I was brought up in the countryside and An Urban Country Diary reflects my need to notice and record nature and my love of urban living. As a child I would rarely have to stray more than a mile from the lanes and fields near our house and, thirty years on, I still keep a small orbit. I have spent much of the last 15 years walking around my little patch of North London admiring the beauty of the mundane. An Urban Country Diary is a collection of field notes that record zen newsflashes (or non-happenings) from some quiet streets of London. It’s just a tiny slice of life, the non-news that just-about-happens within a square mile of my house.
In April 2014 Icon Books published a collection called A London Country Diary, based on this blog but with lots of extra material, plus new illustrations, maps and sketches. There’s also a lovely – and very funny – intro by Stewart Lee.
My rambling and ramshackle blog grew from an email newsletter called The Smoke, which ran from 1999 to 2002. I liked the idea of non-news and, although it was a bit self-indulgent I wondered whether other people might be interested in My Quite Boring Life. Over the course of two or three years I built up a sizable subscriber base (although I didn’t call it a subscriber base, obviously, or I would have had to punch myself) and I put older stuff on a website with a strange logo that was an animated graphic of a bloke in a golfing jumper doing the twist*.
At one time – was it 2000 or 2001? I can no longer remember – The Independent made The Smoke Website of the Week (most likely because of the logo of the bloke in a golfing jumper doing the twist). It was suggested that I do something with The Smoke. Make a book. Turn it into a ‘proper’ website. But the impetus behind it – walking around the streets of London and noticing mundane yet remarkable things then making connections where none existed – motivated me to write The Groundwater Diaries, my book about walking the routes of buried rivers in London. I had intended this to be a kind of rambling and ramshackle diary (spotted a theme yet?) crossed with a sort of Walking With Wainright type guidebook.
The common thread throughout An Urban Country Diary is (I hope) my belief in the beauty of the mundane, my love of saluting to magpies, the joys of stationery and my faith in the unifying properties of old urban pubs.
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