Mystery Topographical Package and a visit to Deep Library

I was eagerly awaiting the post today – expecting an advance copy of Russell Brand’s brilliant autobiography ‘My Booky Wook’. Among its many virtues I think it will enter the canon of great London books – one particular passage where Russell leads a troupe of homeless men down a windswept Oxford Street in search of heroin put me in mind of a latter day Patrick Hamilton.
But along with said book came a slim brown envelope postmarked KT TW & GU. Inside a wonderful hardback Bartholomew’s road map of Britain ‘The Spotless Way’ – undated but most likely early 1950’s. Also a torn page from a book with a picture on one side of an old man of the road (the kind of character that Nick talks about in the video below) a man fused with his environment. On the reverse of the page a poem by William Barnes (the man in the picture?) ‘Aunt’s Tantrums’ written in rich dialect: ‘Why ees aunt Anne’s a little staid/ But kind an’ merry, poor wold maid!’. Also a leaflet advertising ‘Africa Contemporary Record – Available July 1975′.
No note, no name, no return address. I know nobody in that part of the country from where this was posted.
The resonance of the contents is multiple and profound. The Road Atlas and poem in dialect directly relates to a documentary idea I’m developing and yesterday got a call saying that I had a meeting to pitch the idea to a Tv channel. The title of the poem – I have an aunt gravely ill in hospital. The photo relates to the conversation I had with Nick last night.
Who could have sent it? A reader perhaps?

Last night I finally ventured inside Nick Papadimitriou’s ‘Deep Library’. I filmed an hour of Nick talking about his collection, a sample of it you can watch here. We’re polishing off a treatment for a full-length ‘Deep Topography’ documentary that we’ll shoot throughout next year. Please leave comments – we like them.


The Future of London

Saturday night I went on the excellent Russell Brand Show on BBC Radio2 to debate with Rainbow George who is trying to persuade Russell to stand for Mayor of London. Now Rainbow George is a bona fide London character, should HV Morton or Gordon S Maxwell be chronicling the London of today I’m sure they’d seek George out. He’s the Hampstead eccentric who as Peter Cook’s neighbour taped over 100 hours of their conversations. He also claimed ownership of his Hampstead mansion after his landlord disappeared, he sold it for £710,000 3 years ago and has since blown it all on his political campaigns.
So really maybe he has a vision of London that we could learn from.
Sadly he offered Russell only a series of poetic puns based on a new currency of Gasps and Wonders issued by the Bank of a Zillion Wonders. Other than that his vision is for a “Brand Spanking New London Party. The transformation of London into an inter-dependent leisure oriented – self-governing cash-free wonder City with Hampstead as its capital”
I’m afraid I gave George short shrift, I invited him to advocate the collectivisation of private assets and he returned to Gasps and Wonders. A Squatter City is far more appealing to me than a Wonder City – which we already have.

Thinking about the Mayoral election and George’s bonkers take on it did make me go back to William Margrie of the London Explorers Club. He had a vision for London and maybe Rainbow George could take a leaf out of his book. This is what he wrote on 1934:
The Metropolitan Free State
“London government is muddle-headed, chaotic, idiotic.”
The Metropolitan Free State will include Greater London and five or six Home Counties and the Thames.
– emulate Mussolini and give Londoners plenty of dramas, pageants and shows to wake them up
– if one wants to do anything important in this stodgy world he must be a realistic artist
– foster local spirit and patriotism by means of art, music, flower shows, and athletic combats

And what was I going to propose you may well ask, well this is what I scribbled down in my notebook on my way to the Great Portland Street studios:
– ban all traffic from the congestion charge zone and grass it over
– promote and subsidize walking as primary means of transport
– no new buildings – there are around 75,000 empty homes in London – turn them over to Squatters Groups
– planning decisions to be based on principles of psychogeography with the preservation of the city’s natural topography to be given special priority
– The recovery of London’s lost rivers of the Fleet, the St. Clement’s, the Walbrook, The Langbourne, the Oldbourne, the Effra, the Ravensbourne, and the Hackney Brook with the digging up of roads etc. where necessary
– Scrap the Olympics
– An annual parade of the ‘Mocking of The Rich’ with the unfortunates of the city to lead a procession through Mayfair, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Kensington and Chelsea (see Class War’s Notting Hill ‘Toffs Out’ march on November 3rd)


Naomi Klein – Shock Doctrine at the QEH, London

My question to Naomi Klein at the QEH (13th Sept 07) at the end of the night says a lot about how I felt about the event:

“Naomi, how do we take this, your message, out of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, because I reckon that these thousand people here probably agreed with you before they came this evening, and my worry is that when we applaud you at the end we’ll partly be applauding ourselves for being here this evening, and afterwards we’ll just go away and talk about it at dinner parties and restaurants in North London, ‘I saw that Naomi Klein the other night, really? Yes, she’s great isn’t she, Yeah I love her’, and that’ll be it and we’ll get on with our lives. I’d like to see you talking about this in a market in Brixton or at Leyton Orient Football Club where people are experiencing these things on a more visceral level.”

That statement I suppose was delivered almost as stand-up and got good laughs and a generally good response, indicating, yes, recognition but also that a percentage of the audience were probably thinking exactly the same thing. That almost as soon as Klein had finished her introduction the evening became obsolete, her work here was done and this just going to be an event of self-congratulation and smug bourgeois chin-rubbing and head-nodding ticking off the things she says that we already knew and mentally correcting her mistakes.
And one mistake she made was to say that Thatcher exploited the Falklands War to gain a second term and launch the first neo-liberal project in a western democracy, that without the Falklands she would have lost in ’83 – this is nonsense, and nobody in British politics would accept that thesis, far more significant was the split in the Labour Party in 1981 with the formation of the SDP, and Labour Manifesto at the election that was so far away from public opinion.

Does this matter?
Well if she got this so wrong, what else is wrong? It’s not so much an error as an over-simplification and an ignorance of history. Milton Friedman didn’t just happen, neither is the use of shock new in pushing through radical reform. The NHS might not have happened without WWII, and the factory occupations in Argentina that Klein and people such as me celebrate wouldn’t have happened without the shock of that country’s economic collapse.

What can we take from it?
Well firstly that Naomi Klein is not about to lead us to the barricades. She doesn’t really have the answers and will not stick her head out because she is happy to operate within a comfort zone of the liberal left who will lap her ideas and spend £22 on a copy of her book. She’s not about to attack The Guardian for running a front page that very day reporting an IISS report telling us what a threat Al Qiada still poses. A report authored by a former head of MI6 – if that doesn’t scream ‘psy-ops’ I don’t know what does. The same report also said that global warming would have a worse effect that a nuclear war and yet this would relegated to the bottom of the page – surely that’s the headline.
It’s far more likely that Russell Brand will actually rouse people to revolt because he reaches that non-politicised audience and confronts them on their own level – his challenging of an audience member’s enthusiasm for a new branch of Zara opening in Cambridge with a brilliant and funny riff on how consumerism provides you with stuff but turns your soul into a graveyard. The message of ‘No Logo’ distilled into 3 minutes of stand-up comedy and delivered to an audience who have most likely never heard of Naomi Klein.

The second thing we can take from her thesis is that we are in a period of radical capitalism – about 30 years into it. The politics of today is not business as usual, this is not normal if you like, and you can already see that we are moving towards its endgame. The fact that Blair and Brown not only embraced but advanced this neo-liberal ideal is part of that endgame. And with the assault on civil liberties that has been an integral part of this programme, it has radicalised sections of the population, particularly the provincial middle class, who would normally not engage in political action. But now that we have members of the Countryside Alliance charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the National Trust considered as worthy of exclusion order from Heathrow (albeit a request denied by a High Court judge) – you can see how the slumbering masses are being awakened.

The interesting question, and the one we must be ready to answer, is what will replace this radical “shock doctrine”. The post-war consensus in Britain ran from 1945 until 1979, with the Tories abandoning it a few years before, say mid-1970’s when Keith Joseph embraced Friedman’s fringe ideas. Klein does well to highlight how what is now political authodoxy was in the 70’s considered beyond the pale, even by conservatives.
On a positive note, this has also happened to progressive ideas, whereby the ‘Loony Leftism’ of the 1980s (equal opportunities, gay rights, environmentalism, respect for ethnic diversity etc.) has been embraced by the political mainstream and it is opposition to these ideas that is now confined to the ‘lunatic fringe’.

This must encourage us to be radical now and to push forward ideas that may not be acceptable today but could become the next political authodoxy.
What would that be?


Russell Brand Neo-Situationist Revolutionary

I’ve long been of the opinion that had Lenny Bruce found his way to Paris and mated with a drunken Guy Debord then the resulting child reared in front of a flickering screen irraditing the infant’s brain with images of ‘Ripping Yarns’ and ‘Pete and Dud’ followed by ‘Black Adder’ and ‘Filthy, Rich and Catflap’ for dessert with Radio 4 on in the background and books on the English Radical Tradition lying around open on the floor – then that child would be Russell Brand the comedian. To prove my point have a look at this footage of him leading the audience from one of his shows onto Hastings Pier.

Chris from Dollyhead Books (who was at the Hastings gig) saw the video and has come up with the precedent that Russell mentions in the clip. Here’s what Chris said in his email:

“As far as the precedent for Russell’s walkabout after the gig (as he mentions on the YouTube clip)… I refer you to Andy Kaufman’s April 1979 Carnegie Hall “milk and cookies” show. The performance is most famous for Kaufman ending the show by actually taking the entire audience, in 35 buses, out for milk and cookies. He invited anyone interested to meet him on the Staten Island Ferry the next morning, where the show continued. I seem to recall somewhere that Steve Martin also used to end his shows like this in the 1970’s (it might have been mentioned in the John Belushi biog ‘Wired’)”

Thanks Chris.