By Our Selves – Andrew Kotting & Iain Sinclair back on the road

Last night to the Hackney Picturehouse – the cinema occupying a building that was squatted in recent history by some of my old associates from Frampton Park Estate. The occasion was a rare one – the chance to see some work-in-progress footage from the latest Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair collaboration, By Our Selves.

The project is a retracing of the ‘peasant poet’ John Clare’s Journey out of Essex when he walked from the asylum at High Beach, Epping Forest, where he was a patient, to his home in Northamptonshire. Sinclair covered this ground in his book Edge of the Orison but the film and associated live art events are no mere wandering documentary from page to screen, no BBC4 style lecture with occasionally moving images. Nor is it simply a sequel to their brilliant two men in a swan pedalo film Swandown. Kötting does the 3-day schlepp dressed as a folkloric Straw Bear led on a string leash by celebrated actor Toby Jones playing Clare. Sinclair appears by the roadside in some of the footage – English Heritage should really pay him to continuously walk around the M25 and up the Great North Road. Jem Finer once again contributes a jaunty, haunting soundtrack of synthetic birdsong and refracted instruments. Alan Moore manifests on a bench reading Clare’s poem I Am.

 

The day after I’m still haunted by the sounds and images – the procession of masked figures beating drums behind the straw bear parading through Epping Forest, John Clare/Toby Jones reading a boxing magazine sat on the side of a field-path (Clare was a boxing fan). The psychogeographers dream ticket of Kötting and Sinclair looks set to deliver another vital  post-millennial vision of England.

 

The project is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to finish the edit – you can back it for the price of a couple of pints.

Here’s Iain Sinclair talking about his journey for Edge of the Orison on Newsnight in 2005 which includes a snippet of footage that I think was shot by Radio On director Chris Petit

 

 

Over Pole Hill

I‘d taken a mazy path from Woodford Green, through Knighton Wood, across Whitehall Plain and onto Station Road Chingford for a bag of chips munched on a bench at Chingford Green outside the Assembly Hall which was hosting a performance by the Ex-Servicemen’s Wives Choir. It was like the 1950’s.

Pole Hill Chingford

A path in the car park at the rear of the Kings Head pub led to the summit of Pole Hill. I was breathing heavily as I came upon the clearing and soon realised that the view would be significantly better in winter when the bare boughs wouldn’t obscure the vista.

Pole Hill obelisk

 

 

 

The stone obelisk bears two plaques. The highest records the association with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia – forever in my mind Peter O’Toole garbed in white and directed by David Lean) who bought 18 acres at the top of Pole Hill where he planned to build a house where he and his friend Vyvyan Richards would print his now famous work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The dream remained unfulfilled but they did build a hut with a pool where Richards lived until 1922.

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The second plaque – well you can read it yourself – but I take this as meaning that Chingford Green isn’t the land that time forgot but the place where time began. It wasn’t the 1950’s down there – it was the year 130.

I don’t know why some annoying pedant has scribbled that “This is not the Highest Point in Ldn”, nobody claims that it is to my knowledge, a portion of the population of Chingford deny that it’s even in London – refusing to acknowledge the 1963 London Government Act that brought the area into London from Essex.

Yardley Hill

Moving on through Hawk Wood I then made the steep ascent of Yardley Hill through a field of buttercups to fantastic views down the Lea Valley and westwards over the Northern Heights.

Lea Valley view from Fernhill Wood

Skirting the huge Scout encampment at Gilwell Park and surviving a narrow country road with no footpath that appears to be a where the speed limits of 4×4 vehicles are tested, I was rewarded with this view from the edge of Fernhill Wood – creation smiling upon Brimsdown.

Sewardstone

I came down off the hill into Sewardstone (named after, “Seward, a great Saxon thane” – Village London 1883) just before 9pm.  Just beyond the edge of London, a place where the buses stop running at 6.23pm. Sewardstone is an oddity – the only area outside Greater London with a London postcode – E4. I’d long wondered what was out here, the lack of detail on the OS map is matched by the reality on the ground. A couple of farms, a row of houses and a pub with a nice garden … oh and a Premier Inn.

McDonalds Waltham Abbey

My only desire had been to hit the outer limits of London through the forest, to land on a name on a map like a game of ramblers monopoly. But now the reality of finding some transport back into town hit home. The only thing left was to take the long road schlepp in the dying light towards Waltham Abbey.

The peaceful A21 that bypasses the town centre is as tranquil as the hills and certainly safer than that death track by Gilwell Park. The MaccyD’s on the Middlesex/Herts border, now a familiar waypoint on recent Lea Valley wanders, shows the way to Waltham Cross station and the return to London.

Urban Druid

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I recorded this video on a walk in Epping Forest last November – ruminating of the idea of urban druidry. I’d just bought Living Druidry by Emma Restall Orr – I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a Druidry correspondence course for years, initially tickled that such a thing was even possible but then increasingly drawn into the idea of connecting with some form of environment based faith system (you can put that down to impending middle age if you like). But every time I dip my toe in the pagan pond it always turns up ethereal folk swanning around in Wiltshire or somewhere similarly scenic and Arthurian.

Ambresbury Banks

Ambresbury Banks

Well for me there is nothing more Arthurian than Epping Forest – one of the candidates for the real King Arthur was knocking around these parts, Ambrosius Aurelianus, who re-fortified Ambresbury Banks up near Theydon Bois. But getting away from supposed previous Golden Ages why can’t druidry be just as relevant to a dirty old city like London as to the chalk downlands and sweeping green hills.

In my mind though, when I entertain the idea the Urban Druid it looks as if it would be to druidry what Tony Hancock’s artist was to the art world in The Rebel.

 

 

Andy Ross – Almost People

Andy Ross - Almost People from fugueur on Vimeo.

Last Sunday evening my old friend Andy Ross came over to Leytonstone to make a video previewing his debut album Almost People, which was produced by ex-Stereolab drummer Andy Ramsay at Press Play Studios in South London.
Andy was my room-mate in a terraced house in Forest Gate when I arrived in London from the Chilterns back in 1989. We had both rocked up carrying guitars that we could barely play but that didn’t stop us spending the next 3 years writing songs and forming a band with the rest of our dubious bunch of housemates who had little more musical apptitude than us. We were a parody of a late Thatcher student band with songs like ‘Block of Concrete Flats’, ‘Brian Walden’ and others too cringe-worthy to set down here.We carried on writing music for a bit after leaving Poly, recording songs on borrowed four-track machines, but I wandered off on my travels (buying a guitar on the way) and that ended our musical collaboration.
But Andy has perservered and honed his craft over the ensuing 20 years and he’s now made a really beautiful album. It was a genuine treat for me to be able to rekindle the collaboration in some form but this time with some proper songs that don’t have titles that sound like they had come from the pen of Rick from The Young Ones
We went up to The Hollow Ponds to catch the last hour of light which I seem to have slightly miscalculated meaning that we were chasing the sunset around the edge of the water. Being a Sunday we ambled round the grounds of the parish church and I grabbed a few images of Andy on the church steps before, out of the gloom, the vicar started shouting angrily at us about the Churchyard being private property and that we should ask permission to enter – no wonder church numbers are dwindling.
Oddly one of Andy’s songs I remember most from Poly days was called Vicar in his Chapel – perhaps it was a prophecy.

Through the forest to Loughton

Headed out this afternoon up past the Hollow Ponds through Epping Forest to Loughton.
I didn’t consult my copy of Buxton as much as I should have to glean the names of the specific parts of the forest – such as Gilbert’s Slade that runs beside Forest School and is a muddy bog for most of the year; and also Rushey Plain that I passed at some point.
Here are few images from the walk