Psychogeographic Review’s Recommendations – May 2015

This past month Psychogeographic Review has been reading:

My reading this month has leaned very heavily towards autobiographical works.  I didn’t plan to read these three books at the same time but, in doing so, I was struck by the stark contrasts and subtle similarities of three very different approaches to the craft of autobiography.

51B3GR9QQ4L__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Dorothy Richardson – ‘Pilgrimage 2’ (Virago Press, 2002)

This volume from Virago comprises two of Richardson’s novels from her 13-novel Pilgrimage series: The Tunnel (1919) and Interim (1919).  I read Richardson for my MA dissertation and it is a joy to read her works once more, but this time simply for pleasure.  She creates the story of a young woman’s life, that of her alter-ego Miriam Henderson, but writes in a ground-breaking narrative style that is freed from the straight-jacket of the all-seeing, all-knowing narrator.



Death%20in%20the%20Family,%20AKarl Ove Knausgaard – ‘A Death in the Family’ (2009)

Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard took a similar starting point for his autobiographical My Struggle series of books.  When asked why he started the the project he replied that he had become sick of the idea of writing about another ‘fabricated character in a fabricated plot’.  The result is a work of painstaking detail and searing honesty.




9781841950952Sylvia Smith – ‘Misadventures’ (2001)

When Sylvia Smith’s autobiography was published in 2001 many critics thought it was a literary joke.  Misadventures comprises a series of short vignettes from her life.  Smith’s tales are, for the most part, inconsequential and are told in a simple, often bathetic, style.  Yet this story of the life of a  very ordinary woman builds in power and poignancy as she relates the details of her relationships, boring jobs, shopping trips and evenings out.  The overall effect is extremely moving.



Meanwhile, we were listening to:

tumblr_nkoohysQDk1qf9i0do1_500Rob St John – ‘Surface Tension’ (2015)

Sometimes with a project of this ambition it seems the initial concept overshadows the final creative achievement.  Thankfully this is not the case with this, Rob St John’s sublime multi-modal work.  As he describes it: “Surface Tension is a project I have been working on since last summer, exploring the River Lea in East London through sound, writing and photography.  Commissioned by the Thames21 charity’s ‘Love the Lea’ campaign, Surface Tension uses field recordings, tape loops, analogue synth, 120 and pinhole film photography to creatively interpret water pollution.”

And watching:

image004‘The Falling’ – Carol Morley (2014)

The Falling is Carol Morley’s study of friendship, sexuality and mass hysteria at a girls’ school in the 1960s.  She creates a satisfying mix of uncomfortable psychological insights and black humour seasoned with a hint of the uncanny.


vrodKSb‘A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence’ – Roy Andersson (2014)

Roy Andersson’s latest film takes us through a series of episodes of existential pondering.  He reaches for truth by deliberately avoiding any hint of superficial reality:  his interiors appear to be constructed from balsa-wood, he has a colour palette that is largely restricted to a washed-out shade of green and his actors all wear corpse-like pale makeup.  Yet this is a genuinely funny and profound film; rather like Alexei Sayle  channelling Samuel Beckett.

CMD-Final-Quad‘Catch Me Daddy’ – Daniel Wolfe (2014)

Laila and Aaron are a young couple, one Asian the other white, who seek quiet anonymity in a caravan on the Yorkshire moors.  But Laila’s brother has other ideas.  The script by Daniel and Matthew Wolfe is acid sharp and Robbie Ryan’s camera evokes a landscape tinged with an eerie beauty.

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Return to the Chalets

In April 2013 I wrote on this site about the plotlander movement of the inter-war years and the riverside chalets on the Dee at Farndon, near Chester.  The piece stirred up quite a lot of interest; I even heard from a lady in New Zealand who had lived in one of the chalets when she was a girl in the nineteen-fifties.


One person I’ve kept in touch with since the piece was published is Lesley Martin.  Lesley is an environmental artist and educator and lives in one of the chalets on the English bank of the river, although she tells me she and her partner will shortly be moving to live in Wales in another chalet on the opposite bank.  This is Lesley’s website, Free Range Classrooms.

I’m currently writing a book about a journey on the River Dee; a kind of mythogeographic voyage from sea back to source.  Lesley shares my fascination with the chalets of Farndon, in fact she is currently working on an exhibition and book about the history of the structures and the people who live in them.  She already has the offer of an exhibition space in the village and a larger gallery in a nearby town is very enthusiastic about the project.


I’ll share further news about the chalet project on this blog and on Twitter.

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Father of the Man: Terence Davies’s Trilogy


Children, Madonna and Child and Death and Transfiguration move relentlessly through the three stages of Robbie’s life. But Davies consciously breaks the rules of linear time as he moves backwards and forwards exploring the jumble of Robbie’s memories, his youth, adulthood and old age. Davies does not want us to just look at Robbie’s life, he requires us to witness it, and presents each fragment as if part of a body of evidence.

Although at one level we know that these are films set in the Liverpool of the 1970s and 1980s, because that is when they were made, Trilogy is essentially set in a perpetual present. We all live our lives in that way, never questioning what we mean by ‘now.’ And yet the past is always present and, through memory, we re-enact it, again and again.

In one of the most ineffably moving scenes in Children, an eleven-year-old Robbie and his mother make a journey through Liverpool by bus. In one’s memory the scenes one plays out operate from just one point of view. And so it is with this journey: the camera, still and unblinking, observes Robbie and his mother from one side as they sit, mother looking ahead and robbie writing in the mist of his breath on the window.

Courageously, Davies holds this shot for a full two minutes. There is no dialogue and no sound, other than a haunting oboe lament. Then he switches the angle and we are face on to the mother and child. The sound clicks in, first the labouring engine of the bus and then a sob, and we realise that Robbie’s mother is crying. She continues to look ahead as the tears stream down her cheeks. Robbie looks at her, confusion and fear in his face, but neither of them say anything.

Davies offers no explanation of the scene on the bus. How could there be an explanation? This is a childhood memory and so many of those memories, things one is too young to understand at the time, remain locked in mystery forever. Mam cried, and that is all Robbie remembers. It is all he needs to remember.



This is a short extract from an essay  by Bobby Seal published in the Irish journal gorse.  Issue three of gorse is available for purchase here.

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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.


Katherine MansfieldLike 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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