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.


Moleskine and The Family Friend

Two treats from Italy this week. Yesterday a package arrived from Milan from Modo e Modo containing a new Moleskine in replacement for my current notebook with the pages falling out in great chunks. I followed the guidelines on the excellent moleskinerie site, sent in a description of the problem along with photos. Monday I received an apologetic email from Modo e Modo followed by a new notebook yesterday. Very impressed.

Monday I caught Paulo Sorrentino’s new film ‘The Family Friend’ (L’amico di famiglia) in the London Film Festival. Visually very arresting, set in a town of De Chirico arches, fascist state architecture, a landscape made famous by Fellini. There is a scene, a beauty contest, which seems to directly reference the public celebration depicted in ‘Amarcord’. I’ve been in such places, descibed them in an unpublished travelogue. It’s the other side of Il Bel Paese. The foggy flatlands of the Po Delta. A land of small (abusivo) apartments built outside the walls the historic town centres, along streets with broken pavements and the incessant sound of farting Piagio Bravos and cholic kids. A very long way from the sun-drenched olive groves of Chiantishire. Sorrentino’s central character is the kind of person that feeds upon the unhappiness that festers in such places. A grotesque little man of apparently without a heart who refers to himself as Geremio ‘Heart of Gold’, a moneylender, a Shylock, a Fagin. He preys on the poor and the vulnerable and is ultimately undone by hitherto unknown feelings, for woman he has abused, not unlike Zampano (Anthony Quinn’s character) in ‘La Strada’.

Metaphors are laid on metaphors – women playing volleyball in slowmo, a naked girl sleeping in the park, the choosing of ‘le bomboniere’, the gold foil wrapped chocolates that Geremio eats. After an hour totally immersed in this world I found myself strangely unsatisfied at the end despite the retribution meted out to the heatless Geremio. The final chapter seemed to hurry to its conclusion, too keen to provide a simple resolution. It was close to being a great film, it’s a brave adventurous effort that may struggle to find an audience outside the cinephillia of the LFF.

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The Soapbox Cabaret

Received an intriguing email the other day. Somebody wanted to know about my political-satirical musical agit-prop revue ‘The Soapbox Cabaret’ for ‘a book’ they were researching. Instantly flattered I hastily replied that I would gladly open up the Soapbox archives and had only recently discovered a recording of our last performance, at The Greys, Brighton in September 2000.

I sat back and wondered what the book could possibly be about. Obviously a Labour Party related project, maybe looking at the various forms of anti-Blairite dissent that have emerged during the New Labour dictatorship. Or maybe somebody attached to the Glasgow University archive of political song. Whatever is was it would obviously be some obscure political, probably academic, publication. The writer had even managed to mix me up with the other lefty John Rogers who works for Unison. They knew their fringe Labour politics alright. They’d been a regular at conference in the late 1990’s. Maybe they’d caught the show at the Hackney Empire Studio, or the Riverside Studios, read my articles in Labour Left Briefing or The Morning Star. Recognition at last. I could explain the progression from a theatrical show based on briefing papers and political speeches performed in a political environment to my work that uses the landscape as a performance space were the script is a series if mythical-historical markers. Planning applications and urban design statements the new source material. Dario Fo the common inspiration (“Everything has its origins in the place we are born”) – folklore, place, heresy, buffoonery. I’m toying with a embarking on a thesis around this idea.

As I related this to my colleague at work in an excited manner I saw a possible chink in the story. I realised that a member of our dedicated cast has gone on to an impressive level of achievement and fame he’s also no stranger to the pages of other Red Tops (i.e. not the Socialist Worker or Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!).

I googled the writer’s name still half expecting to find her attached to an erstwhile academic institution. I felt slightly sick as the list of stories of a quite unacademic nature filled the screen filed for the Daily Mirror.

I sent back an email asking if she could tell me a little more about the book. It was just possible that her research of my famous friend had brought my show to her attention and had spurred her on to engage in a piece of serious writing, leave her tabloid past behind her and write the definitive guide to political comedy; ‘From The Buffonati to The Soapbox Cabaret’: the minstrels of Berne to the Labour Party Conference Fringe Revue.

Her reply was prompt. It was a biography of my famous friend. An unauthorised biography at that, it’s already available for pre-order from Amazon, so it was too late to persuade that my idea for the grand book of comic dissent was a more worthwhile project. Oh well.

Ten minutes later the right-on political comic Jeremy Hardy walked into my place of work. “So Jeremy, did you think of trying comedy to defeat the Israeli army, you see I’ve got this idea for a book……”

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City Notebooks and the Mystery of the Moulting Moleskine

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Invited to an event at the Conran Shop supposedly launching the new Moleskine City Notebooks. I was hoping to blag a freebie, recompense for the moulting Moleskine that I’m using at the moment, chunks of pages falling out with nearly every excursion. I sent an email to Moleskine enquiring how this might have happened to such a legendary journal, it rather casts doubt on the claim that they were the choice of Bruce Chatwin on expeditions to Patagonia and Outback Australia when they can’t survive an afternoon stroll around Leytonstone.

The flier for the event, ‘Detour, The Moleskine City Notebook Experience’ boasts a quote from Walter Benjamin: “Not to find one’s way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one’s way in a city, as one loses one’s way in a forest, requires some schooling…” By announcing the City Notebook with a quote from the great codifier of the art of the flaneur is to suggest some kind of link between the two, between the experience of allowing oneself to drift through the urban realm drawn by invisible forces into uncharted quarters, dormitory suburbs, slums and ghettos, arterial roadside communities, “journeys outside the timetable”. It seems to be touting to be the accompaniment to the ‘Mis-Guide to Anywhere’, and ‘The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel’, now that flaneury and psychogeography have become a new kind of weekend City Break bookable through the Guardian Travel supplement.

I had to go on a minor derive within the Conran Shop to find the Moleskine City Notebook, the exhibition having only a tenuous link. It opens with a series of fold out maps that venture no further East than Whitechapel, not beyond Camden to the North nor Kensington to the West. It is very much an open-top bus tour view of the city, a prescribed experience, one to fit neatly between the lines of the book. There are inexplicable detachable stamps with the word London on, to remind you where you are? It is the opposite of David Rodinsky’s annotated A-Z. Perfect for BUNAC gap-year students and Italian schoolkids on a two-week study tour. This is not the notebook of the followers of Walter Benjamin, Patrick Keiller’s Robinson, “the born-again flaneur”. The Conran Shop does sell those, Japanese exercise books at £1.95 a pop against £12.50 for the Moleskine. You can pick up a vintage Ward Lock Red Guide on ebay for around £3 (maps include London and 12 miles around and a Central London plan that covers from Kensal Green to the River Lea) and you’re off equipped for an experience more in tune with the quote on the flier.

I went into Foyles today to have another look at the City Notebook, to see if I’d been quick in my judgement and found something just as bad, The Wanderlust Travel Journal. My travel journals are some of my most treasured possessions, kept in a locked metal box. They were bought locally wherever I was with a note inside the cover to mark the spot “This book was purchased on 25-01-95 in a small shop near the post office in Ubud, Bali for 1200Rp (35p)”. They were filled with boarding passes, laundry receipts, bus tickets, wrist ties, prescriptions in Thai, phone cards, an envelope sellotaped inside the back cover for loose bits. The book itself was a souvenir in its own right, silver hard-backed exercise books in Indonesia, soft leather-covered Indian journals with a cord that wrapped round several times, Italian quadretti blocks. So I can not comprehend the Wanderlust Travel Journal with its boarding passes and various scribblings printed on the page, blank timetables to fill in. Soon they’ll go the next step and transcribe the whole experience to save you the trouble, with generic phrases such as ‘Budha’d out in Borobudur’.

But now I have a greater understanding of why my Moleskine is moulting – it prefers a sedantry life, clean country air, the odd carefully written out ‘To Do’ list, ‘Notes to Self’, not my furious scribbles on rainy city streets, sellotaped wildflowers, being plonked down on real ale covered pub tables. Mind you, I wouldn’t have minded hearing Moleskine’s explanation.

Mobile Clubbing – Liverpool Street

I’ve just received an email from Londonmobs (see below) for what is known as a ‘mobile disco’ at Liverpool Street Station tomorrow. I’ve heard it claimed that this synchronised outburst of dancing in a non-defined dancing space is an act of Situationist detournement. I have witnissed (and taken part in) a stunt of sorts in the same place, with my old mucker Russell Brand dressed as the Elephant Man stopping people for a chat (we were making a gonzo comedy terrorist documentary about the degeneration of Old Spitalfields Market). He was moved on by the police eventually. Wonder whether the authorities will feel similarly challenged tomorrow? Guy Debord will be turning in his grave.

“This time it is Mobile Clubbing And it’s another one, this time it is at Liverpool St Station. 19.24pm What to do :Liverpool Street Station – 19.24pm – 11TH OCTOBER 2006 (don’t be early, don’t be late!) Turn up with your personal stereo or MP3 with your favourite tracksloaded up, ARRIVE AT THE STATION AROUND 19.15
At 19.24pm don your headphones and boogie.
Spread out and use all thespace.
DO NOT WORRY YOU WILL NOT BE ALONE, OH NO!!!! YOU ARE NEVER ALONE !AS SOON AS THE CLOCK STRIKES 19.24, DANCE LIKE CRAZY AND DANCE LIKEYOU’VE NEVER DANCED BEFORE
But you ask, why to dance, how to boogie your rhythm?
Do not be failed we have the answer for your moves
http://www.sumo.tv/watch.php?video=54995
(a history of flashmobs i’m holding @
http://www.sumo.tv/flashmob butI’d love more, please send) (or on the londonmobs yahoo grouphttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/londonmobs/ and sign up for the next one)
The moves are here for you to explore and learn!regards, Z
P.S NO DANCING BEFORE 19.24 DANCE FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN ENJOY!I’ll be putting up images & video on my tv channel @
http://www.sumo.tv/flashmob and would love anyone to send me morelinks and video!”

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Maptalks and Iain Sinclair Talks in the City of Disappearances


I’ve just come across this new monthly night of discussions called Maptalks taking place on my old patch at the Betsy Trotwood. They’ve managed to rope in Geoff Dyer for a discussion about Festival Culture on 11th october. Most relevant to this blog though is the Disappearing London theme sometime in November (“London: a constantly changing city where the past sits side by side with the contemporary. Londoners have a need to document the derelict, the curious and the pie and mash shops that make up our cityscape.”)

Which leads nicely on to the Iain Sinclair edited ‘London, City of Disappearances’ published on October 25, featuring a wonderful piece by the quasi-mythical Nick Papadimitriou (last seen disappearing into a water conduit somewhere beyond Stonebridge Park). I think Sinclair’s also found room for Will Self, JG Ballard, Michael Moorcock, probably Stewart Home, and all the usual suspects. There are going to be loads of events around the launch:

THURSDAY OCTOBER 19 SUTTON HOUSE. HackneyIain Sinclair: Talk on ‘London: City of Disappearances’ 7.30pm

WEDNESDAY 25 OCTOBER’ TIME OUT’ issue focussing on ‘London: City of Disappearances’

THURSDAY 26 OCTOBER LONDON REVIEW BOOKSHOP 14 Bury Place, LondonWC1A 2JLIain Sinclair: Reading

TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER BISHOPSGATE FOUNDATION& INSTITUTE 230 Bishopsgate, London6.30 – 8.30 pm.Launch.Chair: Gareth Evans Open evening: with brief presentations from: Rachel Lichtenstein. Patrick Wright. Sukdev Sandhu. Iain Sinclair

THURSDAY 2 NOVEMBER Iain Sinclair: reading at THE SPITZ. Spitalfields market

FRIDAY 3 NOVEMBER TATE BRITAIN Late at Tate 6.30 – 8.00 pmProposed discussion. Iain Sinclair. Alan Moore. Miranda Sawyer. Will Self.Rachel Lichtenstein. Sukdev Sandhu. chaired by Tim Marlow projection work by Susanna Edwards

WEDNESDAY 8 NOVEMBER GREAT NORTHERN HOTEL, PETERBOROUGH. at 7.30 pm. £7.Iain Sinclair: reading ‘ Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare’s “Journey out of Essex.”(info .01778 342766)

TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER MUSEUM of LONDON 6.30pm Susanna Edwards. Iain Sinclair. Art Happens: ‘London vs the Suburbs’

And if you want to buy any books by Iain Sinclair or about a disappeared London, Chris at Dollyhead Books has some real gems.

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PLAY.orchestra and Tot Hill

Lunchtime today I found myself sitting on a plastic box outside the Royal Festival Hall that produced the sound of a cello when I plonked myself down. People sat on other boxes around me that emitted the noises associated with flutes, violins etc – collectively I suppose we formed a kind of orchestra. The piece is called PLAY.orchestra, although as I sat there as an Oboe I thought Bum Orchestra might not be a bad alternative. You can then download the sound you’ve made to your phone via Bluetooth and use it as ringtone, send to friends, burn to CD or whatever. It’s the second creative use of Bluetooth technology that I’ve come across this week. The other looks like a large advertising stand in the foyer of the NFT (there’s also one in the IMAX) where you can download a clip from one of the many classic CIO public information films currently screening at the NFT. I think the use of Bluetooth as a creative tool and as a means for disseminating artistic material is quickly becoming common practice.

I went over to Westminster the other day in search of Tot Hill, one of the prehistoric mounds of London mentioned by E.O Gordon in her seminal book ‘Prehistoric London: its mounds and circles’. I’ve previously been fixated on the Penton, because I lived about a hundred yards away mainly, but I’m considering a project based around the sites, even if it’s just a walk to link them up. I knew that it was just outside Westminster Abbey but not sure where. Tothill Fields was a feature on London maps till the C18th and is commemorated by Tothill Street. Tothill Fields is now marked by the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (opened in 1986). A friendly Abbey gatekeeper pointed out where the fields (and supposedly the mound) had been and also told me that a telephone exchange had been on the site and an old derelict building overgrown with grass. Westminster Central Methodist Hall sits on one side and was where the first U.N General Assembly was held in 1946. Along with the conference centre, the Abbey and Houses of Parliament nearby this site has maintained its ancient function as a place of congregation and worship for thousands of years.

Round the back of Middlesex Guildhall I found the relocated gate to Tothill Prison. There are several parallels between the Mounds (Penton and White Mound/Tower Hill the others) that Peter Ackroyd describes far more eloquently than I can (‘London: a biography’ p.13-15) but one symmetry he doesn’t mention is that they all housed prisons – Tower Hill probably the most famous in our history, Tothill being one of the more humane apparently and Penton Mound had the Middlesex County House of Correction on one side in Cold Bath Square.

have a look at a couple of photos I took of Tothill and PLAY.orchestra on Flickr.

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