Clash of the Magi


I went to the V&A the other week to catch Iain Sinclair and Will Self having a discussion about psychogeographic(al) writing. I should have blogged this ages ago, well 2 weeks ago when it happened, I know that’s the point of blogs. I’m not an obsessive blogger as you’ll be able to tell by flicking through previous posts.

Here’s a quick précis what was said.
Iain Sinclair again talked about the psycho-politics that he encountered in the mid-sixties. He’d brought this up at the ‘Ah Sunflower’ screening last year, by way of explaining his route into psychogeography. And also mentioned that at that time he’d been far more interested in Alfred Watkins than Guy Debord and was doing loads of Ridgeway walks right up to the time of writing ‘Lights Out for the Territory’. By way of a self-indulgent adjunct here, my own psychogeographic work in High Wycombe led me out to the Ridgeway by applying Sinclair’s idea of ‘nodules of energy’ to my home town. He neatly sums up the main thrust of psychogeographic writing as “the quest for quests”.

Will Self talks about the “power of walking’s destructive ability to destroy the fabric of how we are meant to live in cities.” This has a distinctly Debordian tone, and I might have misquoted him there as I can’t imagine such a skilled wordsmith using ‘destructive’ and ‘destroy’ in the same sentence.

Sinclair then invokes an older tradition, DeQuincy’s idea that within the labyrinth of London there is a north-west passage that takes you out of the city. A theme that was later picked up by Machen I think, in the ‘London Adventure’.
Iain also talked about the role that Thatcherism played in the psychogeographic revival of the late 1980’s as a form of “resurrected tools of resistance, psyche was summoned up”.

It was interesting to sit and listen with the other Magus of the Edgelands – Nick Papadimitriou. Both Iain Sinclair and Will Self mentioned Nick’s name at various points, the only person they both cited except for Debord. Nick resolutely denies the term, ‘psychogeography’ and deploys ‘psychogeographer’ as a pejorative with the same intensity as others invoke old English names for the female sex organs.

Nick was partly the reason for me not posting sooner. We had a day out filming for the documentary about him and his work. Reviewing some earlier footage I had come across him talking about Will Self’s ‘Interzone’ project from the 1980’s after I spotted a photo of a young Will leaning against a chainlink fence at Erith Marshes.

I’ve been mucking around with a website for National Psychogeographic, which although incomplete will grow, so by all means contact me with suggestions for content info@nationalpsychogeographic.com

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Simon Fletcher: A Trot He’s Not: notes on an old comrade


I was intrigued and amused to read the story in The Guardian today that a Channel4 Dispatches report had uncovered that our noble mayor had “links to a Trotskyite faction conspiring to transform London into a “socialist city state”.
If only.
I also used to know one of these alleged Trotskyites conspiring to Sovietise the capital of Capitalism as I was in the Labour Students with Simon Fletcher at City Poly back in the early nineties, when he was President of The Students Union and I was on the Executive and Chaired the Labour Club. If he is now a wild-eyed Trot then that would be quite a transformation – particularly for a fella now drawing a nice fat council tax subsidised salary that another old comrade speculated was in the region of 70-odd grand.
Lovely chap Simon as I remember him and I’d never want to been seen to besmirch his character in any way. But I sniggered into my coffee when I read the following beside a photo of a demonic looking Simon (he was a skinny lad at Poly, like an extra in a Smiths video – see photo, I’m on the right there and haven’t aged much better myself).
“The reports described how his chief-of-staff, Simon Fletcher, began his career working for Tony Benn and won a seat on Camden council in 1993 before becoming involved in Socialist Action. The faction, which sprang from a split in the International Marxist Group, aimed to reconcile its revolutionary programme with cooperation with the Labour party. Its critics claim Socialist Action decided to extend its influence by placing its members in positions of power in a number of organisations.”
Well surely the total failure of any kind of Left-wing influence in the Labour Party today at any level would be testament to the fact that Socialist Action have resolutely failed in their ambition. Hey, maybe they are running London after all, might explain the utter ineptitude of the GLA.

Simon the raging £70k-a-year Trot, was the fella that as President of the S.U. vehemently opposed the student protests that led to us occupying the Poly buildings for two weeks. He ironically viewed it as a Trotskyist manoeuvre and hated the Socialist Workers Party. He was a Bennite like many in the Labour Party at that time, myself included, but more than anything he gave the impression of being a careerist, and why not for a very bright bloke who got a First in Politics and lived and breathed the Labour Party.
I last saw him around the time of the last Mayoral elections looking only mildly embarrassed by Ken’s return to Party that he’d left along with thousands of other activists but who couldn’t bring themselves to rejoin the War Party.

I sense a good old fashioned smear campaign here – a return to Thatcherite style attacks on the Left, ‘Reds Under The Bed’ and all that. And it must just be over the limp Congestion Charge, because otherwise Ken is a model Quisling of the City corporations.

Everyday tale of Gentrification

Rummaging around in a pile of newspapers at home I came across an old copy of G2 contain a brilliant article by Hari Kunzru on the fight to save Francesca’s Cafe on Broadway Market. There was a wider battle against rent rises and an attempt to gentrify the market out of all recognition.
In the light of the discussion with ‘Curious’ Rainbow George on Saturday and the attempt to talk about a successful squatted campaign by George, I thought I’d post Kunzru’s follow-up article about the occupation of the cafe that lasted 4 months. Sadly they were evicted but it demonstrates that the smallest thing, such as the closure of a cafe, can sparked a strong and spirited campaign. It also gives a bit of context to the Class War march through Notting Hill on 3rd November.

A dispatch from Tony’s cafe
Hari Kunzru
Thursday January 5, 2006
Guardian
Though my corner of Hackney has yet to attain a Middle-Earth level of cosmic grandeur, the ongoing battle between local people and the forces of regeneration has been growing in stature. We’ve got our very own Dark Lord, in the shape of a property developer called Dr Roger Wratten, who has an underground island base in Tunbridge Wells and a henchman with a glass eye. Ranged against him is a hobbit-like band of local people, who since late November have been barricaded inside Francesca’s cafe at 34 Broadway Market, blocking Wratten from pulling it down to build a block of flats.
Since G2 first covered the occupation a month ago, No 34 has seen everything from espionage to battering rams. There was a large and rowdy public meeting, at which a (presumably heavily-sedated) council official played the role of ritual sacrifice and was duly mauled by the local furies. Wratten’s wife went undercover into the cafe, where she posed as a supporter, stuck 20 quid into the collection bucket and even signed the petition. When she bragged about her mission to the London Evening Standard, the occupiers (who until then had no idea she’d been there) mounted a cheeky legal defence, claiming that as a director of her husband’s property company, her actions could constitute a licence for them to remain on the premises. The judge took the best part of a day to decide the matter, eventually concluding that though Mrs Wratten’s actions had been “foolish” they didn’t actually imply she wanted the protesters to stay.
Just before Christmas, filled with festive cheer and armed with a court order, a van-load of Wratten’s men arrived at the cafe. They broke down the front door and immediately set about ejecting the occupants. Within the hour they’d taken off the roof and were well on the way to collapsing the whole structure into the basement, watched sullenly by a group of heckling locals.
Unfortunately for Wratten, his men were so eager that they didn’t follow basic safety procedures and by mid-morning the demolition had been halted by the Health and Safety Executive. It was then discovered they hadn’t even bothered to disconnect gas bottles from stoves and heaters, risking blowing much of Broadway Market sky high.
The cafe’s destruction was undoubtedly a low point for the protesters, but demonstrating the sort of perverse determination usually only seen in old war movies, a group of volunteers got up on Boxing Day morning, went into the demolished cafe, cleared away the rubble and rebuilt it. By that evening the occupation was back on. By New Year’s Eve there was a two-storey structure with a back wall and a reinforced anti-bailiff frontage. Francesca’s was reborn.
Since the story broke, journalists from around the world have started to appear at the cafe. The other day I found Der Spiegel taking tea behind the barricades and TV crews from as far away as Australia have filmed the battered site. On New Year’s Day a sermon was even preached at St Paul’s Cathedral, which took No 34 (and Isaiah 35) as its text. “So, if this is our city,” asked Father William Taylor, “where the High Way is not so much a Holy Way but a prime development opportunity for international capital investment, where does that leave us today?”
The battle even seems to be taking on the contours of an international diplomatic incident. The mayor of Naro, the home town in Sicily of Tony Platia, who has run Francesca’s for 30 years, has written to Ken Livingstone, demanding to know how he could allow the demolition of “this famous Italian premises”. La Repubblica and Rai Uno are building the story up into a pan-European grudge match.
Meanwhile Wratten has got court authorisation for another eviction. By the time you read this Francesca’s might be a hole in the ground. Or not …

Fore more on the market have a gander at ‘The Battle of Broadway Market’

To see how the battle for the soul of Hackney continues have a look at The Hackney Independent

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Have you seen London?

I found this passage in HV Morton’s ‘In Search of England’ which expresses a common refrain of the topographical writers of his time – that London is no longer London but a metropolis built over the real thing, maybe that’s what people such as myself and Nick and countless others are attempting, to see or at least feel London: ” Of course, no living man has seen London. London has ceased to be visible since Stuart days. It was then possible for the last time in history to stand among the water meadows at Westminster and to see London riding on Ludgate Hill escorted by her church towers and spires. Plantagenet London must have been the best of all the London’s for the purpose of a farewell speech: a city behind its walls, something definite to see and to address. To-day, even if you climb to the dome of St Paul’s you see not London the City State but London the Labyrinth.”

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Walk to the West End

I needed to pay a visit to Housmans to trawl for ‘research materials’, that was the excuse anyway. I had half an eye on a visit to Leather Lane to fish at the other end of the cultural spectrum at the stall of mass-market magazines at rock bottom prices. But as I started out towards the Lea Bridge Road to catch a No.55 something nagged at me, an urge, a need for a little something else to blow out the cobwebs and get the creative juices flowing. The urge to drift, in the general direction of Kings Cross but essentially “to be bound by no programme”.

I took the standard route to Leyton High Road. There was birdsong in Coronation Gardens, dark clouds over the Lea Valley, the geographical feature I had to cross one way or the other. I found verdant cottages in Dunedin Road where a side road had been blocked with piles of rubbish like Jeremy Deller had dropped by to do a re-enactment on a small scale of the Claremont Road protests. Roar of traffic on Ruckholt Road. The freshly mown pitches on Hackney Marshes whilst over the road is a knotweed wasteland framed by distant suicide tower blocks. The River Lea runs through beautiful somehow, eddying, banks overgrown with poppies and wildflowers. You could imagine the Mississippi ‘River Rat’ Kenny Sawney rhapsodising his way along catching fish and cooking them on a bankside campfire. No wonder otters have moved back in.

Along the Eastway, the eastern entrance to the City is still via woods and bandit country to be approach with trepidation after dark. On temporary metal fencing around overgrown land an ominous “London Development Agency (LDA) Compulsory Purchase Order under sections 12(2A) and 12(2A)(b) of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981″. Beside it is the “Notice of Hearing, To the Defendant, Persons Unknown, Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court Claim No. 7EC03125″. These two important documents have been shoved inside plastic document wallets and loosely wedged in a fence half obscured by weeds on the side of a motorway flyover. The LDA are begrudgingly fulfilling their legal obligations. The law is a minor hurdle to these fellas, they’ve got an Olympics to stage and only £9billion to spend on it. I wonder whether Acquisition of Land Act 1981 is able to be subverted to reclaim and collectivise redundant factories as workers in Argentina have done to startling effect using that country’s compulsory purchase laws.

Over in Hackney Wick the art deco public baths with its separate entrances for Men and Women has been converted into a community centre. I duck into St. Mary of Eton with its great tower. I pick up a copy of ‘neighbourhood focus: hackney wick’ which announces that Hackney Wick is “the new Shoreditch” (that’ll account for the lower case lettering then). Heaven help them, in five years tops they’ll all be priced out by the ‘arts-led regeneration’, the community centre will be converted into loft apartments and the Costcutter will be a branch of ‘Fresh and Wild’ charging £3 for a thimble of pureed grass. If that doesn’t finish the area off, there are plans to drop the Olympic Media Centre in ‘The Wick’.

When I was living in a squat up the road in Well Street in the early nineties the idea of an Olympic Media Centre in Hackney Wick would have been too surreal a vision for even a die-hard space cadet like ‘Mad Martin’ (when he’d overdone the pharmacopia he gave the kids of the estate great entertainment by running over the rooftops of the 6-storey blocks of the estate. It was not unusual to find him on your balcony four floors up holding a geology hammer wanting to discuss the writings of William S Burroughs).

I find myself in Victoria Park. Sinclair country. Out of respect and humility I shall say little about crossing this park where I used to come of a kip and a few pages of Dirk Gently whilst on the Dole. Instead I recommend you read the early chapters of his seminal work ‘Lights Out for the Territory’. Although, I wonder how the plans to transform Victoria Park into a “21st Century Pleasure Garden” went on a water-logged Bank Holiday weekend.

‘The village’ of Victoria Park is all espresso bars, canopies, and yummy mummies pushing designer babies. It was on the way there in ‘92-’94 to be honest, aside from the shooting in the pub by the park gates in the middle of the afternoon one day.

I slope past The Albion where I got horribly drunk one night in a lock-in and ended up drinking with, by accident, the couple who had once lived in the council flat I was squatting. “Ere, he’s squatting in our old flat!” the lady gaffawed to all and sundry across the pub. They managed to wangle a nice little ground floor flat facing the Park so there were no hard feelings (for the intrepid, I wrote an article about this time in ‘Labour Left Briefing’ in 1993, ‘Sad Grads’. For film producers, I have a stonking screenplay based on some of the more colourful aspects of this era and the ‘unconventional’ approach of Hackney Housing department).

I give a nod to the old estate which is getting a long-overdue make-over, note that the launderette that was the inspiration for my screenplay and where my mate Kate lived in a flat above, has made way for a Lidl, meaning either my script was strangely prophetic or I got it all wrong when I had it making way for an amusement arcade (‘Flashing Blips’).

Round London Fields where more yuppy hutches are being erected and down the hopelessly gentrified Broadway Market (I did debate with an imaginary ‘aspirational’ friend about whether the delis and gastro-pubs were an improvement or an example of middle-class colonisation of what was once and staunchly working-class area with a very strong, now nearly extinct, culture all of its own that had no use for olives and pomegranate juice).

I join the Regent Canal here and can’t let go, my metronomic step carrying my along past the slideshow of estates with orange boarded-up windows (quite attractive actually) and on the other side, yeah more ‘luxury’ developments. I’m not going to go on and on about this, take a look at the Islington Working Class Association website instead. By the time I reach Angel at 1.10 my hip joints are reminding me that I haven’t stopped walking since I left Leytonstone at 10.20am. I rest on a bench in Colebrooke Road gardens and remember two things: 1. That Douglas Adams lived here somewhere, 2. That the residents got very upset by people defecating in the bushes.

It’ll be easy enough to drop down to Housmans from here but I have a strong urge to push on westwards, to turn this into a ‘Sandwich Man’ style odyssey. I move on in search of lunch.
I get distracted by Borders. I hear that they’ll all be gone soon, these American book warehouses and replaced by branches of Starbucks selling books. Only capitalism could come up with an arrangement like that. I sit down with a copy of Mute magazine; I’m too tight to pay a fiver for a mag so I’ll just have read the good bits here. There’s an interesting article by Kate Rich on commons, about Amy Balkin’s ‘This is Public Domain’ and the Morningstar Ranch where Lou Gottlieb signed over the deeds to God when the State tried to evict him meaning that they had to indict ‘God’ in the legal proceedings.

Down Chapel Market in full swing and lunch in Alpino. I realise that it could appear that I’m stalking Iain Sinclair as he stops here on his Regent Canal stomps but really I’m just hungry and sentimental (I enjoyed 3 years living over the road till last year).

Past the estate and on to Housman’s for a good old rummage. I emerge about 40 minutes later with Tom Vague’s ‘London Pyschogeography, Rachman Riots and Rillington Place’, the Anarchist Federation’s free leaflet on ID cards, a copy of Labour Left Briefing, a Class War poster and two badges for a friend (‘Hated by the Daily Mail’ and ‘I Am Spartacus’). Good haul for a £5.50. Technically speaking my work is done and to be frank my legs are sore despite the bacon roll and apple pie at Alpino. But I have to go on, the ‘fugue’ is in control (ref: ‘London Orbital’).

Past Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, it’s a lovely day, justification enough for staying on the move. The Aquarium Gallery in Woburn Walk and the Indian Restaurant where I celebrated the birth of my first child alone with a top class curry complete with brandy after. Through to Fitzrovia, enigmatic area this – Patrick Hamilton country and parts still feel down at heel. The old Middlesex Hospital is all boarded up prior to the inevitable ‘mixed-use redevelopment’. A film crew is taking advantage of the deserted wards and operating theatres. Cleveland Residencies has the look of the kind of place where Hamilton’s young ladies of dubious morals boarded.

Wigmore Street leaves me more convinced than ever in the need for a Class War. Strange that, because turning into Marylebone High Street I don’t feel the same level of anger, more a kind of mystification. The designer Polo shirted couples spilling out of Waitrose and making for their Chelsea Tractors don’t come across so much as hateful but stupid, “you’ve been had” I think, “blowing all that money here, just because you’ve been told it’s the place to shop”.

I carry this slightly superior air past Daunt books which nearly makes me pass it by, luckily I caught a glimpse of the glass dome at the back. I would have regretted missing it’s galleried travel room at the back stacked with pamphlets and chapbooks. I even got a phone call from bookdealer Chris Berthoud by chance.

The walk is coming to an end, but still I stop off in Paddington Street Gardens where children play amongst the tombstones. I cross over to Mayfair and see the new defences around the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. I was watching the footage of the violent, bloody 1968 anti-Vietnam War protests that happened here. The Golden Eagle hovering over the Embassy roof seems to be keeping a watchful eye over the troublesome London mob. I read a while ago that the Yanks have had enough of protestors and archaic tenancy agreements, they’re off out to the sticks to hide behind an even bigger perimeter fence. We’ll be able to have our square back.

It’s the final statement in this walk through the story of ‘property’ in London. The travellers’ site by the allotments, the LDA Compulsory Purchase Order, Hackney gentrification, Council Estates turned over to Housing Associations, flats condemned and boarded up to keep out squatters, Georgian and Victorian parks and squares, the hospital converted into executive apartments and exclusive (chain) retail outlets, the estate of the richest landowner in the realm, the foreign embassy with its fences erected to keep us out.

I make it to Oxford Circus by 6pm,a full working day spent on the move, and more accomplished than 8 hours at the desk gazing out the window looking for inspiration. Severe delays on the Central Line, I come crashing back to reality.