Suburban special: what is a suburb?

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    Richard Wentworth

    London-based contemporary artist

    I spent a day with the last people who drew the ‘A-Z’ (as opposed to pixellating it), and they dictated what was considered to be London and what wasn’t. I always seem to end up having a friend who either lives in the gutter or on the edge of the map. I never seem to live anywhere in the middle of the map. Yesterday I was obliged to do a tour of Acton, Ealing and Hayes because of a problem on the A40. We came off the edge of the map and there was a collective burst of glee in the car – ‘We’ve left!’ – which meant, of course, we didn’t know where we were.

    There are some extraordinary contradictions in [this debate]. We are in a period in which it is very odd to hear ‘suburban’ terms – terms we are meant to be warmed by. I live near King’s Cross where I noticed that Varnishers Yard and Joiners Court are opening shortly. Around the bottom of King’s Cross, at the end of the Caledonian Road, they weren’t very big on varnishing or joining. There’s a little piece where [British historian] Roy Porter talks about Wandsworth becoming Streatham and Streatham becoming Balham, and the classes jump down the tracks in a really short space of time – about 30 years. If you travel that way, you’re doing a short, gentrified walk home.

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