Tag Archives: London

Sketches By Boz

Sketches_by_Boz_illustrated_by_George_Cruikshank_1837I enjoyed these greatly, these ridiculously detailed descriptions of life and London in a period we now suffer immense nostalgia for — they form a humorous and rather critical counterpoint to the twee recreations of Victorian glory. In terms of the uselessness of politicians and the practices of parents and couples and aristocrats, indeed, surprisingly little has changed. I couldn’t help feel though, that society has improved for the better now that a woman’s options have expanded beyond marriage and class isn’t quite all it used to be, not that it has changed enough.

These were written in sections, and published in installments — I love this form, though it doesn’t quite have the same feeling here as it does in more pulp narratives like Dickens’ other works, or Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris for example. i also love the pen name of Boz,  and this verse in Bentley’s Miscellany for March 1837:

“Who the dickens ‘Boz’ could be
Puzzled many a learned elf,
Till time unveiled the mystery,
And ‘Boz’ appeared as Dickens’s self.”

Dickens’ humour is directed here there and everywhere and sometimes I quite loved him — his descriptions of children and their doting mothers were timeless for example — but sometimes I couldn’t help but feel he was being a bit of a pompous and patronising ** . The risks of this kind of social commentary really. The tale of the four Miss Willises is quite my favourite and will never be forgotten, and this could easily have been a Monty Python sketch in the tradition of the twits:

MR. COPPERNOSE called the attention of the section to a proposition of great magnitude and interest, illustrated by a vast number of models, and stated with much clearness and perspicuity in a treatise entitled “Practical Suggestions on the necessity of providing some harmless and wholesome relaxation for the young noblemen of England.” His proposition was, that a space of ground of not less than ten miles in length and four in breadth should be purchased by a new company, to be incorporated by Act of Parliament, and inclosed by a brick wall of not less than twelve feet in height. He proposed that it should be laid out with highway roads, turnpikes, bridges, miniature villages, and every object that could conduce to the comfort and glory of Four-in-hand Clubs, so that they might be fairly presumed to require no drive beyond it. This delightful retreat would be fitted up with most commodious and extensive stables, for the convenience of such of the nobility and gentry as had a taste for ostlering, and with houses of entertainment furnished in the most expensive and handsome style. It would be further provided with whole streets of door-knockers and bell-handles of extra size, so constructed that they could be easily wrenched off at night, and regularly screwed on again, by attendants provided for the purpose, every day. There would also be gas lamps of real glass, which could be broken at a comparatively small expense per dozen, and a broad and handsome foot pavement for gentlemen to drive their cabriolets upon when they were humorously disposed—for the full enjoyment of which feat live pedestrians would be procured from the workhouse at a very small charge per head. The place being inclosed, and carefully screened from the intrusion of the public, there would be no objection to gentlemen laying aside any article of their costume that was considered to interfere with a pleasant frolic, or, indeed, to their walking about without any costume at all, if they liked that better. In short, every facility of enjoyment would be afforded that the most gentlemanly person could possibly desire. But as even these advantages would be incomplete unless there were some means provided of enabling the nobility and gentry to display their prowess when they sallied forth after dinner, and as some inconvenience might be experienced in the event of their being reduced to the necessity of pummelling each other, the inventor had turned his attention to the construction of an entirely new police force, composed exclusively of automaton figures, which, with the assistance of the ingenious Signor Gagliardi, of Windmill-street, in the Haymarket, he had succeeded in making with such nicety, that a policeman, cab-driver, or old woman, made upon the principle of the models exhibited, would walk about until knocked down like any real man; nay, more, if set upon and beaten by six or eight noblemen or gentlemen, after it was down, the figure would utter divers groans, mingled with entreaties for mercy, thus rendering the illusion complete, and the enjoyment perfect. But the invention did not stop even here; for station-houses would be built, containing good beds for noblemen and gentlemen during the night, and in the morning they would repair to a commodious police office, where a pantomimic investigation would take place before the automaton magistrates,—quite equal to life,—who would fine them in so many counters, with which they would be previously provided for the purpose. This office would be furnished with an inclined plane, for the convenience of any nobleman or gentleman who might wish to bring in his horse as a witness; and the prisoners would be at perfect liberty, as they were now, to interrupt the complainants as much as they pleased, and to make any remarks that they thought proper. The charge for these amusements would amount to very little more than they already cost, and the inventor submitted that the public would be much benefited and comforted by the proposed arrangement.

‘PROFESSOR NOGO wished to be informed what amount of automaton police force it was proposed to raise in the first instance.

‘MR. COPPERNOSE replied, that it was proposed to begin with seven divisions of police of a score each, lettered from A to G inclusive. It was proposed that not more than half this number should be placed on active duty, and that the remainder should be kept on shelves in the police office ready to be called out at a moment’s notice.

‘THE PRESIDENT, awarding the utmost merit to the ingenious gentleman who had originated the idea, doubted whether the automaton police would quite answer the purpose. He feared that noblemen and gentlemen would perhaps require the excitement of thrashing living subjects.

‘MR. COPPERNOSE submitted, that as the usual odds in such cases were ten noblemen or gentlemen to one policeman or cab-driver, it could make very little difference in point of excitement whether the policeman or cab-driver were a man or a block. The great advantage would be, that a policeman’s limbs might be all knocked off, and yet he would be in a condition to do duty next day. He might even give his evidence next morning with his head in his hand, and give it equally well.

And to bring it all home to Lambeth:

CHAPTER XIV—VAUXHALL-GARDENS BY DAY

There was a time when if a man ventured to wonder how Vauxhall-gardens would look by day, he was hailed with a shout of derision at the absurdity of the idea. Vauxhall by daylight! A porter-pot without porter, the House of Commons without the Speaker, a gas-lamp without the gas—pooh, nonsense, the thing was not to be thought of. It was rumoured, too, in those times, that Vauxhall-gardens by day, were the scene of secret and hidden experiments; that there, carvers were exercised in the mystic art of cutting a moderate-sized ham into slices thin enough to pave the whole of the grounds; that beneath the shade of the tall trees, studious men were constantly engaged in chemical experiments, with the view of discovering how much water a bowl of negus could possibly bear; and that in some retired nooks, appropriated to the study of ornithology, other sage and learned men were, by a process known only to themselves, incessantly employed in reducing fowls to a mere combination of skin and bone.

Thomas Rowlandson - Vaux-Hall - Dr. Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Mary Robinson, et al.jpg
‘Vaux-Hall – Dr. Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Mary Robinson, et al’ by Thomas Rowlandson – Published by J.R. Smith, No. 83 Oxford Street, London. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Vague rumours of this kind, together with many others of a similar nature, cast over Vauxhall-gardens an air of deep mystery; and as there is a great deal in the mysterious, there is no doubt that to a good many people, at all events, the pleasure they afforded was not a little enhanced by this very circumstance.

Of this class of people we confess to having made one. We loved to wander among these illuminated groves, thinking of the patient and laborious researches which had been carried on there during the day, and witnessing their results in the suppers which were served up beneath the light of lamps and to the sound of music at night. The temples and saloons and cosmoramas and fountains glittered and sparkled before our eyes; the beauty of the lady singers and the elegant deportment of the gentlemen, captivated our hearts; a few hundred thousand of additional lamps dazzled our senses; a bowl or two of punch bewildered our brains; and we were happy.

In an evil hour, the proprietors of Vauxhall-gardens took to opening them by day. We regretted this, as rudely and harshly disturbing that veil of mystery which had hung about the property for many years, and which none but the noonday sun, and the late Mr. Simpson, had ever penetrated. We shrunk from going; at this moment we scarcely know why. Perhaps a morbid consciousness of approaching disappointment—perhaps a fatal presentiment—perhaps the weather; whatever it was, we did not go until the second or third announcement of a race between two balloons tempted us, and we went.

We paid our shilling at the gate, and then we saw for the first time, that the entrance, if there had been any magic about it at all, was now decidedly disenchanted, being, in fact, nothing more nor less than a combination of very roughly-painted boards and sawdust. We glanced at the orchestra and supper-room as we hurried past—we just recognised them, and that was all. We bent our steps to the firework-ground; there, at least, we should not be disappointed. We reached it, and stood rooted to the spot with mortification and astonishment. That the Moorish tower—that wooden shed with a door in the centre, and daubs of crimson and yellow all round, like a gigantic watch-case! That the place where night after night we had beheld the undaunted Mr. Blackmore make his terrific ascent, surrounded by flames of fire, and peals of artillery, and where the white garments of Madame Somebody (we forget even her name now), who nobly devoted her life to the manufacture of fireworks, had so often been seen fluttering in the wind, as she called up a red, blue, or party-coloured light to illumine her temple! That the—but at this moment the bell rung; the people scampered away, pell-mell, to the spot from whence the sound proceeded; and we, from the mere force of habit, found ourself running among the first, as if for very life.

It was for the concert in the orchestra. A small party of dismal men in cocked hats were ‘executing’ the overture to Tancredi, and a numerous assemblage of ladies and gentlemen, with their families, had rushed from their half-emptied stout mugs in the supper boxes, and crowded to the spot. Intense was the low murmur of admiration when a particularly small gentleman, in a dress coat, led on a particularly tall lady in a blue sarcenet pelisse and bonnet of the same, ornamented with large white feathers, and forthwith commenced a plaintive duet.

We knew the small gentleman well; we had seen a lithographed semblance of him, on many a piece of music, with his mouth wide open as if in the act of singing; a wine-glass in his hand; and a table with two decanters and four pine-apples on it in the background. The tall lady, too, we had gazed on, lost in raptures of admiration, many and many a time—how different people do look by daylight, and without punch, to be sure! It was a beautiful duet: first the small gentleman asked a question, and then the tall lady answered it; then the small gentleman and the tall lady sang together most melodiously; then the small gentleman went through a little piece of vehemence by himself, and got very tenor indeed, in the excitement of his feelings, to which the tall lady responded in a similar manner; then the small gentleman had a shake or two, after which the tall lady had the same, and then they both merged imperceptibly into the original air: and the band wound themselves up to a pitch of fury, and the small gentleman handed the tall lady out, and the applause was rapturous.

The comic singer, however, was the especial favourite; we really thought that a gentleman, with his dinner in a pocket-handkerchief, who stood near us, would have fainted with excess of joy. A marvellously facetious gentleman that comic singer is; his distinguishing characteristics are, a wig approaching to the flaxen, and an aged countenance, and he bears the name of one of the English counties, if we recollect right. He sang a very good song about the seven ages, the first half-hour of which afforded the assembly the purest delight; of the rest we can make no report, as we did not stay to hear any more.

We walked about, and met with a disappointment at every turn; our favourite views were mere patches of paint; the fountain that had sparkled so showily by lamp-light, presented very much the appearance of a water-pipe that had burst; all the ornaments were dingy, and all the walks gloomy. There was a spectral attempt at rope-dancing in the little open theatre. The sun shone upon the spangled dresses of the performers, and their evolutions were about as inspiriting and appropriate as a country-dance in a family vault. So we retraced our steps to the firework-ground, and mingled with the little crowd of people who were contemplating Mr. Green.

Some half-dozen men were restraining the impetuosity of one of the balloons, which was completely filled, and had the car already attached; and as rumours had gone abroad that a Lord was ‘going up,’ the crowd were more than usually anxious and talkative. There was one little man in faded black, with a dirty face and a rusty black neckerchief with a red border, tied in a narrow wisp round his neck, who entered into conversation with everybody, and had something to say upon every remark that was made within his hearing. He was standing with his arms folded, staring up at the balloon, and every now and then vented his feelings of reverence for the aëronaut, by saying, as he looked round to catch somebody’s eye, ‘He’s a rum ’un is Green; think o’ this here being up’ards of his two hundredth ascent; ecod, the man as is ekal to Green never had the toothache yet, nor won’t have within this hundred year, and that’s all about it. When you meets with real talent, and native, too, encourage it, that’s what I say;’ and when he had delivered himself to this effect, he would fold his arms with more determination than ever, and stare at the balloon with a sort of admiring defiance of any other man alive, beyond himself and Green, that impressed the crowd with the opinion that he was an oracle.

‘Ah, you’re very right, sir,’ said another gentleman, with his wife, and children, and mother, and wife’s sister, and a host of female friends, in all the gentility of white pocket-handkerchiefs, frills, and spencers, ‘Mr. Green is a steady hand, sir, and there’s no fear about him.’

‘Fear!’ said the little man: ‘isn’t it a lovely thing to see him and his wife a going up in one balloon, and his own son and his wife a jostling up against them in another, and all of them going twenty or thirty mile in three hours or so, and then coming back in pochayses? I don’t know where this here science is to stop, mind you; that’s what bothers me.’

Here there was a considerable talking among the females in the spencers.

‘What’s the ladies a laughing at, sir?’ inquired the little man, condescendingly.

‘It’s only my sister Mary,’ said one of the girls, ‘as says she hopes his lordship won’t be frightened when he’s in the car, and want to come out again.’

‘Make yourself easy about that there, my dear,’ replied the little man. ‘If he was so much as to move a inch without leave, Green would jist fetch him a crack over the head with the telescope, as would send him into the bottom of the basket in no time, and stun him till they come down again.’

‘Would he, though?’ inquired the other man.

‘Yes, would he,’ replied the little one, ‘and think nothing of it, neither, if he was the king himself. Green’s presence of mind is wonderful.’

Just at this moment all eyes were directed to the preparations which were being made for starting. The car was attached to the second balloon, the two were brought pretty close together, and a military band commenced playing, with a zeal and fervour which would render the most timid man in existence but too happy to accept any means of quitting that particular spot of earth on which they were stationed. Then Mr. Green, sen., and his noble companion entered one car, and Mr. Green, jun., and his companion the other; and then the balloons went up, and the aërial travellers stood up, and the crowd outside roared with delight, and the two gentlemen who had never ascended before, tried to wave their flags, as if they were not nervous, but held on very fast all the while; and the balloons were wafted gently away, our little friend solemnly protesting, long after they were reduced to mere specks in the air, that he could still distinguish the white hat of Mr. Green. The gardens disgorged their multitudes, boys ran up and down screaming ‘bal-loon;’ and in all the crowded thoroughfares people rushed out of their shops into the middle of the road, and having stared up in the air at two little black objects till they almost dislocated their necks, walked slowly in again, perfectly satisfied.

The next day there was a grand account of the ascent in the morning papers, and the public were informed how it was the finest day but four in Mr. Green’s remembrance; how they retained sight of the earth till they lost it behind the clouds; and how the reflection of the balloon on the undulating masses of vapour was gorgeously picturesque; together with a little science about the refraction of the sun’s rays, and some mysterious hints respecting atmospheric heat and eddying currents of air.

There was also an interesting account how a man in a boat was distinctly heard by Mr. Green, jun., to exclaim, ‘My eye!’ which Mr. Green, jun., attributed to his voice rising to the balloon, and the sound being thrown back from its surface into the car; and the whole concluded with a slight allusion to another ascent next Wednesday, all of which was very instructive and very amusing, as our readers will see if they look to the papers. If we have forgotten to mention the date, they have only to wait till next summer, and take the account of the first ascent, and it will answer the purpose equally well.

Coverley’s View on Psychogeography

1003489There’s so much I love about the approach and all of the authors in here but damn, are they white, male and privileged. I think Rebecca Solnit is the only woman to grace these pages, apart from the prostitutes and the beautiful women the surrealists stalked through the city… The one Situationist who did seem to actually try to practice psychogeography and write about it was forced to desist after several prison stays–apparently the police didn’t appreciate a Black Algerian immigrant name of Abdelhafid Khatib experiencing aimlessly in public spaces, especially after immigrant curfew time. What the hell were his comrades doing about that? I’d like to know.

But still, back to the thing itself. An initial description of psychogeography’s main characteristics

‘For psychogeography may usefully be viewed less as the product of a particular time and place than as the meeting point of a number of ideas and traditions with interwoven histories’. [11]

amongst this melange of of ideas, events and identities, a number of predominant characteristics can be reconised. The first and most prominent of these is the activity of walking. The wanderer, the stroller, the flaneur and the stalker… psychogeography also demonstrates a playful sense of provocation and trickery…seeks to overcome the processes of ‘banalisation’ by which the everyday experience of our surroundings becomes one of drab monotony…a perception of the city as a site of mystery… [12-13]

Which leads to gothic representations, ‘a focus on crime, poverty and death…’ I love the gothic with a deep love, but I don’t think the city as a site of mystery had to go this way–it’s just slumming, innit? Nor must it stay here really. It fits in with the wealthy male voyeurism, but if poor women started engaging in it, poverty would hardly be mysterious. They’d have to look deeper. A working class gothic, new strands of mystery, and most exciting at all, a kind of desire that has nothing to do with exploitative johns…

The book opens with literature, those inspiring psychogeography as we know it today: Defoe, Blake, de Quincy, Poe, Machen, Stevenson. Watkins’s work on ley lines. Walter Benjamin, Louis Aragon and Andre Breton, poets Rimbaud and Baudelaire. Today of course, it has been brought into the present by Ballard, Iain Sinclair, Stewart Home, Peter Ackroyd, and the films of Patrick Keillor. Coverley writes:

‘the programmatic approach of social theorists and geographers is in this instance unable to accurately refect the imaginative reworking of the environment that has been conducted so successfully by those writers whose works celebrate contemporary London. [25]

For Machen it is a freeing of the self from all geographical and historical markers, an adventure through the unknown. But at times it becomes Sinclairs delving deep deep into history, or Ackroyd’s circular theories of geographical convergences. You have Poe’s creation of a new urban type in The Man of the Crowd as cited by Benjamin and Baudelaire – ‘an isolated and estranged figure who is both a man of the crowd and a detached observer of it and, as such, the avatar of the modern city’. [60]

I was rather disappointed by the schoolboy idiocies of Potlatch and the lettrists, but then it gets a little more interesting, from De Bord’s ‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography’, 1955:

The word psychogeography, suggested by an illiterate Kabyle as a general term for the phenomena a few of us were investigating around the summer of 1953, is not too inappropriate. It does not contradict the materialist perspective of the conditioning of life and thought by objective nature. Geography, for example, deals with the determinant action of general natural forces, such as soil composition or climatic conditions, on the economic structures of a society, and thus on the corresponding conception that such a society can have of the world. Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals. The adjective psychogeographical, retaining a rather pleasing vagueness, can thus be applied to the findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and even more generally to any situation or conduct that seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery.

Taken up with the situationists, there is no mention of Lefebvre where I thought there would be. They define psychogeography as ‘The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, conspicuously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals. [93] The invented the derive: A mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through varied ambiences. Also used to designate a specific period of continuous deriving’ [93] And the detournement: The integration of present or past artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu.

Here the theoretical grounding, carried on by Vaneigem and de Certeau. And the final chapter on rehashing some of the awesomeness being produced about London. And it is awesome. But still, so white, so male, and what is a movement if it is only produced in two cities? Surely it must lie beyond, surely there are walkers and writers around the globe. I have a lot of questions, but for my first foray into what psychogeography actually is after hearing the term kicked about, this is quite all right.

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Closing Lollard Street Adventure Playground

I was looking up information on the four adventure playgrounds that Lambeth Council has ‘temporarily’ closed and I found these amazing photographs of Lollard Street Adventure Playground

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[photo from http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/whatson/exhibitions/brianbrake/brakeswork/Pages/Object.aspx?irn=1015656 ]

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[photo from http://www.thearchitectureofearlychildhood.com/2012/01/post-war-adventure-or-junk-playgrounds.html, along with a fascinating description of the importance of playgrounds and theories of play]

This was the birth of the adventure playground. At Lollard Street children gathered to play with the detritus created by the clearing away of a bombed out school. While the children played, children’s rights campaigner Lady Allen of Hurtwood started to form a movement for the building of playgrounds (a short history can be found here). Originally known as ‘junk’ playgrounds, they were renamed adventure playgrounds — a good public relations move I confess — in 1953, and the movement grew.

Look at the beautiful place Lollard Street Adventure Playground grew into. For years this has been a fully staffed facility of fun, learning and mentoring

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And now it is closed. Indefinitely. Empty of children for the first time in 60 odd years. In the old black and white photos you can see the houses of parliament in the background, you can still see them today. You can stare over a playground empty of children and committed workers at the parliament (dead center, just visible over the building, compare it to the second B&W picture!) that shut it all down.

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[also posted www.lambethsaveourservices.org]

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London: The Biography

1800059This book is a massive undertaking, both for the author and the reader, and the amount of extraordinary, fascinating and brilliant detail in here is mind-boggling. It pulls from an awe-inspiring number of primary sources to provide the most delectable quotes on everything from pubs to fashion to murders to popular food. In fact, I can’t think of a subject that isn’t in here, and it’s all woven together in a form that is almost like fiction. It muses, ponders, revels in minutiae. This is the first book I started reading after my father died about a year and a half ago, I hadn’t been able to read anything at all for a month or two and this was perfect for getting back into it, reading a couple of chapters at a time, setting down, coming back to. I loved loved loved so much of it, both the tidbits of history, but also the ways in which Ackroyd combined them, sometimes by theme or period or area. It’s changed how I walked around London streets, how I see the Thames every time I cross it, the ways I contrast old and new and am always seeking out the echoes of past times. I was a bit that way before, I confess, but now I have a much better feeling for what might be there and understanding of what I find.

It’s hard to judge a work of this size and scope with so much that is amazing in it. But as I read I became increasingly critical of the celebration of commercialism. It all comes to a head in the final chapters which left me angry. A sort of mystical view of London steadily emerged, a sort of organic living creature of a city with its own requirements and demands of its inhabitants. I liked playing with ideas about the ways in which a city shapes its residents, but was disappointed to find Ackroyd’s jubilation at the financial centres surviving the blitz as proof that the living beating heart of London might well be commerce and finance. There is a celebration of Thatcher’s big bang of 1986 loosing regulations on bangs — that would ultimately lead to our current economic crisis. And he writes

If the city had a voice it might be saying: There will always be those who fail or who are unfortunate, just as there will always be those who cannot cope with the world as presently constituted, but I can encompass them all.
…Lincoln’s Inn Fields was occupied once more by the homeless, after an interval of 150 years, while areas like Waterloo Bridge and the Embankment became the setting for what were known as ‘cardboard cities’. … Despite civic and government initiatives, they are still there. They are now part of the recognisable population; they are Londoners, joining the endless parade. Or perhaps, by sitting upon the sidelines, they remind everyone else that it is a parade.

I threw the book across the room. As though the homeless and the masses of poor are a natural phenomenon like weather, and not caused by deindustrialisation, the roll back of the welfare state and Thatcher’s own policies channeling wealth away from them towards the already wealthy. As though they are separate from ‘us’,  there for ‘our’ amusement. That Lincoln’s Inn field should have been free of the homeless for 150 years was an accomplishment of society hard fought and bitterly won. Their return is an indictment of our current direction, not an ornament to London’s wealth, or a gaze that seeks to remind the well-to-do of how wonderful they are.

Had I only stopped reading with the Blitz I would have unqualifiedly loved this book, as it is I am torn between giving it a five and giving it a one. I look back and wonder how much of this view seeped into the history. I am sure it did in celebrating trade, muting struggle and resistance. But in terms of how theatre changed over time, the love of jellied eels and pies, the roles of gravediggers, the building of churches, the vast panoply of literary views and all such topics,this is quite wonderful.

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March 26th: The Big Beginning

Yesterday was absolutely brilliant, was it not? I was still bouncing up and down when a handful of us arrived at the Westminster Arms to toast the day with the some of the folks from the Bakerloo RMT branch. We only heard last meeting that they’d affiliated to Lambeth SOS, so it was grand to get to know some of them better. But that’s jumping ahead, so back to the beginning.

The South London feeder was a tremendous success, for all the trials and tribulations and lack of democratic process over the final route. The police reported we had 5,000 people there, so you know that we had more. I’m going to miss people from this list because there were so many groups there, so apologies! Southwark SOS, Lewisham Anticuts Alliance, BARAC, Colacor, all the South London union branches, pensioners, teachers, No Cuts for Kids…and more. Amazing.

What else did we have? The best trojan horse I have ever seen, labeled the TUC Armed Wing. Ha! It was a stallion actually, as Ali swears it was anatomically correct. I’m just sorry, as I know you are, that I can’t provide photographic proof.

I hope you caught some of the activist art on the billboards along the way, I loved the one transformed into a giant legal bust card, (you can see the one featuring David Cameron here); some one has been doing some good work!

The decision to head over Westminster Bridge rather than Blackfriars was a really good one; we had no trouble at all, and we could see the hundreds of thousands of people slowly moving towards Hyde Park.

I was holding the other end of this Colacor (Latin American Colation Against the Cuts) banner for much of the way with a companero from the Latin American Workers’ Association, and originator of my favourite chant of the day: Esto no es marcha, esto es protesta, carajo! (roughly this is not a march, it is a protest damn it). As you can see, the banner cramped our photography style just a little, so I handed the camera off to Paris for a quick shot from on high when we joined the main march:

I’m afraid I never saw Paris again. But the crush of people was glorious and I did see and dearly love the full brass band

The fire brigade from the Isle of Wight with their drum, the folks with the Robin Hood hats, the balloons and the gorgeous banners from all over the country. Most of all I  just loved the beauty and immensity of it all:

This last shot I took in the late afternoon as we were leaving after a much needed rest in Hyde Park. I can’t even remember what time it was, but it must have been getting on for 5 pm and people were still streaming into Hyde Park as you can see. We thanked our stars for taking Westminster Bridge and joining the march nearer the beginning than the end. They’re saying half a million people in total but I can’t believe it wasn’t more:

I also got up to Oxford Street for a bit, getting there just too late for UK Uncut‘s action against Topshop, but I did join the revolutionary milling about for a while. Click here to read just why Topshop is a target, and why I personally was quite happy to see this:

Central London was an amazing place this weekend, almost empty but for a handful of confused shoppers, protesters, and riot police.

Just check out the nonchalance of London towards riot police! It was immensely surreal, but surely not business as usual. I don’t think it has been business as usual for a long while, I think that is something we should congratulate ourselves on.

UK Uncut went on to occupy Fortnum and Mason’s as well. Just after I had grown tired of milling about, sadly. You can read the press release here, and a very moving eyewitness account from a new activist who was there. There’s also plenty of live video footage to contradict the reports in the press of violence and mayhem. The police caused the damage, but, you know, it’s Fortnum and Mason after all. As my favourite tweet of the day says: @simonblackwell: According to police, £15,000 worth of damage inside Fortnum & Mason. Someone knocked over a jar of olives.

I know there’ll be a lot of contradictory opinions on the violence of yesterday. For myself, the violence really at issue here is that of the government against the people. It’s in every job cut and every service lost, and the job cuts run into the tens of thousands. For those of us with personal experience of the immense pain that come from lay offs and the destruction they can cause to people’s sense of self, their families, and their communities . . . there is no way to stand by and do nothing. Dismantling the welfare state is nothing if not intensely violent.

This is why we must continue to fight tooth and nail against all of it, from the sackings of RMT reps Arwyn Thomas and Eamonn Lynch (who I met last night, cheers Eamonn), to the cuts to the NHS, to our libraries and librarians, park rangers, public housing and … well, just tell me who and what isn’t getting cut.

Join us next Thursday, March 31st, 6:30 pm at the Vida Walsh Centre in Brixton to see where we go from here. I find myself deeply inspired by yesterday’s march and all of the people I marched with. So now? Now we go back to work to save our jobs and our services.

[also posted on www.lambethsaveourservices.org]

Southwark Cathedral Contradictions

I can’t quite grasp the relationship between the glorious monsters on the outside and the glorious light and space and soaring of the inside

And I still cannot quite comprehend how stone can take this character of massive weightlessness, how anything so heavy and solid can delicately soar and continually unfold into mystery

This narrow Norman arch has stood here here supporting the roof for 800 years. Of course, it was once a wood roof, probably very similar to that of Westminster Hall  with its capitals of strange creatures and frightening angels…perhaps resolving some of the contradictions, but raising others. I want to know their stories, but fear them to be long gone. And while I love stumbling across the green man, I do not buy much of the crap written about him. So it is all wonder and mystery, this combination of such immense human skill, love, and imagination

Southwark Cathedral stands at the lowest point of the Thames, the old ford and today’s Tower Bridge, for long the only entrance to the City of London. You can see the remains of the Roman road alongside the cathedral, along with a statue of an ancient hunter god. There has been a church here since at least 606 AD…

[And the priests and staff inside are incredibly friendly and informative without being overwhelmingly so. And the incredible Burough Market is immediately next door.]

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The Monsters of Southwark Cathedral

They crouch beneath the eaves, bright proud glances and power full grown

Southwark Cathedral

They claw their way out through cracks in the flint and the stone of the walls. Emerge slowly, heavy lidded and weary as from a womb, their taloned limbs still to grow into the promise of their massive heads.

Southwark Cathedral

They mourn their sunlit exile from the river’s dark waters, their reduction to mere channels and spouts and perches for pigeons

Southwark Cathedral

And there is madness, tucked into cornered arrays of angles and planes and nothing means anything but the torrent of water that rushes through its vessel paying no mind to the vacant staring eyes

Southwark Cathedral

Endlessly, violently relieved of the weight of memory and ages by the mighty rushing of waters, relieved even of the precise crags of their own face.

The pigeons remain unafraid.

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A meditation on bridges

Bridges.I love them.

I heard a fascinating lecture by David Gilbert (London Holloway University of London) the other day, on London’s Hungerford Bridge. Also known as the Charing Cross bridge…it was a look at the symbolic significance of the prosaic, not the splashy and fanciful architectural feat. In fact, Hungerford was long considered the eyesore of London, there’s an amazing little illustration from Punch magazine showing a devil staring at the bridge titled ‘The Spirit of Ugliness’. The name of the talk in fact, but I don’t want to steal the thunder. Here is an image of it as it is today, the prosaic and ugly metal railway bridge now hidden by the pedestrian walkways:

It is beautiful. And even its ugliness was painted many times, its metal disappearing into the mist of the Thames…

What I loved most about the lecture was how it made me think. Bridges are fundamental elements to the city, but often unsung (with the exception of those towering examples of technical steel and beauty, or history). They are spaces of connections, flows, and movement, as opposed to walls which contain. They are a kind of unique public space, a meeting place of difference, they have constantly changing rhythms depending on the time of day, and they open up vistas of the city in ways nothing else does. And I’ve always loved bridges, so I went to my flickr page to pull photos and meditate on this love.

Apparently I primarily love what is found under bridges. How extraordinary.

Perhaps it’s the years in LA where bridges are somehow none of these things, but have been distorted and twisted into something entirely different. Here many of them are built so that you can never cross them on foot. It is true that you can cross one or two of the bridges that span the river, but that is the division between East and West, one of the hardest LA divisions to step across in every sense. For most bridges, their function is to move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible through a landscape controlled and despised by its occupants.

Here poverty and resistance send people under the bridges. Into spaces that fill you with rage at what can be done to a city, spaces that give you that undeniably pleasant feeling of mixed tragedy, beauty and danger, that thrill of the photographer that I always try to keep a close watch on…

These bridges built over the pulverized skeletons of a destroyed community, and supporting freeways that divide L.A. into its terrifying sections of racial segregation and despair, it is underneath them that new communities grow, communities that break your heart

And the beauty?

Where everyday resistance has taken them back, reclaimed them, like Chicano Park in San Diego

And this

And so even when I lived in Glasgow I seemed to keep my eyes down, though the view was untouched by pain

Maybe I shall think about trying to photograph what is on top of bridges, and what can be seen looking outwards…without ceasing to spend time underneath.

Bruno Schulz & Literary Pub Gossip

Reading The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, also known as Cinnamon Shops. It moves easily between one title and the other in my mind, whatever my book cover might say. Moves easily between putrid terror and the warmth and fragrance of home. And I rode the tube furious that anyone who could fling my heart up and down and side to side with his glorious words, should write of a mad girl ‘s libidinous passion and hideous unnatural fertility, of an aunt of

almost self propagating fertility, a femininity without rein, morbidly expansive.

it’s not the fury of blame, just the impotent tragedy of this ancient war of sexes that I cannot find myself in. You see, I can fling words too. And all men must surely cower before me, as Schulz illustrates over and over again.

As a woman I find horror in this. And irony. One Gestapo agent spared Schulz’s life because he liked his pictures…it was another Nazi who shot him dead in the street.

It is a used book I found in Kensington on Saturday, and between two of the pages I found a small pressed flower, translucent, ancient, fragile. Beautiful. I love finding such things. And I love entire pages of this book, the lyrical madness of it. The way its edges don’t quite fit though the center holds. Mervyn Peake must also have loved him, the father crouched on the pelmet (impossible!), flapping his wings sends me reeling Gormenghast way…

And I went to write in the Seven Stars, one of my favourite pubs, small, mostly silent, I sat in a hard wooden chair by the fake coal fire, stared at the Inns of Court. Wrote reams. But is it true as one pub stalwart claimed, that Dylan Thomas made an international reputation at the expense of the local people? Must I hold it against him that he did not actually speak Welsh? And it’s Burns night…must I despise Burns and Chaucer for working for Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue Service? Ruining peoples’ lives? I am undecided. My brother texted me “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,” in honor, but I prefer this.

Let every kind, their pleasure find
The savage, and the tender
Some social join, for some leagues combine
Some solitary wander.
–Robbie Burns

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Legally Underground

I love being underground, I love dark, close places. And dark massive airy places of course. And while London is undergirded by miles of tunnels, bunkers, culverts, sewers, abandoned underground stations and etc, can you legally get into any of them?

No. But Graham and I did our best.

We started in the Cafe in the Crypt, St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. A copy of American Colonial architecture, which is really just a variation on a copy of traditional English architecture…and they sell decent coffee and quite delicious currant buns in a warm, dry, well-lit brick vault that a self-respecting ghost would never be caught…in.

They have an art exhibit on now, Cartooning and Conflict, international takes on the situation in Palestine/Israel. Some of them were good, some of them ridiculously simplistic. Of course.

So coffeed and fed, we started on the quest for the (now underground) Tyburn river. On foot. And wandered past St. James Palace just as a marching band was scheduled to appear (!), line up in front of the palace, play, salute, and head out again. It made no sense at all, but the tourists did like it.

I just love the incredible feeling of being fortuitously in exactly the right place at the right time…even if it’s only to see a marching band. We passed Truefitt & Hill, London’s oldest barber shop established in 1805. They say that:

Men deserve the best in everything they do. If you are looking for the finest in men’s grooming, we are confident you will find Truefitt & Hill’s unmatched product quality and prestigious tradition extremely compelling.

And looking in their window I believe them, almost makes me wish I were one

And so we wandered on. And in another blinding moment of fortuitosity, I mentioned we were looking for Davies Street and Graham realized we were on Davies Street, and so a moment of awed silence for such mad luck…

On Davies Street you can find Gray’s Antique Market, full of beautiful and very old things. But you actually want to turn the corner, head down the back for Gray’s Mews, because you head down into the basement there and you will find a section of the (famous) Tyburn River. Actually, I don’t think the river is famous, but the spot where they used to hang people certainly was. The river runs in culverts below London, until it arrives here, where it is neatly channeled and full of gold fish.

We couldn’t quite work out the mechanics of it, both of us thinking that the Tyburn river should be larger, dirtier, primeval. Possibly behind thick glass, certainly not staid and well-lit and mechanically aerated. But it was quite extraordinary all the same. And Gray’s Mews? Beautiful. You can see at the bottom the fabulous vintage clothing and jewelry store…quality gorgeousness, Chanel and proper furs and etc etc, long cigarette holders, old compacts that I could have conceivably afforded…it is the kind of place that is most dangerous, in that it has beautiful old things at the top of my price range (but still within it. Hence the danger.). Many other stores were shut up, sadly, like the shop below with the pair of dragon-bearing elephants that I truly desired:

It was a day of desire really, walking back down Bond Street we passed this store full of silver, and all of it beautiful

We were filled with a sense of satisfaction, of vague melancholy, of…thirst. So we stopped at the Iron Duke for a pint, a most satisfactory pub with a very interesting wall covering and scrumpy jack on tap:

From there we wound our way back down to a pub previously-spotted and tagged for a return. But once more on St. James we decided to wander into the cigar store, James J. Fox & Robert Lewis. And discovered that not only can you smoke a cigar inside (lit for you by use of a small, insanely impressive blow torch), but there is also a museum. In the basement! Underground once again, and happy because look at this:


And I discovered that, like Winston Churchill,

I am a [wo]man of simple tastes, easily satisfied with the best.

The Queen Mother had her account here as well…I like to think of her kicking back and smoking a fine cigar or two. This place is packed with phenomenal things, an old register you can flip through, Oscar Wilde’s account, fur covered cigar cases, Cigars that are two, maybe three feet long, a tin of “Potter’s Asthma Smoking Tobacco”, this letter to the company from Churchill once again:

Dear Sirs,

Confirming our telephone conversation, Sir Winston Churchill would be much obliged if you would send a box of 25 cigars of good quality, but not quite as good as the Romeo and Juliet, and of medium size, to his grandson for his birthday on October 10…

Highly recommended. Though we couldn’t afford cigars at the time. But we will be back, the humidor at the end of the room was extremely impressive. And I have never seen anything like this:

But I tore myself away.

So we found our way to the Red Lion, a small pub and the second oldest license in the West End. The oldest license? No one could say. That’s a quest for another day. But a good mix of people, Graham believes that many were masons, I accept their cover story of a funeral. The lad with the red trousers? Well, there’s no excuse for that sort of thing of course. And there were china plates lining the piece of wall between the wood paneling and the ceiling, I loved that. We had laid down the one pint per pub rule, this being an exploratory excursion, so we headed out. We passed the Golden Lion. Sadly closed. And then we found a second Red Lion. A slightly larger pub, with beveled and engraved mirrors

And as buns weren’t quite enough to support this kind of effort and quantity of drink we went in search of food. I hadn’t prepared an underground location for this, so we ended up with pizza. Probably the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten but we all know that’s because I was drunk. Drunk on the magic of London at night

From Soho we headed to embankment and a martini at the Buddha Bar. That was planned, the Buddha Bar is in the old tram tunnel you see, though of course you’d never know. We weren’t dressed for that kind of poshness of course, so most of the waitresses were rather dismissive and politely rude. Our waiter was awesome though, redeemed the whole place for me beyond any doubt.

And then still not quite ready to go home, we made a last stop, sort of underground once again, in the Coal Hole, “famous for coal-heavers and cartoonists”. Great little pub too, according to the menu (always a supreme source of local history), it was one of the last informal clubs of the Victorian era. Gillray and Rowlandson used to haunt this place! And I dearly hope they still do…Gilbert and Sullivan used to show up from time to time as well, but I’m not so fussed about them.

What a day, what a city, what a cousin. Joy.

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