The idea has been with me ever since I first picked up a copy of E.O. Gordon’s ‘Prehistoric London : its mounds and circles’ – to walk between the mounds on the summer solstice. In her criminally under-celebrated book Gordon describes how the mounds and circles of the British Isles are the remnants of a lost culture. No news there when looking at the solstice celebrations at Stonehenge (30,000 pagan celebrants this year), but London?
The only acknowledgement of the significance of these sites was a record of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids forsaking Stonehenge in favour of performing ceremonies at Tower Hill in March 1963.
I confess that resonance was added by the fact that at the time I lived yards away from Penton Mound at the top of Pentonville Road. But what vision of the city would be formed by perambulating between its founding sites – the great monuments that were at the centre of a thriving city long before the Romans rocked up.
Westminster/Tothill to Bryn Gwyn/The Tower of London to Penton/ New River Upper Reservoir to The Llandin/ Parliament Hill – a day to achieve it in.
In its original formulation this would have been a grand ritual unifying the city led by the nation’s Druids. In this inaugural event it maybe fitting that it is a family affair – just me and my sister.
I meet Cathy on Broad Sanctuary at 2.15pm after a detour to the Widescreen Centre to pick up a role of TriX black & white Super 8 film to attempt a film of the ritual – a 3 minute in camera edited film. We are delayed longer than planned at Westminster – get caught up with the small good natured demonstration on Parliament Square in support of the Iraqi people. We blow the cover of the supposed Heritage Wardens who confess to being GLA employees spying on the demo (there are barely double figures present). We move on over Westminster Bridge leaving the Royal Gorsedd and cut behind County Hall haunted by the spindly Wicker Man that they call The London Eye. Then its down Roupel Street, Union Street and into the quiet. We ponder upon the fetishisation of dereliction as we marvel at some beautiful crumbling relics – one a stone doorway with the word ‘OFFICE’ carved into the lintel adrift in an empty street. I realise that with my focus being on the film it cancels out words – my notebook virtually empty – the whole 2 hour wander to Tower Hill only inspiring a single note – ‘Great Maze Pond SE1’ which I take to fit in with the pagan theme of the derive (mazes being created in oak groves and markers of places of druidic ritual).
We spend little time at Tower Hill/ Bryn Gwyn – along with Westminster/ Tothill – as I feel an overwhelming urge to deny the desecration of the sites by the invaders – the so-called Parliament at the ancient place of congregation and communal law-making and the Prison on the site of the British people’s fortress where the severed head of Bendigeid Vran, first king of this island, is said to be buried. I record them on camera but we move on enjoying the calm City streets.
Into Barbican from Moorgate through the halls and out into Whitecross Street guided by Hawksmoor’s spire on St Luke’s. On Goswell I show Cathy the Mount Mills fortification and we follow the Cromwellian defences through Northampton Square and out to face Lubetkin’s Spa Green Estate. We skirt its perimeter and I then point out the Mount Zion Chapel – redolent of a riff in Gordon that links the British Mounds to their spiritual cousins in Palestine (a few years ago I emailed Mount Zion Chapel to enquire what had guided the location of their chapel – I received no reply).
Cathy leaves me at the Penton to complete the final leg alone. It’s 7.30pm and I should stop for a cuppa somewhere but Islington at that time on a Saturday is geared up for one thing only. Also as I push on along Penton Street I’m too awash in a sea of memories of my happy years spent living here.
The Penny Farthing has been given a confused make-over and is now a restaurant serving an odd combination of pizza and sushi – I suppose they don‘t attempt to trade in on the pub‘s heritage as the true home of cricket – the pavilion for the club that would become the MCC after they moved across town to Marleybone. Change takes on odd forms – a tattoo parlour has opened next to the corner shop that supplied me with cans of beer and emergency nappies.
Down Copenhagen Street and walks (and blog postings) past come back as do trips to playgroups and the wonderful library on Thornhill Square. I get second wind.
Turning the corner into York Way I shoot some of the old station posts that seemed to have survived the coming of the Eurostar. Then the vista of the day – the cleared scorched earth west of York Way – a train slowly moving across the land below three enormous silos – I consider running off the remainder of my film here – a Tarkovskian landscape worthy of its own 50ft of TriX.
Gordon relates York Way’s original name, Maiden Lane to its purpose of leading people to their places of congregation (Maiden Lane that runs through Covent Garden lines up with Parliament Square). I note the street name of a sorry backstreet behind a warehouse – Vale Royal – the last indicator of the rich mythology linked to this area from Boadicea’s last stand to the first Christian Church (in the world!).
I’ve now decided to keep going without a stop till I ascend the top of the Llandin – a continuous yomp from the south end of Tower Bridge. Up along Brecknock Road where the dark ridge of Highgate Woods marks the horizon. Down through Dartmouth Park and I’m there on Parliament Hill Fields. I must be hallucinating because I see a white robed Druid atop the hill – yes. I grab the camera and zoom in – not a Druid but the freshly painted white monument to right of free speech that exists here. I do a kind of stop-frame dance around the stone till the film runs out and the journey is over – 50 feet of film, 10 miles and 6 hours walking.
After the false dawn of socialism that was Ken Livingstone’s eight years in charge of London as Mayor, a bone fide Marxist has made her way into the government of our great city. The Evening Standard made great play of the fact that several members of Livingstone’s team had alleged links to far left groups – despite the fact that, gesture politics aside, this manifested itself in a decidely pro-capitalist regime.
I read with interest today in the Standard that Munira Mirza has been appointed as Boris Johnson’s Arts and Culture spokesperson. Ms Mirza is part of a clique that emerged from the Revolutionary Communist Party now based around the website Spiked Online and the Chianti quafing cabal known as the Manifesto Club.
The Revolutionary Communist Party are best known for their publication of Living Marxism magazine that was closed down after being sued for libel by ITN. They were also notorious in my student days for what was termed ‘horizontal recruitment’ – a flatmate of mine experienced this first-hand after a ‘Troops Out’ meeting above a pub in Islington. Their wrath was mainly aimed at others on the Left and they were so divisive that many believed that the RCP was in fact a CIA/MI5 front organisation. Maybe Munira Mirza’s elevation to the ranks of Boris Johnson’s Junta confirms our paranoid suspicions as it’s not clear what qualifies Munira Mirza in the realms of Arts and Culture beyond editing a couple of dodgy corporate-sponsored reports.
Could it be that the famously fruity Boris Johnson couldn’t resist the tales of ‘horizontal recruitment’ in his attempt to recreate the spirit of the knocking shop that was the Spectator under his editorship.
An anarchist perspective on the London Mayoral Elections: ” We all know politicians are lying, corrupt, self-serving parasites – its time we let them know. This is our London, not their, their party’s or their paymasters’.
– noticeable that the Greens still get left out.
I stopped to chat to the Left List canvassers outside Leytonstone Station the other day greeting them with the line, “I thought you lot didn’t believe in bourgeois democracy”, which seemed to catch them slightly unawares. The SWP must have changed a bit since I was a lad when all SWSS members were thoroughly indoctrinated with the line on the futility of elections. I perused their stall, being a sucker for political paraphernalia, and looked at the latest edition of Socialist Studies that included an article on ‘Reality TV: the Big Brother phenomenon’. “What’s Big Brother got to do with socialism”, I scoffed, before noticing that the lady I was talking to, and at this point looking slightly sheepish, was former Big Brother contestant (and local celebrity) Carole Vincent.
“The London County Council is probably the most remarkable attempt of modern democracy to build a local governing machine which will produce a highly expert staff of bureaucratic specialists controlled by a general council elected by practically every class of the community. The achievements of the London County Council are the results of this great experiment in scientific democracy; whereby we often put in an illiterate slum elector at one end of the machine and turn out an expert administrator at the other.
So complicated has the art and science of government become since men ceased to be wandering hunters.”
G.R. Stirling Taylor, The London County Council (published in ‘Wonderful London Vol 3circa 1920))
the photo shows the Council Chamber at County Hall (before it was turned into an amusement arcade with a McDonalds
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 email@example.com
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”.
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.