The Coffee Cup

Met the excellent and unique Nick Papadimitriou for coffee the other night. We hooked up in Hampstead in the only place where you could meet in NW3 without feeling nauseatingly bourgeois (for the record I love Hampstead, I’m just bitter that I can’t afford to live there). The Coffee Cup in the High Street claims to be the oldest Coffee House in London, a spurious claim considering that The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell served coffee to Samuel Johnson and is still in business albeit as a pub (I’m sure you can still get a coffee), but it’s tatty, dusty and unpretentious. Nick seems to know everybody who walks through the door.

We inevitably end up talking about what Nick refers to as “our specialisation”. Well he’s certainly a specialist, the one and only true Deep Topographer, I didn’t want to confess to him that I’m not sure what if anything my specialisation is. I mention that I now walk along Fleet Road on my way home from work. Nick says, “I hate the Fleet. It’s like Whitechapel.” There’s no answer to that. It’s what makes Nick unique and brilliant, statements like that. (Browse the archives of this blog and you’ll find plenty of references to the area around the banks of The Fleet – l have a deep bond to that territory that I used to walk in the dusk on my way back from the South Bank).

We’re both a bit weary but we have to have a walk no matter how short. “Do you fancy a walk to Golders Green?”, knowing that this will not just be a schlep along the A502 to the tube station I can’t say no.

Nick takes me into Sandy Wood first off. There’s a chance we’ll encounter some cottaging as Nick did the other day on Mill Hill Golf Course when he emerged from a concrete water channel to find an overweight man in a beige thong eying him up, who took one look and scampered off. We discuss how cottagers manage to feel a moral superiority over psychogeographers, nobody who rummages around in woods and public loos should feel any kind of moral superiority over anyone, we don’t, dog walkers can be a bit sniffy too.

Sandy Wood is beautiful, a revelation for me. Self-proclaimed ‘professional pedestrian’ John Hillaby used to walk here with Sir Christopher Andrewes, “the distinguished virologist and a much travelled man”, and exchanged notes on the flora and fauna of London.

Nick takes me over the road to show me the Heath extension and the Seven Sisters, he tells me this is his favourite part of the Heath. We pass two middle aged men in blazers, “Evening”, I say. No reply. “John couldn’t you tell? They look like members of The Jewish Ramblers, the alert will be sent out. Tregaskis will be after us.”

We enter the Garden Suburb. I’ve never been here before. Will Self grew up here. It’s a strange old place. It reminds me of a very nice inter-war council estate.

Soon we’re at Golders Green. I see The Refectory Arms, and remark that it looks a bit rough. “Hendrix played there. So did Crème.” There is no such thing as an ordinary walk with Nick.


In Praise of Middlesex County Council

The Deep Topographer Nick Papadimitriou has just relaunched his website Middlesex County Council. It’s a brilliant piece of work. An honouring of the county “utilising prose and poetry, photographs and local history lore. ” Anyone who has seen my films of Nick will be familiar with his unique vision of that area of London only sometimes referred to by its proper name.
The films by the way are: A Blakean Vision, Deep Topography with Nick Papadimitriou, Beyond Psychogeography, From Dan Dare to Pornography

The River Run pages represent a detailed study of the rivers of the borough and are an essential read. I have for two years now always had a bundles of dog-eared beer-stained copies of some of Nick’s writing in my bag. The pages can be downloaded as PDFs so that others can too share this privilege.



Went to Lille last weekend. A Brutalist’s dream. Windswept bare-tree people-less boulevards. Flyovers bisecting reflecting glass office blocks. Council estates sucking up the pollution. This was our first impression.

Out along Boulevard Emile Dubuisson, past Avenue du President John Fitzgerald Kennedy to the corner of Boulevard du President Hoover and Boulevard Louis XIV. We found our serviced apartment on a street that didn’t exist on the far edge of a building site accessed via a service road behind an huge anonymous building of some state department. To enter we had to phone a call centre who-knows-where to be given an access code. The kids loved it.

This would be an ideal psychogeographer’s weekend away (we’re here with two young children on a birthday celebration though). The city’s zones are precisely demarcated. The Brutalist Zone that we first encountered. The immigrant area around Boulevard Jean-Baptiste Lebas. The cultural quarter centred around the Museum of Fine Art. The upmarket artisan district in the winding streets of Rue Lepelletier. Avenue Le Corbusier is pure concrete dystopia where policemen, drunks, skateboarders and Eurostar travellers intermingle around the Euralille shopping mall. Lines of tension and hybrid zones I imagine stretch between these areas. We only glimpsed this briefly in the hunt for food led by a rampant toddler and a foraging 3-year old.

If The Situationists developed psychogeography to unpick the modernist legacy and critique the work Corbusier then this would put Lille on the frontline of the struggle. Although there didn’t seem to be much evidence of conflict the weekend that I blew through. Maybe we were too distracted by the chocolate waffles.


Why is Will Self’s column in The Independent called ‘PsychoGeography’?

I bought the Independent this weekend for the Eric Rohmer DVD’s and naturally came across Will Self’s column in the magazine. I have heard of it before but not paid any attention. I always assumed the title to be a bit of a joke, a comment on the over/mis-use of the term by a man who knows what it really means. But as I read yesterday’s cloumn, a meditation on “Travelling light”, the inappropriateness of the title irked me. Self was sailing too close to genuinely psychogeographical waters, questioning notions of and approaches to travel. What was Self playing with here?

I’d seen him jibe Iain Sinclair for his perceived mis-use of the Debordian idea of “The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment (whether consciously organised or not) on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”. (Guy Debord, ‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography’ 1955) for Sinclair’s brew of earth mysteries and East End esoterica. Mr Self had even squared the two ideas of psychogeography in his review of Sinclair’s masterful ‘London Orbital’ (along with ‘Lights Out for the Territory’ and Stewart Home’s LPA newsletters held up as the canonical texts of Anglo-Celtic psychogeography). He’d quite neatly defined what he thought the Situationists were up to when he wrote:
“The situationists of Left Bank Paris undertook their derives in an altogether aimless fashion. These urban rambles, guided by Guy Debord, a pisshead mystical Marxist intellectual manque (presumably holding up a cheap bottle of wine, the way a London tour guide lofts an umbrella), were aimed at deconstructing the urban space. The cities – according to these filthy flaneurs – had become merely factories for the production of soullessness, and it was their duty, by lying about drunk on the Ile de France, to liberate Paris from its collective obsession with work, consumption and industrialised mass “leisure”.
And he brilliantly summarises what Sinclair was up to:
“But across the Channel and 40 years on, Sinclair has made of psychogeography an altogether more productive, if decidedly less millenarian, field of study. While Ackroyd is a shameless antiquarian, a John Stow de nos jours who stomps through time and space kicking up the fossilised imprints of styles and modes, Sinclair, on the other hand, has at least a half-belief in full temporal simultaneity.

So what exactly is Will Self up to with this column? Where does his PsychoGeography fit in to all this? Surely he’s not throwing his lot in with the crew who produce such aberrations as the Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel and the Time Out book of London Walks.

Journeys Beyond the Western Sector

The Remapping High Wycombe book “Journeys Beyond the Western Sector” is finally available, through The purpose of the project was to re-map and re-imagine the town as it was going through a period of redevelopment. The idea was to create a kind of parallel scheme, a psychogeographical vision of the area. The book takes the form of several walks or ‘dérives’ – some following prepared routes based in significant sites or old borough boundaries, others using the principles of generative psychogeography. There is a DVD to accompany the book featuring footage from the derives and some interviews we conducted intercut with archive film of Wycombe, which we’ll send to anyone who wants one.

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.