Monday, March 12, 2012

Days and Nights in W12




Jack Robinson
DAYS AND NIGHTS IN W12
112pp. CB Editions. Paperback, £7.99
(with free p&p from the publisher's website)
978 0 95610 737 4


Jack Robinson's "ramble through the streets of London W12" (that postcode area otherwise known as Shepherd's Bush) is the sort of book which gets you writing a little review about the thing even though you've probably more urgent - I hesitate to say important - things to be doing. Mainly because it makes a real virtue of watching and waiting; it's the importance of being idle, but equally attentive to the weird, wonderful, mixed-up everyday metropolis that tends to pass us by as we hurry here, there and wherever. Each of Days and Nights hundred-odd pages features a black-and-white photo taken by Robinson, followed by a concise, thoughtful, often spot-on paragraph riffing on a chance scene, a snatch of conversation, an object, a character... anything that might grab the attention of our (almost) anonymous, alternative tour guide. Though as a critic quoted on the backcover says, you needn't really know W12, or even London, to enjoy the read; "it's about every urban space, including the one in your head." This isn't dry or wearyingly melancholic stuff, either. For every gentle lament or grim snap of wasteland/empty construction site, there's a reflection on lucky happenstance, moments of happiness (however fleeting) and people's resilience, and a fair few genuinely funny moments. Take a reflection on daydreaming and being "anywhere but here", in which the narrator makes his little confession: "I once sat for ten minutes in a car staying resolutely calm in front of a sign I read as DO NOT PANIC HERE, until I glanced in the wing mirror and saw the traffic warden approaching". Or modern life's frustrations condensed into the sort of moment surely anyone can relate to, accompanied by a snap of garden gnomes on "3 for 2" offer:
"It's raining, I'm hungover, I've just got a parking ticket and I live in a world that produces a surplus of garden gnomes but cannot manage to house and feed its most vulnerable inhabitants. Their ruddy cheeks, their dopey assumption of bogus folkloric wisdom ... Fortunately there are shovels available in the next aisle, for smashing them to bits."
Days and Nights in W12 swings pretty much effortlessly between the commonplace and the lesser-known telling fact; quietly offering its stories from the lives of others alongside imaginative, more idle speculations. I'd call it a collection of prose-poems but that'd be truly lazy: sure they're precise and atmospheric pieces, even lightly musical at times, but they have a disarming casualness, shifting tone, and beautiful throwaway quality that I reckon any kind of poem, prose or otherwise, would find quite difficult to match. It's a book that you can easily devour (as I did) in one sitting - perhaps with a packed lunch in a park on a warm, less-than-overcast day - but one you can come back to too, I'd wager. And of course, it gives the gift of leaving you that bit more attentive to your own patch - wandering past and thinking on that throwback of a phonebox, some graffitied bus-shelter advert, or the dapper old guy always walking his lively Jack Russell, same time each day - which is no bad thing at all.