Inside the new YouTube Space – Kings Cross London

YouTube Space LondonYouTube Space London

Wednesday evening I went for a look around the new YouTube Space in Kings Cross. There were mini cheeseburgers with halloumi and bottles London Pride laid on. I did an icebreaking exercise with a charming fella who produces a fashion channel full-time and then got chatting to a lad who does tech reviews, a young lady who makes cooking videos and another who does a Disney Channel.

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Everybody seemed impressed by the space which easily outstripped the facilities we had at the small production company I used to work for where TV shows had been made. About a third of the people walked around vlogging with their cameras on selfie sticks which when you think about it makes far more sense than me talking to my camera while walking along the Pymmes Brook through Edmonton.

I started my main YouTube channel 10 years ago this October with a video called Deep Topography with Nick Papadimitriou. When I started working at the TV company the following year the telly people didn’t get it when I told them to start uploading their content to Youtube. How things have changed in those 10 years.

A Walk in Victoria Park with Travis Elborough

It was the hottest day of the year (so far) when I joined author Travis Elborough for a stroll around the eastern half of Victoria Park in Hackney to talk about his book A Walk in the Park. The heat caused dogs to wallow in the Burdett-Coutts drinking fountain like furry urban hippos.

Travis is a wealth of information and the walk drew not just on the fascinating history of Victoria Park – London’s first purpose-built public park – but on the broader history of what Travis refers to as a “people’s institution”.

a walk in the park elborough

We visited the monkey puzzle tree which links back to Victorian plant hunting expeditions to South America, and the corner of the park once known as Botany Bay – apparently as it was the hideout of criminals. We dropped for a chat at the Bowling Club and baked in the English Garden and had to resist the temptation to jump into the Model Boating Lake.

Listening to Travis explain how modern parks had evolved from the fenced hunting enclosures of Norman barons to the public spaces of today – now under threat from government cuts – it seemed apt that our chat took place in the shadow of the large green fenced area of the park reserved for a series of musical festivals.

I can’t recommend this book strongly enough – a fascinating stroll through the cultural history of these beloved open spaces that we all too often take for granted.

East of Upminster – to London Gateway

10am – a whole day’s walk ahead, but no idea where to go – none. I start heading west on the Central Line but with the possibility of branching back east at Stratford Overground or at Mile End on the District Line. Where will I end up at sunset? The Estuary appeals but not Essex nor the train journey out there. I need a river to follow to make my mind up for me.

I find myself at 10.30 on the C2C – a spontaneous decision at Stratford – my departure point decided at the moment I boarded without a ticket to take me beyond the Oyster Card zone which ends at Upminster. I relax with the most difficult part of the day over. I’ll be walking east from Upminster towards the Thames Estuary somewhere. Off the map now for me.

Upminster Wimpy
Leaving the Station it’s hard not to admire the Wimpy Bar – I need to return some day for a Knickerbocker Glory to relive childhood birthday treats. 11am and Upminster is starting to move. I stop for provisions at Waitrose – pork pie reduced to 55p, water, Cornish pasty and muesli bar. That should set me up for the day.

Passing beneath the M25 is the real point of departure – breaking free of the gravitational field of London into lands beyond. The drivers in Essex seem to want to kill you – there is a noticeable upping of the aggression when you walk out of London and emerge in an Essex country road. So the half-a-mile I walk along St. Mary’s Lane is pure terror. I’ve never been so happy to see a footpath as the one that branched off around the edge of a cornfield from a bend in the road – who cared where it was headed. Today would be a case study in the pros and cons of walking outside the city without an OS map – Apple maps lack public footpaths and contours – they merely give you enough of a hint as to where you are and which way you’re headed.

Upminster Level Crossing
The footpath led to a level crossing and then continued up a steep climb chest-high with weeds and thistles.  The going was tough over rock hard plough in the searing heat. I drank most of my water. The footpath dumped me near an intersection of busy A-Roads – 2 miles in and I was nearly done. I decided to follow the A127 for a few miles – cover some ground with my head down beside the throbbing traffic. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

A127 Road to Southend
Twice I failed to find my way off the road – tightrope walking the slip road curbstone and rabbit running the roundabouts just to find myself back on the A127 on the other side. 19 miles to Southend – should I submit to an asphalt yomp and collapse into an amusement arcade at night in the ‘End?

Past a van abandoned on the pavement – all doors wide open, interior stripped bare. Past Brentwood Valeting Centre with the high performance cars queued up for some spit and polish. I had to escape the road.

The B-Road into Laindon went on-and-on, featureless, giving nothing away. I’d been walking 4 hours and was close to despair – write it off as a failed venture and get the train home from Basildon.

I was saved by a bridleway – innocuously enough heading away off the road encased in hawthorn. Two young kids chased Pokemon on their phones. I rested on a tree trunk on the high side of Langdon Recreation Ground munching on sweaty pork products and found the will the push on. I wanted to reach water at some point today – a sunset over the estuary would be a bonus.

Langdon Hills Park
The paths wending through trees crossed the road and take me into Langdon Hills Country Park. I get a rush of memories – school trip to Swanage during the Falklands War, Scout Camp in Hampshire when Liverpool beat Roma on penalties to win the European Cup, the walk in Rendlesham Forest on New Year’s Eve, hill villages in Thailand (from the smell of hay). I was so happy wandering through Coombe Wood, Great Sutton Wood and Northlands Wood that I was mildly amused when it transpired I’d walked in a giant loop back to where I’d begun. At that point I would have gladly seen out the rest of the day walking in circles in the Langdon Hills.

stanford-le-hope footpath
I did though eventually find my way into a field of tall swaying wheat with a footpath carved across the centre which ran into a wood on the far side but then ended beside the A13 near Stanford-le-Hope. I could bare no more roads so stuck to the edge of the field hoping to find an exit.

At the bottom of the field the perfect babbling brook ran in a deep gulley under the cool shade of the trees. I scooped soothing cold water over my head and neck before jumping across and scrambling up the far bank and across the road into Stanford-le-Hope. I’d been out of water for a while in the hot sun and rehydrated at the first available corner shop – sculling a can of 7-Up by the bins outside like I’d just emerged from a trek across the Sahara.
Stanford-le-Hope
There was a clear route open now across the marshes to the Estuary – 6pm and heading towards that sunset over the water.
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That first view of the Thames lapping over the mud flats at Stanford Wharf was priceless. I drank it in thinking now I’d be able to walk eastwards along the river. A family were putting away a picnic they’d had on a single square of sand on the shore surrounded by heavy clumps of salt marsh grasses. The path to Pitsea headed back inland – the sight of a level crossing induced flashbacks to the dark origins of this quest so I turned away. Another path ran alongside a high concrete wall beside the marshland – reminiscent of a similar path back near Tilbury Power Station I’d walked along a few times in the past, so I carried on assuming it would likewise hug the outside wall of the container port on the riverside.

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Ascending a tall set of metal steps at the end I found myself caught in a peculiar pen – on a concrete platform jutting out into the river – the railway line behind me, and ahead the boulders lining the river bank. Refusing to turn back after all I’d been through the only available option was to clamber on over the rocks.
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It soon became clear that this wasn’t exactly a legitimate pathway and could land me straight in the river at the end. There was no apparent exit so I clambered through a clump of thick brambles to a high concrete wall and found a point where, with my arms above my head and a bit of leap, I could attempt to pull myself over the wall.

Puffed out and adrenalized I paused lying face down atop the wall, I couldn’t fall down the other side until I’d worked out the extent of the drop and what was down there. Once satisfied it was safe I allowed myself to fall down into the tall weeds. Blood was streaming down my arms where I’d scraped them pulling myself over the wall. I tried to work out where I was. A building site beside the entrance to London’s new container terminal London Gateway owned by the Dubai government corporation DP World.
London Gateway
I waited assuming that security would be on their way and looked forward to being escorted out, it would be the first time today that I’d be sure where I was going – if I was lucky I might even get a lift, somewhere along the way I’d twisted my ankle and with the adrenalin ebbing away it was starting to hurt.

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But nobody came – in fact there didn’t seem to be a soul around. And so I wandered the deserted new roads of this unnerving preview of the future. This vast terrain of blank box distribution units – the enormous robot cranes that automatically unload shipping containers once the work of tens of thousands of people. Compare this empty wasteland of sleeping robots with those images of the old crowded London docks. It sends a chill down the spine.

London Gateway
I wandered for an hour around the empty logistics park and didn’t see a single human being. Eventually I ran out of road and found myself at a high locked gate. The barbed wire ran into the horizon in one direction. My only escape was to jump a stream and awkwardly and carefully limbo my way between the barbed wire into a farmer’s field ripping my shirt in the process as the final injury of the day.

London Gateway
I did get my sunset. It wasn’t looking over the Estuary though – it was sitting on a mound in the centre of a roundabout at the main entrance to London Gateway – near where I’d clambered over the wall. I sat there with a supper of Co-Op Sandwich and another can of fizzy drink. I was sunburnt, worn out, scratched arms and ripped shirt. It had been a good walk.

Will Self on “under-imagined” landscapes and “embracing the liminal”

Earlier in the year I dug out this unused footage from the interview I shot with Will Self for The London Perambulator in December 2008. He talks about his airport walks – one of which features in the film when I rendezvoused with him and Nick Papadimitriou on the canal near Wormword Scrubs and followed them along the towpath to Perivale, an episode that crops up in Will’s book Walking to Hollywood.

He also mentions some of the walks he’d taken in the past with Nick Papadimitriou –  “bisecting the Ridgeway at the concrete works near Princess Risborough and walking up into hills there, your stamping ground in fact John” – referencing the area around where I grew up and carried out a psychogeography project with my sister between 2004-05.

The walks out to the Isle of Grain, were part of “extending that idea of the liminal out into landscapes, topographies that are under-imagined in that way – the Grain for me was the great under-imagined place even though of course it features in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, it features in Celine’s Mort a Credit, even though it features in Dickens it’s the opening of Great Expectations, not actually on Grain but on the marshes between Gravesend and the Isle of Grain”.

He describes these as Interzonal Walks.

The lure of such interzones is “our willingness to abandon romantic conceptions of both the urban and the rural and to embrace the liminal …. is a sign of that we are prepared to engage with the totality of our environment”.

 

 

Morris Dancing by the sea at Broadstairs Folk Week

Morris Dancing Broadstairs

To Broadstairs for its famous Folk Week. The sense of anticipation built as we walked around the headland from Ramsgate – except amongst my kids who just wanted to go home after swimming in the sea.

Morris Dancing Broadstairs

The Morris Dancers turned the cliff top amphitheatre of the bandstand into Strictly Folk Dancing as each side took to the concrete floor led on by an announcer who seemed overly keen on the sound of his voice through the PA – with the introduction to one side lasting longer than their actual dance.

 

The central streets of Broadstairs were closed to traffic and Hooden Horses wandered the cute thoroughfares alongside banjo slingers tucking into Ice Creams from Morelli’s Gelateria.

Morris Dancing Broadstairs 2016

Morris Dancing Broadstairs

I was sucked into a second-hand bookshop and was about to leave empty handed when I discovered the natural history shelf at floor level and bagged a 1907 edition of Richard Jefferies’ Field and Hedgerow for £2.

New Mounds rewiring the psychogeography of London

Stave Hill Rotherhithe

It was on the Refugee Tales walk that we ascended Stave Hill, Rotherhithe – a peculiar recently constructed mound in the centre of an urban park. Iain Sinclair remarked that we may be entering a new era of mound builders with Beckton Alp (a grass covered heap of arsenic) the Silbury Hill of this new epoch.

Taking in the view from the summit Iain says:
“The triangulation of the Shard, the Gherkin, and this new Omphalos – it’s trying rewire the psychogeography of London and undo the great energy lines and ley lines of Greenwich from the top of Greenwich Hill – this is the alternative thing and it’s deeply sinister.”

The London Hospital, Whitechapel: seen from the northern side

The London Hospital, Whitechapel: seen from the northern side
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Iain then talks about the mound at Whitechapel beside the London Hospital.
“It was built up at the time of the civil war as a defensive mound against the Royalists and it stayed there until relatively recent times,” and although it was demolished “the sense of it is still there”.

He spoke of how the early foundations of London were based on the four principle sacred mounds of London as described by E.O Gordon in ‘Prehistoric London – its mounds and circles’, and the relationship between the mounds “and the geometric patterns that emerged. Now the Hawksmoor pattern that you could have seen from the top of Greenwich Hill has been obliterated by Canary Wharf someone’s got to set up a new system to replace it”, and the Stave Hill mound is part of that system. “So we’ll link this to Beckton Alp, which is a mound of arsenic and a few shells left behind by Stanley Kubrick after re-staging the Vietnam War”.

Iain had found traces of the palm trees Kubrick had planted around Beckton when using it as the setting for Full Metal Jacket. He was on a walk with film-maker Chris Petit from Aldgate Pump down to the sea and they found a strange park near Beckton Alp which had stubs and “dying remnants of the palm trees that Kubrick had imported from Spain to create a sense of Vietnam”.

He took Will Self to the gigantic Woolworths at the retail park at Beckton built on the site of the old gas works – apparently it reminded Self of America due to the scale of the store, “but yet you could actually could get a very good cup of coffee”, Iain laughs, “and a big collection of dvds, I liked it a lot, but then it disappeared.”