Urban Ramble on Absolute Radio with Geoff Lloyd

The other week I took Geoff Lloyd for an urban ramble round Soho for his show on Absolute Radio and chatted about psychogeography, topography, old maps, and the fate of Madame Jo Jo’s.

Have a listen to the podcast here (it starts at around 25.50)

 

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George Orwell and the Walberswick Ghost

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Whilst waiting for a video to render the other day I turned round and took Vol.1 of George Orwell’s Collected Essays and Letters off the shelf and opened it at random on Orwell’s letter to his friend Dennis Collins dated 16th August 1931. The correspondence wasn’t concerned with Orwell’s investigations into the condition of what he refers to as the ‘Lower Classes’ in the letter but ‘a ghost I saw in Walberswick cemetery’.

Collins lived in Southwold where Orwell spent time at his family home, across the River Blyth from the ancient village of Walberswick.  He produced the hand-drawn sketch (above) of Walberswick Churchyard, where the ghost sighting took place, to illustrate the experience which occurred at 5.30pm on 27.7.31

IMG_7695“I was sitting at the spot marked X, looking out in the direction of the dotted arrow. I happened to glance over my shoulder, & saw a figure pass along the line of the other arrow, disappearing behind the masonry & presumably emerging into the churchyard. I wasn’t looking directly at it & so couldn’t make out more than that it was a man’s figure, small & stopping, & dressed in lightish brown; I should have said a workman. I had the impression that it glanced towards me in passing, but I made out nothing of its features. At the moment of its passing I thought nothing, but a few seconds later it struck me that the figure had made no noise, & I followed it out into the churchyard. There was no one in the churchyard, & no one within possible distance along the road – this was about 20 seconds after I had seen it; & in any case there were only 2 people in the road, & neither at all resembled the figure. I looked into the church. The only people there were the vicar, dressed in black, & a workman who, as far as I remember, had been sawing the whole time. In any case he was too tall for the figure. The figure had therefore vanished. Presumably an hallucination.”

He then goes on to talk about making arrangements to go hop picking and the fate of some tramps he’d met.

I’ve always thought of Orwell as such an arch rationalist that it came as a real surprise that he even entertained the notion that what he’d seen was a ghostly apparition.

 


When I wrote the original draft of this post and scheduled it for publication today I had no idea that it was the anniversary of Orwell’s death in 1950 – spooky coincidence

The life of a writer

Offended by the high prices in a second-hand bookshop – £6 for a battered paperback of a recent edition of William Burroughs.

Then I find a copy of my own book.

Deeply offended that it’s only £3.50 for a hardback in pristine condition & signed.

American Smoke meets the London Perambulator

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… By way of Croydon
Supping down some Jamboree in Leytonstone Wetherspoons (does it matter what they are actually called) fresh from Lea Bridge Road so clear from the waters of the Lea I can count my fingers gripping the glass on the far side of the ale – I turn the page and there’s my old walking partner Nick Papadimitriou working himself into a chapter about Corso, and Dylan Thomas dying in New York.
When we were schlepping round industrial estates in Park Royal and Perivale I always saw it as a Beat quest.

London’s Prophet and the death of Peter Cook

Rainbow George Weiss texts me at least once a week. The other day I received one which read, “The Quest for LondonWonderCity will …. all being well begin at the General Election when the People of London will be gifted the opportunity to Vote for their City to become its own WonderCityState with its own electronic Wonder Currency … and much more beside”. Just another Monday.

I first met George in 2007 when I was asked to be a guest on Russell Brand’s Radio 2 show. Russell had asked me to debate against George, who was waging a campaign to get Russell to run for Mayor of London in 2008. He’d successfully enlisted the help of The Sun newspaper and was attempting to get one million people to pledge their support. I confess I gave George’s WonderCity based in Hampstead short shrift but somehow our on-air encounter bound us together.
He continued to badger late-night phone-ins with his vision of London as the centre of an Isles of Wonder. He is unrelenting in his prophesying.
I sat in the Heathcote Arms and watched Danny Boyle unveil his Isles of Wonder to the world at the Opening Ceremony of London Olympics. George was sanguine – he’d seen it all before of course, in one of his many visions while tramping over Hampstead Heath.
When he texted me again on Tuesday to flag the article in The Independent about the 20th anniversary of Peter Cook’s death on 9th January, I decided that the occasion should be marked and proposed filming an interview.

It was my mate Russell, then a lanky Drama School graduate venturing onto the London fringe scene, who’d told me all about George back in 1999. How he’d made a pilgrimage to Peter Cook’s London home in Perrin’s Walk  with his comedy partner in crime Karl Theobald (one of the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with). George had encountered them in the street then invited them inside where he played them some of the hundreds of hours of audio taped conversations he’d had with Peter in 1985. Russell and Karl have never been the same since.

I’d interviewed George before, but he’d been more into pushing a film idea where Russell plays the Wizard of Wonders with George taking up the role of Apprentice Prophet. I was keen to hear about his father, Leopold Weiss, said to be the finest diamond cutter in Hatton Garden and also stories about the ‘real’ Peter Cook. But what I got instead was the tale of George’s lost years in Ireland and dealings with an exorcist in Chalk Farm referred to him by legendary psychiatrist RD Laing.

Finally with the anniversary of Cook’s death looming George was ready to open up on the final days – the dash to the Royal Free at Hampstead hours after Ian Dury‘s son was born (‘one in, one out’, my Nan would say). He had an agenda – the revival of Peter’s What Party with Russell taking on the role of President and leading the people of London into a glorious future. I sat and patiently listened to his plans for a peaceful take-over then read out the text message I’d just received from Russell telling me to make sure George played me some of his famous Cook audio recordings. He relented – but on the condition that I include it in the final cut of the video, ‘Of course I would’, I told him.

He spooled through the tape to these never-before-heard words from the comedy hero’s mouth. A great moment of comedic riffing? Some biting satire? A political diatribe? Revelations about his relationship with Dudley Moore? No. It was Peter Cook calling Robbie Coltrane a cunt. George’s eyes lit up and he laughed.

He texted me this morning to make sure I’d included the clip. I was unsure – what if Robbie Coltrane heard it and was hurt? Also was this the memory of Peter Cook we wanted to give people? ‘

Do you want that to be Peter’s message on this day?’ I replied.
‘One of them, yes definitely!’ he confirmed.

There was much that had to be left out – I got home at 5pm and crashed through the edit whilst still somehow attending to family duties. The rumours of top flight football match fixing, George was a serious gambler in the 1970s and played cards with Lord Lucan. There was also the Captain Kinky story that appeared in the Daily Star and George’s incarceration for selling LSD to a couple of undercover coppers, being labelled one of the king pins of the nascent Acid House scene. I’ll have to dig it all out some other time – once I’ve finished dealing with George’s torrents of texts.