Does there need to be an explanation? I’m not sure myself how I came to be in St Pancras Way. There are of course factors. I had been to the office, had a ticket for a train, wanted a change of scene. On 99 out of 100 occasions when I arrive at St Pancras station I walk into the West End or westwards, or to Clerkenwell, Lamb’s Conduit Street, the Law Courts; those sorts of places. And fine walking it is.
But St Pancras keeps appearing in my reading. Mary Wollstonecraft was originally buried in the graveyard of the Old Church (she was later reburied). St Pancras was a radical borough in the history of municipal socialism. There was once a strong Communist Party presence. I keep picking up those strands of late 18th century and early 19th century radicalism, and the emergence of the London County Council; the socialist organisations of the 1880s, the Marx – Engels topography, the emergence of Arts & Crafts and then modernism, the aims and ambitions for providing low cost high quality housing for the working class (which happens in an almost continuous stream from the 1880s to the 1980s – Thatcher and the Tories and the ideas of neo-liberalism break the project).
I was curious as to what of that mix I might find. But I wasn’t consciously thinking this; it wasn’t planned. I was aware that I wanted to find if there are still remnants of that older London. But I don’t need explanations. City walking can be at its most powerful and rewarding when it is unplanned and unselfconscious. When it’ s a flow, something that is difficult to explain. There are elements of the quality without a name. Perhaps that’s what I was looking for.
I kept looking at people. Deliberately. There are theories that one should never look at people in cities, never catch their eye. But how are you ever going to start a conversation on that basis?
I realised I was standing at the side of a zebra crossing only when the cyclist stopped. He slowly came into my peripheral vision. He was wearing white trousers, a pink shirt and a scarf, perhaps a cravat, around his neck. He was waiting for me to cross the road.
‘I am so sorry’, I said, ‘I am caught up in a day dream’.
‘That’s alright’, he said smiling. He pushed off with his right foot on the pedal and raised his left foot to catch the left pedal as it came round. He wobbled slightly as all cyclists do from a standing start, and then he was back on the straight line of the ride. He raised his hand to wave goodbye as he did so.
Standing under a railway bridge. Slowly aware that a woman on a bicycle was slowing down on the assumption that I was about to take a picture.
‘I am so sorry’, I said, ‘I’m in a daydream’.
She smiled, almost laughing, and pushed her bike back into motion. That image of her is more photographic in my mind than the photographs themselves.
A woman standing next to me at the traffic lights with two young children. They all looked poor. The children looked fed up. The woman looked fed up. I don’t have the ability or the language to describe this properly. Does anyone? Part of the development of a revolution is developing a way to describe life itself. If that can be done, then the revolution itself will begin to form.
If someone could describe that woman, those two children, at those traffic lights. And the look in their faces. They were standing a foot or two away from me. What was it? Defiance? It was that but much more too. What’s really needed is for people to find their voices. And what’s also needed is political voices that recognise these scenes and never cease to point out poverty, capital accumulation, corruption, class interests, humanity, truth, justice. All that sort of stuff.
There are no photographs of that woman and those two children, on the street in St Pancras Way, on 29 July 2021. But there should be. There should be a revolution about these conditions.
How dare the filthy rich make people live this way.