Tag Archives: Psychogeography

You’re Kraken me up

Ah, lazy bank holiday weekend, I’ve been celebrating with a substantial fried breakfast and heinous amounts of coffee. Be still, my beating heart – and it probably will. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I’ve just finished reading China Miéville’s Kraken, his most recent work of urban fantasy, you see. It’s taken me a while – I do, as I think I have said before, have a reading list as long as my arm.

I’ve talked about Miéville before in these pages, but to sum up – he’s a fantasy author with something of a cult following who writes work set primarily in an urban environment. Kraken, like his earlier works Un Lun Dun and King Rat, is set in a strange alternate fantasy version of London.

Our protagonist is Billy Harrow, a curator at the Natural History Museum. One morning, he discovers that one of the Museum’s star exhibits, a preserved giant squid in a tank, has vanished without trace. Almost immediately, Billy finds himself dragged into an utterly bizarre underworld of cults and magic, the target of a police unit dedicated to investigating weirdness, a church that worships the Kraken and a gang leader who happens to be a living tattoo. Oh, and the Apocalypse is coming. Make that Apocalypses.

What I would say marks this book out among Miéville’s work is the fun he has with it. He did have a few laughs in Un Lun Dun, but like so many adult fantasy authors who try to break into kids’ books, they came across as forced. Kraken, on the other hand, is written with a kind of 2000AD sensibility, a real sense of deliciously black humour. We are introduced to the Londonmancers, magicians who might best be described as pro-active psychogeographers. The Tattoo’s henchmen are the Knuckleheads, whose name is rather more literal than you might expect. Wati, an ally of the protagonist, is a spirit who can manifest in any statue or carving, right down to a Captain Kirk action figure. And there’s the rather disturbing question of what actually happens when you teleport a person…

For someone who’s made his name subverting the fantasy genre (he once described J R R Tolkien as “a wen on the arse of fantasy literature”), the author does get a lot of mileage out of playing with clichés. The best (and funniest) example of this might be when the foul-mouthed police magician Collingwood goes after Wati using spirits literally created out of copper stereotypes (“bring this little toerag in, overtime, nonce, slag, guv, sarge, proceedin long the eye street”).

This is London fantasy in the grand tradition of Neverwhere – Miéville has acknowledged his debt to Neil Gaiman in the past, and in particular has noted the similarities between Kraken’s Goss and Subby and Neverwhere’s Croup and Vandemar. However, unlike many works of London fantasy, this one plays off the incoherence of the city – the fact that London cannot simply be summed up according to any particular mythology or structure, that it’s many different places coexisting at once, perceived in many different ways by many different people.

As a Miéville book, it’s much more lightweight than most of his other work. If it has a major fault, it’s that there is perhaps too much going on – so much is thrown in by way of crazy ideas and characters that it’s hard to track down the central core of the book. When the big revelation comes at the end, it doesn’t make you think, “Of course! Why didn’t I realise that?” so much as it makes you think, “Eh? Where did that come from?”

In short, if you’re hoping for another The City and The City, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a work of urban fantasy that’s intelligent and gripping and doesn’t take itself too seriously, then it comes highly recommended from me, for what that’s worth.

Here’s to the upcoming release of Embassytown…

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Literature, London, Occult, Paranormal, Psychogeography

Shirley Bassey ain’t singing about this one.

Yesterday I found myself in West London, White City to be precise, in the shadow of the Westway. It is, if I’m quite honest, not the most beautiful area of the city – the Westway itself has become synonymous with psychogeographical hostility, due to the way it cuts across West London like an infected wound.

That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though, although it’s not entirely unrelated, thematically speaking. From here, and indeed from many, many vantage points on this side of the city, there’s a landmark even more visible and only slightly prettier.

The rather rubbish photo to the right depicts it- the Trellick Tower. The Tower is notoriously brutal in its design and, indeed, is one of the most famous examples of Brutalist architecture in the city.

Brutalism is perhaps the ultimate expression of architectural arrogance. It is a spin-off from Modernism, which, for all its high-falutin’ idealism concerning the revolutionising of living space, has rarely worked in the real world. The architect Erno Goldfinger, who designed the Trellick Tower, summed up the aims of Modernism thus:

Whenever space is enclosed, a spatial sensation will automatically result for persons who happen to be within it.

At this point, I think I speak for us all when I say “No shit, Sherlock.” Goldfinger then adds,

It is the artist who comprehends the social requirements of his time and is able to integrate the technical potentialities in order to shape the spaces of the future.

Thus, Goldfinger (and the other Modernists) saw their duty as something more than simply to produce places for people to live and work. Their goal was nothing less than the reshaping of society through their harnessing of space. However, at this point, I would like to retort with the Da’s opinion on architecture, which he quotes from a builder he once did some work for.

For centuries, houses have been built with four walls and a pointy roof, and there’s a good reason for that.

You see, the problem with Modernist architecture is that while it was very high-minded in its conception, it was often ill-thought-out and badly-executed. I don’t think I’ll be contradicted when I say that the result, in the 1950s-70s, was the most hated architectural movement in Britain’s history. Cutting corners during construction resulted in unsafe buildings that aged poorly. In one notorious case – pictured left – the side of Ronan Point tower block in Newham collapsed following a gas explosion. Even when the buildings stayed up, they were ugly and depressing. Concrete grew damp and grimy, corridors admitted little light and sharp corners gathered dust and litter. The psychogeographical effects are summed up by Lynsey Hanley in her excellent Estates: An Intimate History:

You can’t drift easily this way around many council estates… They are too channelled, too labyrinthine to make wandering an enjoyable experience.

Indeed. If Goldfinger and co. intended to shape people, it’s not entirely clear what they intended to shape them into. Modernist housing became synonymous with crime, poverty and hopelessness.

The Trellick Tower opened for business in 1972, and within a few years had become as notorious as any other high rise council block – indeed, its prominence made it perhaps more notorious than most. It stood out for miles, compromising not one jot with its surroundings. Tales abounded of poor maintenance, robbery and rape. Goldfinger was utterly unrepentant, observing, “I built skyscrapers for people to live in there and now they messed them up – disgusting.” What a prick.

For many people, the ugly-bastardry of Trellick Tower demanded retribution, and a popular urban legend arose that Goldfinger was actually utterly guilt-ridden by what he had unleashed on the residents of West London and jumped to his death from the Tower’s roof. Nothing but wishful thinking.

Ian Fleming, however, took things a step further. Fleming, of course, was the author of the James Bond novels, and no fan of Brutalism. If you know the Bond canon at all, you’ll no doubt have figured what happened – Fleming decided to give Bond a greedy, cheating enemy by the name of Goldfinger. Goldfinger – the real one – was a man without humour, as you may have guessed (for instance, he was known to fire assistants for cracking jokes), and Fleming’s publishers baulked at the possibility of being sued by the architect. Fleming furiously suggested that the character be renamed “Goldprick,” and the publishers figured maybe they should just go ahead and what the hell.

Oddly enough, the Trellick Tower has had something of a revival in its reputation in recent years. Following the formation of a Residents’ Association and a number of improvements, it’s become a more desirable place to live, with flats selling for an amount reported to be “heinously large” by sources (well, Wikipedia). Its distinctive shape has given it something of an iconic stature, and it’s become weirdly accepted as part of the skyline, like an old scar. It’s even been given Grade II* listing, which I don’t think anyone saw coming back in 1972. Apart from Goldfinger, perhaps.

6 Comments

Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Environment, Fashion and trends, Geography, History, Kensington, London, Notable Londoners, Psychogeography, Suburbia

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.

1 Comment

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

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.

5 Comments

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

Achey breaky feet

Yesterday was a bit of a mistake. See, as part of my weight loss programme, I’m trying to exercise more. Therefore, yesterday I decided to go on a nice long walk. No particular aim other than to burn some calories.

I find most forms of exercise a bit of a pain in the old behind. Not  because they’re tiring, but because they’re so dull. Lifting weights? Well, why did you put them on the floor in the first place, idiot? Football? Well, if you’d just stop running around and took it in turns to kick, you could score a lot more goals. Walking, on the other hand, is great. I get to know the city better and I can find lots of interesting things on the way.

There’s a funny little alleyway near where I live. In nearly four years of being in Colliers Wood, I have never been down there. So that’s what I did. I discovered that it brought me out alongside the river Wandle. It’s not a bad walk, if you don’t mind hideously ugly industry and relative isolation. Which most people do. So, er.

After walking for simply aaaages, I came back to the main road, and found myself in Earlsfield. “Well,” I thought, “this isn’t far from home at all. I shall keep walking… TO THE END OF THE WANDLE!” Lightning flashed at that point for reasons I am at a loss to explain.

So I followed the back streets and came to King George Park, where the path rejoins the river. This brought me out in Wandsworth, where the river ends. I had a bit of a stroll around, a bit of an explore. And then I saw a sign pointing me to Fulham. Now, I’ve passed through Fulham several times, but not on foot.

So, out of curiosity, I crossed Wandsworth Bridge. I found… well, mostly what I found was suburbia. I did find a wicked-awesome derelict factory, though, and took several photos. I won’t subject you to all of them, fear not, but you can have some of them.

And I just sort of ended up walking on and on. Through Fulham, on to Hammersmith and ultimately on to Shepherd’s Bush. I have a couple of chums here who have appeared in these pages before, and gave them a bell to suggest meeting up. I suspect I did not present the best picture, being completely sweaty and ‘orrible, not to mention babbling insanely due to endorphines (incidentally, excellent way to get high if you’re into that sort of thing).

We had dinner at a place called Fire and Stone in the Westfield Centre. If you’re not familiar with Fire and Stone, it’s a really rather far-out pizza place where more-or-less anything edible can end up on your pizza. For instance, I went with the ‘New York’, which included crispy smoked bacon, roast potatoes, caramelised onions and sour cream. Another that caught my eye was the ‘London’, featuring bacon, egg, sausage and black pudding. Yes, basically breakfast on a pizza.

I resisted dessert and took the last Central Line tube from White City, the idea being to change at Notting Hill Gate on to the District Line to Wimbledon and bus it from there. Except that Notting Hill Gate was closed for refurbishment. It’s all very well telling people to consult the TfL website when planning their journey, but I rarely know where I’m going to end up. So I got out at Holland Park and walked up to Paddington. From there, a couple of night buses home. Ooh, me aching feet.

Anyway, here are some random psychogeographical-type photos documenting the journey from Shepherd’s Bush on.

1 Comment

Filed under Buildings and architecture, Food, Geography, Kensington, London, Notting Hill, Photos, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Suburbia, Thames, Transport, West End

Two sticks and an apple

… ring the bells at Whitechapel. That’s how the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons used to begin. Yes, I believe a couple of entries ago I said I would conclude telling you about the wondrous things I saw on the rest of my little stroll through the East End on Sunday. So let’s do that.

I believe I had just left the Museum of Childhood in my previous entry. Having some time to kill before a meeting with a friend in Teddington, I had a wander around the backstreets. The backstreets are where you find interesting things.

For instance, while photographing a scrapyard (my definition of “interesting” may vary from yours) I heard what appeared to be some sort of band practice. Closer investigation revealed it to be one of those gospel choir-type church services. The women outside asked if I would be interested in coming in. I had to decline, but complimented them on their enthusiasm. That’s the second time in eight days someone’s tried to save my soul. Guess I must look like a lost sheep or something.

While photographing the building you see on the left there, I was taken by surprised by a loud “CRACK!” Naturally, I assumed it was a concealed sniper – you make a lot of dangerous enemies in my line of work (admin). So I was somewhat relieved when I rounded the corner and discovered it was a young woman practising with a bullwhip on Stepney Green. I would have photographed her as well, but I didn’t want to get too close. I’ve seen the Indiana Jones films.

As you’ve now no doubt gathered (if you know the area), my walk had taken me into Whitechapel. Whitechapel is an area of notoriety. Historically, this is because it’s immediately outside the City and therefore was a good place for putting the things they didn’t want inside the City – industries unpleasant to the senses and the people who worked in them (incidentally, Southwark similarly became a notorious part of London due to its position immediately outside the City).

 What it’s most notorious for, of course, is the Jack the Ripper killings. Psychogeographers would claim that the reason brutal deeds tend to centre on certain parts of London far more than others is because of malign influences. This, I think, ignores the more prosaic but more likely explanation that the City of London and its immediate environs remained largely unchanged for centuries. Whitechapel was a poor industrial district in the 17th century and it was a poor industrial district in the 19th century. It’s only been in the late 20th century that these districts have really been allowed to go upmarket.

A psychogeographer would no doubt say that the notorious event that took place at this pub in 1966 is entirely unremarkable in an area frequented by Jack the Ripper and the Elephant Man. Regardless of whether you go along with that, the pub is a landmark for the true crime fanatic.

On 9th March 1966, George Cornell made the mistake of coming in for a drink. Cornell had recently joined the Richardsons, the notorious South London gang. The Richardsons were the great rivals of the Firm, the gang headed by the Krays, icons of the East End organised crime scene. Cornell’s change of allegiance made the Richardsons a little too powerful for the Krays’ liking (he had joined at the same time as the infamous Mad Frankie Fraser). The fact that Cornell had referred to the somewhat highly strung (or psychotic) Ronnie Kray as a “fat poof” sealed the deal – the guy was going down.

It says something about the hold the Krays had over the East End that Ronnie could openly walk into a pub on a main road in broad daylight and shoot a man in front of a bar full of witnesses without fear. Indeed, when questioned, everyone in that bar found themselves unable to clearly recall events, and it looked like the Krays were going to get away with it once again. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1968, when several members of the Firm were arrested in a big push by Nipper Read of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, that the witnesses remembered what had happened.

Despite my best efforts, a hipster wandered into the above photo. My apologies.

Confounding the psychogeographers, though, would be the other event for which the Blind Beggar is famous. It was on the pavement here, 101 years earlier, that William Booth, seen on your right, gave his first Whitechapel public sermon. Booth was your standard fire-and-brimstone Methodist preacher, and chose the poverty-stricken, overcrowded and crime-ridden slums of Whitechapel as the ideal place to start his Christian Mission. Here he and his family ran soup kitchens as well as offering religious services to the poor and needy. This Mission would later become the Salvation Army. Booth is commemorated for his work by two statues within a few yards of each other. I kind of wish I’d used the one that doesn’t have such an unfortunate poster next to it.

Of course, if the psychogeographical folks wanted to confound me, they could point out that an attempt was made to bring me into Christianity just a few minutes’ walk from Booth’s early attempts to do the same. But I’d rather they didn’t.

3 Comments

Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Booze, Buildings and architecture, Churches, Crime, Current events, East End and Docklands, Film and TV, Geography, History, Literature, London, Notable Londoners, Occult, Photos, Politics, Psychogeography, Randomness, The City

Going to the Dogs

Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! (near London Bridge)

Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! (near London Bridge)

As anyone will tell you, an expedition requires planning – it’s all very well talking about “the great unknown,” but only a madman would set out on a voyage of discovery with anything but the most rigorous preparation for anything he or she might encounter along the way. In general, deciding what you’re looking for after you’ve got on the train, as I did yesterday, is not a good idea.

What I was specifically trying to find was the launch site of Brunel’s magnificent steamship, the Great Eastern. All I knew was that it had been launched from Millwall. Had I known that I was going to look for the site, I’d probably have done a bit more research. As it was, I was exploring the Isle of Dogs with an A-Z and a series of educated guesses. It turns out the I-Love-Dogs is a complicated place to explore on foot, and not exactly congenial to the aimless wanderer.

Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf

It doesn’t help that the area consists of large, open spaces of water and huge, square tower blocks. The Canary Wharf development is as cold and windy as an 18th century slum lord (note to self: do not hit “publish” until you’ve found a better metaphor). Plus there’s the fact that you have to keep dodging around construction work.

Remnant of the Island's industrial heritage.

Remnant of the Island's industrial heritage.

Every so often you’ll come across some random reminder of the Island’s industrial heritage. I, however, could find nothing whatsoever to indicate where the launch site might be. My A-Z listed something called the “Great Eastern Enterprise Centre,” but that was no help at all. You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult, the site must be seven hundred damn feet long.

Hydraulic ram ship-launching-type thing.

Hydraulic ram ship-launching-type thing.

Anyway, after scouting around for a good couple of hours, earning suspicious looks from residents and police alike, I thought I’d call it a day and head back along the riverside. The riverside is where Millwall gets its name. Back in the day, the bank of the Thames supported seven windmills, taking advantage of the aforementioned windsweptness of the location. A wall was built to keep the ground stable, hence “mill wall.”

These concrete blocks now hold up the mill wall, hence are known as "mill wall supporters" har har.

These concrete blocks now hold up the mill wall, hence are known as "mill wall supporters" har har.

In the nineteenth century, the area was a perfect location for the development of massive new enclosed docks that would relieve the pressure on the massively overwhelmed Pool of London and also reduce the risk of river piracy. It was also the only place in London where a ship as massive as the Great Eastern could be launched, and even then it had to go sideways.

I totally didn't notice that this bar was called 'The Heroin' when I doctored the image.

I totally didn't notice that this bar was called 'The Heroin' when I doctored the image.

In due course, I found myself back at the West India Dock, a short walk from my starting point at Canary Wharf. Rather than accept that I’d wasted an afternoon and just going home, I thought I’d indulge in a bit of “stitching.” This is a psychogeographical term wot I am pretty sure I have invented. Basically, it’s when you explore the space between two areas that you have previously explored.

19th-century wharf, Limehouse. This is just exactly the sort of thing I've been looking for in the Docklands.

19th-century wharf, Limehouse. This is just exactly the sort of thing I've been looking for in the Docklands.

Hence, the two patches are psychologically “stitched” together, and can be related to each other. I figured that a short walk would allow me to stitch the Isle of Dogs to Limehouse. I’ve already walked from Limehouse to Shadwell, Shadwell to the City and the City to Bermondsey and London Bridge, so that’s a pretty good patchwork quilt thing I gots going on there. I also did a bit of exploring around Limehouse, because I’d only previously really covered a small area of the place.

The Grapes, part of an 18th century terrace in Narrow Street, Limehouse. Apparently The Grapes appears in Dickens' 'Our Mutual Friend', which I have never read.

The Grapes, part of an 18th century terrace in Narrow Street, Limehouse. Apparently The Grapes appears in Dickens' 'Our Mutual Friend', which I have never read.

Limehouse is a place that likes to make something of its history, which is fair enough. It’s a place with an interesting history and is probably vibrant, whatever that’s supposed to mean. For this reason, there are lots of signs dotted around explaining the history of what you’re looking at – hence the caption on the right. If you duck down the back streets, you can find plenty of remnants of its history, though sadly no opium dens. Having read The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was hoping to be seduced into a life of sin and licentiousness. Particularly as I had no plans last night.

Limehouse Basin. The viaduct in the background was built by the London and Blackwall Railway and is now part of the DLR.

Limehouse Basin. The viaduct in the background was built by the London and Blackwall Railway and is now part of the DLR.

Ramble ramble ramble. As you can see by these photos, by the time I got to the centre of Limehouse it was starting to get dark. However, being bored off my face and in an energetic mood, I decided that I’d stroll further on – into the City itself.

The end of Cable Street.

The end of Cable Street.

Rather than walk down the historically-significant Cable Street (you know, where the Battle of Cable Street was held), I figured I’d go via Commercial Road, which I recall as also being significant for some reason. Turns out that it just had a railway station that isn’t there any more.

Yeah, this is probably the worst photo I've ever taken.

Yeah, this is probably the worst photo I've ever taken.

I’ll spare you the endless psychogeographical-type photos that I took along the way. It was dark when most of them were taken anyway, so there’s not a huge amount to see. I quite like the art deco club on the right, though. It looks like it was once a cinema. Cinemas these days are just rubbish, I long for the days when cinemas actually looked a bit glamorous, like maybe you’d have an exciting night out just by stepping through the door. Hey ho.

Classic bus, Whitechapel.

Classic bus, Whitechapel.

In due course I arrived at what was either Whitechapel (according to the signs) or Aldgate East (according to the District Line). I suspect the station was named in the hope of filching some of the Metropolitan Railway’s traffic from a couple of hundred yards up the road, where Aldgate station is located. By the way, those of you who read this thing regularly may recall a previous expedition that took me from Embankment to Aldgate, so that’s some more stitching done. Aldgate is pretty well opposite Minories, so again, more stitching.

Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

Then it was a fairly short but meandering walk into the City. Well, technically anything past the site of Aldgate is the City, but I decided to make Bank my endpoint, because 1) it’s the station at the centre of the ancient city and 2) I could get a Tube straight home. I passed many interesting sights – the Lloyd’s building, Simpson’s eating house, the Jamaica Winehouse and Leadenhall Market among them. Unfortunately, most were too dark for me to take a decent photo, so sorry about that.

IMG_1952One last bit of stitching occurred when I reached Bank. The road you see on your right is the one I came down when I walked from Bethnal Green.

What did I learn from my walk? What pieces of enlightenment did I attain? Actually, I learnt lots of things and am a substantially better person as a result. Unfortunately, like many psychogeographers, I’m going to be all like “Oh you wouldn’t understand.” Sorry. Just what I do, dude.

(note to self: better come up with some fake wisdom or they’ll totally realise that psychogeographers are all making it up as they go along)

2 Comments

Filed under 18th century, 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, Literature, London, Photos, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Thames, The City, The Gates