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London Caffs

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review - By Edwin Heathcote. Photography by Sue Barr. Wiley, 2004. 169pp. £9.99

George Orwell's classic Down and Out in Paris and London paints an extraordinary picture of poverty in the inter-war years, writes Ed Dorrell.

One of the most memorable and colourful scenes is of the tramps Orwell accompanies, consuming the only affordable nourishment available: 'a cuppa and two slices of bread and butter'. The reason that this 'meal' was both affordable and popular was because it was served in the huge number of 'caffs' that could be found throughout the capital (and beyond) at the time. But Britain's embrace of globalisation and of multinational fast-food companies has, of course, led to many of them closing in recent years - a trend that Edwin Heathcote claims is accelerating. This, then, is the point of his book. Although it is an entertaining and well-illustrated record of any number of varied greasy spoons, it is more about melancholy - mourning the loss of yet another tradition. Heathcote does not preach or attempt to launch a campaign to pickle these restaurants in aspic - it would probably be too late if he did - but instead makes it clear that the book should be seen as documenting an institution that is fast dying out.

There are increasingly few visual links within central London to the city's early-20th-century social fabric, so Heathcote's attempt to make a record of some that remain should be applauded.

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