John Rogers presents The East London Writers Club

Shake the High Road Leytonstone

Really looking forward to this event I’m hosting at the Luna Lounge on Saturday as part of Shake the High Road – a day of music in Leytonstone. ‘John Rogers presents The East London Writers Club’ (a club that doesn’t actually exist) features three fantastic authors that I’m chuffed are appearing – Will Ashon (Strange Labyrinth, Chamber Music), Travis Elborough (The Bus We Loved, Long Player Goodbye & many others), and Neil Fraser (Over the Border, Long Shadows and High Hopes – the life and times of Matt Johnson & The The). Should be a fantastic day – Steve Davis (yep, the snooker legend) is even DJing later in the evening.

 

Interview with Gareth E. Rees author of The Stone Tide – adventures at the end of the world

The Stone Tide – adventures at the end of the world is the new book by Gareth E. Rees, author of Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London, both published by Influx Press. The Stone Tide finds Gareth adrift on the coast at Hastings in a dilapidated dwelling stalking the occult secrets of this uncanny stretch of shoreline. Below is an email exchange where Gareth tells me more about the book.

Stone Tide - Rees

[JR] Hi Gareth – last I heard you were yomping over Hackney Marshes with your dog. How did you go from Hackney to Hackney-on-Sea?

[GR] Hi John – thanks for this!

Firstly, I’d fervently dispute the ‘Hackney-on-Sea’ tag – it’s not something I recognise or accept as a description of this deeply idiosyncratic town. If ‘Hackney-on-sea’ is synonymous with ‘Shoreditchification’ – eg a term to describe any place in which low property prices have attracted an artistic community, with some attendant regeneration, then as a blanket term for that particularly economic and social phenomenon, it could apply, I suppose. But that would then also apply to Margate, Folkestone, parts of Manchester and other regenerating areas of the UK.  However it is a highly reductive description…. Hastings is totally different to Hackney in so many ways – the music, the pubs, the pace, the attitude, the topography, the folklore, the history. You don’t get frenzied surf guitar gigs for free on Sunday afternoons in Hackney, you don’t get mass scooter gatherings in Hackney, there’s no Jack in the Green festival in Hackney, no Mardis Gras parade, no October bonfire night to commemorate the burning of Protestants, no Pirate Day, no Morris Dance-offs at dawn. I see a lot of these “Hackney-on-Sea” Guardian-type articles about Hastings and they all seem copied from each other – they’re clearly not written by people who have spent any time here. They’re lazy snapshot churnalism and they’re quite offensive to the people who’ve spent many years, or their whole lives here.

There are people I know here who used to live in Hackney, of course, but also many other parts of London, and a large part of the Influx is from Brighton, Bexhill and other parts of Kent. When you’re in a pub or at an event here, there’s a mix of locals, tourists and newcomers that you don’t get when you got to gigs and pubs in Hackney. There are no City types here. Very few people live here and commute to London every day, it’s too far and the train is too slow.

The reason I’m here? Extreme financial events forced me and my wife to make a big decision in 2013 and move away from London. This move would allow me to write more books like Marshland (Influx Press), which was just about to be published at the time, and my eldest was just about to start primary school so it seemed the right thing to do. My wife wanted to get into interior design, and it was the existence of a small community of designers and artists in St Leonards that flagged this place up for her. I just went along with it. I was traumatised by having to leave London, which had been my home for 15 years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life, and a place I considered home. My only stipulation was that if I was to leave the open space of the marshes, I wanted to live by another open space, and you can’t get more open than the sea. So yes, with very low house prices at the time, Hastings was where we headed. It took my a while to get over London, but I quickly fell in love with Hastings, and not for any of the reasons I loved London. It’s a very different beast.

Gareth E Rees photo by Kelly Wilkinson

Gareth E. Rees – photo by Kelly Wilkinson

[JR] I take note of your objection to the ‘Hackney-on-Sea’ tag, my sister lives in Ramsgate and I think somebody has already dubbed it ‘Dalston-on-Sea’ for similar reasons. Funnily enough it was Iain Sinclair I heard refer to Hastings as ‘Hackney-on-Sea’, I believe he lives and writes some of the time in St. Leonards whilst also still living in Hackney (‘That Rose Red Empire’). Andrew Kötting has lived in St.Leonards for a number of years, and isn’t Michael Smith there too – seems to be a cluster of topographically-inclined writers-filmmakers there. How does the place feed into that sensibility?

Can you also tell me more about Stone Tide and how it differs from Marshland?

[GR] I didn’t realise Iain Sinclair said that. I suspect he was being provocative. Sinclair has an apartment in Marine Court, a huge 1930s seafront building modelled on the The Queen Mary ocean liner. Kotting is here too and Michael Smith, who also runs a wine shop with his girlfriend Jess, the basement of which plays host to regular nights of experimental film, electronic music and storytelling, known as Weird Shit.
I tried out a great deal of The Stone Tide at those gigs, using the small audience as a kind of sounding board. This is partly why the book has such a conversational style, and why there’s so much comedy in there. Performing parts of the first draft live stopped me from getting too indulgent or gloomy, and remembering the reader and their desire to be entertained.
Hastings encourages artistic endeavours because it’s so small, you can quickly connect with other artists, plus there’s a culture of regular free gigs in pubs, basements and indie cinemas that allows us to easily perform, share our work and collaborate with each other.
Whether the topographically-inclined have a particular attraction to Hastings & St Leonards, I don’t know. But for me, the place is a dream for landscape writing – you’ve a multiplicity of topographies, from the shingle shore to the high sandstone cliffs and rolling downs. Within a quick train ride or drive there’s Pevensey Levels, Romney Marshes, the drowned forest of Pett Level and the English desert that is Dungeness. Tucked inside the town of Hastings there are many delights – hermits’ caves, masonic graves, ruined mock roman baths, waterfalls and stone pyramids. A treasure trove really.
The Stone Tide is a sequel, of sorts, to Marshland. I’m still the narrator, Hendrix (the cocker spaniel) remains my sidekick, and the beginning of the book deliberately refers back to my experiences walking the marshes every lunchtime for five years. Upon moving to Hastings, I kept up the habit, taking long digressional walks, soaking up the sights and sounds, seeking out local stories.
Where it differs to Marshland – aside from the location – is that this is not really a psychogeography of Hastings. It was supposed be when I started, but I began to stir up dark forces, both in the locale and in my own past, and the journey went inwards and backwards and to some very dark places, including at one point my own rectum.
The book weaves together the stories of Aliester Crowley, John Logie Baird, Teilhard de Chardin and Charles Dawson (the Piltdown Man hoaxer) – all who lived in Hastings at some point – and also the story of my friend Mike, who died in tragic circumstances in 1996 when we lived in St Andrews in Scotland. At the centre of this narrative whirl is an increasingly unstable and unreliable narrator – me – tormented by guilt and grief, struggling to tell the difference between truth and lies, imagination and history.
Whereas the big threat in Marshland was the city of London itself, its seemingly unstoppable expansion, swallowing up every wild space, the developers moving in at any opportunity… the threat in The Stone Tide is the sea, an agent of climate change, unleashing brutal storm tides, crumbling the fragile cliffs and threatening the nuclear power station at Dungeness. The imminent end of the world haunts the book.

[JR] Gareth this is sensational – I was going to ask more questions but I think we have our ending there.

Readers can go to The Stone Tide to order the book, read the reviews, get the latest news, and find out more about Marshland. It’s also on Amazon or in selected London bookshops. Hastings residents should try Borough Wines, Printed Matter or Hare and Hawthorn.

The Last London – in conversation with Iain Sinclair

Last week at the Wanstead Tap I had the great pleasure to talk to Iain Sinclair about his new book The Last London.

He read a passage about a walk along the Barking to Gospel Oak branch of the London Overground, a walk that I accompanied him on for a short section through Leytonstone, on the morning of Donald Trump’s US election victory.

“My theories at the time of Lud Heat, deriving from E.O Gordon, Alfred Watkins, John Michell, Nigel Pennick, were about lines of force connecting the churches, making patterns, and provoking crimes, rituals visitations, within an unregistered sphere of influence. What I now understood, in steady rain, on this morning of political madness, tracking an inoperative railway to a place nobody wants to go, is that the walks we are compelled to make are the only story. Walks are autobiography with author.”

Iain Sinclair the Last London

photo by Keith kandrphoto.com

Iain Sinclair’s work has had such a profound influence on London writing over the last 30 years at least, an influence that has stretched into film and visual arts. He synthesised a way of understanding the city and helped codify a new form psychogeography, distinct from its intellectual French roots. He expanded on the background to his hugely influential book Lud Heat:

“There was a period when you were able to absorb so many eccentric influences from all over and it goes back for me to a kind of collision for me between cinema and poetry which were my twin obsessives when I was very young and coming to London to be in film school and beginning to do long rambles and wanders and generally just to find one cinema to the next, whatever it was, and later as a gardener realising that the structure of these churches were enormously powerful and were in some ways, if you looked from the top of Greenwich Hill, connected. London was an irrational city but with rational plans put on top of it at various times generally doomed to fail in their own way but to become part of the story of the city.

I got very intrigued by that and from those kind of interests emerged a hybrid form of writing that was live day-to-day reportage of what I was doing as a gardener in an exciting part of London that I was only beginning to discover. And secondly then having the time to research the churches and their history in places like the Bancroft Road Library, which is sort of more or less gone now, which is a huge resource of local history and the librarians were so knowledgeable, they’d open up dusty boxes and show you all this stuff. It all fused together into a kind of writing that combined wild speculations, satires to do with the awful way the workers were treated down there and the idea that these jobs would disappear and that the landscape itself would disappear because we were treading on the ghosts of the future Docklands, ghosts come from both sides you know, ghosts of the things you find in the past, the ‘scarlet tracings’, but there were also ghosts of the future and they met in that landscape.”

Listen to the full audio of the conversation above.

Iain Sinclair and John Rogers

photo by Keith kandrphoto.com

 

Photos by Keith Event photos by Keith www.kandrphoto.com
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Along the Loughton Brook through Kate’s Cellar – Epping Forest

Loughton Brook

Out on Sunday for one of those late afternoon/early evening wanders in Epping Forest – that time of the day and the weekend when ventures further afield have been ruled out by domestic dithering. My son is feeling lethargic but still up for a stroll and we’re keen to find a new route that doesn’t take us back to the unlimited soft drink refills in the Royal Forest at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Following the Loughton Brook seems like a good place to start.

Loughton Brook Epping Forest

The Loughton Brook meanders through this lower portion of Epping Forest before making its way through the suburban streets of Loughton to its confluence with the River Roding. The steep sandy banks and gentle curves of the brook are beguiling and we criss-cross our way over the wooden bridges and hopping across narrower sections. According to the Essex Field Club, “the sinuous curves may be the result of the balance between energy and friction when a low energy river moves fine sediments down a shallow gradient.”

From looking at the paper Ordnance Survey map the source of the Loughton Brook appears unclear – it could either emerge in Wake Valley or perhaps percolates through pebbles, gravels, and bagshot beds in Great Monk Wood. From there it flows down through the Forest feeding Baldwin’s Pond to the spot where we stand south west of Loughton Camp.

 

a prospect of loughton brook

Searching online for a definitive answer to the source of the Loughton Brook takes me to a series of GCSE teaching resources where the Loughton Brook apparently features in the GCSE Geography paper. My inquiries also lead me to Spaceship’s hypnotic and richly evocative new album ‘a prospect of loughton brook’.

The album traces the course of the brook “from source to mouth” and in the sleeve notes Mark Williamson of Spaceship gives a precise description of the location of the source, “rising just over the Epping New Road from Wake Valley Pond. On the opposite side of the highly embanked road Lower Wake Pond is drained by a clay culvert from which springs a trickle of water.” Added serendipity to this glorious discovery is given by the fact that the binaural and hydrophone recordings of the forest and the watercourse that blend beautifully with the instruments on the album, were recorded over a January weekend when I too was walking in the forest around Loughton Camp.

 

Debden Slade Epping Forest

Spotting a narrow footpath leading alongside another rivulet running downhill to the Loughton Brook, we change course heading uphill through Debden Slade, said to be a corruption of ‘Deadman’s Slade’, and Kate’s Cellar. This area of the forest was apparently named after a hermit named Kate and Google Maps seems to attribute Kate’s Cellar as the name of the stream that we walk beside. Oddly neither Debden Slade nor Kate’s Cellar are marked on the Ordnance Survey Explorer 174 Map.

Debden's Slade Epping Forest

We rest on a tree root just the other side of Epping New Road and I reflect back on the event I hosted last Tuesday evening with Will Ashon at the Wanstead Tap discussing Will’s new book Strange Labyrinth – Outlaws, Poets, Mystics, Murderers and a Coward in London’s Great Forest. Will Ashon was a great person to chat about Epping Forest with in front of a packed room, and now I imagined him walking with us in the forest. I kept seeing him clambering up trees and answering my stream of questions about pollarding, the enclosures, and a whole host of things we didn’t get to on that great evening at The Wanstead Tap.

Strange Labyrinth takes you on a ramble through Forest lore not unlike a good schlepp in Epping Forest. It presents many facets of our beloved woodland – as a place of solace and reflection, a place of fear, and a landscape of magic. The persistent theme for me was of the forest as a last resort of the Outsider – from the Elizabethan playwright Mary Wroth through Dick Turpin, TE Lawrence, actor Ken Campbell, and anarcho punk guru Penny Rimbaud.

I visited Penny at the legendary Dial House near Ongar, as it happened a few days after one of Will Ashon’s visits there, in 2015. I asked Penny why he thought there was an increased interest in Epping Forest. He said he thought it marked “a form of return, a return to enchantment”. And Strange Labyrinth captures that “enchantment” perfectly.

Kate's Cellar Epping Forest

Aware that it was approaching the last hour of daylight we started to make our way back down Broom Hill and through Loughton Camp. The wonderful Dave Binns had mentioned in the Q&A at the Strange Labyrinth event how he had stumbled upon a set of low mounds and trenches outside the main boundary of Loughton Camp. Now with my son I thought that we had accidentally ambled into the same location – perhaps a secondary enclosure beyond the wooden palisade that would have topped the exterior of the Iron Age earthwork. We looked at it from various angles and checked our positioning on the Ordnance Survery app but it was inconclusive. Epping Forest, this ‘Strange Labyrinth’, still retains its mysteries. Perhaps that is part of the enchantment that keeps drawing us back.

Kodak Mantra Diaries – Iain Sinclair

Kodak Mantra Diaries Iain Sinclair

Kodak Mantra Diaries, Iain Sinclair’s cult record of his time with Allen Ginsberg in the London summer of The Congress on the Dialectics for the Demystification of Violence in 1967 – has just been given its first hardback edition by L.A. publisher We Heard You Like Books some 45 years after Iain first published it through his Albion Village Press. Interestingly the book also includes new texts continuing Sinclair’s fascination with the Beats. And having loved American Smoke, this alone makes it worth buying a second copy of this previously hard-to-find classic.

Here’s how We Heard You Like Books describe Kodak Mantra Diaries:

For two weeks in 1967, London’s Roundhouse hosted The Congress on the Dialectics for the Demystification of Violence, a counterculture happening showcasing R.D. Laing, Gregory Bateson, Emmett Grogan, Stokely Carmichael and Herbert Marcuse. The event’s acknowledged star was Allen Ginsberg.

As he pronounced to radical England, Ginsberg was followed by a young filmmaker with a commission from West German television to produce a documentary on the poet. That filmmaker’s name was Iain Sinclair.

Four years later, Sinclair gathered his notes and photographs of the experience and published Kodak Mantra Diaries on his own Albion Village Press. Wrestling with his brush with the poet and 1960s radical politics, Sinclair produced an astonishing prose debut, setting the template for his later works of non-fiction.

We Heard You Like Books is pleased to present the first hardcover edition of this little seen classic, accompanied by new texts which track Sinclair’s continuing fascination with the survivors of the Beat Generation, and record random encounters in the years that followed his initial engagement.We Heard You Like Books

Spirit Roads

Spirit Roads Paul Devereux

“There was an almost universal and abiding belief of great antiquity that spirits cannot cross flowing water, and that rivers were boundaries between the realms of the living and the dead.”

– from Spirit Roads by Paul Devereux

I find two pages of notes inside my copy of Spirit Roads by Paul Devereux. The yellow American size paper dates the notes to sometime around 2010-11 when I was occasionally making work trips the U.S. It’s a fascinating and compelling book, Devereux a key earth mysteries researcher for many years.

He writes about the ‘cognised landscape’ – the mapping of mindscapes that were projected onto the physical landscape in past times.

“Any worldview is dependent on the context to which it belongs”. Belief systems projected into the landscape as “invisible mental structures”.

Countryfolk, Devereux tells us, believed they shared the land with spirits – the Church preached that the spirit left this plane altogether for another, non-physical realm. There was a clear link between ghosts and locality that the Church denied.

Stiles were said to be the favourite perches of ghosts – if you sat there through ‘stile divination you could interrogate passing ghosts’.

“the virtual spirit paths traversing the folk mindscapes of old Europe”.

A Walk in Victoria Park with Travis Elborough

It was the hottest day of the year (so far) when I joined author Travis Elborough for a stroll around the eastern half of Victoria Park in Hackney to talk about his book A Walk in the Park. The heat caused dogs to wallow in the Burdett-Coutts drinking fountain like furry urban hippos.

Travis is a wealth of information and the walk drew not just on the fascinating history of Victoria Park – London’s first purpose-built public park – but on the broader history of what Travis refers to as a “people’s institution”.

a walk in the park elborough

We visited the monkey puzzle tree which links back to Victorian plant hunting expeditions to South America, and the corner of the park once known as Botany Bay – apparently as it was the hideout of criminals. We dropped for a chat at the Bowling Club and baked in the English Garden and had to resist the temptation to jump into the Model Boating Lake.

Listening to Travis explain how modern parks had evolved from the fenced hunting enclosures of Norman barons to the public spaces of today – now under threat from government cuts – it seemed apt that our chat took place in the shadow of the large green fenced area of the park reserved for a series of musical festivals.

I can’t recommend this book strongly enough – a fascinating stroll through the cultural history of these beloved open spaces that we all too often take for granted.