Ah, Sunflower!

To the Renoir to see Iain Sinclair and Robert Klinkert’s 1967 film ‘Ah Sunflower!’. The film is semi-legendary, an important part of the Sinclair narrative. He’s written of how the cash he received from the German TV company WDR paid for his Hackney house. The story of the filming became Sinclair’s first (self) publication ‘The Kodak Mantra Diaries’.

The Renoir is sold-out, midday Sunday. I see Iain in the foyer, and we briefly talk about my film of Nick Papadimitriou, ‘Beyond Stonebridge Park’, that he has kindly screened excerpts of at ‘City of Disappearances’ events. I foist a copy of my Wycombe book, DVD and DHPS newsletters upon him. When I point out the Nodules of Energy reference that I took from his ‘conversation’ with Will Self at St Luke’s in 2004, he seems amused by the application of this formula to High Wycombe rather than Bunhill Fields.

He’s enthusiastic about the gathering, the numbers, the energy enlivening the corporate monocultural concrete of the newly de-generated Brunswick Centre. We should stage another Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation, at the Roundhouse, 40 years after the original, open up the secret London, an all-nighter, Iain says. It seems plausible, it seems like the right moment, the backdrop being Iraq rather than Vietnam, Blair for Wilson.

Sinclair introduces the short film selection as “what some people might call ‘Deep Topography” – a term outlined by Nick in our film. He adds the definition that it’s a “going back into the City and looking at it in a kind of structuralist way.”

Ah, Sunflower!, exceeds expectations, the casual camerawork, the capturing of Allen Ginsberg in full flow delivering mantras and propositions of a kind of psycho-politics that seems ripe for realisation.

Iain’s 1972 film ‘Maggid Street’ gets a rare outing, a surreal Brakhage-inspired gothic tale, a minor masterpiece. Sinclair has hours more of unscreened 8mm footage waiting to be unleashed, Bolex diaries of Hackney’s transformation in the 70’s.

There’s talk of re-staging the event somewhere, in one of the Curzons. If you don’t make it, the DVD is available from The Picture Press (mailto:info@thepicturepress.co.uk. Beat Scene has also republished ‘The Kodak Mantra Diaries’ (I think Dolly Head Books has one of the ultra-rare originals).

Iain Sinclair will also be at the NFT on Feburary 27th interviewing Andrew Kotting after a screening of Kotting’s new film ‘Offshore (Gallivant)’ – book early if today’s anything to go by.

Iain Sinclair has written about the experience of making the film on the Guardian’s arts blog


Save Marsh Lane Fields – video

I’ve cut together some footage of the demonstration on Marsh Lane Fields in December. The video hopefully explains the issues, but in short the Olympic Destruction/Development Agency are planning re-locate the Manor Gardens Allotments in Hackney to one corner of Marsh Lane Fields.

The issues/objections are:
– the re-location of the allotments onto land that was used as a tip after the war will involve the removal of vast amounts of earth which will cause enormous disruption to this tranquil corner of Leyton (think of the diggers, trucks etc.). It’ll turn this quiet lane into a rat-run.

– it will involve the enclosure of Lammas Land that has been open, common grazing land since it was drained by Alfred the Great in the C9th. This is both a disaster locally but also on a larger scale it represents yet more common land being enclosed.

It’s instructive to note the two historical precedents of the 19th Century when the authorities intervened, both here on the Leyton Lammas Lands and in nearby Epping Forest, to fend of the advances of land grabbers and keep this vital open space in common ownership. But both these landmark rulings were triggered by the actions of a few.


The mystery of the missing chapters of The London Compendium

Bumped into author Ed Glinert at work the other day. I immediately congratulated him on his excellent book, The London Compendium, and told how it was invaluable to have in the bag on a London perambulation. But, I said, why the omission of the outer suburbs? Where’s the Lea Valley, Stonebridge Park, Crystal Palace, Haringey, Wanstead, Twickenham? They wouldn’t let me put them in he said, the publishers didn’t want them, I’ve got a whole book of stuff on those areas waiting to be published, he told me wearing a forlorn expression, his body language re-living the tussles with his editor at Penguin.

Even taking into account the large swathes of London left out of The London Compendium, it’s still far and away the best of the current crop of more literary London guidebooks.
But this blindness to the glories of the London suburbs wasn’t always the trend. Harold P. Clunn’s classic, The Face of London (1970), not only covers the more obvious central districts in fine detail and almost obsessive historical background, but also fits in the likes of Shadwell, Poplar, Canning Town, West Ham, Woolwich, Muswell Hill, Hornsey, Kilburn, Willesden, Cricklewood, and Hendon. The Ward Lock Red Guide (49th edition circa 1950’s) implores you to explore Barnet, Epping Forest, Kew, and Eltham.

Hopefully Glinert’s publishers, Penguin, will feel the spirit of the great London adventurers and have the good sense to publish those rejected chapters.


Waves of Disappearance: cinematic topographies of the North Eastern frontier

I’ve written an article on the topographical films of Leytonstone (and the Lower Lea Valley) for UEL’s ‘Rising East’ journal of East London Studies, which you can read here.

In the course of the research I came across a couple of other filmic E11 references: a Bollywood film called ‘I….Proud to be an Indian’ (2004) set in a late-seventies Leytonstone terrorised by Nazi skinheads. And a 1963 film directed by Joan Littlewood, ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’. There was also a sitcom in 1999 ‘Small Potatoes’ starring Tommy Tiernan, “Ed Hewitt runs the shambolic Screen Dreams video shop in Leytonstone, east London. He has a media-studies degree but is underachieving, consoling himself with the thought that video rental is part of the media business. His working day is enlivened (and/or complicated) by visits from three friends – sex-obsessed Rick, who works in his family’s chemists shop; aspiring photographer Juliet; and the vague Benett, currently working as shoe-hire boy at a bowling-alley.” Apparently it was another failed stab at producing a British ‘Seinfeld’ (a colleague, who also lives in Leytonstone, tells me that it was actually quite good).

I’ll be developing another project with Cathy, in Maidstone, for Architecture week in July. We’ll be posting stuff here as we go along. There’s already a link to the Wycombe work in the figure of Benjamin Disraeli, who failed to get elected as MP for Wycombe 3 times before taking the Maidstone seat.


SPB Mais haunted by the Harrow Gasometers (in 1937)

This blog’s been quiet for a while, sorry, but I have been awoken from my slumber by the excellent Mr Tregaskis. So for you my friend, this, from SPB Mais (one of the arch proto-psychogeographers / crypto-topographers) on his topographical adventure through Harrow (1937):
“I descended from this dignified, unspoilt village past Matthew Arnold’s lovely home, Byron House, into the Weald with reluctance, for I kept on running up against that nightmare of a gasometer. In the end I took a bus and drove through all the other Harrows. To my great surprise as I wandered down Oxhey Lane…I found a gloriou common of bracken and silver-birches on both sides of the road. I was on the ridge of the hill with glorious views southward over all the Harrows. At least, the view would have been glorious had it not been for my discovery that the monstrous Harrow gasometer had suddenly spawned. I had been sufficiently harassed by the sight of one. But now there were two.”
The inability to appreciate the beauty of a gasometer nestling in the landscape does make me wonder whether, rather than being a prophet, Mais was actually a bit of a phillistine. When they recently pulled down the Edwardian gasometers in High Wycombe the old people lamented their passing. The rusting gasometers on Leyton Marshes are a key feature of the areas topography(like the pylons). They are merely the modern (or not so modern) descendants of the windmills that I read in Understone today sat down on the corner of Francis Road and Newport Road. I wonder whether Daniel Defoe complained bitterly about the cursed windmills that blighted his view.