Will Self on “under-imagined” landscapes and “embracing the liminal”

Earlier in the year I dug out this unused footage from the interview I shot with Will Self for The London Perambulator in December 2008. He talks about his airport walks – one of which features in the film when I rendezvoused with him and Nick Papadimitriou on the canal near Wormword Scrubs and followed them along the towpath to Perivale, an episode that crops up in Will’s book Walking to Hollywood.

He also mentions some of the walks he’d taken in the past with Nick Papadimitriou –  “bisecting the Ridgeway at the concrete works near Princess Risborough and walking up into hills there, your stamping ground in fact John” – referencing the area around where I grew up and carried out a psychogeography project with my sister between 2004-05.

The walks out to the Isle of Grain, were part of “extending that idea of the liminal out into landscapes, topographies that are under-imagined in that way – the Grain for me was the great under-imagined place even though of course it features in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, it features in Celine’s Mort a Credit, even though it features in Dickens it’s the opening of Great Expectations, not actually on Grain but on the marshes between Gravesend and the Isle of Grain”.

He describes these as Interzonal Walks.

The lure of such interzones is “our willingness to abandon romantic conceptions of both the urban and the rural and to embrace the liminal …. is a sign of that we are prepared to engage with the totality of our environment”.

 

 

Twyford Abbey – a deep topographic enquiry

On a wet day in February I headed out with Nick Papadimitriou and Peter Knapp, picking up the threads of the first walk the three of us did together which ended in the dark of an industrial estate somewhere near Stonebridge Park. That walk was almost 10 years ago to the day, 22nd July 2005 – the day after the failed second attack on the tube network; there was a tangible tension on public transport heading out to our rendezvous at Golders Green, the bombers were still on the loose somewhere in northwest London where we were walking.

The journey produced my first videos with Nick that eventually led to The London Perambulator. This walk was tentatively the beginnings of a kind of sequel. The only plan we had was to follow Nick’s beloved Metropolitan Water Main all the way to its terminus at Mogden Purification works. This buried pipe is an unavoidable motif when walking with Nick – it was what guided us on the first walk, it punctuates the traipses in London Perambulator, and appeared again when Nick joined me for one of the expeditions in This Other London. We needed to give it a proper homage after all it had given to us.

In the end, watching it on the screen at the Flatpack Film Festival in the Video Strolls programme I realised that the film was an end in itself – The London Perambulator could have no sequel, if that existed it was Nick’s book Scarp perhaps.

 

Read a full account of the Twyford Abbey walk here

London Perambulator panel with Iain Sinclair, Will Self and myself

It’s 5 years ago nearly to the day that The London Perambulator premiered at The Whitechapel Gallery in the East End Film Festival. This is the ‘Edgelands’ panel discussion that followed with Will Self, Iain Sinclair and me – hosted by Andrea Phillips from Goldsmiths.

The London Perambulator is screening at the Holloway Arts Festival on 6th June followed by Q&A with Nick Papadimitriou and me – details here

 

London on Foot event

Just as I’ve finally finished my documentary Make Your Own Damn Art: the world of Bob and Roberta Smith I’ve been invited to screen The London Perambulator at this London On Foot evening in Brixton. I’ll also be doing attempting to get a word in edgeways during a Q&A with Nick Papadimitriou who will no doubt be mercilessly flogging his book Scarp, which is published at the end of June.

The event is the launch of the second edition of Curiocity  – a great little fold-out pamphlet of London ephemera which deserves to be stuffed in the pocket of a waterproof jacket and thoroughly dog-eared on schleps around the city in the spring showers.

There will also be talks by Tom Jones, author of Tired of London, Tired of Life and Tom Bolton, author of London’s Lost Rivers.

Tickets are free and you can get them here

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Taken For Granted (1947) – Mogden

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If I ever had a budget to produce a DVD of The London Perambulator this classic 1947 film about the sewage system of West Middlesex, Taken For Granted would be on the extras. It is the backdrop to Nick Papadimitriou’s poetic vision of his region.
Here is he at Mogden Purification Works waxing lyrical about its significance “come and pray at this pile of turds because this is you”

The clip is from the London Screen Archive

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The London Perambulator in full

Here’s the full-cut of The London Perambulator that I’ve decided to release online after two years on the festival circuit. The film is not just a profile of enigmatic cult writer Nick Papadimitriou but about the lure of the edgelands of the city, the idea of psychogeography and Nick’s very own Deep Topography.

When I made my first video with Nick in 2005 I remember Googling ‘deep topography’ and there was nothing. Now it has been discussed at academic conferences, cited in national newspapers, mentioned on Radio 4 and even been the subject of an item on Newsnight. To cap it all Nick landed a publishing deal with a top London publisher to write the definitive deep topographic text which is due out next year.

I’m not sure we knew what to expect when we premiered the film at The Whitechapel Gallery in the East End Film Festival, April 2009. When you perambulate the margins as we do, schlepping round the fringes of industrial estates and tromping through the ‘acoustic footprint’ of the North Circular, you develop a natural scepticism about how your endeavours will be received. But the screening sold out that night. The film was discussed by a panel that included Iain Sinclair, Will Self, myself and was chaired by Dr Andrea Philips from Goldsmiths – and seemed to go down well.

More screenings followed, including The London International Documentary Festival, Cine City Brighton Film Festival and Doc Days at Curzon Soho.  A few years ago I’d been inspired by seeing Jem Cohen’s Chain at the Curzon and here now was our film playing on the same screen. That was a good moment, but there have been loads.

Putting it up Youtube now feels like a homecoming of sorts – that was where we uploaded our first videos and you could, if you wished, chart the progress of the project through to its conclusion with The London Perambulator.

Although is that the conclusion? We continue our work together with our radio show on Resonance fm (that was a product of the film) and I’ve inevitably filmed Nick on walks. Who knows, maybe there’ll be ‘Scarp – the movie’.

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