Scarp by Nick Papadimitriou (Sceptre, £9.99)

Scarp“Scarp” is an overlooked area on the North Middlesex/South Hertfordshire border, comprising parts of outer London that people might just have heard of but never go there save, in places like Bushey, to be buried. Papadimitriou wanders the fields and streets of the area, sleeps out, eats cheese sandwiches, examines the flowers of the area, reads up on local history and then imagines the full, personal stories of participants of events.

These events include car crashes, a murder of one vagrant by another and, from time to time, the story of his own wasted youth as a petty arsonist and his childhood bullied by a tyrant father. This is, I suppose, psychogeography and there on the back of the book are favourable quotes from Will Self and Iain Sinclair. Papadimitriou rambles through the landscape and through history – in one long sequence an immortal rook visits incidents and people over several centuries, reporting their stories in the first person. His tales are not always so fantastic, but, finally, I give up at the appendix. It’s not the cheariest of books – the final chapter starts “I stood bare-headed in the churchyard at Little Berkhamstead and watched the raindrops bounce off Reginald Maudling’s gravestone and drop into the soaked earth beneath. I longed to follow them.”… “That day the whole of Hertfordshire had seemed a shimmering blinding plain of wheat. I’d ended up spending the night exhausted and dehydrated by the side of a disused farm track off Bragbury Lane, near Stevenage, where, so the story goes, the Virgin Mary is said to walk every Lady’s Day. Waking the next morning exhausted and broke, I’d been overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness.” Hmm.

Yet the author’s parambulations do tell us a lot about the countryside, particularly the broken lands at the end of town lanes where the countryside begins – or used to begin before it was swamped by things like the private Moor Park golf course whose Doric archways “represented everything I resented about privilege and wealth” and even walking on the course “is to slip into what feels like enemy territory.” Papadimitriou’s book is like Jonathan Meades for the maudlin.

Ross Bradshaw

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