All cities are shapeshifters, but London is special. London is a palimpsest of places gone but not lost. Even as it is taken apart and rebuilt reaching to the skies, London remains rooted in the lay of the land, shore ditches, hills and fields still giving their names to the neighbourhoods upon them, and all bisected by the great snaky tidal river.
Born in Burnt Oak, Robert Elms grew up on one of those hills — Notting — and he would be sad but not remotely surprised that a Google search today cites first the film and then offers the question: ‘Is Notting Hill a real place?’ It was, he would say. Or, once upon a time, it was. Today, ‘it is international, aspirational, like a living Patek Philippe advert’.
London Made Us is a deeply nostalgic memoir, a celebration of the dirty, slummy, sometimes dangerous and sickening but utterly vital past, and a stinging critique of present pseudo-posh.