Ugly and Silent, Like an Elf, the Secret of the Street

… so, from a rather wet Lord’s, it’s back to the studio – where we have some topical satire for you from G.K. Chesterton. 

(I suspect this is only accidentally topical.  For Fleet Street read Wapping.)


When I Came Back To Fleet Street

When I came back to Fleet Street,
Through a sunset nook at night,
And saw the old Green Dragon
With the windows all alight,
And hailed the old Green Dragon
And the Cock I used to know,
Where all good fellows were my friends
A little while ago;

I had been long in meadows,
And the trees took hold of me,
And the still towns in the beech-woods,
Where men were meant to be.
But old things held; the laughter,
The long unnatural night,
And all the truth they talk in hell,
And all the lies they write.

For I came back to Fleet Street,
And not in peace I came;
A cloven pride was in my heart,
And half my love was shame.
I came to fight in fairy-tale,
Whose end shall no man know–
To fight the old Green Dragon
Until the Cock shall crow!

Under the broad bright windows
Of men I serve no more,
The groaning of the old great wheels
Thickened to a throttled roar;
All buried things broke upward;
And peered from its retreat,
Ugly and silent, like an elf,
The secret of the street.

They did not break the padlocks,
Or clear the wall away.
The men in debt that drank of old
Still drink in debt to-day;
Chained to the rich by ruin,
Cheerful in chains, as then
When old unbroken Pickwick walked
Among the broken men.

Still he that dreams and rambles
Through his own elfin air,
Knows that the street’s a prison,
Knows that the gates are there:
Still he that scorns or struggles
Sees, frightful and afar.
All that they leave of rebels
Rot high on Temple Bar.

All that I loved and hated,
All that I shunned and knew,
Clears in broad battle lightning,
Where they, and I, and you,
Run high the barricade that breaks
The barriers of the street,
And shout to them that shrink within,
The Prisoners of the Fleet.


Ugly and Silent, Like an Elf, the Secret of the Street

Vale O thelondonpaper

So, farewell then, thelondonpaper. 

For those who haven’t encountered it, it was a free evening newspaper available in the London area which – rather surprisingly – has been shut down. Its last issue appeared on Friday.

On the face of it, there were several good reasons to dislike it.  It was owned by Rupert Murdoch (and I’m part of a generation old enough to have qualms about this), it must have generated blizzards of waste paper and some felt that the distributors could be a little over-zealous in their approach.  Oddly, I’ve become rather attached to it, and I’d go so far as to say that I shall miss it.

Oddly, because I’m clearly not part of the target audience.  It was explicitly aimed at a readership who were young (18-35), urban and diverse.  I’m too old, too rural, not diverse enough.  I think, though, this was partly why I did enjoy it – I felt it  gave me an insight into a world that is now as foreign to me as the world of People’s Friend or Horse and Hound.

Inevitably it was light on news, heavy – though not on heavy as you might expect – on celebrities : everything I know, indeed, about the doings of Miss Pixie Lott, I owe to thelondonpaper.  A lot of it, though, was made up up first person columns which were really slightly more polished versions of blogs. The best known of these -the City Boy column – achieved enough attention to make it into book form, and no doubt some of the others were hoping to make the same transition.  Instead, though, since it became known that the paper was closing down, they have been writing about their own imminent unemployment.  Interestingly, though, they are all intending to carry on writing in the same vein on their blogs.  From the blogosphere they came, and to the blogosphere they shall return.

The paper’s most popular feature, I’d guess was the Em cartoon.  It’s hard to describe this without making it sound like the kind of thing any sane person would leap over tall buildings to escape, but I found it began to exercise a peculiar fascination.  I think it’s something to do with the facial expressions.  For the past few weeks, it’s been advertised that it will continue online at Em cartoons, which I’m sure it will, but it has also been rescued at the last minute by Uncle Rupert, and will also be appearing in the Sun.  

I’m sure it must be significant in some way that if the regular contributors were to be transferred to one of the other News International titles, they would probably fit – with a little tweaking – equally well into either The Times or The Sun. 

I can’t help observing that – wherever they are available – these free papers are rapidly obliterating the paid-for versions.  In my workplace, for instance, only two out of fourteen of us read a conventional daily paper – everyone else reads the Metro, if anything.  When it (the Metro) was given out at Harborough Station in the morning, I was once the only person in a waiting room of 12 people who wasn’t reading it.

It used to be possible to use newspaper readership as a shorthand for a particular set of political and social attitudes – Telegraph reader (spluttering into pink gins in Tunbridge Wells), Guardian reader (sandals and muesli), Mail reader (house price-obsessed suburban xenophobe) and so on.

I supect that this is rapidly becoming obsolete, and we are becoming a nation of Metro readers, and one notable thing about the Metro – and indeed thelondonpaper – is that it is totally apolitical.  Nowhere in either paper is any hint of a political (let alone a party political) opinion, and neither of them have so much as a suggestion of a political complexion.