China.
Yet Beijing reached right around the globe this month. Strolling by the beach on a hot summer’s night, the first images I saw were on a gigantic screen installed inside a bar – a mesmerising, spellbinding sequence from the opening ceremony.
Throughout the next two weeks, the dramatic scale and serenity of the show grew and grew.
Each evening I would return to catch another glimpse of something fantastic, incredible, and Earth-changing – the opening up of China to the world, the swallowing of sport and the dawn of a new century on this planet.
And sometimes, I just watched the swimming.
A police car and a screaming siren
Pneumatic drill and ripped-up concrete
– The Jam: That’s Entertainment, 1981
Better stop dreaming of the quiet life
‘Cos it’s the one we’ll never know
– The Jam: A Town Called Malice, 1982
Gritty urban realism. Recession.
That’s how it was then, and this is how it sounded. The Jam captured the mood of Britain at the start of the eighties. The loss of hope and the mindlessly brutal banality of an existence with no glimpse of economic rescue or absolution.
Summer drifts across these hills. And on warm June days, this is where you’ll find me, the lazy afternoon lagging heavily at my heels all along this steady climb to reach the Downs.
I leave the grey town streets along the old familiar path and follow its narrow cut between the houses. Up ahead, across the road, the first field opens up beside me, but there’s still some work to do.