Edith Walks – Andrew Kötting, Iain Sinclair and their band of Mummers

Edith Walks Iain Sinclair Jem Finer

Ahead of EDITH: A Performance at St John’s on Bethnal Green  in the East End Film Festival I recall the day I spent with Andrew Kötting’s merry band of Mummers as they started out on their 100-mile pilgrimage to Hastings from Waltham Abbey

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The bird, a raven a rook a crow?, sits on Iain Sinclair’s arm. Iain tells Andrew Kötting it’s ‘a corpse feeder, an eye pecker’, he’ll find Harold on the battlefield, or in this case Andrew buried up to his neck on Hastings beach. Andrew’s suit is a collaboration with his daughter Eden, decorated and annotated for the Jack in the Green festival in Deptford and Hastings. Iain suggests Andrew should be barefoot, ‘What for 100 miles’, Kötting retorts.

Edith Walks Andrew Kotting Iain Sinclair
I’d met up with David Aylward and Jem Finer just off the train out of Stratford – easily identifying them on the platform at Waltham Cross – Jem with his custom-built shopping trolley mounted recorded device, Dave dressed in camouflage fluro. We stop off on the walk into town to pick up some WD40 to lubricate the squeeking sound coming from Jem’s audio jalopy, now wondering about the reality of dragging this thing 100 miles to Hastings.

Edith Walks Claudia Barton Iain Sinclair
We gather around the modest stone monument behind Waltham Abbey that claims to be the final resting place of at least some of Harold’s remains. Anonymous Bosch takes pin-hole photos whilst we mooch around the graveyard. From afar the group has the look of a bizarre wedding party milling around before the service, excited anticipation, taking photos, catching up small talk. These are the final moments before their epic schlepp to Hastings retracing the footsteps of Edith Swan-neck to sort through the hacked rotting corpses on the battlefield at Hastings looking for the remains of her beloved Harold.

Edith Walks Iain Sinclair and John Rogers

photo by Andrew Kotting

My own journey will end at Enfield Lock, cut short by the necessities of parenthood, but Andrew has invited me to gather some footage for possible inclusion in our London Overground film with him and Iain as a mad side journey, ‘Treat it as some kind of crazed vision’, Andrew advises. It found its home in the film with Andrew dressed as the Straw Bear in Brompton Cemetery talking about the experience of walking with Iain Sinclair, how it alters your idea of time, the images of Andrew’s troupe of Mummers wandering through the fly-tipping beneath the M25 fly-over just south of Waltham Abbey perfectly illustrating this sentiment. Some of the footage also ended up more appropriately housed in the film Kotting made of their expedition, Edith Walks.

Claurdia Barton chats idly to Jem Finer about the real historical Edith Swan-neck and her link to the shrine at Walsingham in Norfolk, ‘I like the idea of her being a little bit spiritual and a little bit nut nut. All women in those days knew the power of herbs and a little bit of sorcerey’, she says with a smile. Gliding along the Lea Navigation towpath in flowing white gown she stops to inspect the flowers in the hedgerow channeling Edith’s plant lore.

David Aylward is turning every solid object we pass into a percussive instrument, jumping onto a moored industrial barge knocking out an infectious rhythm. Passing cyclists wonder what madness they have stumbled upon, thinking better of asking and peddling on bemused.

Edith Walks Claudia Barton Andrew Kotting Iain Sinclair
Passing beneath the M25 with Iain Sinclair I have to call along the path, ‘Iain, look, it’s your road’, he smiles and we stop to chat about his millenial yomp around the M25. Iain leads us up the footpath beside the viaduct to a grassy area next to the road barriers battered by London Orbital traffic noise. Anonymous Bosch reclines in the grass taking snaps and shooting video on various devices, I spot at least three.

Anonymous Bosch
I was gutted to wave them off at Enfield Lock. Iain and Andrew suggested I could rendezvous with them further down the route but it isn’t to be. Claudia/Edith picks up the hem of her flowing white wedding gown out of the Lea Valley trail dust, Jem tinkers with his audio device and off they go to Hastings.

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Edith: A performance at the East End Film Festival Sunday 25th June 8.30pm

Andrew Kötting and author Iain Sinclair take another epic journey through England’s buried history in EDITH. Following on from Swandown and By Our Selves (both screened by EEFF) Kötting and Sinclair embarked on a 108 mile walk from Waltham Abbey to St Leonards-on-Sea in memory of Edith Swan Neck, the mistress of King Harold.
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Reconnecting and consoling historic lovers after nearly 1,000 years, the experience has inspired a film (Edith Walks), bookwork and this special live film-music-performance event, incorporating spoken word from Iain Sinclair, with music and soundscapes by David Aylward, Claudia Barton, Jem Finer and Andrew Kötting, set to the spectral images of Kötting’s film. A chance to experience an extraordinary project in the atmosphere of St. Johns on Bethnal Green, with EDITH as their hallucination.

The film Edith Walks is on general release across the UK from 23rd June

 

Grenfell Tower fire protest and march

Two men stood with their backs to the police cordon across Lancaster Road, the burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower behind them. They both held large laminated photos – one with three small girls, the other their parents and grandmother. “I am the Uncle to these three girls”, he told me, Mierna Choukair, Fatima Choukair, Zainab Choukair, “here’s my sister Nadia, that’s her husband Bassem, and at the end is my Mum”. He had received no information from the authorities about them, he still doesn’t know if they survived the horrific fire that as of 4pm on Saturday 17th June the police are saying has claimed 58 lives. The crowd that had gathered earlier on Friday evening at Kensinton and Chelsea Town Hall put the death toll much higher. The BBC’s legendary reporter John Sweeney told me that 100 people had died, when I approached him with my camera on the march between the Town Hall and Grenfell Tower, described by some local residents as “the scene of the crime”.

Justice for Grenfell Tower protest
The man’s brother holding the photos of Nadia, Bassem, and Sirria read out the text messages Bassem had sent from his flat while the fire consumed Grenfell Tower. “At 1.15am Bassem sent a message to his workplace saying ‘Morning guys there is a fire in my building on the 4th Floor and I’m living on the 22nd Floor we are not able to leave the building and don’t know what is going to happen. Sorry guys for letting you down.”
“At 2.41 my sister sent a message to me, a voice message saying ‘Hello Nabil there is a fire in our building we are sitting in our flat, ok bye’, and that was it”. He hasn’t heard from them since and the authorities and hospitals aren’t telling them anything.
Grenfell Tower missing persons
The sense among the crowd that had gathered at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall was one being abandoned, not just in the face of this horrific tragedy, but over years. Of being ignored and maligned. But although there was a sense of anguished grief and anger there was an overwhelming message of unity and togetherness. We stand together in our call for answers and justice, was the popular refrain.

Making our way along Kensington Church Street, Holland Park Ave and Ladbroke Grove, cars and buses trapped in traffic brought to a standstill beeped their horns in support, bus drivers reached out to shake the hands of passing protestors calmly walking up the street. One person directed my camera towards the stalled 328 bus bound for ‘Chelsea World’s End’.

Flowers and candles at Notting Hill Church

As the crowds gathered at the end of Lancaster Road with Grenfell Tower looming behind a lady handed me a bottle of water. She returned a couple of minutes later with a Tuna and Cucumber sandwich. A teenage boy worked through the throng handing out cartons of Capri Sun. Looking at the photocopied pictures of the missing persons taped to the walls and doors of Notting Hill Methodist Church I had to choke back the tears. What has happened here is too terrible to comprehend.

Exploring Old & New Barking – Abbey Ruins to Barking Riverside

There’s yet another new London taking shape on the edge of Barking at Barking Riverside:

“A brand new neighbourhood is being created alongside two km of Thames river frontage at Barking Riverside, one of the most ambitious and important new developments in the UK. Outline planning permission was granted in 2007 for 10,800 homes on the former power station site.”Barking Riverside website

The excursion out to Barking Riverside began wandering through the footprint of the ruins of Barking Abbey, that great powerhouse of early medieval London. I then followed the banks of the River Roding down to Barking Creek and Creekmouth Open Space, before continuing along River Road to the huge Barking Riverside site, finishing at Dagenham Dock Station.

By the Mulberry Tree at Charlton House with Iain Sinclair

John Rogers and Iain Sinclair in Charlton Park

The mirror by the Mulberry Tree at Charlton House made this shot impossible to resist. Being with Iain Sinclair by a Mulberry Tree made me think of the detailed description of the silk trade in WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, silk worms feed on mulberry leaves. I’ve just read the chapter in Iain’s forthcoming book The Last London where he retraces an East End perambulation from Austerlitz with Sebald’s friend, the poet Stephen Watts.

This black mulberry is believed to be around 400 years old, just marginally younger than Charlton House, built in 1607. But unlike the bricks and mortar of the grand Jacobean mansion the mulberry tree is a living being, arms reaching out into the park and the fine public convenience behind by the road.

We were passing through the park filming a thread coming off the Watling Street project, a tributary running off Shooters Hill, another film now taking shape to be presented in the autumn.

Wetlands Trail – Woodberry Wetlands to Walthamstow Wetlands

The approach to Woodberry Wetlands from Harringay Green Lanes was dominated by the, to put it mildly, ‘controversial’ redevelopment of Woodberry Down Estate. The blocks, old and new dominate one side of the horizon around this urban oasis created by the London Wildlife Trust out of an active reservoir. It was only when talking to London Wildlife Trust staff, here to celebrate the first anniversary of Woodberry Wetlands, that I learnt of how this reservoir drew water from the New River and fed it down to the Walthamstow Reservoirs via an underground culvert. It seems incredible that the New River, opened in 1613 to supply London with drinking water still fulfills an important function in the city’s infrastructure.

 

Woodberry Down Estate Woodberry Wetlands

Once the Klezmer Band started to wind down I exited the Wetlands onto the New River Path and slowly followed it down to the edge of Stamford Hill carving a trail along the path of the culvert down to Walthamstow Wetlands at the other end of the pipe.

The New River Harringay

There were plenty of people passing over Clapton Common and I exchanged a few words with some Hasidic Jewish gentlemen about the fate of Tower Court Estate. One landmark that remains is the Church of the Good Shepherd, now a Georgian Orthodox Church, built by the curious Agapemonite Victorian sex cult.

Tower Court Hackney

New signage indicates the intention to create a trail linking the two wetlands. When I next follow this path, after the formal opening of Walthamstow Wetlands, I fully expect to see clumps of backpacked urban hikers schlepping the couple of miles between the two waterscapes.

Woodberry Wetlands Walthamstow Wetlands

Springfield Park is the perfect place to sit on a bench at sunset and watch the world drift by looking across at the dark wooded hills on the eastern flank of the Lea Valley. Revived, I passed Walthamstow Marshes in the fading light to the closed gates of Walthamstow Wetlands due to open this autumn. It took me back to standing at the spot just after sunset in January 2013 when I walked a wide loop from Leytonstone across Leyton Lammas Lands to Wassail the fruit trees in Clapton and Springfield Park before walking back through Walthamstow. With that in mind I made my way along the deserted market for a couple of pints in The Chequers to toast north east London’s new Wetlands.

 

Old West Ham to Stanley Kubrick’s Beckton

Here’s some footage from the walk I did for Chapter 2 of my book This Other London in the summer of 2012, just before the London Olympics – starting in Leytonstone then going past West Ham Church and the site of Stratford Langthorne Abbey onwards to the site of Beckton Gas Works where Stanley Kubrick shot much of his Vietnam War movie Full Metal Jacket.

Beckton Gas Works

I’ve been sitting on over 4 hours of footage shot on the 10 This Other London walks slowly filtering out a few short videos but much of it remains unseen. The video footage, photos and notes took on an almost entirely different form once processed into a book, they’ve served their purpose and can stay in the bottom drawer. But every now and again I’ll dip back into that archive and release some of those raw video notes back out into the world.

You can download the audiobook of This Other London here

Back to Birmingham – City of Surrealists

Screening with the brilliant Video Strolls has the added bonus of a chance for a wander round Birmingham. I’ve blown through a couple of times before on tour with Russell Brand but those occasions were restricted to backstage views of venues and a quick dash through the Bull Ring searching for gifts for the family.

The occasion this time was a screening of London Overground at the Flatpack Film Festival and despite my best intentions I arrive with only an hour or so to explore. Instead of searching out new sights/sites I want to pay homage to the Birmingham Surrealists and somehow connect them to Birmingham’s Edwardian arcades.

King Edward House Birmingham

The crowds are out enjoying the sunshine pitching into New Street. There’s something about the architecture that reminds me of Downtown LA, the fading grandeur of former times. Could Ridley Scott save himself a few quid and shoot the next Blade Runner movie in the midlands, bounty hunters pursuing Replicants along the corridors of King Edward House.

Trocadero Birmingham

I stand outside the Trocadero pub in Temple Street, one of the haunts of the Birmingham Surrealists. I know the Kardomah Cafe is nearby but can’t locate the exact location until Andy Howlett takes me back there after the screening to point out the ghost sign still visible above the entrance to Hawkes and Curtis menswear shop.

Emmy Bridgwater Night work is about to commence

Emmy Bridgwater Night Work is About to Commence (1943)

I move on to the Birmingham City Gallery and Museum to find the surrealists there. The entrance is dominated by Jacob Epstein’s bronze statue of Lucifer (1944-45). After touring the galleries I find a painting by Emmy Bridgwater  Night Work is about to commence (1940-43). Bridgwater, born in Edgebaston in 1906,  was a key member of the Birmingham Surrealists along with Conroy Maddox and John Melville. It’s Melville’s Aston Villa that I spot next, painted in the year Villa won the cup, 1956.

The Victoria Birmingham

Time is moving on as it has a habit of doing when you have somewhere to be and I advance to the venue of the screening, a beautiful art deco boozer behind the Alexandra Theatre. The screening is packed and the film seems to go down well in its first outing beyond London. But once again I depart Birmingham vowing to return for more thorough exploration.