Here’s a video I recorded with Bob and Roberta Smith in a Leytonstone kitchen.
Thursday morning Russell Brand launched the Trew Era Cafe in an empty shop on the New Era Estate, Hoxton. The cafe is a social enterprise aiming to provide support for people recovering from addiction whilst also serving up fresh locally sourced food and drink at reasonable prices (£1.80 for a cappuccino in Hoxton is a rarity). As Russell explains in the video above, the long term aspiration is for the Trew Era to grow its own food locally and Hackney Council have donated land to that end. And the coffee is bloody good as well.
Amongst the opening day throng I spotted Chunky Mark The Artist Taxi Driver who’d driven Russell to the opening that morning and shot a video for his essential viewing YouTube channel. Although I’d only taken my camera along to take a few snaps I couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab a quick chat with Mark in what is now one of my favourite episodes of Drift Report with Mark’s section pretty much unedited.
Last year I was asked to shoot some short promo videos asking people what they thought about Resonance 104.4fm. As a result I ended up with Stewart Lee and Daniel Kitson in a toilet backstage at the Bloomsbury Theatre on Valentines Day.
I was back in the Rotten Borough of Barnet on Tuesday night as my old pal Russell Brand staged a sleepover at the Sweets Way Estate in protest at the planned demolition of the houses by Barnet Council and Annington Homes to make way for … yes you guessed it … luxury flats.
The brutality of the eviction process, which has been going on for weeks, has been shocking as families have literally been thrown out onto the streets. Residents who have been Council tenants for years have had their homes taken from them and offered emergency accommodation elsewhere out of the Borough. Barnet are clearly embarking on a large scale privatisation of their housing stock and a thorough, psychopathic social cleansing project.
The Sleepover was a way of using Russell’s profile to draw large scale attention to the cause which has oddly had little attention in the mainstream press. And it seems to have worked gauging by the number of camera crews and dictaphone toting journos that followed him around like a cluster of ducklings everywhere he went.
And he turned up with an ice cream van dispensing free ice cream of course.
The atmosphere was fun, jocular, playful. They were loads of excited kids running around. One fella had come all the way from Plymouth, others came from Bristol, and Coventry … and there I was thinking about the long journey back to Leytonstone from Totteridge and Whetstone.
Now the fun night has finished we have to keep the pressure on Annington Homes and Barnet Council to end their social cleansing plans for the Sweets Way estate and let the families return to their homes.
I can think of fewer fine introductions to a place than the bus station that greets you outside Newbury Park Tube. This vaulted modernist masterpiece designed by Oliver Hill and opened in 1949 illuminates an otherwise unpromising stretch of the Eastern Avenue with its green cooper-covered roof.
Once I’d finished marveling at Hill’s bus temple I wandered into the peaceful haven of Ilford War Memorial Gardens serenaded by lusty choruses of birdsong from the bare boughs of small-leafed Lime trees that flank the pathways around the garden’s edge. Robins, Blackbirds and Blue Tits make their homes in the trees here which also support clumps of Mistletoe (apparently a rarity in London these days) and bats are known to forage among Lime trees.
The information board says that the gardens form a ‘Connectivity’ with nearby green spaces at Fairlop Plain, Fairlop Waters, and Valentines Park – providing a stop-over for migrating species.
The Memorial Gardens opened in 1922 and the fine hexagonal Grade II Listed Ilford War Memorial Hall followed in 1927 with its slightly Masonic vibe going on in the brickwork and corner carvings.
I’m not entirely sure what drew me in to the enormous Toys ‘R’ Us behind the McDonalds on the crossroads but I came away with a Bilbo Baggins action figure for 96p – to inspire future ‘Unexpected Journeys’ such as this one.
I pass a trophy shop and a newsagent called Fags and Mags on Ley Street and come to an inscrutable Local Government facility ominously named ‘Redbridge Resource Centre’. It sits opposite a grand monolithic electricity generator humming away. With the Ley Street Depot just along the road this is clearly an important part of the civic infrastructure of the London Borough of Redbridge, soon to celebrate its 50th Anniversary since being formed from the amalgamation of the Municipal Boroughs of Ilford, Wanstead, and Woodford, while absorbing Hog Hill from Dagenham and Hainault from Chigwell.
It’s leaden grey and chilly by the time I walk through a side gate of Valentines Park. For some reason I think of Patrick Keiller’s Robinson films – perhaps it’s the birdsong which is even more sonorous here than in the Memorial Park. I lurk beneath some trees and attempt to make a recording on my phone.
The Pavilion Park Café deserves a Grade II listing of its own with its formica tables and plastic bucket seated school chairs. There’s a photo of the café from 1910 which means it might have provided refreshment for Thomas Burke when he visited the Park in 1921 and declared it, “the most beautiful of London’s natural parks”. I’m the only customer as I tuck into my bacon roll and cappuccino, Bilbo Baggins on the table beside me. This is the perfect place to stop and stare out at the world for a bit. To the extent that I don’t notice the café filling up and by the time I leave there’s a decent smattering of parents with young children ordering plates of chips and babycinos.
Every passage through the glory of Charles Holden’s majestic Gants Hill tube station is a treat to savour. Holden designed the station as a tribute to his work on the Moscow Metro. Here beneath the golden Valhalla-like curved ceiling you happily dwell as trains pass through, a place more to pass the time rather than a point of transit. Lingering here you realize Hope resides in the Eastern suburbs.
It’s 10 years since the first walk I did with Nick Papadimitriou and Peter Knapp, which ended around the back of an old industrial building somewhere just beyond Stonebridge Park. We’d been following the course of an underground water main from Golders Green as Nick delivered curbside sermons on how the civic infrastructure of northwest London acted as ‘storage vats of regional memory’.
It’s two years since my last walk with Nick – on that occasion for This Other London where we’d picked up a short section of the water main off Cricklewood Broadway and followed it past St Michael’s Church and across Gladstone Park. So when I mooted another walk and various exotic possibilities were floated it seemed inevitable that we’d end up back somewhere in the vicinity of Stonebridge Park and that Nick’s sacred ley line gurgling through a 48 inch pipe beneath the pavement would play a role.
Alongside the usual digital kit I lug around trying to capture these excursions (camera, field recorder, various mics and associated accessories) I lobbed a copy of Walter Jerrold’s Highways and Byways of Middlesex in my bag. Jerrold had guided me when I walked out from Sudbury Hill over Horsenden Hill through Perivale to Hanwell and in the course of that walk had teased me with descriptions of early 20th Century Hanger Hill and Twyford Abbey. It would make good tube reading on the way out to Stonebridge Park.
When I stepped out of the station to be greeted by Nick he seemed to read my mind, I mentioned the Jerrold and the idea of taking in Hanger Hill and Twyford Abbey was tacked onto the itinerary. We moved along a now overly familiar stretch of the North Circular – a scene I’ve watched back hundreds of times when editing The London Perambulator and also glimpsed when walking along the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union from Kensal Rise to Northolt last Easter. The site where our walk had ended 10 years ago was still a patch of rough ground at the end of a mini-industrial estate. New fences have been erected, diggers chunter round on a large adjacent plot, the old bus is still parked at the end of a long driveway. Somehow despite slow encroachment this corner of London retains a left-behind feel, an eldritch zone where the fences are there to keep something in as much a keep people out.
I’m totting my camera – experiencing things mostly through the filter of a fold out screen, following Nick like this is a disorientating experience – I never know where I am or where I’m going, it doesn’t really matter. Pete seems happy just to go along for the ride too taking snaps with his Lomo Actionsampler camera, although the only action to sample is our plodding along the tarmac.
We gaze into the fast flowing waters of the River Brent beside the Wembley Travelodge then move on along a muddy path through a spindly outcrop of trees that runs beside the river on one side and a council estate the other. ‘Where are we?’ says Nick, ‘What’s this place called?’
‘Tokyngton?’ I venture, having looked quickly at a map before leaving home.
‘No that’s further north towards Wembley’, Nick corrects.
‘Well it must be the outskirts of Alperton’, I suggest.
Pete is looking at the map on his phone but this section of grid is nameless.
Nick spots a Sparrow Hawk gliding above the Brent.
We cross the river and pass through an interwar light industrial estate of low-storey modernist buildings. We stand outside Flexal Springs (1933) and pick apart my erroneous statement that they’re art deco – Pete points out that concrete was the favoured material of European modernists whereas this interwar development seems to be resolutely rendered brick.
We emerge near the Hanger Lane Gyratory – a churning vortex of motor vehicles spinning out of its gravitational field into orbiting suburbs. Long arms of brightly tiled pedestrian tunnels feed into a large central rotunda gathering the echoes of footsteps and conversations into an aural soup. It feels like a sanctuary from the autogeddon above, a safe haven for the traveler on foot. It’s also nice to be out of the rain – the steady drizzle that has fallen throughout the day has hardened into proper raindrops with added attitude.
We shelter in a café in the parade of shops that adorns the gyratory for as long as possible, watching the rainfall intensify and people scampering to the refuge of the subway. Eventually we accept that the downpour is unlikely to ease up and head out in search of Twyford Abbey.
On the way to the Abbey Nick wanted to check in on a mound that he has been fascinated with for around 25 years since he first discovered it. He told us that he suspected it was landfill but he had become enchanted with the large anthills that topped the mound – and I suppose the workings of this ant civilization could have stretched deep into the interior of the mound which if X-Rayed could reveal a vast matrix of ant tunnels and structures, a habitation mirroring our insect life scurrying round the city, although the ant world you imagine would be more ordered and humane.
The rain was falling hard by the time we reached the mound and Nick was disappointed that a fence had been erected stopping us inspecting the state of the anthills. I tried to console him that at least now our insect friends would be left in peace but his disappointment was tangible. Frankly in the driving rain I wasn’t keen on scrambling up a muddy mound to look at ants nests and sought refuge in the underpass.
We passed via the old Guinness factory at Park Royal redeveloped to host the Diageo offices and a new housing development still under construction that comes with the now standard computer generated imagery of the new world to come when all we actually see are piles of grey breeze blocks. A wrapper around the site yells out its ambitious boast not only to place a roof above your head (if you can afford the £420,000 for a one-bed flat) but that you will ‘FIND YOURSELF’, a spiritual quest that I suppose is what drew the Monks to the Abbey across the road.
The Royal Waterside development of 265 luxury apartments within a ‘new neighbourhood’ bemusing dubbed First Central (East Village is bad enough but at least it’s in the East – this is neither First nor Central). Any doubts that such developments are not built to alleviate London’s chronic housing shortage but to suit the overseas investment market are dispelled by the blog on the Redrow Homes website written in Chinese “From China to London Why invest in London property”. Elsewhere on the website, under the sub-heading of “Investing from overseas” Redrow proclaim, “There has never been a better time to invest in London and Redrow London are committed to making the process as easy as possible for purchasers outside the UK.”
Opposite Royal Waterside are the locked gates to the Abbey so we move down the road to survey the site from the grounds of St Mary’s Church. Through the metal grated fence we can see that the Abbey doors have been left wide open – awnings on the balconies flap in the breeze blowing straight through the broken windows. The old Abbey building apparently being blighted – caught in planning limbo, its inconvenient Grade 2 heritage listing being slowly bypassed by the processes of nature till the structure gradually rots and crumbles. But despite the deliberate neglect this ‘cockney-Gothic’ masterpiece retains its grandeur. It was built in 1808 on the site of an old moated manor house with drawbridge, then taken over by the catholic monastic order of the Alexian Brothers in 1902 and run as a nursing home. It was never actually an Abbey.
We lament the vandalism so evident that surely it should be stopped and Pete reads off details of the planning quagmire that has produced the situation with the submitted planning application for building 25 dwellings in the Abbey and 65 in the grounds not complying with the London Plan.
We move on out of the grounds of St. Mary’s to the white traffic noise of the North Circular Road, which along with the building of Park Royal Station in 1903, had sounded the death knell for this rural idyll. Until then the Abbey and the church was all that constituted the village of West Twyford, a place Nick informs us is listed in the Domesday Book. Even so Michael Robbins noted in 1953 that, “Cows are still to be seen grazing in the fields, and it is the nearest place to London where the motorist is requested to ‘Beware Cattle Crossing’.
Our topographical patron saint, Gordon S. Maxwell described a day spent here in 1927 in Just Beyond London under the heading of, ‘The Monks of Middlesex – a haunt of Ancient peace at Twyford Abbey, missed by the growth of the mighty city’.
The city seems to have finally found the Abbey and Nick has found a portal into the past as he suddenly disappears from the pavement through a large gap in the wooden fence where a panel has collapsed into the undergrowth. We follow him to the Abbey grounds where what appears as a long high wall thickly coated in ivy turns out to be a sequence of derelict buildings, what Maxwell describes as the ‘Home Farm’, that provided the Abbey with food. We enter the gloom of the “whitewashed cottage” described by Maxwell through an opening in the blanket of ivy. There is a straw bed where someone appears to have been sleeping. There are large holes in the upper floors giving a clear view upwards through the building to the leaden sky. We look out across the meadow towards the Abbey where the cattle grazed. When Maxwell was here with ‘fellow-author and rambler’ Rev. T.P. Stevens, he saw cassocked monks wandering the meadows and some at work “building a new rick from the new-mown hay”.
We appear to be alone to explore the dark moldering buildings, the only light breaking through gaping holes in the roofs. The ducks, geese and pigs long gone with the monks that reared them. There is a peace here that despite the din of the traffic from the road not more than 20 yards away recaptures what Maxwell described 90 years ago as, ‘a little bit of real country still, a forgotten corner’.
Passing back through the hole in the fence is like time-travel back to the 21st Century, our return greeted by plumes of toxic rainwater splashed off the North Circ by the rampaging hoards of hometime traffic. Up ahead, the second sighting of the Wembley Travelodge is enough to signal the end of the walk as we amble back to Stonebridge Park.
I’ll be presenting a work-in-progress video featuring this walk at the Flat Pack Festival in Birmingham on 29th March
Last week staff at the National Gallery, London held a 5-day strike against privatisation of 400 gallery staff. This is a report I made about the Day of Action against heir to the Getty family fortune Mark Getty, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Gallery who has steadfastly refused to meet with staff and PCS Trade Union representatives. The day started with a rally outside the Sainsbury Wing of the Gallery, currently staffed by a private security firm, followed by a loud and colourful march across Leicester Square, through China Town and Soho, along Oxford Street to the Getty Images Gallery in Eastcastle Street.
The protest in the driving rain was also in support of National Gallery Trade Union Rep Candy Udwin who was suspended by the gallery on trumped up charges merely because she asked how much it had cost to bring in private security firm CIS to the Sainsbury wing of the National Gallery.