Poets and topographers

Last night I was reading, well browsing, W.G. Hoskins’ ‘The Making of the English Landscape’ (1955), in the pub and came across his definition of the Walla Brook on Dartmoor as “the stream of the Welsh or Britons” deriving from the original Weala Broc.

A month ago on this blog I quoted a very similar definition from Peter Ackroyd’s ‘London‘ (p.33) but in the context of relating to the Walbrook stream in London, “brook of the Welsh” deriving from the same Weala Broc.

Not sure what I’m saying about this to be perfectly honest – the similarity just struck me.

‘The Making of the English Landscape’ is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while now – before I really immersed myself in psychogeographical material I saw Hoskins book as a potentially key text that would compliment the topographical books such as Gordon S. Maxwell’s Fringe of London, and films such as Patrick Keiller’s London and Andrew Kotting’s Gallivant.

The book opens, “Despite the multitude of books about English landscape and scenery, and the flood of topographical books in general, there is not one that deals with the historical evolution of the landscape as we know it.”

And so far Hoskins doesn’t disappoint, even declaring that “poets make the best topographers”.
Peter Ackroyd began his literary career as a poet, so again I suppose the two books reinforce each other.


Cities Under Siege

In the pub last night I was reading Nicholas Lezard’s illuminating review  of Cities Under Siege by Stephen Graham. I’ve chalked this up on my ‘books to read (but probably will just read about)’ list.

from http://blog.ltmuseum.co.uk

The book is provocatively subtitled ‘The New Miltary Urbanism’ and aims to be an “exposé of how political violence operates through the spaces of urban life”. On the most basic level this is expressed by the intense surveillance that urban populations are placed under – and Londoner’s are some of the most watched over of any city dwellers in the world.
Lezard mentions the London Transport poster ‘Secure beneath watchful eyes’ that he ponders may have employed a 1940’s design style to invoke memories of Orwell and Big Brother.

That poster first appeared in 2003 when people were still in the grip of post-9/11 paranoia. But the increased level of CCTV did little to prevent the 7/7 bombers bringing carnage to London’s bus and tube network 2 years later. And it was noticeable that after the attack next to no CCTV images of any of the suspected bombers appeared even though they had passed along thoroughfares covered every inch by surveillance cameras. So who are the cameras really there to reassure?

Lezard’s review highlights Graham’s point that, “the powerful, particularly those in the Republican party in America, do not like cities. For a start, they’re ethnically diverse places full of liberals who don’t vote for them.”
As the recent UK riots demonstrated, cities are places of insurrection and dissent that can spread quickly and uncontrollably. It put me in mind (again) of a line from Patrick Keiller’s London where Robinson argues that:

“That the failure of London was rooted in the English fear of cities, a protestant fear of Popery and socialism, the fear of Europe, that had disenfranchised Londoners and undermined their society.
Like the idea in Graham’s book that the provincial Repulicans fear the inner city, Robinson/Keiller sees London as, “a city under siege from a suburban government which uses homelessness, pollution, crime and the most expensive and run down public transport system of any metropolitan city in Europe as weapons against Londoners’ lingering desire for the freedoms of city life.”

The other recent manifestation of urban disquiet that has given the ruling elite a rude awakening has been the Occupy movement, seeming to randomly spring out of the asphalt to reclaim prime strategic locations to assert the case of the “99%”.  Over the weekend I ‘stumbledupon’ two articles exploring the links between Situationism and the Occupy movement.

I suppose people were always going to see the parallels with Situationist-inspired events of 1968 and here on The Bureau of Public Secrets those theories are further drawn out.
On Cryptoforestry, Wilfried Hou Je Bek writes about ‘Occupy as psychogeographic urbanism’, “Psychogeographically speaking the idea of a tent Potemkin village has great appeal.”

I have to confess that when I headed down to Occupy LSX at St. Paul’s I was partly inspired by the significance of a tented village emerging on the ancient and significant site of Ludgate Hill. Of all the places in London to occupy, the protestors had claimed a geographic node point in the city’s history. A feature of the landscape that had been noted from the first Roman incursions right up to the building of the church on a site of great pagan ceremonial importance.

By the time I had left the encampment I could see the psychogeographical resonance would have to emerge at a later date. For now it is still about economic injustice and corporate greed.


Into the Los Angeles Urban Wilderness

you don’t see this in the Lea Valley

Yesterday morning I headed up into Runyon Canyon along with a friend and one of his year-old twins strapped onto my back.

The canyon rises just two blocks away from the glitz of Hollywood Boulevard and is managed as ‘Urban Wilderness’ by the City of Los Angeles. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy describes it as, “a rare example of wild chaparral with its drought-resistant evergreen trees and shrubs only a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the Hollywood community.”

an irresistible cliche

As the movie industry goes into decline being eclipsed daily by the Games world the Hollywood sign starts to look like even more of a relic of a by-gone era. In the week I’ve been here I’ve had more conversations about games than I have heard mentions of films.

The hazards of urban walking are somewhat different in LA to London. It’s amusing that this warning is near the top of the ridge of the canyon at the end of the most treacherous stretch of the trail.

There was a brown crust of smog sitting atop the city laid out flat like a printed sheet.

The urban fringe of L.A more the domain of dog walkers and personal trainers than psychogeographers.