London Orbital on podcast and other Iain Sinclair vids

Whilst I’m blogging about podcasts I’m going to plug the Free University of the Airwaves poddies put out by the brilliant Resonance FM. When doing my physio yesterday I listened to noted Walter Benjamin scholar Esther Leslie’s lecture called ‘Spam, Rubbish, Left-over Culture’. She’s got a wonderfully soothing voice to listen to in any situation – perfect though for a battle with an unco-operative post-operative knee – if only I could have piped her velvety tones directly into the traumatised meniscus.
The second item in the lecture, ‘Rubbish’ (4 mins in), is a meditation on Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit’s video response to Sinclair’s epic M25 yomp-verse ‘London Orbital’. Leslie isn’t saying that the film is ‘rubbish’ – this appears to be a reference to the film’s use of found footage and low quality CCTV images – rubbish in the surrealist use of the word – the discarded offcuts and throwaways of the digital age.
She relates to the theme of the M25 being resistant to recognition – it is a repetitive looped image – it is about “erasure like videotape”. One of the themes of the film as I remember it is a discourse on the nature of video, it’s flatness – unsympathetic response to light and texture. This is clearly the reaction of a film-maker(s) schooled in the art and craft of film – Petit’s debut feature ‘Radio On’ is lustrously shot on 16mm Black and White stock by Wim Wender’s cameraman Martin Schaffer. In the voice-over to London Orbital Petit almost sounds disgusted by the images he is looking at in the edit – by the whole idea of video – its disposability.
In the days when everything was shot on film – the ratio of amount of film shot to amount used in the final cut was used as a criteria to judge the effectiveness of the film-maker. It is now an irrelevance with a MiniDV tape costing about a pound and the new generation of Sony High Def cams using no stock at all – just solid state memory cards that are transfered and wiped at the end of the day’s filming. No more physical legacy – no bins of 16mm, no drawers and shelves of tapes – just hard-drives with digital folders of images.
We were teased with similar grabbed on-the-hoof handheld handicam images of Sinclair on a Newsnight item in 2005 where the great ‘perambulator of the margins’ is talking about The Edge of the Orison and the changing landscape of middle England that he witnessed on that Clare walk. Somewhere else I read an article by Iain Sinclair where he mentioned that Petit had joined him on parts of the walk and had brought along a camera. Where is this footage? I was lucky enough recently to watch Paul Tickell’s brilliant film about Sinclair whilst he was writing ‘Vessels Of Wrath’ – the book that would be published as ‘Downriver’. It’s a lost gem – Sinclair reading early drafts of the book in Rodinsky’s dusty Princelet Street Synagogue, the real-life Driffield rummaging in second-hand book shops talking about the art of book collecting and how Sinclair has rendered his life in literary form.
There is also a trilogy of early Sinclair – Petit collaborations: The Cardinal and The Corpse, The Falconer, and Asylum. None of which I’ve seen but written about by Stewart Home.

Writing this post has helped clarify something I was thinking about before I started at the keyboard – how to approach an Iain Sinclair programme of films for the Leytonstone Film Club – I think the programme has written itself almost.

Grab the Esther Leslie podcast from here

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Clash of the Magi


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 info@nationalpsychogeographic.com

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The Outcast’s Burden


During a random revisiting of Penton Mound I popped into Borders – a bookshop I’d previously only found useful as a place to take the kids on a wet day and for picking up a copy of the Lobster. On the way out I was drawn to the dog-eared kicked-around bargain book table piled high with out-of-date software manuals and found a copy of ‘The Outcast’s Burden’. It was the self-published look of it that made me pick it up – all the best writers self-publish. I flipped it over: “A non-fabulous fable…that argues itself into a fugue of club-footed heroism” Iain Sinclair. And inside the map that you see above.
I rushed to the counter with it – parting with a mere £1.49 and took off to the now gastropubbed-beyond-recognition Albion. I’d just read the first manic page when the comedienne Jenny Eclair came to my table to take a chair and asked what I was reading. What could I say? “It’s a splenetic millenial psychogeograpical fable” I replied. “Oooh well, enjoy it” she said.
I drank up and left.

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Iain Sinclair in the Lea

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

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A Medway Cryptotopography

How did I miss the Hidden Medway blog for so long – utter negligence. Even allowing for the author’s natural reticence towards publicity (he posts comments on this blog using various pseudonyms) I should have come across it during my research for Reframing Maidstone. Particularly as I undertook a field trip in Maidstone with the blogger himself. Anyway it’s brilliant and I think a true example of cryptotopography – a notion I floated when we were working on Remapping High Wycombe – but here I think we have the truest example.

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Deep Topography in Leytonstone

More Deep Topographical musings from Nick Papadimitriou recorded and provoked by the National Psychogeographic Film Unit on a walk on the eastern fringe of London through Leytonstone and Wanstead.
After watching our first film, Beyond Stonebridge Park, Iain Sinclair screened an extract at the Royal College of Art alongside clips of films by Chris Petit, Andrew Kotting and Patrick Keiller – company we were pretty chuffed and flattered to be in. He then spoke about Nick and the film when doing an ‘In Conversation’ with Will Self at Tate Britain in October 2006:
“The cinema of John Rogers and Nick is like a combination of…. the physicality of Kotting with the Deep Topography of Keiller.”
Thanks for that Iain.

I am working on a fuller length film with/about Nick and his ‘Deep Topography’. The clip above is a kind of study or sketch, experimenting with a different form to the earlier more spontaneous pieces.

In this episode Nick muses on the “time arc of technology”, how the military are the ultimate “super tramps” and most likely read a bit of Richard Jefferies whilst on exercises, and the wonder of the wood ant.

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Walk to the West End

I needed to pay a visit to Housmans to trawl for ‘research materials’, that was the excuse anyway. I had half an eye on a visit to Leather Lane to fish at the other end of the cultural spectrum at the stall of mass-market magazines at rock bottom prices. But as I started out towards the Lea Bridge Road to catch a No.55 something nagged at me, an urge, a need for a little something else to blow out the cobwebs and get the creative juices flowing. The urge to drift, in the general direction of Kings Cross but essentially “to be bound by no programme”.

I took the standard route to Leyton High Road. There was birdsong in Coronation Gardens, dark clouds over the Lea Valley, the geographical feature I had to cross one way or the other. I found verdant cottages in Dunedin Road where a side road had been blocked with piles of rubbish like Jeremy Deller had dropped by to do a re-enactment on a small scale of the Claremont Road protests. Roar of traffic on Ruckholt Road. The freshly mown pitches on Hackney Marshes whilst over the road is a knotweed wasteland framed by distant suicide tower blocks. The River Lea runs through beautiful somehow, eddying, banks overgrown with poppies and wildflowers. You could imagine the Mississippi ‘River Rat’ Kenny Sawney rhapsodising his way along catching fish and cooking them on a bankside campfire. No wonder otters have moved back in.

Along the Eastway, the eastern entrance to the City is still via woods and bandit country to be approach with trepidation after dark. On temporary metal fencing around overgrown land an ominous “London Development Agency (LDA) Compulsory Purchase Order under sections 12(2A) and 12(2A)(b) of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981″. Beside it is the “Notice of Hearing, To the Defendant, Persons Unknown, Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court Claim No. 7EC03125″. These two important documents have been shoved inside plastic document wallets and loosely wedged in a fence half obscured by weeds on the side of a motorway flyover. The LDA are begrudgingly fulfilling their legal obligations. The law is a minor hurdle to these fellas, they’ve got an Olympics to stage and only £9billion to spend on it. I wonder whether Acquisition of Land Act 1981 is able to be subverted to reclaim and collectivise redundant factories as workers in Argentina have done to startling effect using that country’s compulsory purchase laws.

Over in Hackney Wick the art deco public baths with its separate entrances for Men and Women has been converted into a community centre. I duck into St. Mary of Eton with its great tower. I pick up a copy of ‘neighbourhood focus: hackney wick’ which announces that Hackney Wick is “the new Shoreditch” (that’ll account for the lower case lettering then). Heaven help them, in five years tops they’ll all be priced out by the ‘arts-led regeneration’, the community centre will be converted into loft apartments and the Costcutter will be a branch of ‘Fresh and Wild’ charging £3 for a thimble of pureed grass. If that doesn’t finish the area off, there are plans to drop the Olympic Media Centre in ‘The Wick’.

When I was living in a squat up the road in Well Street in the early nineties the idea of an Olympic Media Centre in Hackney Wick would have been too surreal a vision for even a die-hard space cadet like ‘Mad Martin’ (when he’d overdone the pharmacopia he gave the kids of the estate great entertainment by running over the rooftops of the 6-storey blocks of the estate. It was not unusual to find him on your balcony four floors up holding a geology hammer wanting to discuss the writings of William S Burroughs).

I find myself in Victoria Park. Sinclair country. Out of respect and humility I shall say little about crossing this park where I used to come of a kip and a few pages of Dirk Gently whilst on the Dole. Instead I recommend you read the early chapters of his seminal work ‘Lights Out for the Territory’. Although, I wonder how the plans to transform Victoria Park into a “21st Century Pleasure Garden” went on a water-logged Bank Holiday weekend.

‘The village’ of Victoria Park is all espresso bars, canopies, and yummy mummies pushing designer babies. It was on the way there in ‘92-’94 to be honest, aside from the shooting in the pub by the park gates in the middle of the afternoon one day.

I slope past The Albion where I got horribly drunk one night in a lock-in and ended up drinking with, by accident, the couple who had once lived in the council flat I was squatting. “Ere, he’s squatting in our old flat!” the lady gaffawed to all and sundry across the pub. They managed to wangle a nice little ground floor flat facing the Park so there were no hard feelings (for the intrepid, I wrote an article about this time in ‘Labour Left Briefing’ in 1993, ‘Sad Grads’. For film producers, I have a stonking screenplay based on some of the more colourful aspects of this era and the ‘unconventional’ approach of Hackney Housing department).

I give a nod to the old estate which is getting a long-overdue make-over, note that the launderette that was the inspiration for my screenplay and where my mate Kate lived in a flat above, has made way for a Lidl, meaning either my script was strangely prophetic or I got it all wrong when I had it making way for an amusement arcade (‘Flashing Blips’).

Round London Fields where more yuppy hutches are being erected and down the hopelessly gentrified Broadway Market (I did debate with an imaginary ‘aspirational’ friend about whether the delis and gastro-pubs were an improvement or an example of middle-class colonisation of what was once and staunchly working-class area with a very strong, now nearly extinct, culture all of its own that had no use for olives and pomegranate juice).

I join the Regent Canal here and can’t let go, my metronomic step carrying my along past the slideshow of estates with orange boarded-up windows (quite attractive actually) and on the other side, yeah more ‘luxury’ developments. I’m not going to go on and on about this, take a look at the Islington Working Class Association website instead. By the time I reach Angel at 1.10 my hip joints are reminding me that I haven’t stopped walking since I left Leytonstone at 10.20am. I rest on a bench in Colebrooke Road gardens and remember two things: 1. That Douglas Adams lived here somewhere, 2. That the residents got very upset by people defecating in the bushes.

It’ll be easy enough to drop down to Housmans from here but I have a strong urge to push on westwards, to turn this into a ‘Sandwich Man’ style odyssey. I move on in search of lunch.
I get distracted by Borders. I hear that they’ll all be gone soon, these American book warehouses and replaced by branches of Starbucks selling books. Only capitalism could come up with an arrangement like that. I sit down with a copy of Mute magazine; I’m too tight to pay a fiver for a mag so I’ll just have read the good bits here. There’s an interesting article by Kate Rich on commons, about Amy Balkin’s ‘This is Public Domain’ and the Morningstar Ranch where Lou Gottlieb signed over the deeds to God when the State tried to evict him meaning that they had to indict ‘God’ in the legal proceedings.

Down Chapel Market in full swing and lunch in Alpino. I realise that it could appear that I’m stalking Iain Sinclair as he stops here on his Regent Canal stomps but really I’m just hungry and sentimental (I enjoyed 3 years living over the road till last year).

Past the estate and on to Housman’s for a good old rummage. I emerge about 40 minutes later with Tom Vague’s ‘London Pyschogeography, Rachman Riots and Rillington Place’, the Anarchist Federation’s free leaflet on ID cards, a copy of Labour Left Briefing, a Class War poster and two badges for a friend (‘Hated by the Daily Mail’ and ‘I Am Spartacus’). Good haul for a £5.50. Technically speaking my work is done and to be frank my legs are sore despite the bacon roll and apple pie at Alpino. But I have to go on, the ‘fugue’ is in control (ref: ‘London Orbital’).

Past Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, it’s a lovely day, justification enough for staying on the move. The Aquarium Gallery in Woburn Walk and the Indian Restaurant where I celebrated the birth of my first child alone with a top class curry complete with brandy after. Through to Fitzrovia, enigmatic area this – Patrick Hamilton country and parts still feel down at heel. The old Middlesex Hospital is all boarded up prior to the inevitable ‘mixed-use redevelopment’. A film crew is taking advantage of the deserted wards and operating theatres. Cleveland Residencies has the look of the kind of place where Hamilton’s young ladies of dubious morals boarded.

Wigmore Street leaves me more convinced than ever in the need for a Class War. Strange that, because turning into Marylebone High Street I don’t feel the same level of anger, more a kind of mystification. The designer Polo shirted couples spilling out of Waitrose and making for their Chelsea Tractors don’t come across so much as hateful but stupid, “you’ve been had” I think, “blowing all that money here, just because you’ve been told it’s the place to shop”.

I carry this slightly superior air past Daunt books which nearly makes me pass it by, luckily I caught a glimpse of the glass dome at the back. I would have regretted missing it’s galleried travel room at the back stacked with pamphlets and chapbooks. I even got a phone call from bookdealer Chris Berthoud by chance.

The walk is coming to an end, but still I stop off in Paddington Street Gardens where children play amongst the tombstones. I cross over to Mayfair and see the new defences around the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. I was watching the footage of the violent, bloody 1968 anti-Vietnam War protests that happened here. The Golden Eagle hovering over the Embassy roof seems to be keeping a watchful eye over the troublesome London mob. I read a while ago that the Yanks have had enough of protestors and archaic tenancy agreements, they’re off out to the sticks to hide behind an even bigger perimeter fence. We’ll be able to have our square back.

It’s the final statement in this walk through the story of ‘property’ in London. The travellers’ site by the allotments, the LDA Compulsory Purchase Order, Hackney gentrification, Council Estates turned over to Housing Associations, flats condemned and boarded up to keep out squatters, Georgian and Victorian parks and squares, the hospital converted into executive apartments and exclusive (chain) retail outlets, the estate of the richest landowner in the realm, the foreign embassy with its fences erected to keep us out.

I make it to Oxford Circus by 6pm,a full working day spent on the move, and more accomplished than 8 hours at the desk gazing out the window looking for inspiration. Severe delays on the Central Line, I come crashing back to reality.