London sits under a variegated sea of white cotton wool, which at its thickest bears a grey underbelly, and at its thinnest is punctured with hues of blue. In and out of this water vapour, needles pulling thread, emitting a drone, so common a noise that it is often not heard. Of the three colours that make up the London sky, grey dominates, it is the motif of the city, something foreigners in moments of antipathy towards their new home spite, as if they were talking about the ceiling of their prison cell. The vast expanse of greying clouds, brings the shades of grey provided by brutalistic tower blocks, roads, paving stones, Portland Stone and pigeons into relief. Immensus glassus towerus an invasive and domineering species of building, especially adapted to the economic and political climate in 21st Century London, with its multitude of obsequeuious window panes, diplomatically reflects the motif.
So, London, concrete jungles that dreams are made of? Certainly thinks so artist Stephen Walter, who in 2006 spent two years sketching and shading a map of London in pencil, into what looks, at first sight, a grey cloud, but which when viewed more closely appears as hundreds and thousands of words, indicating history, emotion, experience and feeling, all jostling for space, a fitting grey metaphor. Despite the exuberance of London, reflected in Walter’s grey cloud, inspecting the pallete offered by the urban underneath and surrounds can be an underwhelming experience, the colourlessness provokes sighs of resignation. In the middle of winter, the greyness, together with the demands of commuting, the bone chilling cold, incessant rain and the poor light induces a torpor in the body civic, dizziness, gloom, a sense of mourning for one’s bed, for a hibernative state that articles in the London Metro claim mother nature intended us to go into, but which the demands of capital and the desire for material accumulation prevent us from experiencing. What is the point of living? We start dreaming about skiving, doing just enough to get by, giving as little and keeping as much in reserve as possible. On days like this you can wake up and feel hopeless, paranoid as if you are the only person of your kind, the only one feeling vulnerable. The cold, the clouds and drizzle causes the body civic to find an inner peace, to search for peace inside buildings, to reside amonst the bright bedroom lights of the internet, the late night venue, the cinema, the restaurant, the pub, the night club. Electricity, neon lights, food and music take up the space of light, sunlight and as Johnny Lydon once said on an episode of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, ‘vur naycha’.
With the dawning and dusking of the sun the myth of London being a grey city is gotten out of bed and then put back in. In the morning the most amazing purple and pink light illuminates the underside of the thinly spread clouds, reflecting in and off the glass of Canary Wharf. Its worth leaving your flat and your senses for, one morning in a rather manic moment I jumped on to the Docklands Light Railway to try to capture this beautiful borealis aurealis londinius from as many angles as possible. However with every station that the train wormed its way through, the colours seemed to fade, until I reached Woolwich, by which time the skies had turned a cloudy grey, and I was in zone 4 without a validated travel card, wondering what I was going to do with myself, exhausted and so far from home. Similarly, every evening on a clear day a fireball rises in the west and scatters flames across the city into the oppositional aspects of the glass towers of Limehouse and Canary Wharf, causing the usually pale yellow brickwork to resonate a rich and warming orange.
Looking down on London from afar one can see other colours. Parts of Camden, and flats and houses by Rotherhithe and the Isle of Dogs are constructed in a happy yellow brick. Multi-coloured seaside style terraces can be found in Notting Hill and an Olympic Leyton High Street. Post-modern structures are inserted in amongst and latched on to murky Victorian mould covered brick in places like Hampstead where the desire is for the tranquillity of the old village, on Bethnal Green Road, where funky expensive living or working, is composed of designer rust coloured metal sheets and big windows, airfixed on to the old Tea Building. London of course has a lot of red brick terraced housing, and in the northern suburbs a plethora of detached and semi-detached red bricks are pebbled dashed, plastered with Swiss black and white wooden façades. One can also see black slate used for on the roofs and dirty red and brown bricks commonly used in Victorian buildings.
Tending towards grey
But overall, in the grand scheme of things, all the colours of Londond tend towards grey, to become grey although they are not grey. Buildings and facades are fuzzed and scuzzed by vehicular particulate and other types of muck of undetermined origin. Vistas are smudged and blurred by the poor light, the light in London having its most life affirming elements filtered by the supercontinent of clouds, gossamer mists, water and pollutants, hanging in the air. No better example of this than in April 2014 when an epidemic of chest stress, constriction and suffocation spread across the capital. Saharan sands swept over the southern reaches of Britain, giving a fine coat to vehicles and buildings. The African dust combined with exhaust fumes and fog, to create a palpable murky haze tinted with orange. Town planners refer to the green, grey and blue infrastructure of London, the blue supposedly referring to that grey-browny river, which burps, farts, bulges and swells its way through London, carrying with it bits of old wood, rubbish of varying kinds, a blow-up doll, and whose colour scheme is invariably shared by the city’s numerous ponds and lakes.