Notes on Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins

Robinson in Ruins Keiller

Flicking back through the large notebook on my desk which has a Casey Neistat sticker on the cover, I find the notes I made while watching Patrick Keiller’s film Robinson in Ruins at the beginning of last year.

I had seen the film at a special event at the National Film Theatre at the time of its release in 2010 but felt I needed to watch it again – I watched Keiller’s London so many times I wore out the VHS tape.

Here are the notes I made in their raw form:


“The wanderings it describes began on 22nd January 2008”
– this is the same time as the Silt Road journeys began. What was I doing in January 2008? Starting work on London Perambulator. 2008 the year of the financial crisis.

Robinson communicates with “non-human intelligences” living in marginal places – shot of a sign on an arterial road – roundabout – edgelands. They (and Robinson presumably) are concerned with human survival – are they insects rather than E.Ts?

Robinson drawn to London from Berlin in the mid-60’s by the ‘swinging sixties’ and presence of so many prehistoric structures in the landscape. Footpath that was once a Roman road leads Robinson to a gasometer (mirror of the standing stone he visits?) then on to Lidl on the site of the first Mini factory.

robinson in ruins

I stop the film to check my Twitter feed – tweet from London Port Authority: “2014 port trade 3% up at 44.5 million tones: tonnage up across cargo types”
A port statistics update while watching a Robinson film – how serendipitous.

Mention of IWCA in Oxford. Quotes 17th Century antiquarian in reference to a physick well. Then on to Plato and Epicurus in relation to climate then an update on the financial situation. Footage of a substation.
Robinson is a Prepper.
Returns constantly to boarded up house with scaffold first seen at start of film – a motif?

Sets out for Harrowdown Hill – April 10th – the death of Dr David Kelly – not far from Brize Norton – physical link to Iraq.
Spends the night in the enclosure of a mobile phone mast.

robinson in ruins
Military infrastructure gets mentioned a lot – the SOE wartime comms on a hill, railway line used by military.

Broad Street Oxford – the postbox set in the wall on the street corner another recurring motif. Robinson’s disappearance in the 1990’s and his companion’s publication (the narrator’s lover – this bloke had also been Robinson’s lover or have I got confused) of a report based on their work that led to him becoming a government advisor – “transformative potential” of “images of landscape” – linked to well-being. Back to shot of lichen on roadside – grows near nitrogen pollutants. Primroses in a lay-by. Note on UK climate and primrose seed transportation.

MayDay on the Ridgeway.

Horse Chestnut imported from Turkey in 17th Century.

robinson in ruins
Greenham Common nuclear warheads withdrawn – US Airforce base opposed on basis it infringed commoners rights. Now restored to Commons and open access by Newbury Council. Remains of US base stand in the fields where now cattle graze. Declared SSSI in 1985. Natural order restored.

Robinson moves on to Roman Silchester. He is now a marginal figure – semi-vagrant – bit of a weirdo.

The U.K Rocket industry embedded in the countryside near the Icknield Way (Blue Streak) and the Government military underground fuel pipe that possibly follows this Neolithic path.
Bright fields of poppies grown for medical diamorphine.

Robinson is a surrealist who has encounters with flowers – biophilia.

Very long shot of white foxgloves swaying in the breeze.
Long shot of butterfly on teasels briefly joined by a bee.
A great example of SLOW FILM

Watching the film I realize I am neglecting the book I am working on – carry on watching the film anyway.

Robinson in Ruins is set against the backdrop of the financial crisis of 2008. London takes places around Black Wednesday in 1992. Is this coincidence or does Keiller/Robinson have a nose for financial catastrophe?

At this point I stop making notes and just watch the rest of the film.

Urban Ramble on Absolute Radio with Geoff Lloyd

The other week I took Geoff Lloyd for an urban ramble round Soho for his show on Absolute Radio and chatted about psychogeography, topography, old maps, and the fate of Madame Jo Jo’s.

 

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The radical tradition of urban walking – my article in the NewStatesman

radical urban walking

‘What both the interwar topographers and the situationists recognised was the transformative potential of large numbers of people regularly stepping outside the matrix, taking to the streets and walking, becoming active participants rather than passive spectators.’

Read the article here

Walking in Palestine with Raja Shehadeh

In 2008 I was lucky enough to have a chat with author Raja Shehadeh about his book Palestinian Walks: ‪Forays into a Vanishing Landscape‬.
On the one hand I was talking to a fellow rambler about the experience of walking and the love of the landscape. I was also intrigued by the Palestinian idea of the ‘Sarha’ meaning to roam without restraint where the spirit takes you, which I thought had symmetry with the English ‘topographical rambling’ tradition and the psychoegeographic ‘derive’ or drift.
But of course Raja’s experience of walking in the hills of Ramallah carries a bit more jeopardy than a walk across Leyton Marshes. He sees a connection to the land through walking as being essential to both the human condition but also an important element of non-violent resistance to the occupation of Palestine. Walking as an act of liberation.

Counter-Tourism and The Art of Wandering

The works of two fellow travelers deserve a shout-out here.

Firstly ‘Counter-Tourismby Crab Man aka Phil Smith. I haven’t read the book yet,  because it’s probably brilliant and I’m writing my own book at the moment and I don’t want to be unduly influenced by Smith’s usually creative slant on the re-imagining of ‘traditional’ heritage locations and the standard notion of sight-seeing.

When I was working on the Remapping High Wycombe project I read his brilliant essay ‘Dread, Route and Time: An Autobiographical Walking of Everything Else’, and ended up somehow mangling and misremembering his cogent notions as ‘autotopobiography’ (follow the tag at the bottom).

But an alternative to the often useless Rough Guides and Lonely Planets is long overdue – why buy a guide to each country and city when you could just buy the Counter-Tourism Handbook and use it everywhere you go.

If you want to read deeper into the broader culture that Smith and other cultural walkers inhabit then Merlin Coverley’s The Art of Wandering – the writer as walker’ is a must read. This is another long overdue book, Coverley having written two other key publications on a similar theme with his Pocket Essentials on ‘Psychogeography’ and ‘Occult London’.

The book takes us on a ramble from the Walker as Philosopher through to the Experimental Walking practised by Smith and his cohorts in Wrights and Sights, charting the excursions of the Dadaists, Surrealists and Situationists.
It not only covers the visionary walking of William Blake and Werner Herzog, the Walker as Philosopher, Pilgrim and Vagrant; but also links James Bone’s The London Perambulator (1925) to my old walking companion Nick Papadimitriou through the title of the film about him that I borrowed from the book (we’re going out for a walk on Saturday – you can read about it next year).

There’s an interesting section on a book by Jeff Nicholson, ‘Bleeding London’  from 1997 where the central character secretly carries out one of my fantasies – to walk every street in London, chalking each one off in the index of an A-Z as he goes.

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