Liminal London – a journey through space and imagination. With some book suggestions.

Hello and Merry Christmas to everybody! I hope you’ve had a lovely time. My own has passed in a kind of sofa-chocolate-turkey-stuffing-films-with-family haze, but today we left the house and went for a walk. It took a lot of effort to leave the house, and about five separate plans were scrapped before, quite by accident, we ended up walking along the disused railway lines in Crouch End.

Initially, that sounds a bit too exciting for a post-Christmas walk, but really it was a delightful stroll at twilight (seriously, a lot of effort leaving the house) through the strips of park that have been created along the abandoned railway: The Parkland Walk at Crouch End.

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You Are Here
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The first of the many graffito tunnels.

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Yep. Give it a minute. See him now?
Yep. Give it a minute. See him now?
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Approaching Crouch End Station.

At twilight, the winding paths, stunning and sudden graffiti, looming arches and ruined railway platforms (the old Crouch End station) create an unheimliche sense of walking through a pocket of lost time. I fell to imagining that the city was dead, and we were travellers passing through it, admiring, though tentatively, the primitive remains of a lost time. My favourite children’s book is ‘Henry’s Quest’, a picture book by renowned illustrator Graham Oakley that is now, confoundingly and ridiculously, out of print. You can see some of the mesmerising artwork on Oakley’s website. The story is set in a kind of utopian/dystopian future, post-apocalypse, where most of Britain has returned to a kind of mediveal fiefdom. The past is resolutely ignored as subject matter, instead only apparent in the images accompanying the words. Today I felt as though I was on Henry’s quest (for the mythical ‘petrol’), walking through a terrain I didn’t altogether recognise.

Henry's Quest - the cover.
Henry’s Quest – the cover.
This was us today...
This was us today…
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…boat-train just out of sight…

This reminded me of a documentary I had the pleasure of reporting on when I worked at the London International Documentary Festival in 2010. ‘The London Perambulator’, was the main film in ‘The Invisible City’-themed day at The Hub in King’s Cross (which, I might add, is a fabulous venue). The original text of the report is reposted below. I highly recommend the film, and any study of ‘PsychoGeography’ or ‘Deep Topography’, or reading of Iain Sinclair‘s ‘London Orbital’, or Will Self’s works, such as ‘The Book of Dave’ (somewhat a renewal of the themes of ‘Riddley Walker’ by Russel Hoban) . You might even go further and read ‘Neverwhere’ by Neil Gaiman, and even finish it off with some China Mieville – ‘Un Lun Dun’ – if you’re that way inclined.

Where my mind went today was somewhat similar. I may have to write something for ‘Tales from the Switch’ about it.

*scroll to the end to watch the documentary*

25th April 2010

The Invisible City: extended report and interview with John Rogers

Nick Papadimitriou goes for long walks, often for days at a time, in an ambitious effort to “hold my region in my mind.” He is comforted by what he sees as the rejected buildings and spaces of London, the “overlooked” places, that lack the care and attention he himself felt he had found wanting in his own early life. Filmmaker John Rogers’ portrait piece ‘The London Perambulator’, about the self-styled Deep Topographer and his loving study of liminal spaces, started ‘The Invisible City‘ day at The Hub in Kings Cross, an inspirational converted space around the corner from the bustling station, consisting of little brick-and-girder viewing rooms and a tall-ceilinged cafe. Around the tables filmmakers sat giving quiet talks about their films or ‘documentary surgeries’ for the audience, which, with their little pads, seemed to be predominantly students of film of all ages. It was refreshing to see such a mix, as well as an interest in ‘forgotten London’.

‘The London Perambulator’ has a second screening at the Festival next Thursday at The Freeword Centre in Farringdon. Talking to John Rogers after his Q and A session, I asked him how his film and its famous contributors came together. He’s a writer and walker himself, and had put together a book of images from topographical walks as part of a presentation to the Arts Council, which he then gave to friend Russell Brand. He thought Brand would lose it. Months later, Brand rang him up and told him he had to meet Nick, taking them both out on a “blind date”. Brand and Papadimitriou seemed to be old friends; when in the film Russell does an impression of Nick, it’s a nod to a creation of his own from his character sketch days, ‘Warren Kelp’, who seems to be a grotesque part Nick part man-who-lived-in-a-tree-on-Hampstead-Heath compilation, to whom Brand mostly gives Nick’s non sequitur dialogue seen in the film, such as when he explains he burned his school down “twice…They wouldn’t let me do A-Levels.”  Rogers and Papadimitriou developed a walking relationship, and Iain Sinclair, writer of London-worship bibles ‘London Orbital’ and ‘London: City of Disappearances’ , was brought on board when, thinking he’d like it despite never having met him, Rogers sent Sinclair film of his walks with Nick; he’d found his address on an early self-published work, and thought “he probably still lived there.” A reply letter was lost in the mail; Rogers found out he did still live there and he had liked it when a friend said he’d seen the footage used in one of Sinclair’s lectures. In the film, Sinclair describes Papadimitriou as “almost like a Will Self character”: Will Self calls Nick his friend and colleague and defers to him in all aspects of topographical interest. Theirs is a relationship of several decades, sometimes seen in Self’s ‘PsychoGeography’ column in The Independent, and Nick helped him research contours for ‘The Book Of Dave’, using his own maps to work out which bits of London were likely to drown when the floods came. Rogers tells me he actually thinks Nick is a Self character, from ‘Grey Area’; an interesting metafictional consideration further explored when an audience member asks in the Q and A whether Nick is a real person. Rogers admits two things: first, jokingly, that Nick is what he thought Iain Sinclair would turn out to be like, and secondly, that he used the ‘talking heads’ presentation of the often deadpan Self, Brand and Sinclair to raise the question in some viewers of whether the film is a spoof. This really seems to add to the sense of mystery that the film serves to add to our normal conception of London which Papadimitriou has told us earlier is “screened out by modern sensibilities”, as if it’s the magic of a childhood fairytale, once believed and now forgotten.

Also being played at ‘The Invisible City’ were recordings ‘The Best of Resonance’ by Ed Baxter, one of the London-based radio station’s creators. Resonance, found at 104.4 FM, is lauded as ‘London’s best radio station’, and, appropriately for today’s theme, is an inventive, eclectic mix of programming that is incredibly broadminded. It featured heavily in the love-letter to radio that was 2009’s ‘Radio Head’ by John Osborne, an exploration of all that is still good about this increasingly overlooked means of communication, as it seems to aim to only reflect the mixed community of Londoners in the same way that commercial radio stations only reflect the needs of marketing departments; you might have a slot hosted by a 12-year old, or in one of the twelve other languages commonly spoken in London, followed by a music fanzine discoursing on irregular time signatures…or a recording of Nick Papadimitriou reading from his notebooks.

There was a wonderful sense of the accidental and the coincidental at today’s multimedia event, which seems to come down to one thing: communities of people being brought together by something they love. This is what filmmaking should be about.

You can watch ‘The London Perambulator’ right here: 

The last of our walk:

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4 thoughts on “Liminal London – a journey through space and imagination. With some book suggestions.

  1. Just watched the film about Nick the Perambulator. So it’s deep topography I’ve been doing all these years. Nice to have a name for it finally. And to know I’m not the only one who sees beauty in an old manhole cover or an odd-shaped hill and is moved by it. Thanks for posting this film.

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