The Future of London


Saturday night I went on the excellent Russell Brand Show on BBC Radio2 to debate with Rainbow George who is trying to persuade Russell to stand for Mayor of London. Now Rainbow George is a bona fide London character, should HV Morton or Gordon S Maxwell be chronicling the London of today I’m sure they’d seek George out. He’s the Hampstead eccentric who as Peter Cook’s neighbour taped over 100 hours of their conversations. He also claimed ownership of his Hampstead mansion after his landlord disappeared, he sold it for £710,000 3 years ago and has since blown it all on his political campaigns.
So really maybe he has a vision of London that we could learn from.
Sadly he offered Russell only a series of poetic puns based on a new currency of Gasps and Wonders issued by the Bank of a Zillion Wonders. Other than that his vision is for a “Brand Spanking New London Party. The transformation of London into an inter-dependent leisure oriented – self-governing cash-free wonder City with Hampstead as its capital”
I’m afraid I gave George short shrift, I invited him to advocate the collectivisation of private assets and he returned to Gasps and Wonders. A Squatter City is far more appealing to me than a Wonder City – which we already have.

Thinking about the Mayoral election and George’s bonkers take on it did make me go back to William Margrie of the London Explorers Club. He had a vision for London and maybe Rainbow George could take a leaf out of his book. This is what he wrote on 1934:
The Metropolitan Free State
“London government is muddle-headed, chaotic, idiotic.”
The Metropolitan Free State will include Greater London and five or six Home Counties and the Thames.
– emulate Mussolini and give Londoners plenty of dramas, pageants and shows to wake them up
– if one wants to do anything important in this stodgy world he must be a realistic artist
– foster local spirit and patriotism by means of art, music, flower shows, and athletic combats

And what was I going to propose you may well ask, well this is what I scribbled down in my notebook on my way to the Great Portland Street studios:
– ban all traffic from the congestion charge zone and grass it over
– promote and subsidize walking as primary means of transport
– no new buildings – there are around 75,000 empty homes in London – turn them over to Squatters Groups
– planning decisions to be based on principles of psychogeography with the preservation of the city’s natural topography to be given special priority
– The recovery of London’s lost rivers of the Fleet, the St. Clement’s, the Walbrook, The Langbourne, the Oldbourne, the Effra, the Ravensbourne, and the Hackney Brook with the digging up of roads etc. where necessary
– Scrap the Olympics
– An annual parade of the ‘Mocking of The Rich’ with the unfortunates of the city to lead a procession through Mayfair, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Kensington and Chelsea (see Class War’s Notting Hill ‘Toffs Out’ march on November 3rd)

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In Praise of Middlesex County Council

The Deep Topographer Nick Papadimitriou has just relaunched his website Middlesex County Council. It’s a brilliant piece of work. An honouring of the county “utilising prose and poetry, photographs and local history lore. ” Anyone who has seen my films of Nick will be familiar with his unique vision of that area of London only sometimes referred to by its proper name.
The films by the way are: A Blakean Vision, Deep Topography with Nick Papadimitriou, Beyond Psychogeography, From Dan Dare to Pornography

The River Run pages represent a detailed study of the rivers of the borough and are an essential read. I have for two years now always had a bundles of dog-eared beer-stained copies of some of Nick’s writing in my bag. The pages can be downloaded as PDFs so that others can too share this privilege.

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Another Lost Treasure of London

Once the tower blocks of the Beaumont Estate have finally been dismantled will they be recorded amongst the lost treasures of London like the Blitzed effigies in the Inner Temple Hall. Doubt it. Who’ll weep for the home of the notorious ‘Beaumont Boys’ who just last year beat a man to death over a drug debt of £1.50 (I think that was the balance to pay, not the whole amount — not to make light of the affair). How long till they are a question on The Robert Elms Show. Do they say more about our city than the effigies that would have only been seen by a select few ever could?

Interview in the Bucks Free Press

Author mourns Wycombe’s loss of identity

ONCE known as a potential safe haven for Londoners during times of catastrophe, High Wycombe is today facing a catastrophe of its own as the town’s identity gradually erodes away, says author John Rogers.
John, who was born in High Wycombe and raised in Wooburn Green, has just published his book, Remapping High Wycombe: Journeys Beyond The Western Sector, which questions the impact of redevelopment on the town itself. The book, and an accompanying DVD, formed part of an 18-month public art project developed by John’s sister, Cathy, and was financially supported with grants from Arts Council England.
The impetus for the project, says John, was the announcement of redevelopment plans in the town centre, a mixed-use retail-driven scheme that was initially called Project Phoenix, but which later changed its name to Project Eden and is expected to finish in 2008.
The 35-year-old, who now lives in East London with his wife, Heidi, and two young sons, is keen to point out that both project names suggest “revival”, but he believes the opposite is in fact true.
John says: “High Wycombe once had a distinctive identity. It was called “Chairopolis” because it was the centre of the chair-making industry. But its industrial heritage is now slipping away and High Wycombe is like anywhere else.
“People say High Wycombe survived the Luftwaffe, but not the urban planners of the 1960s.
“Cathy and I looked back at the headlines from the 1960s and saw the doom and gloom newspapers spell for so-called “development”.
“But those headlines are little different from the ones we see today. We’ve learnt absolutely nothing. And why? Because the drive behind the development is always the same – money.”
John tells me he feared the town would undergo such radical change that in only a few years, his birthplace would become “unrecognisable”.
With the help of his sister, he decided to capture High Wycombe, in words and film, before its transformation is complete, as well as rediscover the town’s “forgotten history”.
John says he also became increasingly interested in psychogeography, or how a place affects people’s emotions and behaviour.
“The basic idea we came up with was to look at the way people connect to an area and how this can be disrupted,” says John. “In recent months, High Wycombe has been described as “a leading M40 corridor town”, because of the new developments in place.
“How is this something we should be aspiring to and how does that affect the people who live there?
“High Wycombe was once known for better things, such as producing two Prime Ministers, the Earl of Shelburne and Disraeli. How many other towns can lay claim to that?”
John adds in his book that he found many other reasons why the people of Wycombe should be proud of their area.
He writes: “Apparently there is a saying that the river Wye gave the town its mills, the mills produced the market and the market gave birth to the town.
“It’s where the early translators of the Bible found support, where Engish Civil War took root, where the Quakers plotted their flight to America, the US Air Force based their Cold War communications; and where RAF Strike Command still rests in the hills.”
With these thoughts in mind, John tells me he set out to “rediscover” the historical High Wycombe for himself.
He discarded his maps and instead embarked upon a series of walks or “drives”, purposeful drifts around the streets of the town that he believed would help him see the town with fresh eyes.
“It was all about seeing past the surface level,” says John. “I’ve travelled a lot in the past, around India and Australia, and I think it’s really helped to heighten my senses.
“I can wander around places with innocent eyes and even the most mundane things are fascinating to me.”
With his trusty camera by his side, John took pictures of crumbling engravings, vandalised bus shelters, picnic tables scrawled with graffiti, sharp razor-wire fences and ancient stone bridges.
Each has come from a different time and has a different purpose, but, explains John, they all make up the High Wycombe of today, and as such, deserve to be recorded in his book.
“My investigation threw up all kinds of fascinating things I never knew before. I discovered an ancient footpath in Green Street, which stretches back to before the Romans, possibly 5,000 years, maybe earlier.
“There’s so many little footpaths everywhere, and who knows where they lead?
“Some seem like they don’t go anywhere, but the important thing is that they once did.”
John says he is proud of his book, if only because it offers a “snapshot” of the town, preserving it before it changes for good. He now plans to return to High Wycombe in future years and document the town’s changes again.
“The main thing is that we found another Wycombe. We found our own town. We ignored the maps and we discovered a town that still has a very strong spirit of place. That can’t be taken away, whatever lies ahead.”
Remapping High Wycombe: Journeys Beyond The Western Sector is currently available exclusively at www.lulu.com/cryptotopography. For more information, log onto http://remappinghighwycombe.blogspot.com.

1:13pm Friday 8th December 2006
By Francine Wolfisz

read the original here

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The Disappearance of Beaumont Estate


John Heron sent me these great pictures of the ongoing demolition of Beaumont Estate. John lives on the continent and I live about half-a-mile away from the estate, but I tend to content myself with the view from my bathroom window.
With the Iain Sinclair edited ‘London, City of Disappearances’ fresh on the shelves, people are busy flagging up the disappearing treasures of the metropolis. Among some of the endangered sites mentioned in Time Out recently were the Butterfly House (where there is a screening this Saturday of films on the theme of the book, including John Smith’s ‘Blight’ about the disappearance of half of Colville Road E11), The Stables Market in Camden, and Hackney Wick allotments (which may be moved to Marsh Lane Playing Fields meaning the disappearance of over a 1000 years of common land rights). Nowhere did I see a mention of Beaumont Estate.

Thanks for the pictures John.

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Journeys Beyond the Western Sector

The Remapping High Wycombe book “Journeys Beyond the Western Sector” is finally available, through Lulu.com. The purpose of the project was to re-map and re-imagine the town as it was going through a period of redevelopment. The idea was to create a kind of parallel scheme, a psychogeographical vision of the area. The book takes the form of several walks or ‘dérives’ – some following prepared routes based in significant sites or old borough boundaries, others using the principles of generative psychogeography. There is a DVD to accompany the book featuring footage from the derives and some interviews we conducted intercut with archive film of Wycombe, which we’ll send to anyone who wants one.

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

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an archaeology of the present

I’m doing a talk with Cathy on Wednesday 21st at Wycombe museum about the Remapping High Wycombe project. I’ve just been reviewing the powerpoint, seeing how we’ve presented our work to different audiences in the past, working out how we’ll pitch it this time. The interesting thing is that regardless of the audience when we talk about the derive, and “encountering the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom…” (Greil Marcus), it always gets a good reaction and people become intrigued about the process. It’ll be interesting to see how the midweek lunchtime audience at Wycombe museum react and what they’ll latch on to.

We’ll also show a map we made from comments posted on the Knowhere Guide, which are quite negative and focus on the violence and racial tension that some people pick up on in Wycombe, and see how people respond to that. Our Mytho-Historical Map is our response:

This talk will bring the project to a kind of conclusion, a year on from the Significant Sites event (almost to the day). We’ve to-ed and fro-ed on this but with the imminent publication of the written material (via Lulu) and hopefully a Dvd to go with it, we can draw a line under the work and move on to something new. Although, I think I’ll still find myself being drawn back by the psychogeographical articulations of the area.

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