30 May 2012

Iain Sinclair: Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project (2011)

Iain Sinclair's Ghost Milk is dedicated 'In memory of the huts of the Manor Garden Allotments', the 4.5 acre area of land in Hackney Wick bequeathed in perpetuity to the East End in 1900 by Major Arthur Villiers.* The allotments were destroyed in 2007 in order to allow construction of the London Olympics Park. Understandably, this is a very angry book. Sinclair writes of the sheer destruction that the Olympics vanity project, 'with a beat-the-clock impatience unrivalled in London since the beginnings of the railway age', has wrought: historic communities count for nothing when the only thing of importance is the world waiting agog for the pistol shot of the starter to herald a fleeting moment of glory.

Ghost Milk is a little like Sinclair's previous book Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire with its memories of decades past, its interviews, its peregrinations and its digressions, only the interviews are fewer, it is more global and includes several world grand projects beyond London, and its digressiveness is much vaster. And understandably, its anger is harsher as a result of the mindless destruction of communities human and non-human, the real fear of toxic waste contamination, and the whole equally mindless New Labour-created Olympics fiasco handed over (I express my own disgust here) as a torch to an identical, and above all identically clueless and destructive, political party.

Oh, and the meaning of the title? The expression 'Ghost milk' can cover a multitude of secular sins, but I like Sinclair's example of The Rolling Stones as a tribute band of itself performing at O2, which is of course the ghost milk of that other grand project, the Millennium Dome. Ghost milk is multi-layered.

*Another (albeit ironic) dedication, though, is made in the last sentence of the book (before the Acknowledgements) to 'Mayor Jules Pipe, a constant inspiration, as he remakes the borough of Hackney as a model surrealist wonderland'. It was Pipe who barred Sinclair from the original invitation he'd received to talk about his book Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire at Stoke Newington Library. I don't think the mayor smokes the right pipe.

Iain Sinclair: Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire

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