The Valley Works: Mendelssohn, Mustard Gas and Memory

HPIM4347What connects lead-mining, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles Kingsley and a secret chemical weapons plant in North Wales?  Read all about it in this new piece by Bobby Seal available now at Unofficial Britain

Unofficial Britain is ‘a hub for unusual perspectives on the landscape of the British Isles, exploring the urban, the rural and the spaces in between.’

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Psychogeographic Review’s Recommendations – March 2015

This past month Psychogeographic Review has been reading:

front-cover-for-mending-the-ordinary-for-websiteLiz Lefroy – ‘Mending the Ordinary’ (2014)

Mending the Ordinary is Liz Lefroy’s third collection and, whilst the poems in this pamphlet demonstrate the growing depth and maturity of her work, they still pack the emotional punch and vitality of Liz’s earlier collections.  She writes about her sons and her mother, about love and loss, about exploring the past and embracing the present.  There are some old favourites from her live readings here, such as My Ambiguous Relationship With Rain, and new favourites to read, such as Question   Answer and Snapshots:

Once, you let us find you

       stripped down to your tears;

         holding out hands which had

            propped up the world you cry:

            Look! Loneliness also mingles

               with love. We turn from shame,

                  and a silence coming between us.

loitering-with-intentMuriel Spark – ‘Loitering With Intent’ (1981)

For a long time, and I suspect like many other people, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was the only Muriel Spark novel I had read.  Recently I have discovered the richness of her back-catalogue and the sheer audacity of some of her narratives. Loitering With Intent centres on a young female novelist working on the fringes of the 1950s London literary scene and struggling to win recognition.  The parallels with Spark’s own life are obvious, though the sub-plot of vanity, deception and blackmail is not.  Or is it?


51CV4qq9TkL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Deborah Parsons – ‘Streetwalking the Metropolis: Women, the City and Modernity (2000)

Deborah Parsons is an academic at the University of Birmingham and specialises in exploring notions of the flâneuse in literature.  This rigorous, but highly readable, work sets out to look beyond the familiar Joyce/Pound/Eliot axis of modernists and instead examines the city through the lens of female writing.  Parsons considers the writings of Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, Doris Lessing and others at length and evaluates how their works reflect the changing relationship of women with urban spaces.


Meanwhile, we were listening to:

Medicine_Head_-_New_Bottles_Old_Medicine,1970Medicine Head – ‘New Bottles Old Medicine’ (1970)

Against a background of prog-rock concept albums and endless guitar solos, Medicine Head ploughed the lo-fi furrow before either Beck and Jack White had even picked up a battered guitar.  This is the band’s first album; it took two hours to record and was released on John Peel’s Dandelion label.  The core band members were John Fiddler (guitar, piano and drums) and Peter Hope-Evans (jaw harp and big hair).  Contrary to all their anti-commercial expectations, Medicine Head even managed a couple of hit singles in the mid-1970s.

And the stars were my chart

Birds were my rock and roll band.

cosminiPere Ubu – ‘Carnival of Souls’ (2014)

Can it really be forty years and eighteen albums since Pere Ubu first started redefining the way we think about rock music?  This, their latest album, has its origins in an underscore the band performed for a 2013 film festival screening of the cult classic movie Carnival of Souls (previously reviewed in these columns).  David Thomas and his associates then developed that score into a collection of songs which they now present on this album.  Pere Ubu’s music is unlike that of anyone else and this, in my opinion, this is one of their better albums.

homepage_large_58863bf2Alasdair Roberts – ‘Alasdair Roberts’ (2015)

Incredibly, this is Scottish singer/songwriter/guitarist Alasdair Roberts’s eighth solo album.  He’s also done any number of collaborations too; he’s clearly a hard-working performer, though he’s yet to do a gig in my part of the world.  Many of Roberts’s previous works have included traditional folk songs but this is an album of his own material.  It is a very satisfying and mellow collection with sparse acoustic arrangements and deeply personal lyrics.

And watching:

MV5BODQ1ODEyMDkyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzQ0NTYzNg@@__V1_SY317_CR8,0,214,317_AL_‘Jack Goes Boating’ – Philip Seymour Hoffman (2010)

Jack has never had a long-term girlfriend.  His married couple friends Clyde and Lucy set him up on a date with Connie, Lucy’s new work colleague who has some intimacy issues of her own.  Connie tells Jack she would love to go boating on the lake with him in the summer so Clyde gives Jack swimming lessons to prepare him for it.  As Jack and Connie’s friendship grows into love, so we see the cracks in Clyde and Lucy’s relationship widening in parallel.  Hoffman plays Jack with effortless conviction, avoiding any hint of sentimentality, and coaxes superb performances from his ensemble cast.

MV5BMjA0OTM3MDMxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDY1MjI0Mw@@__V1_SX640_SY720_‘Winter’s Bone’ – Debra Granik (2010)

Winter’s Bone is Debra Granik’s second feature film and the one which brought female lead Jennifer Lawrence to international attention with an outstanding performance.  Set in the backwoods of the Ozarks, seventeen-year old Ree Dolly acts as the head of her family while her drug-dealing father is on the run and has to ensure that her younger siblings and mentally-ill mother survive.  Despite the bleak nature of its subject matter, Winter’s Bone is ultimately a film full of hope.


patagonia_2D_packshot‘Patagonia’ – Marc Evans (2010)

A couple from Cardiff travel to the Welsh-speaking area of Patagonia.  Rhys is working on a project to photograph the historic Welsh chapels of the region and he invites Gwen to join him to try to rebuild their relationship.  Meanwhile an Argentine-Welsh woman and her young neighbour visit Wales to discover her roots.  The two somewhat thin plots are redeemed by the stunning landscapes and deft cinematography in this exploration of the meeting of two cultures.

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‘The Lodger’ by Louisa Treger

Ten minutes into the conversation I realise that the writer my MA supervisor is talking about is the same one I discovered for myself some months before, except she gives Walter Benjamin’s name the full Germanic pronunciation and I realise I should have known that too, or what was the point of working for that German O level all those years before?  What perspective are you taking, she asks me.  Feminism and Marxism have to be explored, we agree, though I am unsure as yet how I will do that without simply regurgitating my source material.

My dissertation is about early modernist writing: female early modernist writers, the city, walking and the idea of the flâneur.  One of us, I can’t remember which, suggests we should use the word ‘flâneuse’ in the title.  You need to look beyond Virginia Woolf, she tells me.  May Sinclair?  Yes, I’m reading her, and HD too.  What about Dorothy Richardson then?  And that was the moment for me: the start of a love affair that still simmers today.

I think Louisa Treger had such a moment too.  While studying for her PhD thesis on Virginia Woolf she stumbled upon a review by Woolf of a writer whose name she did not recognise.  The review was of Revolving Lights, the seventh volume in Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage sequence of novels.  Treger sought out Pilgrimage and was immediately riveted:

Who was Dorothy Richardson?  How had she come to re-invent the English language in order to record the experience of being uniquely female?

The LodgerThe Lodger, Treger’s first novel, tries to answer that question.  It is ‘a melding of fact and fiction’ exploring a critical period in the life of Dorothy Richardson.  She bases her story on the biographical facts of Richardson’s life, most of that life shadowed by Miriam Henderson, Richardson’s protagonist in Pilgrimage.  However, huge chunks of Treger’s dialogue is imagined and some of the narrative order is smoothed over.




Richardson was once seen as a key figure in the genesis of modernist writing in Britain; Virginia Woolf was a grudging admirer and May Sinclair credited her with creating ‘stream of consciousness’ writing.  Yet she fell out of fashion and, until recently, had become a somewhat marginal figure in the literary canon.

The Lodger opens with Richardson living in near poverty in a Bloomsbury lodging house in the early twentieth century.  Some years earlier her father became bankrupt through reckless investments and, more recently, her mother, whom Dorothy had been caring for during a prolonged bout of depression, took her own life.  Dorothy works long hours for minimal pay as an assistant in a dental practice.  She often goes hungry to pay her rent, but is nonetheless happy to finally have a room of her own and independence.  Lively and intelligent, she attends lectures and political meetings and enjoys long walks on her own exploring the streets of central London.


Louisa Treger

Dorothy is invited to spend a weekend with an old school friend, Jane.  Jane is married to Bertie, an up-and-coming writer whom the world will soon come to know as H.G. Wells.  Dorothy feels an overwhelming attraction towards Bertie and soon the two start an affair.  But she is tormented by guilt for betraying her friend.

Trying to break her obsession with Bertie, Dorothy strikes up a friendship with Veronica, a young woman who has just arrived at her boarding house.  Veronica, blissfully unencumbered by any form of English reticence, shares her innermost secrets with Dorothy, including the fact that she recently had an affair with a married man.  Relieved not to have to keep up a pretence of respectability, Dorothy shares the details of her own situation with Bertie.  A bond of trust and intimacy grows between the two young women and soon this finds its expression in physical passion, though she is still seeing Wells.

Things come to a head when Dorothy discovers she is pregnant.  Through her love for another woman and her affair with a married man Dorothy has stepped far outside the rules of society.  Now, expecting a child, she faces disgrace and ruin.  And yet, from her pain and turmoil, Dorothy finds her voice as a writer, filling notebook after notebook each night in her attic bedsit.

But Dorothy Richardson does not want to create a conventional narrative.  As she explains to Bertie, who has been encouraging her to write:

“Actually I detest those written-up things.  You know they’re going to be false through and through.  ‘Mr Meakins always wore his hat at a jaunty angle.’  They’re so contrived; they drive me crazy.  It’s the same thing that makes me dislike so many novels: the endless accumulation of external detail.  Where’s the life in it? …  Reality isn’t fixed; it’s continual movement and fluctuation.  I’d love to find a way of writing that captures it …”

Dorothy wants to create a new kind of novel, one where the narrative is freed from the all-seeing, all-knowing narrator.  A form of fiction that evokes psychological truth and the reality of female life.  She does not want to write like other writers; even, though she does not spell this out to him, like H.G. Wells.

At last she had it: the method of her novel.  She would banish the narrator entirely.  The inner world of her heroine – her maturing developing consciousness – would be all there was.

Louisa Treger leaves the story at this point, with Richardson caught up in the birth pangs of Pilgrimage.  Reading The Lodger it’s interesting to note that, though the subject matter concerns the growth of a woman’s consciousness alongside her development of a new form of fiction, Treger’s own narrative form is very conventional.  However, she evokes Dorothy Richardson’s world and her pilgrimage, in every sense of that word, with profound depth and feeling.

This is a book for anyone interested in knowing more about the life of a woman discovering her creativity during a critical period in English social and literary history; it is not just for people who already love the works of Dorothy Richardson.  While for me, as a confirmed Richardson acolyte, Treger’s key achievement is to make me want to go and read the thirteen volumes of Pilgrimage all over again.


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Katherine Mansfield’s Olfactory Map of London


Eight o’clock in the morning.  Miss Ada Moss lay in a black iron bedstead, staring up at the ceiling.  Her room, a Bloomsbury top-floor back, smelled of soot and face powder and the paper of fried potatoes she brought in for supper the night before.


tumblr_l0dakpiR1S1qb597yo1_500_largeLike many of Katherine Mansfield’s short stories, Pictures presents us with a snap shot of the life of a woman who is mired in loneliness and alienation and repeatedly exploited by the men around her.


Ada Moss’s daily routine consists of dragging herself around the West End from one show-business agent to another in an increasingly futile and dispiriting attempt to find a booking. She had hopes of finding work in the new film industry, but her route into the pictures of the title is constantly blocked by booking agents who prefer women who are thinner, younger and prettier.

Ada, a former opera singer, is a woman out of time and out of place.  The sensations of the city assault her faculties.  The eyes of those she meets burn into her.  Sights and sounds bombard her.  Even her sense of smell is constantly on the alert. . . .

Location Smell Emotion
Ada’s lodgings soot, face powder, fried potatoes weariness, apprehension, disappointment, irritation 
ABC café fresh rolls, Jeyes fluid aggravation 
Street outside petrol fumes agitation, embarrassment 
Kig and Kadgit Izal disinfectant disappointment 
Beit and Bithems sweat, furniture polish humiliation 
North-East Film Company perfume, parma violets desperation, despair
Bitter Orange Company dust, stale air humiliation, distress
Square Gardens traffic fumes, horse shit, mud anguish, sorrow, catharsis
Café de Madrid garlic, coffee, whisky and brandy, cigar smoke, eau de Cologne resignation, resolution

Indeed, making a close reading of Pictures, one can almost say that Mansfield is presenting us with an olfactory map of the city.   In doing so she short-circuits the limitations of language and cuts through our cognitive understanding of the text bringing us directly in touch with Ada’s psychological state. From morning weariness to evening resignation we follow her journey through the day.

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Bolingbroke Heights

I previously wrote about Flint and its 1960s tower blocks in a piece called Towers of Flint back in October 2013.  The piece created quite a lot of interest and I was pleased to hear from Nada Shehab, an architecture student in Glasgow, who was writing about the Flint tower blocks.  I agreed to put together for her a few notes of my childhood memories about the flats.  The piece below is based on that set of notes, which I decided I’d like to share with a larger readership.

Flint, in North Wales, is a small town with a population of about 12,000.  In the 1960s the local council decided that the best way to meet the town’s pressing housing needs would be to build a cluster of tower blocks replacing an area of sub-standard terraced housing and waste land to the rear of the High Street.  Bolingbroke Heights and Richard Heights were completed in 1966 and a further block, Castle Heights, a couple of years later.

Flint is an ancient borough with a castle built during the reign of Edward I.  The castle features in William Shakespeare’s play Richard II.  In the 1960s the town had a solidly working-class character with most local men, and many of the women, working in one or other of the three Courtauld mills that operated in the town.

Deeside Mill


Deeeside Mill 3I was a child during the 1960s and was brought up just a few miles from Flint.  My father’s best friend, Eddie, was a charge-hand at one of Flint’s mills.  He and his wife, Rona, lived in a country cottage just outside Mold.  It was a very basic stone-built cottage with no central heating and an outside loo. I remember it as quite a dark and musty house, but I enjoyed playing in the overgrown, tangled garden.

Britain was becoming prosperous in the 1960s and people were keen to put the prolonged period of post-war austerity behind them.  In particular, they were keen to improve the quality of the homes they lived in.  This was the era of ‘slum clearance’ and massive local-authority house building programmes; housing which often took the form of tower blocks.

Market dayTownEddie and Rona had no particular connection with Flint.  But I guess it was his job at the local Courtauld plant which led to them being offered a flat in Bolingbroke Heights, one of the town’s new tower blocks.  They moved in, I seem to recall, in about 1966.  I forget which floor they were on, but it was one of the upper ones, with stunning views over the town and towards the Welsh hills.  The other side of the block, I imagine, would have looked out over the Dee estuary and towards the Wirral and Merseyside.

Bolingbroke 2Bolingbroke 5Flats 1I visited Eddie and Rona with my parents quite often during the 1960s and always enjoyed the experience.  To me, as a child, Bolingbroke Heights seemed incredibly modern and glamorous.  My parents didn’t have a car, so we generally went to Flint by bus.  I always felt excited as we drove into the town and caught first sight of the huge white towers dominating the town’s skyline and dwarfing the small grey buildings around them.

The notion of the ‘modern’ was very much part of the zeitgeist of this time and, as a child of the 1960s, I fully embraced this idea and quickly developed a fascination with tower blocks, which I have to this day.  The special thing about Flint’s towers though was that I was able to go inside, and not just gaze at them from the outside.

Flats 3Flats 6I can’t remember exactly how we accessed the building, but I assume we had to ‘buzz’ up to Eddie and Rona’s flat on some kind of intercom system.  But I do recall that the foyer of Bolingbroke Heights was very clean and well-lit and the lift was also spotlessly clean and graffiti-free.  As a child I found the lift particularly impressive.  In fact, it was quite a novelty for me, as a small-town boy with a love of technology.

Flats 4



Bolingbroke 1I suppose what I liked most about the flat was the fact it was situated so high up and the views were so expansive.  I found standing on the small balcony both exhilarating and slightly scary.  Rona would often stand with me and point out different things in the view.  The flat overlooked the local football ground and I recall at least one occasion when I watched Flint Town United from the balcony as they played another team in a cup-tie.

I loved spending time with Rona; she never spoke down to me as some adults did when addressing a child.  She was also a voracious reader, which I thought was great as we had very few books in our house.  I trace my love of photography back to this time too – Rona and Eddie gave me my first camera for my tenth birthday.

Bolingbroke 3

Flats 2Town CentreFrom memory I recall the flat had a living-room, kitchen, bathroom and a couple of bedrooms.  It was all newly decorated and, to my young eyes, seemed very sophisticated.  Though, on reflection, perhaps Eddie and Rona’s slightly shabby furniture from their cottage seemed a little incongruous in that setting.  It seems odd now, but the label ‘old-fashioned’ was quite a pejorative term in the 1960s.



I think Eddie and Rona loved their new home; it was so clean, light and modern.  They loved having a proper bathroom and indoor loo as well as central heating.  During this period at least, I don’t recall there being any of the problems later associated with tower blocks: such as condensation from poor insulation and extortionate heating bills.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I’m sure some perfectly good houses were demolished to make way for the flats.  But Flint Council, like so many others, made the decision that it was more economic to erect new concrete blocks than to upgrade older terraced housing.  This was a time when both the government and the public mood supported large-scale investment in public housing.

Eddie and Rona were relatively young and active at this time and both were pretty out-going, so I don’t think isolation was ever a problem for them.  Nor was I aware of any issues with crime, vandalism or anti-social behaviour in or around the towers.  Let’s not forget that, initially at least, the residents of such blocks shared the idealism of the Le Corbusier-influenced town planners of that time.  This was the future, and it was good.  Eddie and Rona certainly held that view.

Town ApproachAs I moved on to secondary school and university and developed my own social network, I saw less and less of Rona and Eddie, but my parents still kept in touch with them.  I believe the pair of them lived in the flats for many years.  Sadly, Eddie is no longer with us, and the last I heard of Rona she was living in sheltered accommodation.

I rarely visit Flint these days.  But when I do, I like to gaze up at the tower blocks and remember those times with fondness.  Sixties concrete architecture gets a bad press these days, but I think the Flint towers have a certain austere beauty.  They serve also as a reminder of a more optimistic, egalitarian time.

O that I were a mockery king of snow
Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke
To melt myself away in water drops!

William Shakespeare, Richard II


Images of Flint in the 1960s courtesy of Roy Phillips.  Go here for more images

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Psychogeographic Review’s Recommendations – February 2015

This past month Psychogeographic Review has been reading:

Nan Shepherd - In the CairngormsNan Shepherd – ‘In the Cairngorms’ (1934)

Newly republished and with an introduction by Robert Macfarlane, this is the sole collection of poems by Scottish modernist writer, Nan Shepherd.  Shepherd walked in the Cairngorms whenever she had time off from her job as a teacher and this collection is an expression of her love for those hills:

And Muich Dhui’s summit,
Rock defiant against frost and the old grinding of ice,
Wet with the cold fury of blinding cloud

9780099561545John Williams – ‘Stoner’(1965)

William Stoner is raised on a dirt-poor mid-Western farm. He goes to college to study agriculture, falls in love with books, transfers to major in English and ends up as a lecturer in English Literature at the same college.  He marries and has a daughter.  His life and career are largely unremarkable and, when he dies, few remember him.  Yet, by drawing significance out the most ordinary of individual lives, John Williams tells a powerful story of universal value.


Project1_Kirmen UribeKirmen Uribe – ‘Bilbao – New York – Bilbao’ (2008)

Translated from the Basque language and now available in English through the Welsh publisher, Seren,  Bilbao – New York – Bilbao is a first novel by the poet Kirmen Uribe.  The writer makes a journey from Bilbao to New York.  As he travels he weaves together a mosaic of family stories, diaries, emails, poems, paintings and dictionaries to tell the history of his family and that of the fishing industry of his home village.  But underlying everything, the crack in the fabric of all their lives, is the  memory of the Civil War.


Meanwhile, we were listening to:

the-specialsThe Specials – ‘The Specials’ (1979)

There are some albums you buy, play and enjoy for a while,  then you put it to one side for years, decades even.  Too much new stuff to pay listen to, perhaps.  For me, this is one of those albums and, listening to it again, I’m amazed at the strength of the songs, the quality of the musicianship and the sheer, crackling energy of the whole record.  Get up and dance – this is the second coming of Ska!


homepage_large_296db5e8Richard Dawson – ‘Nothing Important’ (2014)

This is a dark, brave, uncompromising album by singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Dawson.  It was recommended to me by a friend and I had no idea what to expect.  What you get is four tracks, two of them instrumental, which suggests Dawson is not aiming his sights at the mainstream market.  What you hear is collection of unsettling lyrics and a joyful melange of folk, raga and blues-tinged guitar playing.

jo%20johnson-525x525Jo Johnson – ‘Weaving’ (2014)

Jo Johnson has a background in punk and techno music and this is her first solo album.  It’s quite a departure from her previous work – five slices of ambient sounds and minimalist repetitions.  But it’s the attention to detail and the technical accomplishment of these ethereal soundscapes that really appeals.  That and track titles like In the Shadow of the Workhouse, which somehow puts me in mind of the opening of George Gissing’s novel The Nether World.

And watching:

The_Loneliness_of_the_Long_Distance_Runner-256088183-large‘The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner’ – Tony Richardson (1962)

Visually beautiful, moving and life-affirming – why don’t British studios make films like this any more?  Because early-sixties Britain was another world, one we don’t live in any more: a time of borstal, conscription, corporal punishment, class deference, racism, wife beating and the imprisonment of gay men.  And those are just the better bits.



A-Very-Peculiar-Practice-The-Complete-BBC-Series-[Network]-[DVD]-[1986]‘A Very Peculiar Practice’ (Complete BBC Series) – Andrew Davies (1986)

A Very Peculiar Practice is a BBC comedy from the mid-1980s that ran to two series.  This DVD collection includes both series as well as a follow-up TV film set in Poland.  Written by Andrew Davies,  the show was relegated to a late-night weekday slot.  Perhaps this was because Davies’s black, surreal comedy was not mainstream enough, but more likely because the whole thing was an excoriating indictment of Thatcher’s attack on higher education.  It was also very funny.


51JS13BXAQL‘Pandaemonium’ – Julien Temple (2002)

In Pandaemonium Julien Temple explores the relationship between the young William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  We get a visceral sense of a Britain that is being swallowed up by the march of industry and a wider Europe simmering on the brink of revolution.  Against this background the two collaborate on Lyrical Ballads and Coleridge, in between consuming a lot of opium, produces The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.

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A London Safari

My plan was to simply walk and talk with as many different people as possible.  The idea was that these walks would become a kind of interview in motion, and that walking through this urban landscape would spark more tangential conversations than a static one.  I wanted to welcome the unexpected and also a bit of verbal pugilism.  After all, Harlesden is know for its famous boxers, Audley Harrison and James De Gale.  I wanted to invite debate, occasionally heated debate, on to these lively and sometimes troubled streets.

If I was going to write about a place, say a town or a suburb, I would immerse myself in that place by walking its streets, looking, contemplating and, with all my senses, trying to absorb its essence.  I’d probably do this alone, or maybe with one or two friends from my small group of familiar and trusted companions. We would move through the landscape in our own self-contained bubble, with minimal interaction with those around us.

I would take pictures, lots of pictures, but these would almost certainly be studies of things, rather than of people.  Should I write about my explorations afterwards, I would almost certainly put my main focus on the nature of the place rather than exploring the lives of any of its real-life inhabitants.  Sure, I’d write about people, but there would always be a sense of distance; I would speak more as an observer than a participant.

But this is not just speculation, it really is the way I tend to work.  And it is the way a number of other British psychogeographers seem to work too: Will Self, Nick Papadimitriou, Iain Sinclair; the list goes on.  Perhaps it’s a bloke thing, because it’s certainly not the way Rose Rouse works.

Rose Rouse









Rose Rouse’s A London Safari: Walking Adventures in NW10 is a love-letter to Harlesden, an unglamorous suburb of north-west London.  Rose originates from Yorkshire but moved to Harlesden via Portobello Road several years ago.  She quickly embraced the rich diversity and vibrant community of this unloved corner of NW10 and, in 2010, launched a blog called Not on Safari in Harlesden.  For a time Harlesden was synonymous only with gun and knife crime.  Or at least that was the impression you would gain if your only knowledge of the place came from the newspapers or TV.  The idea behind Rose’s blog was to build on the community’s ongoing effort to show there was another side to Harlesden.

If you read about Harlesden, it is inevitably referred to as ‘vibrant’.  The subtext is dirt, little money and under-privilege.  Vibrant in this case is like the much-debated cultural muddle of exotic.  Only vibrant is active, and exotic is passive.

Not on Safari in Harlesden invited the reader to join Rose on a series of walks through her home area.  But she did not walk alone, instead she explored Harlesden with a series of local companions, some of them well-known, such as Vince Power of Mean Fiddler fame, and others less famous but equally fascinating, such as Danny, her pugilistic newsagent.

Danny and Rose

A London Safari covers some of the same ground as the blog, but in an expanded form and with lots more background detail.  It features several new walking companions too.  We take a Trinidadian and Jamaican food tour of Harlesden with writer Monique Roffey, we walk the streets to his mother’s home on the St Raphael’s estate on the other side of the North Circular with rapper and poet George Mpanga and explore the delights of Willesden Junction station with railway enthusiast Ian Bull: ‘This is the Great Western Railway and it’s a very self-important railway… somehow the people connected to the GWR think they are superior.  I don’t get on with it.’










Some of Rose’s walking companions are public figures, such as Don Letts, Owen Hatherley and Alexei Sayle but, for me, it is the ordinary local characters she walks with who provide the most fascinating insights into Harlesden past and present.  Sue Saunders, ‘mistress of eccentricity’, is one of my favourites.  A poet, artist, ex-gas meter reader and Cambridge graduate she takes Rose on a street-combing tour of Harlesden: ‘I’ve got a bird table in my garden that I found down Tubbs Road.’










moniqueEach chapter of A London Safari is devoted to a particular walking companion; twenty-seven walks in all.  But the book, for me, attests its origins as a blog by the fact that many of the chapters are far too short; Rose leaves me longing to read more, which is perhaps not a bad thing.  The fact is that Rose Rouse’s writing in this book is a constant delight, which makes me all the more reluctant to mention one thing I didn’t like.  She tends to encase a lot of her subordinate clauses in dashes – a bit like this, only longer – and sometimes I get to the end of a sentence having forgotten what she said at the start.  But then I’m really nit-picking here.

Don Letts









Rose Rouse works as a novelist and travel writer but began her career as a rock music journalist.  Rock in the 1980s was a testosterone, booze and drug-fuelled world and Rose, as a young female writer, needed to be tough to survive.  Some evidence of her tenacity is revealed in the way she pursues her near-neighbour Louis Theroux, via his agent and by email, to persuade him to join her on a walk.  The fact that Theroux went on to write the introduction to this book is evidence of Rose’s journalistic powers of persuasion, as well as her contagious enthusiasm.

But it is the warm, human side of Rose Rouse that shines through in this book, as evidenced by the fact that she is able to approach strangers in the street and encourage them to speak to her:

I’m on Ancona Road and a young man approaches me wearing headphones.  I enquire if I can ask him a few questions.

The young man is happy to speak and it turns out that he is called Rav.  He was born in Harlesden to Kenyan and Indian parents and is a politics graduate and off-duty police officer.  Rose is genuinely interested in people and what they have to say.  People respond to her because they sense she is not just gathering material to write about, but that she is deeply interested in the person in front of her and the story he or she has to tell.

At heart Rose Rouse is a story-teller.  She instinctively understands that when people share their stories it helps us all to understand one another and to comprehend the world around us.  The joy of A London Safari is that Rose has discovered, and now shares, a whole world encapsulated in one small London borough.

Talk to Me









If you love people, urban landscapes and the way the two interact I think you will enjoy this book.  Reading it may even make you feel like visiting Harlesden, which is fine.  But maybe we should take a more imaginative leaf out of Rose’s book, and walk our own local streets in the way she does, poking into neglected corners and, above all else, talking to the people we meet and listening to their stories.


Images used by kind permission of Rose Rouse

A London Safari: Walking Adventures in NW10 (Amberley Publishing, Stroud, 2014) is available from all good bookshops or direct from the publisher: Amberley Publishing

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Psychogeographic Review’s Recommendations – December 2014

This past month Psychogeographic Review has been reading:

Black CountryLiz Berry – ‘Black Country’ (2014)

Wench, yowm the colour of ower town: concrete, steel, oily rainbow of the cut.

Liz Berry’s poems are intelligent, articulate and profound. They are also, proudly, written in the dialect of her native West Midlands.  But, funnily enough, this seems to tap into a level of truth and conviction that makes her verse even more intelligible than if it had been written in standard English.  Berry casts her eye over birds, plants, food, canals and derelict industry, and evokes  all with muscular clarity.


Rising GroundPhilip Marsden – ‘Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place’ (2014)

Taking a journey on foot across Cornwall as his starting point, Philip Marsden makes a deep temporal exploration of a landscape and those who inhabit it.  A self-confessed ‘topophile’, Marsden’s journey takes him from the neolithic ritual landscape of Bodmin Moor, through Tintagel and its Arthurian mythology all the way down to Land’s End, sharing the fruits of his explorations with the reader as he walks.


The YearsVirginia Woolf – ‘The Years’ (1937)

In this, the last of her novels to be published during her lifetime, Virginia Woolf returns to her perennial themes of the inner lives of her characters and the ebb and flow of time.  The Years mediates upon the lives of the Pargiter family over a period of fifty years.  But this is not a book which is epic in scale nor, indeed, does she really tell a family story.  Instead Woolf focuses on the small, intimate details of the lives of her characters, taking as her starting point for each chapter a particular year.



Meanwhile, we were listening to:

Jack Bruce: Jack departed this life on 25th October this year.  As my personal tribute I am recommending three of my favourite Bruce albums, each of which has given me hours of enjoyment over the years.  I credit Jack Bruce as the musician who first gave me a love of the bass guitar as well as of rock, blues, jazz and classical music: ‘if you want to learn about bass lines, listen to Johann Sebastian Bach’ (Jack Bruce, 1968)

Disraeli Gears‘Disraeli Gears’ – Cream (1967)

Classic Cream album featuring standout tracks such as Sunshine of Your Love and Tales of Brave Ulysses.





Songs for a Tailor‘Songs for a Tailor’ – Jack Bruce (1969)

Bruce’s first solo album after Cream, with jazz-tinged melodies and Pete Brown’s poetic lyrics.





Why Dontcha‘Why Dontcha’ – West, Bruce and Laing (1972)

A return to three-piece hard rock as Bruce teams up with the guitarist and drummer from Mountain.





A Year in the Country: I’d like to give a mention this month to the fascinating ‘A Year in the Country’ project.  What’s it all about?  I can do no better than to quote from their site:

A Year In The Country is a year long journey through and searching for an expression of an underlying unsettledness to the English bucolic countryside dream; an exploration of an otherly pastoralism, the patterns beneath the plough/pylons and amongst the edgelands… it is a wandering about and through the trails of things that have influenced, inspired and intrigued me along the way, which will quite possibly take in the further flung reaches of work with its roots in folkloric concerns and what has been labelled hauntological culture.

And two of their recent audiological releases I can recommend:

Immersion‘Immersion’ – Grey Frequency (2014)

“…when I listen to Immersion it feels like a capturing of activity hidden deep below the surface of things, the inexorable power of nature and it’s movement/force against it’s own edifices and those of civilisation over many years; a capturing of the sound of those self same rending and collapsing into the below.”



Torridon Gate‘Torridon Gate’ – Howlround (2014)

“All of the music on this album was created from a single recording of a front garden gate on Torridon Road in Hither Green, London. These sounds were captured using a contact microphone and processed, looped and edited on three reel-to-reel tape machines with all electronic effects or artificial reverb strictly forbidden.”



And watching:

Don't Look Now‘Don’t Look Now’ – Nicolas Roeg (1973)

In Nicolas Roeg’s occult thriller from 1973 he succeeds in coaxing superb performances from his two stars while at the same time playing intriguing games with his audience.  Through flash-backs, flash-forwards and breakneck editing, time in Don’t Look Now is presented as something with multiple layers and limitless connections.  Visual and aural patterns are thrown into the mix at a bewildering rate and the ending, for me, never fails to produce a physical chill of shock.


Rita, Sue and Bob Too‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ – Alan Clarke (1987)

One day someone will make a film of screenwriter Andrea Dunbar’s tragically short life.  Hopefully it will be painful, funny and inspiring, just like her.  In the meantime we have this, her best known work, an effervescent slice of realism set on the Buttershaw estate in Bradford where Dunbar grew up.




Nil By Mouth‘Nil By Mouth’ – Gary Oldman (1997)

Gary Oldman’s debut feature as a writer and director tells the story of a dysfunctional family on a bleak South London estate.  Oldman’s dialogue crackles with life and Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke deliver two outstanding performances.

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Psychogeographic Review’s Recommendations – November 2014

This past month Psychogeographic Review has been reading:

Olivia Laing – ‘The Trip to Echo Spring - On Writers and Drinking’Olivia Laing – ‘The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking’ (2014)

By coincidence I read this book during October, the month I gave up drinking alcohol using the excuse of supporting Macmillan cancer care.  Why do writers drink when in so many cases it ends up destroying them?  Olivia Laing looks at six great American writers who were also notable drinkers, weaving in the story of her own family’s relationship with alcohol.  Laing does not really answer the question of why writers drink, but the thoroughness of her exploration and the quality of her prose makes the journey worthwhile.

Bradley Garrett – Explore Everything - Place-hacking the City’Bradley L Garrett – Explore Everything: Place-hacking the City’ (2013)

I was determined to hate this book: a mannered academic hanging out with the rebels and recording his transgressions into various ‘off limits’ urban spaces.  However, I have to confess I found Bradley Garrett’s descriptions of his explorations of tunnels, bridges and buildings simply exhilarating.  He also raises important questions about the privatisation of public spaces.



Hans Fallada – ‘Alone in Berlin’Hans Fallada – ‘Alone in Berlin’ (1947)

What would you do if you lived at the heart of a brutal, oppressive regime in wartime?  Would you resist or would you compromise?  Otto and Anna Quangel keep their heads down and try not to draw attention to themselves.  Then they receive a letter telling them that their son has been killed at the front and everything changes.  Fallada’s novel is a study in tyranny and the resilience of the human spirit.  He writes from his own experiences of being a dissident in Nazi Berlin, including a spell in prison.  Fallada survived the war but died of a morphine overdose in 1947.


Meanwhile, we were listening to:

Laura CannellLaura Cannell – ‘Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth’ (2014)

Laura Cannell combines traditional melodies with violin and recorder improvisations to produce a sound that is rooted in the landscape it evokes.   Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth was recorded in a village church in Norfolk and Cannell’s sparse soundscapes transport one to the flat, empty landscapes of that county.


Judee SillJudee Sill – ‘Judee Sill’ (1971)

Judee Sill was a Californian singer-songwriter.  She recorded two albums before her troubled life ended tragically early in 1979.   This, her first album, displays her roots in gospel, jazz and acid-rock.  It also makes clear her interest in Bach’s musical forms.  A recent BBC radio documentary, The Lost Genius of Judee Sill, offers the hope that there may now be a reawakening of interest in Judee Sill’s work.


Third Ear BandThird Ear Band – ‘Third Ear Band’ (1970)

The Third Ear Band were an experimental musical collective who created works drawing on their interest in folk, raga and psychedelia.  Amongst their best-realised works were the soundtrack for Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and this, their second album which comprises four improvised pieces.  Sadly, it seems inconceivable that such an outfit would be released by a major label today.



And watching:

Sleep Furiously

‘Sleep Furiously’ – Gideon Koppel (2009)

Gideon Koppel’s parents found refuge from Nazi oppression in a small rural community in Ceredigion on the west coast of Wales.  This film is Koppel’s love letter to the village that became his family’s home, a place of tranquillity and tolerance.  But it is a community in crisis: the school, the shop and the bus service have all gone and further structural disintegration seems to be inevitable.  For all the beauty of the Welsh landscape his camera captures, Koppel reveals a deep, underlying sadness.


Kings of the Road‘Kings of the Road’ – Wim Wenders (1976)

This is the third of Wim Wenders’s loose trilogy of road movies (I featured the first, Alice in the Cities, in a previous review).  Bruno repairs film projectors.  Accompanied by gloomy hitch-hiker, Robert, he visits a series of small cinemas on the West/East German border.  There is very little in terms of plot, but Wenders succeeds in evoking a sense of a particular time and location: a liminal space caught between West and East, between American and European culture.


Zabriskie Point‘Zabriskie Point’ – Michelangelo Antonioni (1970)

A slice of Sixties student radicalism and hippy counter-culture; Antonioni’s film was panned by critics and shunned by contemporary audiences.  It has now developed something of a cult following, however.  Zabriskie Point is worth watching for the snapshot it provides of an America which is now long-gone, an America seen here through a European lens.  The film also features a stunning soundtrack, including pieces by Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead and John Fahey.

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Stream of Consciousness

The Poem Hidden Inside One Year


To edit is to deconstruct. Put every word under the spotlight and make it account for itself

There is a point where music, writing and visual art coalesce.  Perhaps this coalescence reached its apotheosis in the album cover art of the 1970s!

No one seems to love living poets.  OK, Roger McGough and Ian MacMillan might be the exceptions

Autumn as a metaphor for the approach of old age, that’s a bit of a cliché, isn’t it?

I prefer to distil rather than expand.  The American poet, Lorine Niedecker, said her job was ‘condensing’

Stream of Consciousness 1

What is it with TV dramas that, when they stretch out the original successful concept into a longer series, they seem to lose all the initial freshness and become hackneyed and stylised?

It was nice to get out and do a bit of improvised wandering – to see how places that one is vaguely familiar with actually connect up when one’s on the ground

Have I found my voice?  What is my voice?  What does it sound like?  And all those other voices, those that I believed to be mine, to whom did they belong?

A map of the town showing the pattern of streets and buildings.  Subjacent to that is a map of the underlying tunnels, sewers and passageways.  The other town.  The secret town

About the effect of word, line and space.  Of punctuation and placement

The combined text is looking pretty good now, looking forward to seeing Charlie’s proposals for the lay-out

. . . a London of smoke, smog and post-war austerity

But does stream of consciousness writing really mean one writes without thinking, or is it simply thinking in a different way?  As if telling the internal editor to take a back-seat, for now.

For me, the best genre fiction is that where the writer consciously subverts the form of that genre; where he or she breaks the rules

The simple act of walking and its effect on the heart, the soul and the imagination

And who’s to say my inner life then wasn’t real? Isn’t real still? Aren’t my memories of my dreams as much part of me as my memories of my actions?

Modernism let the genie out of the bottle – never again can we carry on as if we’re unaware of the significance of the form the writer chooses

A dark sky: blue-black ink washed over with black

Today I’m looking at Flint through the lens of Shakespeare

My aim with this poem is to harness some of that anger without lapsing into hatred

I see that King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut is still open.  What a great name for a venue!

At the back of my mind is the thought of whether I actually bring anything to these meetings, particularly as I don’t even attend regularly

Poetic enemy number one: the received phrase.  There, I’ve gone and done it again

People don’t realise, there’s far less to me than meets the eye

Or are we all separate, so far removed, each from the other, that we’re doomed never to meet?

All those underlying, long-held anxieties and concerns spilling out into words

Stream of Consciousness 2

What I like is the fact that it is written from the point of view of the parents, not that of the writer

Seen once from bus to Birkenhead, white paint on shipyard wall: ‘People not Polars’

Does having the insight to realise you’re a bit eccentric mean you’re not really a true eccentric?

Is he still alive?  His lack of any kind of a digital presence suggests the worst

As Billie Holiday lay dying in her hospital bed the police waited outside hoping to arrest her for possession of drugs

Feel like you know all of your supermarket check-out assistants by their first name?  Up to speed with the holidays they’ve got booked and what their kids are up to?  Then you probably work from home, like me

To Sheffield for the day…

Goodbye to BST; hello to evenings cloaked in darkness and waking before sunrise

The trouble with giving your poem a good title is that it tells the reader too much

An apprehension of time – past, present and future – and the capacity to imagine are both integral to the nature of consciousness

A poem about the making of a poem: a meta-poem, one which shows all the wires and pipework, giving a list of the sources and influences, conscious and unconscious, into which the poet taps.

A hint of orange on the eastern horizon, a spark to light the wash of grey sky behind the dark outlines of the trees

Memory is episodic, a series of echoes and impressions.  Placing those memories within a narrative arc is an artificial construct

Ron Silliman joined a forum discussion I was part of yesterday, which was pretty cool.  Too many of my favourite poets are dead, so it’s good to hear from one who doesn’t have that second crucial date after his name.

There must be a huge landfill site somewhere in America with all the ‘U’s from colour and favourite, ‘S’s from maths, ‘I’s from aluminium and ‘A’s from aesthetic.

Fieldgate Mansions was at the centre of the campaign against unscrupulous East End slum landlords in the 1930s.  It was still a tip when I lived there in the 1970s

Blimey O’Reilly, I’m starting to talk like my blooming Dad

Interesting use of a John Cage mesostic to write through Frank O’Hara’s ‘The Day Lady Died’

A big day today – after a lot of work we publish our psychogeographic collaboration

Baby’s body moves through time and space; with the illusion of language, he describes that journey

Is there an element of tedium in the One Year process?  Of course there is, tedium is an inescapable fact of the human condition.  Perhaps even a necessary fact; the plain black cloth against which the precious jewel can be displayed

Stream of Consciousness 3

Make a list of the people you have lost.  Honour them with your tears.

The trouble with typing up a poem is that it makes it feel ‘finished’; it discourages further revision when revision is usually what that poem desperately needs

…reading BART poem out loud, his voice conveys the gathering momentum of the train.

Weird dream – news that a chicken was infected with a computer virus

.. and when the memory holder dies, what happens to the memory?

I pledge elegance / two thief rag

… and in my dream it was my last day in a place where, apparently, I’d worked for years.  It was an imagined place, but I still woke up with a feeling of loss and sadness for the imagined place and the imagined people I was leaving behind.

What would be interesting would be if, while sticking within the bounds of the genre, he could nonetheless pull off something daring and experimental.

To Gresford in search of the grave of Harold, May Sinclair’s brother

Listening to a reading in English by Caroline Bergvall and her soothing, but slightly disorientating, French/Norwegian tones

No sign of that comet in the sky this morning.  Stand easy, Bruce Willis

In his wine shop in Whitechapel, Mr Trotosky presides over the cabinets with glassy smile and polished head.  ‘O?’, I say

Feet remember a way mind cannot recall

At horizon’s line a ladder of cloud: backlit pink, rungs of grey and indigo

Entering a world furnished with the sound of colour and the taste of light.

‘twas the face that launched a thousand sheds

But can we fit all of that onto one side of A4?

Anorexic pruning – / a painful birth / revealing flowers / of such unexpected beauty

…make a list of the major towns and cities in Britain that you’ve never visited

Walking through the Victorian heart of the village, I feel the presence of May Sinclair.  But I’m not sure a proper historian would accept this as research

Ram Rod and Special – the drink of choice in 1970s London

Flickering images and remembered phrases

An answer that is lost in a shower of leaves

Foundlings line up at my command / some come unbidden / others never leave

Here are wires / see the pipework

.. with steel pylons for masts and sewn newspapers for sails

Resisting the temptation to interpret and explain

…her true self existing only in my mind…

.. as if stumbling upon a movie set and into the glare of lights

Walking her streets, I sense the hand of design

Once again, it’s the ending of that poem that’s proving to be a bit tricky

I could have been someone.  Well, so could anyone

An interesting sequence of numbers again. Such beauty constructed only from combinations of ten characters

Which reminds me that social housing doesn’t have to be dehumanising

Yet another symmetry of numbers

The shadow of Polaris still hangs over this shipyard

Clouds scud across the luminous disc of the moon; the trees nod and sigh

The streets throng with the ghosts of long-dead travellers

Is a life ever completed, or is it just brought to an end?  The piano lid slammed

Dansette record player, cherry-red cream

The not so sunny side of Port Sunlight – nice phrase, Diana

They must have been so afraid that, this time, the Sun wasn’t coming back; so overjoyed when it did

….and while Mr Seal is in Sheffield….

…the view continues, unaware of the absence of its observer

A curtain of crimson velvet covers the doorway; a confusion of austere opulence

Stream of Consciousness 5

Can you really trust someone who doesn’t like Christmas pudding?

The grass with its decorative frosting

‘the first flakes of snow on my tongue’

Her new poem, a precious winter gift

A tree trunk floats by on the swollen waters of the Dee.  A sleek U-boat heading for Chester weir

Fingers long, wrinkled red, salt water raw

Beach treasure trove: coloured glass worn smooth

Rousing, as if from sleep, he realised there was a room in his house he had never entered

From downstairs, the sound of a piano

I saw the New Year in on a shed roof.  I think it was my shed

… and the postman tried to attack me with his handheld delivery device

Swimming with the stream rather than against it; what a novel idea

He took all the clouds from the sky and laid them out flat on a very large canvas

I have no idea what the retirement age is for bank robbers

The escalator of generational change; far superior to that game-show conveyor belt

He found it useful to feign deafness

He added her name to his list of people he should apologise to, knowing none of those apologies would ever be voiced

A glow of light at the eastern horizon; dawn crawls up the ladder of sky, a rosy-pink new-born

Thoughts of Spring and yet a fear that Winter still has her worst to come

Watching his thoughts, watching his anxieties, but declining to own them

He turned his thoughts to conspiracy theories, surely he could come up with a good one?

He opened his eyes to see the dome of stars above him, each one large and clear, a night sky of terrible beauty

She flows slowly, with swollen power

…sweeping up branches and animal carcasses as she goes

Inexorable momentum

Sometimes, there are no words…

She is an army on the march, gathering numbers to her host

For months he had been living in this way; endless circling, perpetual beginning, followed by frustration

River water the colour of Brown Windsor soup

So how come Rabbie Burns never wrote a poem about neeps?

He turned his head to face the window, and remembered…

Stream of Consciousness 6

A suggestion of the character’s inner life expressed by silence and punctuated by subtle facial expression

Shortly before he passes away, his father told him for the first time about the older sister who died when he was just an infant

I need a map.  If it’s not the right one, I’ll adjust it until it fits

She sees the rocks, their surface an embroidery of erosion

Who will light a fire and say the kaddish for them?  Who will say it for us?

… a murmur of voices and echoing footsteps from the corridor outside

And when I dream, I dream I can fly

I beat my wings upon the unyielding glass

The smell of incense and candles; burning books and rotting flesh

An arrow, a pointer, a finger posting showing the way

We live on in memory for a time but, then, even the memory dies

She looked at the back of Janek’s head, the way his blonde hair curled over his collar like the tip of a hawk’s wing, and shuddered

Flowers she could not name, the like of which she had never seen anywhere else, seemed to bloom throughout the year

A crow was patrolling along the guttering, taking two hops and then stopping to look down at the people below

When Marijeka awoke it was already light.  She heard footsteps walking past her room and saw shadows chopping at the light coming under her door

Striving to heal old wounds, slights upon the character of the landscape

The pace of the film is perhaps slower than modern audiences have come to expect but, in Dreyer’s hands, this only emphasises the quiet, ordered nature of this rural community which follows the rhythms of the farming calendar.

A bright morning star in the south-eastern sky

He starts his walk in Manchester

He looks.  He tells us how he looks, but not what he sees

As he walks, he writes a letter to his daughter

Where do all these thoughts come from?  Have they been voiced before?

Walking as an act of exorcism

They call it psychogeography.  I realise now I have no idea what that means

What is the significance of Liverpool?  Why make that his destination?

He was eighteen at the time.  Friends they had in common told him the two of them were made for each other.  He never did get round to meeting her

Angela was three years older than him.  She worked in a library and liked to visit historic sites

She sounded great; it was the idea of being ‘fixed-up’ that appalled him so

That song has a haunting quality that always takes me back to that day so many years ago

Sunday afternoon, work finished, sitting in the car with the two others, driving across the marshes

I need to write a business plan.  No one will ever really read it, not even me.  I just need to have one

The trouble with Dogme 95 is that they announced the rules to the public.  Gnostic film-making, now that’s the future

She plays a Freudian game with the readers

He walked, absently gathering up sensual impressions, more from habit than strategy

A rag-picking somnambulist

It’s a place I’ve passed through many times, but I’ve yet to stop, to walk, to look

They quote his every word, declare even his shopping lists the most sublime of poetry

He prided himself on the acuity of his self-awareness, yet only became aware of the façade of his life when it began to fall away

A life lived with no stain, no memory, no echoes

She follows the thought, pulling it up by its roots

Meths drinkers, feral kids, street performers, pie and mash shops

Cohen took his camera out into the streets to record a way of life that was rapidly disappearing

Those physiotherapists of bricks and mortar, striving to heal old wounds

Slights upon the character of the landscape

Stream of Consciousness 7

She took it all in; the sun and rain belonged to her, her alone

Nurturing with murderous love

Embracing Revelation’s two thousand years of holiness, Dewdrop leaves by night without saying goodbye, and his wife and children remind themselves to forget

But then, Agamemnon in New York has a certain ring to it

Old men linger, the caretaker generation

Guarding buildings and books.  Remembering.

We walk up Cambridge Heath Road, past Bethnal Green tube, and on to Hackney.  Victoria Park Road is on our right

I stand before the green front door and ring the bell. I’ve never got round to asking Ramona why she hasn’t painted it yellow.

A Julian calendar is pinned to the wall looking down, as she screams and flounders in bathwater turned chill.

Can I be the only person in the world who finds Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables the

He sits on a bench so well-polished that his rump constantly slips and slumps

November 1840: the birth of time

A station hall and the smell of smoke; engine steam that billows and clings

Off the bus and straight into the George Robey

A grand tour, edging through tribal territories

Shop front names stake territorial claims

But somewhere along the line I lost sight of the poetry

A tip: put the things you’ve already done onto the list

A moon so large one could reach out and touch….

I swim, I count, ticking off the lengths

Hats. I need to become an expert in hats

A never-ending tale told in a perpetual present

Drifting into a sleep that feels like slipping into death

She was the youngest of the three princesses.  No more and no less beautiful than her older sisters, but more loveable

Yes, that was the word, loveable.  She inspired love, and her name was Marijeka

A narrator so unreliable one might almost say he was treacherous

Which was during the silver age of American comic books

…and he was convinced the lyric was ‘hey you, get off of my car!’

A crow was patrolling along the guttering, taking two hops and then stopping to look down at the people below

She blew noisily at the cold air to see the vapour of her warm breath form little clouds and then dissipate

Grey.  Four grey walls.  Grey ceiling.  Grey floor.  I lie on my narrow metal-framed bed and my head is full of grey.

A high window with a grey metal grille lets in a little light.  Grey light, just enough to see this grey world

Searching for an empty notebook to take to Devon I find an old one from 2004 with several forgotten drafts of poems and short stories

Mr Seal is in Devon

I like Devon

Though I miss you, dear reader

… and, more than anything, I miss my morning view

The Germans have a very useful word, sehnsucht, which means a kind of wistful longing.  It’s a shame we don’t have a direct equivalent in the English language.  The Welsh hiraeth is similar, but not quite the same

Stalin and Litvinov, in London in 1907 for an International Marxist Congress, stayed at Tower House.  When I lived nearby it was a Salvation Army hostel and more recently the building has been transmuted into luxury apartments

Shining brightly, visceral echo of ancient light

Late evening sunshine after heavy rain, platinum sky

Desiccated sunshine; a poisonous embrace

We creep nearer to the fire, a circle of souls holding back the night

Did you see me?  Did you hear when the streets called my name?

Rounding the corner the mill loomed into view above the village, dominating the skyline like some vast, ugly cathedral

He reminded us at regular intervals that he’d written for Coronation Street and an episode of Blake’s Seven

A black leatherette settee with orange furry cushions

By the back door, a dog lead hangs from a hook

Al fresco dining on the wall outside the chip shop

John Cooper Clarke’s skinny jeans are a thing of wonder.  I have it on good authority he plans to donate them to the National Trust

The travel agent tells me that, obviously he’s heard of Malmö, but I’m the first person he’s met who actually wanted to go there

The voice of the water was honeyed, soothing


Stream of Consciousness 4

The taste of brine and iodine on his tongue, a crushing pressure in his chest so that it felt as if his lungs would burst

But, at this point, it was the rucksack that bothered him; its weight pulled at his shoulders and seemed to crush all his joints and muscles right down to his knees.  Like the accumulated load of his life heaped up onto his back

Time is doing strange things,’ said the voice in his head

The plan was a commercial disaster and the Duke of Lancaster’s shell now sits at the side of the river rusting away.

The 242 from Hackney to Bank and the conductor’s constant refrain: ‘Any more fares please? Thank you! Ta!’

My bus to Finsbury Park was late so Geoff got there before me.  He ended up meeting Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney and having a pint with them in the George Robey before the gig.

Cityscape of echoes and reminders

…and a chill of remembering

‘Buckshee’ is such a great word

May, and the air is full of rumour

My new business website is coming together at last

Puzzling over a one-line note in my journal from a few weeks back: ‘Gramsci fishermen’. Beats me too!

But what if someone in The Bull throws their beer at Morrissey?

I prefer my version

A forgotten Anthony Newley film with a soundtrack by Kenny Graham

Jesse Hector, the guy should have been a rock star, but instead he was last heard of working as a cleaner

The trees a smear of green along the valley side, the house a hazy shape beyond the trees

I mention Kathy Acker’s name and receive nothing but blank stares

Sooner or later life’s journey takes us all into the dark wood

A clutch of shapeless characters

Lightning in the circle of unity; the flash in the pan

“Goo’night.  Goo’night.”  He gives a word of farewell to the landlord and every corner of the room.  Eliot’s patrician ear captured only a dim echo of the real thing.  But then the pub wasn’t his milieu, not his place of worship

Pale, underfed bodies from Govan, Maesteg and Stepney.  Barely trained, poorly armed, baking in the Andalucian sun.  Dying in the Andalucian heat

Imagism seeks to produce a poetry that is “hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.”

To the other side of the Pennines for the day and the chilly embrace of the easterly wind

Williams tells us that this is the child “who robs her” and, indeed, the very structure of the poem emphasises a sense of alienation between the two in the

One reached the point in one’s life when one felt one had lived beyond one’s time.  She remembered Daddy saying that, and now she understood.

Below, the Pennines swept by, a narrow strip of upland strategically placed to stop Manchester and Sheffield growing into one another.

The car zipped from the orange glow of one street light to the next with hypnotic repetition.

She loved to walk here, discovering new glades and previously unnoticed corners

The Woman Who Did: Grant Allen’s male fantasy of a feminist novel

Exploring the link between the New Woman and Herbert Spencer’s socio-political model of human evolution

On Chesil Beach only works if read as a comedy

She strained her ears but, try as she might, she could not hear the sound of clawed feet on the roof. But she knew he was there, his slick, black feathers glowing in the moonlight

But the huge expanse of sand he had walked over was now gone.  In its place, but for the odd sandbank, was an expanse of grey water

Time is doing strange things,’ said Captain Metcalfe to his Mate as he struggled to hold a steady course while he steered the ship up the estuary

He stood up straight and pulled back his shoulders, as if willing himself to be decisive

The cliff was the colour of terracotta plant pots and was made up of countless weathered slabs

Out of context one might call my pictures crap.  I call them unique, original

Stream of Consciousness 9

The question hung in his mind; an echo of doubt

But if you knew they were just voices inside your head, and not something that was real, that they were not another person with their own existence, did that mean you were alright?

Nut brown malt, winking foam

Fluffy words and clunky sounds, all on a Saturday night

Dewdrop sits alone, his bitterness before him

Gender Admin – a sawn-off room

It was a right how do you do

Such unexpected beauty

He holds his gaze in that zone of safety between the table top and a rheumy-eyed middle distance

A medieval bridge with two squat arches, its sandstone blocks glowing pinkly in the early evening sunshine

The river water was warm and viscous, its whole surface dotted with a generous sprinkling of flies

They walked on in silence, an inexplicable sadness hanging over both of them

She held it reverently and slowly, carefully began to examine its pages

He squinted to try to force his smarting eyes to see

Like four horsemen, solemn harbingers of tribulation, the chimneys of the power station dominated the western riverbank

All of his senses were real: he felt the water on his skin, the sunshine on his head and discerned the scent of newly-mown grass in the air

As Morrissey put it: ‘We hate it when our friends become successful, and if they’re northern, that makes it even worse’

Thanks for asking, Guardian Weekend.  My ideal dinner party guests would be: Ed Reardon, Count Arthur Strong and Albert Steptoe

Religious belief and militant atheism share an absolute faith in something that cannot be seen or known; one believes it’s definitely there and the other it definitely isn’t

Perhaps agnostics are the Liberal Democrats of faith, neither one thing nor the other?

Why not try shaving foam for a low-fat version of strawberries and cream?

Mark E Smith once said the typical Fall fan is a middle-aged bloke in a windcheater sitting in a pub drinking bitter and moaning.  Rubbish, I don’t even own a windcheater

Just like The Tiger Who Came to Tea, I’ve drunk all the water in the tap and all of Daddy’s beer from under the sink

I bet he’s even funnier in Spanish

I keep going back again and again to Caroline Bergvall’s VIA

I love to hear her read in that strange, compelling Danish/French/English accent

Of course it’s really Dante’s poem, but then that’s the whole point

Forty-eight Dante variations: layer upon layer of translations of the same few lines

Along the journey of our life half way

I found myself again in a dark wood

In the mid-journey of our mortal life

I wandered far into a darksome wood

Where the true road no longer might be seen

Lost amongst murmuring trees

There is no natural landscape; the simple act of looking changes it forever

Out of sight but not out of mind

Suddenly Copenhagen

But when the observer is away

Dream Malmö

Lament Malmö

I am a stranger in my own land

We drift along as if in a dream

Blaming the victim once again

Life as we know it, Jim, a fragile layer upon a spinning rock

Picking out the lights of Perth as his craft orbited the Earth

In deepest Lincolnshire

A window is the eye of the soul

Realising that The Reaper had caught up with all three members of Atomic Rooster’s classic Death Walks Behind You line-up

Vincent Crane, 14 February 1989, overdose of painkillers

Paul Hammond, 1992, accidental methadone overdose

John Du Cann, 21 September 2011, heart attack

In the hands of David Markson, this would be a crock of artistic gold

In my hands, it’s more like a crock of shit

Hands up, don’t shoot

The redemptive power of fiction

The fictional power of redemption

Nothing to beat the excitement of a good idea and a new project

Got to finish the other ones first

It’s all connected

We followed the river all the way back to the dam

I remember that the swearing of the older boys was more imaginative than ours

The things I remember are those that I write about

The terror of kept objects

I set a trap for my conscious mind, and wait around to see what happens

Integrating the irreconcilable elements

Transferring all my lists into one master list: strangely satisfying, though not very productive

The illicit thrill of climbing onto the scaffolding once the builders had gone home

A word collage of overheard conversations

Seeing a familiar view from a different direction

Most of these conspiracy theories are absolute guff, but I still believe governments massage information on a daily basis in order to mislead public opinion

So who sets the news agenda?

Daggers of rain; cold, vindictive

Stream of Consciousness 8

Sun glow claws at southern edge

And in the fairground, empty rides, music without notes, circling in their funereal geometry

I’ve been offered a chance to help with a local history/arts project on a subject close to my heart.  How can I possibly say ‘No’?

‘So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do it every day for a year’ – Cathy Dreyer

‘As of October 5th, 2006, I have been creating one small painting almost every day’ – Carol Marine

‘Every day I took a different drug or intoxicant and drew myself under the influence’ – Bryan Lewis Saunders

Everyday started on January 11, 2000 and is a work in progress’ – Noah Kalina

‘You know how it is. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Time creeps in its petty pace’ – Auggie Wren (Smoke)

‘Oddly moving to see the sky change / not change’ – Liz Lefroy

‘I’ll stop when I’m dead’ – Karl Baden

Sky, rooftops, trees

What is noticeable about all of these pictures is that they are seemingly devoid of the presence of any human beings

And yet they are there.  Their impact upon the landscape is manifest

Patrick Keiller, a fellow traveller, looked out of his window and he saw it too: ‘The desire for poetic experience of ordinary, everyday phenomena was central to Surrealism and many other strands of modernism, from Baudelaire or even De Quincey onwards, but it was perhaps most readily achieved through photography and cinematography.’ (The View From the Train)

And the frame itself is a mere construct, beyond its edges a world vibrates

At first I thought of myself as a mere observer, a recorder, sitting there, cool and detached, choosing not to engage

But the gaze is never neutral, it affects the observer and the observed

Day by day the effect upon each is multiplied.  Until 





































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