Iain Sinclair’s Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire is this week’s Book of the Week on Radio 4 read by Neil Pearson. Brilliant reader that Pearson is, I would much preferred to have heard the man himself reading. Iain Sinclair’s performances are just that – not mere readings, he has such a rich timbre to his voice and seems to have absorbed enough from the Beats to know that a reading of literature should be an event, a happening, a visceral experience.
I had the great fortune of interviewing Iain for the documentary I’m just finishing about Nick Papadimitriou and our relationship with the edgelands of the city. Iain had included Nick in his anthology, London, City of Disappearances, the two men in many respects kindred spirits, “perambulators of the margins”.
From what Iain had to say that day about Hackney, a place where I’d squatted (in both senses) in the early nineties and had dealings in the murky world of local politics (my yellow metal-doored council flat was the postal address for the Victoria Ward of the Hackney Labour Party for over a year), the book will have a resonance far beyond that brilliantly blighted rotten borough, beyond London. It will say much about the condition of city living, the corporate take-over of not just space but our perception of space, the city as lived versus the virtual city as sold by the vulturish property developers and the Orwellian sounding quangos that rule the urban realm like medieval barons.
I think Iain Sinclair will be doing a few events and readings around London in March, I definitely recommend taking one in, make a night of it, watch his ‘Ah Sunflower’ before going out, listen to the audio book of Downriver on the way there and make a night-time pilgrimage to London Fields afterwards.
The doc should have some screenings in April – I’ll post more about it soon.
Walking along Norlington Road I catch a snippet of conversation from the two boys walking in front. They’re aged about 12-14 years old, and the vibe I get is that one of the boys is new to the area, the other has an authoritative tone like he really knows what he’s talking about.
“If you go Hackney don’t tell them where you’re from. If they ask where you’re from say E5 or something.”
The one wearing glasses doesn’t seem to take this in, so the other one has to spell it out for him.
“If you go Hackney right, and they ask you ‘what end you from?’, and you say Leyton, they’ll stab you.”
He delivered this chilling bit of local info as casually as telling him which bus to take to get to Mare Street.
It might be that he was putting the wind up a newly arrived country bumpkin in the way that Aussies used to scare me with tales of Brown snakes in the lavvie when I lived in Sydney. But then one day I did come across a Brown snake outside my front door.
It’s difficult to comprehend how merely giving the wrong postcode could get you killed and how it is an accepted part of the world that kids inhabit.
Sat in The Heathcote last night reading David Boote’s excellent series of leaflets on the Leyton Loop made me think about the walk that I did through Leyton to the West End via Kings Cross in June 2007. I posted a blog about it at the time.
Enthused, I came home from the pub, dug out the miniDV tape and quickly edited together this vid. It’s always difficult to capture the experience of walking in any form – literature seems to have managed it best. Here I tried to film as instinctively as possible as if scribbling in a notebook.
The Heathcote btw was shut tonight due to a gas leak – was it something I did? Not quite sure what I’ll do if it stays shut for a while. Maybe get round to writing up some notes I’ve got on walking that I’d like to share.
Received this by email on the Games Monitor list:
Jules Pipe (Mayor of Hackney) said that if you opposed developments like the Dalston Square then you were part of a ‘keep hackney crap mentality’. But Hackney isn’t crap. Not even close. It doesn’t need property speculators
to ‘make it a nice place’. Don’t take our word for it – come and see for yourself.
On Sunday 28 September we will host a walking tour of Gentrification in Dalston and Hackney Central, culminating in a picnic in London Fields.
While Hackney Council celebrate the Olympics with the ‘Carnival for the Cultural Olympiad’ we will have a look at the gentrification of Hackney that the Olympics will cause. From Dalston Lane to Broadway market we will
take people on a guided tour of dispossession and hear from shopkeepers, residents and the homeless who are fighting to keep their area a place they can live and work in and struggling to survive in this Olympic borough.
On Sunday the 28th of September meet at 1pm at the Dalston Peace Mural on Dalston Lane, (just after corner with Kingsland rd, near Dalston Kingsland Station)
We are looking for volunteers to help organize the event: both before and during the 28th! We need people to suggest tour stops, write pieces for the booklet that accompanies the tour, speak on the day about campaigns, developments, injustices and change, put up posters, tell your friends and help make refreshments!
If you would like to get involved, or know more please contact – email@example.com or
Call 07932 241737
With the Credit Crunch and rising repossessions maybe Squatting will return as a viable housing alternative. I lived in a squat in Hackney during the last big housing slump – moving in shortly after leaving the employ of a large mortgage company where I compiled a ‘bad debt report’ which was like a Kafkaesque ledger of woe.
The law may have changed but squatting is still legal – have a look at these articles
Squatting guide | libcom.org
Just been sat in The Heathcote reading the excellent article by Robert Macfarlane about a “circumambulation” of the Olympic Park with Iain Sinclair. The inspiration seems to have been as much to visit the sites in Stephen Gill’s photographic record of the site in his book ‘Archaeology in Reverse’, as it was to be guided through this well trodden edgeland by the man who arguably put it on the psychogeographical map, Iain Sinclair (since the publication of ‘London Orbital’ in which Sinclair walks up the Lea Valley with fellow celebrity psychogeographer Bill Drummond, you can barely toss a paper aeroplane made from a LPA newsletter in the vicinity of the Lea without hitting a pot-bellied anorak wearing pale-faced fella with a satchel and a notebook). It’s impressive that their tour of the Olympic Park should start in Kings Cross a good 2-3 miles away. But maybe this was to induce a fugue-like state by the time the zone was reached. At that point Sinclair says to Macfarlane, “Right, are you ready for the zone? From here on in it’s pure Tarkovsky.” An although he’s referring to the landscape he could also be referencing the way that Gill’s photographs, taken on a 50p camera, call to mind Tarkovsky’s book of polaroids in the way they capture smudged light over blighted panoramas.
Although Macfarlane doesn’t express it as such, the very nature of the circumambulation is a significant ritualistic act – one again made famous by Sinclair’s M25 trek. When we started the Remapping High Wycombe project we performed the same rite – stalking the contested zone, the redevelopment site (see research video below). Our journeys radiated out from here but always as perimeter hugging drifts, so by looking in from the edge we gain a new perspective on the subject – a motive found in Andrew Kotting’s Gallivant and Jonathan Raban’s Coasting.
It’s interesting that Macfarlane picks up on Gill’s awareness of the activities of the surveyors, the advance guard of any development, and their “street graffiti” spray painted on the ground. He brilliantly describes the way that you are drawn to their strange markings, “you become suspicious of their heavy encryption, the landscape of interventions that they annotate and enable”.
He talks about the “improvised ecologies” among the rust and pollution in the way that Nick Papadimitriou talks of “unofficial ecology parks” sprouting in the corners of disused parking spaces. And the title of Gill’s book ‘Archaeology in Reverse’ calls to mind a phrase that I purloined from a review of Keiller’s ‘Robinson in Space’ of ‘archaeology of the present’.
This is great topographical writing and its connection to what is already an entry in the catalogue of disappearance and the use of a ritualistic circling seems to be further evidence that work such as Gill and Sinclair’s (and mine and many other practitioners), call it psychogeography of deep topography or whatever, is a kind of cognitive behavioural therapy for dealing with a unsympathetic re-rendering of our environment. Unable to stop the abuse we resort to a form of relief, a way of making sense of it, and working out the pain, as Nick says in ‘Inside Deep Library’ that like standard therapy, you must embrace the pain in order to move forward.
For further evidence of the dubious activities of the ODA see this vid I made about the destruction of Marsh Lane Fields
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
Thursday January 5, 2006
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