Travel: Grand Tours - the New Badlands ; Writers' Adventures in Literature: Iain Sinclair Finds Poetry, of Sorts, in East London's Industrial Landscape

By Sinclair, Iain | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), October 2, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Travel: Grand Tours - the New Badlands ; Writers' Adventures in Literature: Iain Sinclair Finds Poetry, of Sorts, in East London's Industrial Landscape


Sinclair, Iain, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


If any modern writer can throw an unflinching gaze on our capital city's wastelands it is Iain Sinclair, author of `Lights Out for the Territory' and `Rodinsky's Room'. His latest offering, `London Orbital, A Walk Around the M25', is a pilgrimage through the uncharted tracts bounded by the ring road. In this extract he drives the A13 with Bill Drummond, pop impresario, and Marc Atkins, a photographer.

East India Dock Road, with its evocative name, has a secondary identity as the A13, my favourite early-morning drive. The A13 has got it all, New Jersey-going-on-Canvey Island: multiplex cinemas, retail parks, the Beckton Alp ski slope; flyovers like fairground rides, three salmon-pink tower blocks on Castle Green, at the edge of Dagenham; the Ford water tower and the empty paddocks where ranks of motors used to sit waiting for their transporters. The A13 drains east London's wound, carrying you up into the sky; before throwing you back among boarded-up shops and squatted terraces. All urban life aspires to this condition; flux, pastiche. A conveyor belt of discontinued industries. A peripatetic museum, horizon to horizon, available to anyone; self-curated. The wild nature graveyard in Newham. Inflatable, corn-yellow chips wobbling in their monster bucket outside McDonald's in Dagenham. River fret over Rainham Marshes.

Dawn on a wet road. Travelling east into the rising sun; drowned fields, mountains of landfill, ancient firing ranges. Everything smudged and rubbed. With the M25 as your destination, Purfleet and Grays as staging posts. Bridge, river, oil storage tanks.

Where a road goes informs every inch of it and there is an irritability about the section we have to cross. Why are we heading north and not swinging east, following the hint spelt out by juggernauts? The ramps that lift you on to the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge are decorated with burnt-out motors - as if joyriders from Barking and Hornchurch knew they'd reached the end of the line. Fire the evidence. Leave the orbital motorway to major league crims.

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