Pierce Penniless

By numbers here from shame and censure free,
All crimes are safe, but hated poverty.
– Samuel Johnson, ‘London’

London is a dirty city.

It is dirty in the plain sense: a day spent in its streets, and you acquire the film of grease and universal muck stubbornly ineradicable from even the most advanced of cities. It is dirty in the noirish sense too, remarkably at ease with corruption, full of hood-lidded surprise that anyone would be so gauche as to think back-room deals and palm-greasing even worth commenting on. There are different kinds of dirt: the respectable black patina of centuries of industrialisation in the folded robes of saints on ancient churches, coating the walls and domes of London’s universities; the dirty windows and unemptied bins of the poorer districts. And, of course, the worst dirt floats and festers at the very top.

This theme – the ecology of…

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