Panjandrum


Is there nothing that Nick Papadimitriou doesn’t know about London? Under the guise of his troublesome alter-ego he left a comment on this blog about a curious device known as the Panjandrum. It was developed to explode mines on the Normandy beaches during D-Day. It was constructed in secret right here in Leytonstone (by Messrs. Commercial Structures ltd.) and transported to Westward Ho! to be tested. A journey I make myself a couple of times a year as my parents live just down the road from there. Another case of geographical synchronicity (another note on my autopobiography). Thanks Nick.

Wandered into the 491 Gallery today as they were setting up a new exhibition. They were quite happy to show me round as they hung pictures, adjusted projectors, installed installations. One_Artisland kicks off tomorrow and runs till Monday. Make the most of the 491 whilst it’s still there, London Underground want the building back and the word is that they’ve got less than a year before eviction.

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Saturday afternoon perambulation

From Cathall Road there is a near perfect view cleared by the M11 Link Road. At an height level with the steeple of St. John’s you can scan across the speculative skyline from Canary Wharf to St. Mary Axe (it’s an alignment that the London Psychogeographical Society could conjure something from: St John = Baphomet/Isis, pyramids, obelisks). Late afternoon full moon. Across the top of St. Pat’s tombstones Lea Valley pylons against a red sunset. On Water Lane there’s ‘The Brothers Fish Bar est. 1966’ chips and cheer wrapped in greasy paper, in my imagination opened to commemorate West Ham winning the World Cup. I wander into the porch of Ithaca House on Romford Road – The Working Men’s Hall and Club Rooms 1865. A lady tells me that it’s now all martial arts, body mind and spirit etc. She was unaware of its age or original purpose. Old Labour replaced by the New Age Brigade. In her work-out gear she views me with suspicion through the door, me a working man, son of a gardener, grandson of a miner. A quick google shows it to have been bought for £1 by the Independent Newham Users Forum.
Wind up in the gentrified King Eddie. My cheese and onion crisps arrive as Double Gloucester and Red Onion Kettle Chips. The saloon bar where we sat on the floor in 1989 has distressed wooden tables, floorboards, smoochy tunes and a Heston Blumenthal inspired menu.


Wanstead Park

We cross onto the flats from Bush Road near a tree which has had its trunk burnt hollow. My 3 year-old explores. Into Wanstead Park over a dried-up brook (Aldersbrook?). We come before a mighty oak, the kind that arouses pagan senses. H says “It’s just so feminine, it’s fertility, like legs spread open”.

We come to the Heron Pond where the light reflects off the water and ripples on the underside of the leaves of a low hanging oak. Wanstead House is gone but the avenue of trees remains to the Temple.

The grand house that was visited by Elizabeth I, Samuel Pepys, Horace Walpole, from where Mary Tudor rode into London to be crowned, gone, a grassy mound. Joggers and cyclists, two power walkers with iPods. “Several Martyrs were sought out from the Forest during Mary’s reign…. John Rogers the first of them….” (‘Epping Forest’, W. Addison 1945).

Off the Map with Pete Molinari at the Sheep Walk E11

I sit here at 12.15pm with “Off the Map” spinning on the turntable, Pete Molinari’s signature pressed into the cover but 25 minutes ago. In old media terms this is ‘hot off the press’. I’ll transcribe my notes as honestly as possible.

8.45pm What’s Cookin presents Pete Molinari’s album launch at their night in the upstairs room of the Sheep Walk E11. One end of the room is like an altar to Tex Mex/ Americana via Honolulu (maybe the link is obvious to those in the know but I don’t remember seeing Johnny Cash in a Hawaiian shirt) – gold lame pleated drapes, garlands of flowers hanging from the ceiling, potted palms and ferns, red flower fairy lights, 1950’s lampshades and candle-holders. It’s ‘Blue Velvet’ without the psychosis, a corner of Graceland, a forgotten country singer’s trailer pulled up on a dustbowl roadside. Not a face in the room under 30, lots of sideburns and the odd quiff, charity shop shirts. The two fellas in front in discussion about a song playing – the be-quiffed one gets up to speak to the DJ, examine the sleeve notes, returns to his friend, argument not settled he goes back to the DJ for clarification. The boys are character studies not used for Nick Hornby’s ‘High Fidelity’ (Cusak was too relaxed, not OCD enough) – vinyl obsessives who could sail through the notoriously impossible Record & Tape Exchange Staff Entrance Exam (I failed twice).

Billy Childish’s discovery of Pete Molinari in Chatham is like a Medway re-invention of the Jeff Buckley creation myth (but give me Molinari any day). And the tone of the evening is given a distinctly Medway feel by the when the mic is taken by Wolf Howard doing a set irreverent-punchline poetry. Delivered in 1981 this would be great, quite good in ’85. Amusing for 5 minutes in 2006. The room love him, he has them quiet and laughing – with a gig audience that is an incredible achievement. I realise that my two years of running and MC-ing a poetry night (Brixtongue) has made me hate live poetry. But his book title “Journals of a Jobseeker” is much better than the one for my forthcoming self-publication “Mink City Journals”, I may have to reconsider.

There is something wrong with my bladder – every time I piss I want to go again. I was one of the first in the room, now it’s packed but I notice that I have about 3 feet of space all around me, maybe one of my boys peed on my trousers today (they certainly have poster paint on them), or is it that a man scribbling in a notebook scares people. This evening makes me wonder whether the counter-culture has the ability to manifest itself physically anymore. As soon as a gathering happens that on paper marks the cultural fringe, it becomes ‘reasonable’ and ‘ordered’, filtered and mediated. If such a thing as a counter-culture still exists it must be in cyberspace, from a bedroom or a park bench via WiFi.

I guess Kris Dollimore isn’t with the Medway Mafiosi as he plays his blistering Blues to a noisy room that the poet had pin-drop silent. The noisy corner should take their cue from the great Bluesman Billy Childish who stands rapt in the performance.

The Blues and the beer are getting me into the spirit of the evening at 10.30pm. A fella in a suit drunk dances away. In this most multicultural of boroughs the audience is 99% white – that’s an observation not a criticism.

Molinari starts up with a broken-hearted voice, a Dylan comparison does him no justice at 40 years distance and the fact of living in this Blair-World where to wear a red hat and sing folk songs is to get you on some MI5 watch-list. I think back to the arc-lights I saw flicking off the shore line as I passed through Chatham on a train early one morning – if you were looking for cultural references here you’d be bound to look West, to plaid-shirted pioneer stories, coast to coast journeys hopping on and off freight trains. The M11 outside the pub is recast as The Lost Highway. The duets with Billy’s wife Julie are beauty itself. I’m lost, I’m sold, I’m off the map.

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Penton Villa

Penton Villa, Leyspring Road. It struck me straight away. I used to live just off Penton Street, Islington, and have written before on this blog about the significance of the site. This is partly based on the etymology of the word Penton (derived from the Celtic to mean rising hill or spring) and E.O. Gordon’s idea of Penton Mound being one of the great mounds of London. Of course the other explanation of the Penton reference is that the land was originally developed by the C18th landowner Henry Penton, hence Pentonville Road.

So what is this Penton Villa doing in Leytonstone? In Leyspring Road as well – enough to arouse the interest of any crypto-topographer. Does one explain the other. Ley = “a field covered with grass or herbage and suitable for grazing by livestock” , and there is still pasture land at the end of the road and cattle were grazed there till quite recently I think. The name of the road though probably came from Leyspring House “Away from the High Road, “Leyspring House”, a fine house with a spring in the courtyard, stood in 33 acres of ground stretching from Browning Road and Bushwood to Mornington Road.” No link to Henry Penton but the spring is there and Leytonstone sits upon high ground as the fantastic views of the city from Gainsborough Road and Blake Hall Road testify (a quick check on google earth shows that the woods at the end of the street are at a similar altitude to Penton Mound 112 ft to the Penton’s 138ft). So a spring on rising ground. Another link back to the Penton Mound is the significance of a spring on high ground near an oak grove being a likely place of Druidic worship, and there are clusters of oak trees just off the end of the road on Wanstead Flats that would have spread much further before the area was heavily developed. As Peter Ackroyd writes: “It is known that in prehistoric worship a holy place was marked by a spring, a grove and a well or ritual shaft.”
What firmly places this in my autotopobiography is the fact that there is another Penton Villa, in Tormoham, 1 mile west of Torquay in North Devon (see comments) not far from where my parents live. And this in turn leads us back to Islington and this blog with the naming of streets and buildings around Rosebery Ave and Grays Inn Road after places in Devon (the link being the developer James Hartnoll from Devon).

note: I recently realised that Penton Villa is in fact in Lister Road and not Leyspring Road. The etymology is too good to resist though and I shall cling onto that chain of association on the basis that Leyspring Road is just around the corner and it is still likely that Penton Villa sits within the old Leyspring Estate. On the hand I’m giving up on indulging in any associations that may arise from the recent conviction of two men who were operating a gun-making factory in their Lister Road house.

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