New notebook

Notebook

Cracked open a new notebook in Mayesbrook Park on Friday – always a great moment, peeling back the cellophane, cracking open the spine, scrawling name and address + reward if found on the facing blank page. I’m trying to move on from uniform black Moleskine/Ryman pocket books so picked up this orange number in Book Warehouse on Southampton Row (I uncharacteristically dispensed with the manufacturer info in the park bin) but only once peeled did it reveal a sparkly gleam to the cover and an unsettling textured finish. It started to bother me as I took it out of my bag to make notes on the hoof. This wasn’t good – when trying to distill the essence of an experience of place or the overheard conversations in a Wetherspoons toilet cubicle I don’t need to be distracted by the sound of my fingers vinyl scratching across the cover of my pocket book. It needed masking. I ransacked the leaning tower of product boxes in my work cell till I came up with this combination – the final touch applied in the Red Lion, sealed with a libation of Butcombe’s Haka Bitter. It will also be a constant reminder for the next 3 months to find a use for the footage that I sent off to be processed at Super 8 Reversal Lab.

The death of a Naturalist

Last night I was enjoying a read of a 1948 edition of The London Naturalist and was particularly impressed by a detailed survey of the regrowth of bombed areas of Epping Forest.

I then flicked onto the next page, which just happened to be the obituaries. My night time calm full of thoughts of Holcus mollis and Argrostis tenuis was destroyed when I read:

‘The tragic death of Percy J. Hanson at the hands of burglars at his place of business deprives our Society of another of the dwindling number of members of the old “North London” period.’

So tonight I might target my reading more precisely.

Iain Sinclair – London Overground + Black Apples of Gower interview

I’m looking for somewhere to set up my camera near Hoxton Station, I could also do with a second coffee. Do I gamble that Iain Sinclair will not turn up early or do I delay that additional caffeine hit. I gamble and as I return to the station 5 minutes before our rendezvous time there he is.

We find a bench that allows me to have the station sign in frame. I go to reference my two pages of typed notes, carefully assembled from a binge back-to-back reading of London Overground and Black Apples of Gower but an easterly gust of wind hoists them into the sky and over the high wall into the garden of the Geffrye Museum. Iain laughs. Don’t worry I assure him, the impressions of both books are firmly stamped on my mind, I probably had too many questions anyway – we’d freewheel it, follow the drift of conversation.

Iain Sinclair London Overground

When the wide-ranging chat was done Iain wanted to walk along to Haggerston Baths, a much-loved local resource awaiting the next developer. He was also keen to show me the railway arch mentioned in the book, ‘a good symbol of what swims through these caverns beneath the railway, multi-coloured fish quotations, three or four thousand quid a pop instead of a plate of jellied eels. You can go from your flat, dump your bicycle, have a good work-out, get an appetite, make yourself a better person with some artisan bread, which brings you neatly to Haggerston Station.’

Iain Sinclair John Rogers

The Cyclist and the City: Cyclogeography interview in the saddle with Jon Day

When I opened the envelope containing Jon Day’s Cyclogeography (a beautiful object – pink cloth cover with embossed white and electric blue text) I wondered whether it was a provocation. I’d been sent the book on the basis of my writing about London walking and here was a text penned from the point of view of the one of the natural enemies of the urban rambler. With cycle couriers able to obtain speeds around the tight grid of Soho streets that even Jeremy Clarkson could only dream about you are more likely to be mown down by a bike in some parts of London than a motor vehicle. Puce-faced commuting cyclists shrink-wrapped in lycra and riding the Tour de France in their imagination have now rendered the towpaths of the Regent Canal and the Lee Navigation unwalkable. But I was intrigued by the occluded world of the bike couriers – you see them flash by like sprites but rarely is their society penetrated.

Jon Day makes the solid case for this book up front. After starting to learn London from the saddle during stints working as a cycle courier he began to read the city too and soon noticed that London had been claimed as a walker’s city with precious little from the perspective of the cyclist. As militant a pedestrian as I am, Day soon convinced me that whereas a walker will seek out London’s buried rivers by reading the runes of old maps, for the cyclist the contours of the river valleys are unavoidable, detected not by a dowsing rod but by tightening calves at the end of 80-mile day on the pedal. Not only does the Courier’s livelihood depend on an intimate knowledge of every street and alleyway between the Elephant and Camden and the East End to Hammersmith, but also their very physical survival. They are compelled to live in harmony with the city.

Cyclogeography portrays an intense relationship between the cyclist and the city – nearly elevating the courier to the status of the great hoarders of London lore – the Black Cab driver. Day makes such a beguiling case for the city of the cyclist that I asked him to take me for a ride, at my insistence away from traffic through the Olympic Park and beside the River Lea. It was one of the more challenging interviews I’ve filmed, but that was the point.
This is an important and unique London book – you should read it.

This article originally appeared in 3:AM Magazine