Mem­oir/so­cial his­tory Out­skirts

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

John Grindrod (Scep­tre, £16.99)

In this very top­i­cal book, John Grindrod’s loy­alty to a par­tic­u­lar patch of Greater London ‘edge­land’ leads him to won­der about the green belt’s his­tory and sig­nif­i­cance. Al­though he de­clares early on that he can only ‘just about recog­nise a dock leaf and a field mouse’, there is no lack of so­phis­ti­ca­tion in his writ­ing about the nat­u­ral world. how­ever, this self­dep­re­ca­tory note is one of the plea­sures in his un­der­stated ac­count of ‘the dot­ted line’ be­tween town and coun­try.

Another is the hu­mour, the Lon­doner’s gift for irony, for the witty sum­ma­tion (‘It was like Mad Max re­booted in Brook­side Close’).

In 10 chap­ters (each pref­aced by a sug­ges­tive lit­tle sketch such as a plan­ner might com­mis­sion), Mr Grindrod jux­ta­poses his own mem­o­ries of new Ad­ding­ton, near Croy­don, with broader so­cial his­tory. A pageant of sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures—the na­tional trust’s Oc­tavia hill, the Gar­den Cities’ Ebenezer howard and Ray­mond Un­win, cru­saders such as Cyril Joad, Pa­trick Aber­crom­bie of the CPRE —pa­rade against a back­drop of fam­ily life in and beyond a sub­ur­ban coun­cil house.

the au­thor’s par­ents, Marj and John, fea­ture promi­nently: there are quirky mem­o­ries (a sec­tion about the fam­ily’s pri­vate lan­guage) and vivid in­ci­dents, such as a light­ning strike while wait­ing for the 130 bus.

But al­though the pas­sages of mem­oir are in­ter­est­ing and mov­ing, it is the his­tor­i­cal sec­tions that com­pel, some­times be­cause of ar­rest­ing de­tails—those 627 golf cour­ses within a 50-mile ra­dius, for ex­am­ple, or the chap in a car who de­cided where London ended by not­ing where the houses stop.

Above all, Mr Grindrod has the knack of putting an is­sue into pre­cisely the right per­spec­tive, fre­quently an ob­vi­ous one we hadn’t thought of—as when he re­marks ca­su­ally: ‘the M25 was part of a late eight­ies ob­ses­sion with ev­ery­thing be­ing out of town.’ John Green­ing

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