Category Archives: Psychogeography

I am hardcore

It’s been a funny sort of week, comrades. My grandpa’s funeral was on Tuesday, Hurricane Jack returned to the country on Friday, work has been stressy as the Dickens and in between a lot of strange things have been happening. The plan this weekend was therefore to relax as much as possible, which hasn’t quite happened.

Friday, as I say, was marked by the return of Hurricane Jack, who has been mentioned in passing in these pages before. This was celebrated in the traditional manner, i.e. helping to take care of the nation’s alcohol surplus. During the course of this evening, I was introduced to a place in Twickenham known as the Koyote bar. I suspect I was not really the target audience for the place, which is rather noisy and features scantily-clad young ladies dancing on the bar. On the plus side, it’s open late, entry is free and alcohol is at pub prices – I think most of the people in there who weren’t actively on stag nights were taking advantage of these facts, though there were one or two who seemed to be entirely there for the femininity on display. Why they’d go there when there’s a strip club down the road I don’t know.

The night ended with a trip back to Hurricane Jack’s place in Teddington, where we talked a lot of crap, ate some food and watched Thunderbirds at four in the morning. We speculated that Gordon Tracy has so little to do that he actually purposely loses his family’s possessions so that he can “rescue” them later in front of everybody. Sad really.

I eventually got to bed at six, which I believe officially means that I was up all night (Yeah! Still got it!), and strolled into Kingston via Hampton Wick, pausing only to stick my head into the vintage shop that’s opened there. No menswear, though, so continued into Kingston. I bought a really rather delicious brownie in the market, which I will pretend I did because I needed to get rid of the hangover and because I was supporting independent traders or something, but in reality it’s because I just like eating brownies. Brownie as in interestingly-textured chocolate cake, not as in young girl scout. I mean, obviously, right?

I came across a Louis Wain print in the antique market, which I would dearly love to own but can in no way justify spending money on. If any of you have enjoyed this blog so much that you’d like to give me £90 for no reason, drop me a line.

The evening was set aside for a Boys’ Night In at Shoinan’s place out in West London. Shoinan himself describes the area as being undistinguished, but I think it has a certain J. G. Ballardesque charm, but then, as I’ve described in previous entries, my taste in urban landscapes may not be entirely normal.

As well as shooting the shit, drinking a lot of beer and getting through enough Mini Cheddars to kill lesser men, we watched a few of those movies that between us, we missed out on.

Brief review:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall = Good

Scott Pilgrim vs The World = Alright, but definitely a case of style over substance.

Black Dynamite = If you have not seen this film, I order you to go away right now and watch it.

Once again, I totally failed to get to bed at a sensible time, this time finally crashing into bed at some time after seven. I am officially hardcore. What this did mean was that my original plans for today had to be curtailed somewhat – I did have to nip into town. On the way I fed my burgeoning addiction to frozen yogurt at Yog, a small chain of whimsical frozen yogurt shops that should in no way be confused with Snog, which is a small chain of whimsical frozen yogurt shops.

The Byocup

While in Fitzrovia, I saw a product known as the Byocup on sale in one of the shops. This is essentially a response to the problem of wastage that comes about as a result of the huge number of disposable coffee cups that get thrown away every day. The idea behind the Byocup is that it’s like a disposable coffee cup, except that it’s reusable. It’s made of silicon, and so won’t burn your hands when filled with hot coffee. Whereas you would throw a disposable coffee cup away, with the Byocup you simply wash it and reuse it.

Actually, I had a similar idea myself about a year ago. Although I thought that, given that the cup was supposed to be a lifetime’s possession, I could go to town a bit more on features – not slavishly adhere to the design of the disposable cup. My version was ceramic, and had the added design features of a sturdy base and a handle. A photo of the prototype may be seen on the right.

After sticking my head into Cass Art in Berwick Street, I encountered a drug dealer who tried to sell me some hash. I didn’t actually realise he was talking to me – he just sort of ambled around in a circle that happened to intersect with my path while mumbling about “hash” and “weed.” When I didn’t react, he became upset and accused me of being rude and snobbish. This means that I achieved the unusual accolade of being one of the few people against whom a drug dealer felt able to take the moral high ground. I am a “bad ass.”

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Filed under Booze, Current events, Fitzrovia, Food, Literature, London, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Soho, Suburbia, Weird shops, West End

Holey Ship

Now, a couple of entries ago, I used this photograph wot I did take on the Greenwich Peninsula:

I must come clean. In my description, I must confess that I was perhaps not entirely truthful with you. I do not, in fact, own this thing. I know, you’re no doubt horrified that I might lead you astray with such an untruth, given my usual devotion to purest honesty which shineth forth like a beacon &c, &c. But you see, I think the real story behind this rather bizarre thing is worth an entry in itself.

It’s actually a sculpture entitled Slice of Reality, created by Richard Wilson. Wilson’s work is generally rather large scale and architectural in subject matter. He is, according to Wikipedia, interested in “unsettl[ing] or break[ing] people’s perception of space, what they think space might be.” Well, that’s pretty psychogeographical, now, isn’t it? I mean, that’s a lot of what psychogeography is about, perception of spaces and shit.

Perhaps Wilson’s most famous work is 20:50. This consists of a room filled with used sump oil. One walks through the room, looking down on the oil and into the upside-down reflection of the space you’re in.

Another, which I rather like, is Turning the Place Over. Wilson’s taken a nondescript building in Liverpool, one of those terminally boring blocks that appeared in the 1960s when Britain’s architects took a collective twenty-year holiday, and cut a hole in it. He’s motorised the bit he cut out so it spins around – effectively turning that section inside-out. Suddenly, a boring building becomes really interesting. Brilliant, eh?

So, what’s the story behind A Slice of Reality? I’m glad you asked, metaphorical literary device. You may remember the almighty balls-up that was the Millennium Dome, which I think we’re all keen to forget (seriously, it’s just a huge bloody marquee). It wasn’t that it was a bad idea per se, just really poorly executed and overall giving the impression that it had been thrown together the week before the opening with whatever they had to hand. Much like my school projects, in fact.

Anyway, one of the ideas had at the time was a collection of public art to be dotted around the Greenwich Peninsula, celebrating and commemorating the area. My suggestion (“Dump a load of toxic waste there!”) was not one of the ideas chosen, even though it would both have celebrated the history of the area and saved me a lot of bother later on.

Wilson’s interpretation of this was a section of a ship on the line of the Greenwich Meridian. This would have celebrated what Greenwich is most famous for, and would also have been a memorial to the ships that once used this area. Ironically, as I mentioned in my previous entry, this is probably one of the few areas of the Port of London that could still be called industrial, but then, what do I know? Not enough to build an installation reminding us of our obligation to the environment in past and future – okay, I’ll stop.

The vessel is, according to Mr Wilson’s website, an ocean-going sand dredger that has been cut down by 85%, leaving only the interesting bit with the cabins and engine room. The whole thing is, as you can see, pretty open to the elements, and up close it’s rather rusty and battered. Nevertheless, from certain angles it takes on a distinctly surreal quality – there’s a side-on photo on Wilson’s website that actually looks like it’s been badly Photoshopped, but is entirely unaltered.

It’s the only sculpture from the Millennium Experience to survive in situ, and for rather interesting reasons. You see, it was supposed to be taken down at the end of 2000, but for a technicality. According to the law, the river is not actually part of the Peninsula – it’s part of the Port. So Mr Wilson was able to take advantage of this nice little loophole of maritime law. As 15% of a ship is still a ship, he got the mooring permit and now he uses it as a studio. Which I think is just grand, especially as he opens it to the public on Open House weekends. Drink three bottles of red before going on board to simulate the motion of the waves.

Incidentally

This isn’t the only grounded vessel to serve as artists’ quarters – there’s a tugboat cabin on Eel Pie Island that does the same. Remind me to show you sometime.

Further Reading

http://www.richardwilsonsculptor.com/projects/slice%20of%20reality.html – Richard Wilson’s site.

http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/2010/09/slice-of-reality.html – Diamond Geezer’s entry on the subject, from which I have shamelessly swiped a lot of information. Nobody will ever know, as long as I don’t write about the plagiarism in my blog or something.

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Filed under 20th Century, Arts, Buildings and architecture, Canals and Waterways, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, London, Politics, Port of London, Psychogeography, Rivers, Sports and Recreation, Thames, tourism, Transport

Peninsula Envy

I had Tuesday off, and like most people, I decided to take advantage of this time by exploring desolate post-industrial wasteland. I invested in a shipping venture last year from Anatoly “Nickname” Chugarov (I think I mentioned that in the previous entry). Anyway, the whole thing seemed a bit dodgy to me, so I decided to pull out and asked Anatoly to give me my 5% of the venture now. I’ll admit I’m not too hot on this investment lark. Anatoly said he’d meet me on the Greenwich Peninsula with my share, so I thought I’d take advantage of this to kill two birds with one stone.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by industrial urban desolation. This might explain why I find Amy Winehouse strangely attractive. The Greenwich Peninsula has long been known for these qualities, as I discovered myself when I ended up here by accident some years ago (put it this way – the Dome hadn’t yet opened). I was curious to see how it had changed in the intervening time.

As you can see in the photo above, it’s what we psychogeographer-types call “hostile.” Once you step out of North Greenwich Tube Station, you’ve basically got lots of roads, fences and barriers on all sides – not exactly hospitable to pedestrians. Once you finally get down to the river, you can see that this far east, London is still a working port.

On the right you can see Trinity Buoy Wharf, one of the oddities of London. Circled in purple are a couple of lightships, what they’re doing there I have no idea. Circled in green is the Bow Creek Lighthouse, the only inland lighthouse in the United Kingdom. I really wish I could have got a bit closer. Some other time, maybe.

On the left you can see a contrast between old and new Docklands. In the background, the Canary Wharf development is very visible. In the foreground, an old pier used for loading barges. This has been turned into a sort of wildlife preserve , part of a general policy to bring the area back to nature. After a century and a half of pollution, this is a motion I applaud. An interesting scheme in place elsewhere on the peninsula is to resist erosion by binding the mud with naturally-occurring plant life rather than artificial walls.

There was something unutterably surreal about the view on the right, almost post-apocalyptic. Although many industries have occupied the Peninsula, and several still do, the big one was gasworks – more gas was produced here in the mid-twentieth century than anywhere else in the world (insert fart joke if required). When North Sea gas was discovered, the gasworks were rendered obsolete. Though there are a few remnants here and there, most of the ground has been built over or – as here – cleared in anticipation of new development. This is another of those transitional things that I think is quite important to capture.

Now, this is taking psychogeographical hostility to the limit. You see that flooded road between the heaps of sand there? Yeah, that’s the footpath. I’m not joking. It was at this point that I began to get heartily sick of post-industrial wasteland. No, wait, I tell a lie…

this was when I got heartily sick of post-industrial wasteland. Readers may note the highly unsuitable choice of trousers. Consider also that this was actually quite early on in the scramble through floodwater/over sandbanks. By the end I was considering suicide, or at least buying a decent pair of boots.

On the right is an aggregate… tower… loading… thing. I don’t know what it is, if I’m honest. It has a conveyor belt. By this stage I was starting to go a little bit mad, I think. God only knows why I took a picture here.

In fact, I think I’m going to skip the next few photos. They mostly consist of mud and concrete. I found some rails where a crane once went, that was about it.

However, I did eventually find something more interesting, for a given value of “interesting.”

And here it is. These strange steel structures are on Enderby’s Wharf, once the location of a submarine cable works. Which made cables, you see, for going underwater. It’s quite interesting. I think, anyway.

The wharf is preserved now, but was locked up when I was passing. The actual works buildings are boarded up, which is lame.

Here is a breaker’s yard for boats. Again, not sure exactly what my thinking was in taking a photo here. This is actually one of the nicer photos.

I think I might have photographed this because it was a landmark I remembered from the previous visit. I also recall a chemical plant, which seemed to have closed down since then. I remember passing under some sort of loading-pipe-rig-type thing that was no longer there.

This is another of those “observe the contrast between the old Docklands and the new” photos. On one side of the road, grotty industry. On the other, shiny new flats. It makes you think. Specifically, it makes you think, “Christ, imagine having to look at that grotty industry every morning.”

Ah, now, this is interesting. This is Greenwich Power Station, built to supply electricity to the London Underground and London County Council Tramways from 1910. Despite its antiquated nature, it is still used as a backup supply. Architecturally, I think the main body of the plant is actually quite pleasant. Certainly compared to some of the eyesores I saw earlier (“eyesores I saw”… dear me).

And here we are at historic Maritime Greenwich. Incidentally, if you wondered how I came to be on the Greenwich Peninsula back in 1999, the simple answer was that I wanted to get here, and figured that North Greenwich wouldn’t be too far away. As the crow flies, it’s not. But when it’s cold and bleak and the path is muddy and the route winds around many huge obstacles, well, let’s just say it wasn’t worth avoiding the change of trains. And here endeth the lesson.

Oh, wait, the investment thing. Well, Anatoly was as good as his word, and did indeed give me my 5% share.

Son of a bitch.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, East End and Docklands, Flora and Fauna, Geography, History, Lies, London, London Underground, Photos, Port of London, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Rivers, Thames, Transport

Unseeing for beginners

I’ve just finished reading a rather interesting novel. I have a reading list as long as my arm (though admittedly, I don’t have very long arms and I’m not including my collarbone or hand in that estimate), so it’s quite nice to actually read something simply for enjoyment. I miss doing that.

The book in question was The City and the City by China Mieville. This is a slightly bizarro novel that’s rather hard to categorise. Inevitably, it’s shelved under ‘Fantasy,’ because China Mieville is a fantasy author and therefore is not allowed to write in any other genre. But it’s not really fantastical. It’s set in a fictional place, true, but so was Hard Times. Beyond that, though, there’s no magic and no monsters – like the Gormenghast trilogy, it seems to be counted as fantasy whether it deserves it or not. Meanwhile, Salman Rushdie includes magic and demons and ghosts but is not fantasy. Go figure.

The book is set in two fictional city-states – the vaguely East European Beszel (which should be written with accents) and the vaguely Middle Eastern Ul Qoma. These cities are very different, culturally and economically. Beszel is in a slump, while Ul Qoma is an up-and-coming power. Beszel enjoys a friendly relationship with the USA, while Ul Qoma is blockaded. Ul Qomans and Besz wear different clothes, use different alphabets, eat different food, speak different languages, even the way they walk and gesture differs between the two cities. And to be in the wrong city without a permit will bring down the wrath of Breach, a sinister and mysterious police force – if you’ve breached, there is no measure that is not in their power to use against you.

But here’s where things get weird – Ul Qoma and Beszel occupy the same space. Certain areas belong to one city, and others to the other. Weirder still, there are areas of “crosshatching,” belonging to both cities. The boundaries between the two nations are purely psychological, with citizens of one being trained from birth to ignore or “unsee” the people, buildings and traffic of the other, with Breach maintaining the mental division by force.

The story revolves around a person found dead in Beszel, but apparently killed in Ul Qoma. And apparently no breach has taken place. Inspector Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad investigates, and discovers that something very, very strange is going on. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that, like so much that Mieville writes, this one will mess with your head.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m talking about this book when it has almost nothing to do with London. It’s not set in London, it’s not even set in a place inspired by London (unlike most of Mieville’s other fantasy). The reason I think it’s appropriate is that, while it’s not a story applicable specifically to London, it’s one that’s applicable to the urban condition as a whole.

The concept of two different nations whose boundaries exist purely in your mind is, on the face of it, freaky-deaky. But think about the concept of “unseeing.” Think about it next time you walk through the city. Think about all the things around you that you simply ignore because they don’t concern you. On an obvious level, derelict buildings. Shops you don’t use. Streets you walk past but not along. How about the stuff you ignore on a cultural level? I don’t use the mosque. I pay no attention to the R&B night posters. I walk straight past the Polish delicatessens. The council estates might as well not exist. There’s no reason I should bear these things especially in mind, but equally, there’s no reason why I should be ignoring them. How can I consider myself citywise when there’s so much of the city, even within areas I know, about which I’m ignorant?

The concept of a hidden world that we ignore or don’t see is nothing new in fiction. Works like Mieville’s own King Rat, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and hell, even Harry Potter use hidden corners of London as secret places. Yet The City and the City is, as far as I’m aware (tell me if I’m wrong) the first to actually suggest that there’s nothing magical going on there. And in that regard, it suggests that the responsibility to see or unsee is entirely our own. What aren’t we seeing? What are we being told to ignore?

In future, if anyone asks me what psychogeography is, I think I’ll just hand them a copy of this book and tell them to ask me again in a week.

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Filed under Arts, Geography, Literature, Only loosely about London, Paranormal, Politics, Psychogeography

Ghosts of the Northern Line

I love Halloween, probably because it allows me to combine my perverse fascination with the macabre with my love of high camp. It’s funny, I was never really bothered about it when I was small. Anyway, that in mind, there’s a certain theme to the blentries this week.

I thought it would be nice to talk about something spooky. Britain is apparently the most haunted country in the world, and London makes up a significant proportion of that. And if we’re talking about hauntings and London, the subject of the Underground is never far behind. With its long and complex history, its hundreds of miles of tunnels (not all of which are accounted for, so a former London Transport worker tells me) and the fact that it’s, you know, under the ground, it’s inevitable that spooky stories would arise around it.

I’m going to largely limit myself to the Northern Line for now, simply because there are so very many ghosts on the entire system that I’d be here all night if I attempted to catalogue them all, and I appreciate how busy you are.

The most southerly sighting was at Stockwell, and took the form of an elderly workman spotted by a trainee. This gent was apparently quite sociable, having a brief conversation with the trainee who saw him. Indeed, were it not for the fact that no maintenance was due on that stretch of tunnel, the man might never have been noticed. It was surmised that he was the ghost of someone killed in the 1950s.

You might think Kennington was troublesome enough without spooks, but drivers with empty trains waiting in the tunnel for clearance to come into the station proper have reported the sound of doors on the train opening and closing, as if there’s someone walking up the train – approaching the cab…

Elephant and Castle might be the most haunted station on the network. Maybe this is because one of the tunnels on the Bakerloo Line cuts through a plague pit. Whatever reason, there have been numerous eerie occurances here. The most common was the sound of running footsteps along the platforms and up the stairs when the station was supposedly deserted apart from staff. Doors would open and shut, and a porter named Mr Horton refused to go back there after one night shift when he was alone in the break room and heard someone approaching and knocking on the door. He opened up to find the corridor deserted. A familiar ghost consists of a woman who gets on the train, walks towards the front and then disappears. This ghost supposedly haunts the last train on the Bakerloo Line, but I include it for completeness’ sake. I should also mention one seen by commuters seated alone in the carriage who, upon looking in the opposite window, are startled to see a woman sitting next to them.

The Northern Line ticket hall at Bank was built in the crypt of the church of St Mary Woolnoth, which may go some way to explaining the oppressive feeling of terror experienced by commuters there, often accompanied by a foul stench. Down on the platforms, a figure known as the Black Nun has been sighted. This ghost has also been seen in and around the Bank of England, and is named Sarah Whitehead. Her brother was executed for forgery in 1811, following which Sarah went mad with grief.

Oppressive feelings have also been reported at Embankment, in a staff-only tunnel known as “Page’s Walk”. Unexplained gusts of wind and the sounds of doors opening and closing are heard.

At Moorgate, in the mid-1970s, workers in the Northern City Line tunnels (then part of the Northern Line, now National Rail) spoke of a man in blue overalls who would approach them. As he came closer, a look of unspeakable horror would appear on his face, and he would vanish into the tunnel wall. Some paranormal enthusiasts have suggested that seeing this ghost might have been the cause of the 1975 tube crash in that part of the station, the true cause of which is unknown to this day. Others have suggested that the haint may have been a premonition of the disaster.

At King’s Cross, in the entrance tunnel, a rather modern spectre has been seen – a woman in jeans, crying piteously. The most likely event to have caused such a spirit to become manifest would have been the fire in the Underground station in 1987, in which 31 people lost their lives.

Possibly one like this.

At East Finchley, on the sidings near the station, a ghostly steam train of the Great Northern Railway has been sighted, a relic of the days before the line was run by London Underground.

Highgate, in addition to the Northern Line station that is still very much in use, has an abandoned station  that was to form part of an extensive expansion project for the line, a project known as the Northern Heights. The plan was abandoned, as was the station, but the buildings remain. This ruined station is situated in a deep cutting, and is described by author W. B. Herbert as having “an emotive, eerie atmosphere.” Local residents have reported the sound of trains in the cutting, and visitors to the ruins describe a feeling of being watched.

Last train, anyone?

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Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Crime, Disasters, History, Kings Cross, London, London Underground, Occult, Paranormal, Psychogeography, Suburbia, The City, Transport, West End

This bacon smells funny

Well, I finished reading that book, Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead. I was disappointed to discover that actually, it had almost no mention of said black swine. This cannot be allowed to stand, since it actually sounds like a hell of a good story.

The book does briefly mention said hogs in the form of an editorial from the Daily Telegraph. from 10 October 1859. I shall quote the relevant part of said editorial, because I rather like it.

This London is an amalgam of worlds within worlds, and the occurrences of every day convince us that there is not one of these worlds but has its special mysteries and its generic crimes. Exaggeration and ridicule often attach to the vastness of London, and the ignorance of its penetralia common to us who dwell therein. It has been said that beasts of chase still roam in the verdant fastnesses of Grosvenor Square, that there are undiscovered patches of primaeval forest in Hyde Park and that Hampstead sewers shelter a monstrous breed of black swine, which have propagated and run wild among the slimy feculence, and whose ferocious snouts will one day up-root Highgate archway, while they make Holloway intolerable with their grunting.

The pigs in question started out as an urban legend – Henry Mayhew discusses the story in London Labour and the London Poor.

The story runs that a sow in young by some accident got down the sewer through an opening and, wandering away from the spot, littered and reared her offspring in the drain, feeding on the offal and garbage washed into it continuously. Here, it is alleged, the breed multiplied exceedingly, and have become almost as ferocious as they are numerous.

This pig is not in a sewer, but you get the idea.

Spooky pigs are not unknown in British folklore – Yr. Humble Chronicler’s father, Shropshire-born, notes that there was a local legend in his village of a ghostly black pig haunting the churchyard, and a white one has supposedly been seen near Newbury in Berkshire. Perhaps the pigs of Hampstead are simply another version of this? Or perhaps, if we’re to be cynical, it has something to do with the fact that Mayhew’s flushermen would “generally take a drop of rum” before venturing into the sewers. Certainly there’s no evidence to back these pigs up other than hearsay. Sewer workers have reported frogs, ducks, terrapins and even snakes down there, but no pigs. The flushermen interviewed by Mayhew mention rats as big as “good-sized kittens.”

A sewer, London, yesterday.

The story seems to have been reasonably well-known in the mid-nineteenth century, but these cryptids have been largely forgotten in the present day. Leave it up to Neil Gaiman, then, to revive the legend in what might be the best-known work of London fantasy – Neverwhere. In this book, London possesses its own subterranean Labyrinth, and its own equivalent of the Minotaur. A character describes said beast thus:

“Now, they say that back before the fire and the plague there was a butcher lived down by the Fleet Ditch, had some poor creature he was going to fatten up for Christmas. (Some says it was a piglet, and some says it wusn’t, and there was some that wusn’t ever certain.) One night the beast runned away, ran into the Fleet Ditch, and vanished into the sewers. And it fed on sewage, and it grew, and it grew. And it got meaner, and nastier. They’d send in hunting parties after it, from time to time… Things like that, they’re too vicious to die. Too old and big and nasty.”

Given that the Fleet Ditch in question runs through Hampstead, and given that for much of its length it was bricked over and used as a sewer, I’d say we have a much-embellished version of the story of the black swine. The book, if you haven’t read it, is well worth grabbing – it’s basically a retelling of more-or-less every lost myth of London. The main character, significantly, is Richard Mayhew.

It’s a shame that, whatever else we may have in London’s vast network of sewers, storm drains and underground rivers, the black pigs of Hampstead are no longer believed in. Maybe the story was lowering property values in the area or something. No, if you want sewer monsters, I’m afraid you’ll have to take the alligators of New York and be done with it, Sunny Jim.

Oink.

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Filed under 19th century, Canals and Waterways, Geography, Hampstead, History, Literature, London, Occult, Paranormal, Plants and animals, Psychogeography, Rivers

Going home?

Going home, as in returning to the place where you grew up, tends to be a weirdly alienating experience. Almost melancholy, in its way. Everything is slightly uncanny, at once familiar and yet different. It’s a bit of an odd time to make this observation, given that it’s not like I never see my family, and in any case I only live about an hour and a half away by public transport (20 minutes by car – what the hell, Boris?). Perhaps it is the march of age that makes me so reflect, or perhaps it’s the fact that I forgot to mail myself the entry that was originally going to go here and needed to come up with something else in a hurry.

I grew up in Twickenham, you see. The first few months were lived in Baron’s Court in a flat overlooking the Underground line, which perhaps explains a lot about this blog. But the vast majority of my childhood was spent in that leafy suburb. Oddly enough, I’ve never been a rugby fan – to me, all a rugby match meant was that the buses weren’t running and it would be a bugger getting a train.

Eel Pie Island, back in the day

The thing I particularly noticed on returning today was how very swish it’s all become. Very gentrified. I remember when the waterfront at Twickenham was mostly notable for the derelict swimming baths that my mate Tim swore were inhabited by vampires. These have now gone – there was an uproar when it was suggested that they might be replaced with a shopping complex, but happily a garden now stands in their place (do gardens stand? I don’t know).

I was also pleased to note that the waterfront now boasts a sign concerning Eel Pie Island. The Island, less well known as Twickenham Ait, has a significant place in the history of British music, with artists as varied as the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath and Long John Baldry among many others playing at the Hotel. If you speak Internet, Long John Baldry was the one responsible for the “PINGAS” meme. If you don’t, then don’t worry about it. These days, it’s the closest thing Twickenham has to a bohemian quarter. Well worth a look if you get the chance.

Twickenham, King Street. The bank is still there, virtually everything else has vanished or been rebuilt.

Also nearby is Twickenham Museum, which is a really excellent museum given that it’s basically two rooms in a house. That sounds really patronising, but it genuinely is worth a look if you have an interest in the West London suburbs. And the Mary Wallace Theatre, in what was once a soup kitchen, has some good (albeit amateur) stuff on. So gutted I just missed a production of Glengarry Glen Ross there.

During the day, York House Gardens are a pleasant place for a walk. If you’ve ever seen Alfie, the sanitarium scenes were actually filmed here. I’ve heard there was a remake of this film starring Jude Law, but this seems ridiculous and I think we should all agree that such a thing could not possibly have happened, maybe burning anyone who says otherwise. The area is very popular for filming, due to the proximity of Twickenham, Teddington and Shepperton Studios. Off the top of my head, two of the Beatles movies (Help! and A Hard Day’s Night) were filmed here, as were A Fish Called Wanda and The Krays. There have been many others.

The reason I was here was to celebrate the Bro’s birthday. We were dining at a little Italian restaurant called La Serenata. By not being called La Dolce Vita it instantly gains a couple of points in my book. The thing I like about this place is perhaps the thing that most people would hate about it – it’s a proper retro Italian place. Faux wooden beams, family-run, wax-encrusted wine bottles as candle holders. You know the drill. The food is robustly Anglo-Italian, the menu clearly dating from an era when people were just starting to get the hang of Italian food but weren’t yet familiar with concepts like “balsamic vinegar.” Some would call it unpretentious, others would call it basic. But what they do, they do well – I particularly recommend the steak in any of its forms. I’m told that it’s to die for in the brandy and dijon sauce. The only things that were rubbish were the chips, but this was one black mark on an otherwise superb meal. As I’m no foodie, you can take or leave my recommendation.

Alas, it rarely seems to get much custom – we were the only ones here tonight, and reviews of the place seem to be singularly lacking. It’s the sort of place that Gordon Ramsay would come to and totally revamp while exclaiming “Faaahk me!” as often as possible. But I like it.

The trouble with this diet is that when I actually do get an opportunity to indulge myself, I can’t do so quite as much as I used to. This three-course meal has left me feeling utterly bloated, and more than a little stretched. I guess you can never really go back.

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