Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Thirtyfirst of February by Julian Symons (Pan Books 1950)

There is a part of London near the Buckingham Palace Road, behind Eccleston Bridge, where the large stucco seediness of once-fashionable squares, Eccleston and Warwick and St George's, fades into a smaller shabbiness. There are streets here of small-identical red-brick houses, fronted by ugly iron railings; these streets branch off the main stem of Warwick Way, that backbone of Pimlico where large houses converted into a dozen one-room flats offer typists and secretaries the chance of developing an individuality untrammelled by the presence of parents or the inhibiting eyes of childhood neighbours. Such self-contained lives typify the decay that is spreading slowly over the fabric of our great cities; to be part of this decay, to visit the ballet frequently and to fornicate freely, to attain a complete irresponsibility of action - that is, in a sense, the ideal life of our civilization. And if such a life can be lived comfortably enough in the four-storeyed houses of Warwick Way, it can be lived more easily still in the little red-brick houses of Joseph Street. You might find similar houses in any London suburb, where they would be the homes of clerks, schoolmasters and small businessmen; but the people who lived in Joseph Street were male and female prostitutes, unknown actors and film extras, artists and journalists who had given up worship of the bitch-goddess Success and were content to earn a few pounds here and there which they drank away at the Demon round the corner in Radigoyle Street while their teeth fell out and their tongues grew furry and their eyesight failed. Among these characteristic occupants of the small red-brick, however, were a few eccentrically successful figures, people whose presence in this raffish area could not have been easily explained, even by themselves. Joseph Street numbered among its inhabitants two company directors, a dress designer, an important gynaecologist and a retired trade union official. Anderson, who might also be regarded as eccentrically respectable, lived in Number 10 Joseph Street, in a house distinguished from its fellows only by the window boxes carefully  cultivated by the Fletchleys, who lived in a self-contained flat on the first floor. Anderson had bought a ninety-year lease of the house at the time of his marriage. 

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