You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > A Very Modern Preservationist
Nairn has nothing but contempt for buzzwords and jargon: "urban renewal" meant "replacing lively old dirt with dead new cleanness". He has a knack, too, of damning with faint praise: "St John's Wood is a light, pleasant affair that hurts nobody."

His selection of buildings worthy of inclusion is catholic. The gents' loos of the Windsor Bars pub in Birmingham are commended to visitors ("the Ladies, I am told, is nowhere near as good") and the Penguin Pool at London Zoo is discussed with the same seriousness as Manchester Town Hall.

He returns to the Zoo in Nairn's London. "It would be a good place . . . simply to drown one's indignation at human imbecility and the antics of the rest of Nature's jokers. After all, it costs no more than the price of a scotch and soda, which is a more usual remedy. And if the baboons and sea-lions don't work, you can always have the scotch and soda anyway, in the Zoo's bar."  Sightseeing was only fun if there were drinking stops along the way.

He wrote that the book was only his list of the best things in London, and wasn't to be consulted as a definitive guide. He used to joke that he would have put his wife, Judy Perry, into the book "had she only been made of brick or stucco".

He is scathing about the National Gallery — "a set of good porticoes and bad domes, badly arranged" — and nostalgic for the old Soho: "The tarts are off the streets now. Instead there are traffic wardens, taking up the same kind of stance but not looking nearly so inviting."

One of the pleasures of the book, if you live in London, is looking up your own part of town. My nearest pub gets its own entry. It is "dark and plushy and glowing" and the atmosphere is "somewhere between a theatre bar, a club, and a Baroque library".

Like many other Nairnites, I would have liked to buy him a pint and hear him speak about the medieval "chares" or steps of Newcastle — a favourite subject. I fear, though, that he would have drunk — and talked — me under the table.
View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.