About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Toilets to let as Clapham Old Town "regeneration" nears completion (we hope)

Last year it was Clapham Junction - this year, its Clapham Old Town getting the local authority regeneration treatment, which, as was discussed elsewhere on this blog, seems nowadays to be largely a matter of paving, street furniture and curbstones.

The current refurbishment of the area  - written about recently on the Love Clapham blog - aims to liberate some of the space around the area known as the Polygon.  Right now it is a hell of mess - you have to pity people living in that charmed pentangle, which is now a mud bath surrounded by hideous green and orange and white and red plastic barriers, with workers' loos housed in curious zebra-striped huts-on-wheels.

It seems an enormous disruption for what, looking at the plans, is a chiefly cosmetic operation. OK, the Polygon was a wasted space - a lovely bit of the Old Town, a gently sloping triangular space ruined by the busy roads bounding it on all sides with a bus stand taking up much of the apex.

Check the (lovely shiny all-new) Lambeth Council site for what the finished project will be like. Clearly, the traffic side is improved, but it looks to me like the pleasingly scruffy patch of grass - the last gasp of the Common - just south of the pub - is to be sacrificed on the altar of tidiness and conformity, to the deity of tasteful paving slabs.

It's truly entertaining to look at the architect Marks Barfield's computer-generated images of the completed project. It's a clever montage of photos of real people - a perfectly  representative sample of the men and women and children on the Clapham omnibus - clearly amazed by these vast new wandering areas! Some of them look quite stunned to be there, to the point where they don't notice the person they're about to bump into.

Strangely, we don't ever quite see what is going to happen to the notorious old public toilet block - once a hotspot on the south London cottager's personal A-Z (I know this for certain as I once wander in there innocently in about 1986 and was astonished by how crowded it was, and how many men seemed never to finish their peeing).

Passing there today I noticed that what was once a public toilet is now "to let" - yes, the old schoolboy
A lovely cottage on the Common, yours for a price. The old public
loos at the Polygon, Clapham Old Town, are now up for rent as
another big Lambeth regeneration project nears completion
vandal joke lives on. They're also trying to get some interest in the even smellier lavs by  Clapham Common tube station - if only our lovely council would realise why these places were created with so much love and care in the first place. Humans need to get out of their homes, they need to move around, and about every  two or three hours they need to drop some liquids or solids. It's simple.

BUT - let me end on an immensely positive note. Maybe as part of all this work, the council contractors have done something beautiful. In a stroke, they have liberated an area imprisoned by iron railings for decades.

The removal of the railings around those sad patches of grass between the tube station and the Common is a revelation - suddenly;y, we have real space. Please, don't bother to landscape this - just think of it as
a bit of the Common that never managed to cross the road. Love.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Erect a statue of Brian Haw in Parliament Square - now!

A shock cycling past Parliament Square for the first time in ages, and noticing that there's not even a single peace flag or poster left.

Nothing at all to remind anyone that Brian Haw and other anti-war protesters camped there, summer and winter, for over a decade.

Like so much else in London in the past two years, the Square has been very thoroughly sterilised - bleached, you might say - to remove any trace of the peace camp and other protesters who made the square their own for most of a decade.

It makes me so sad that there is no longer anything there to remind the MPs and their cohorts of the terrible mistakes they made back in 2003.

In the same way I was thrilled to hear of the young man who attempted a citizens' arrest of Blair  in a Shoreditch bar last week, I feel sickened by this empty, useless space. Even a statue of Nelson Mandela, arms open wide in a gesture of friendship, is reduced to nothing here.

It seems like an insult to everyone who died and suffered as a result of that series of wars and skirmishes in Iraq and Afghanistan - and also to all those who opposed the war. I am thinking here of a friend, my dearest friend, Bridget Reiss, who gave every spare moment of her last seven years of life to the Stop the War coalition, working for the small Film-makers Against the War group.

Long after the big upsurge of public anti-war feeling in 2003, and right up until she died in January 2009, as a result ovarian cancer, Bridget was still as passionately angry about this war as she had been back in 2003. In fact, sometimes I wished she'd leave the subject, that it was too late. Now I realise why it mattered so much to her - why she would risk ridicule and rejection for always bringing us all back to the obscenity of what had happened.

So, I am not a neutral observer. But it's good that so many people have worked  to keep Brian Haw's m,emory alive - he was a true icon for the movement. It's so vital to have people like him, who overcame personal ambition, overcame embarrassment and vanity, to do such a thing, just to act as a lens to focus attention on unforgiven, unrepentant evil-doers.

A statue is necessary - someone to help Nelson Mandela and restore some balance in the square. Maybe a permanent tent. Then they could affix a blue plaque at the right moment. Or, better still, a red plaque.

Monday, 20 January 2014

London a suburb of Paris? I wish….

Much justified outrage and gnashing of bad teeth today as the deputy mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, describes London as a rather dodgy suburb of her beautiful city. London, she suggests, is somewhere a lot of French people have chosen to work in, but really not a rival - just a place where you have to be careful because  it has "four times as much crime".

 Well, I live in a suburb of London. I cycle into the city almost every day. I wish I could cycle into the centre of Paris every day, because I love Paris.

Oddly enough, a lot of Paris has come to surround me. French families occupy the houses next to, and directly opposite my  flat. The shop where I work part-time,  in Bute Street, South Kensington, sells almost as many books in French as in English. We have a French-run café on one side, a boulangerie on the other, and the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle  just over the road.

The obvious thing is, I entirely concur with Mlle Hidalgo.

I particularly like her quote: "London aggressively sells itself, often in a way that goes beyond the truth. We are more rational in our communication when speaking about Paris' strengths."

So true. Boris, like so many other "professional Londoners" (cue Mr R. Elms, etc)  are well into overkill territory with their constant braying about London being the great world city - whatever that means. We love London, but partly we love it because it is so shitty - and so good at underselling itself.

Anyway, back to Paris, please. Because London, however big and rich and blingy it gets, will never in a million years be able to challenge the French capital on the really important axes of  pleasure, elegance, romance, sex, culture, style, beauty…and bread.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Dear dead Derek Jarman, how much we need you now

A review of an exhibition by - of all people, Brian Sewell - hit me hard in the stomach with the realisation that next week it will be 20 years since Derek Jarman died.

As a gay art historian who knows everyone in the art world of London over the past 70 years,  Sewell is a perfectly valid reviewer of this anniversary exhibition - Derek Jarman: Pandemonium - at King's College, London University - where Jarman was a student, way back.

Odd to think he started out in 1962 taking a BA General in humanities.

King's describes it as an "immersive exhibition that celebrates the life and work of this truly innovative and multi-faceted artist" With much trepidation I starred to read the review, sensing that Sewell, of that pre-gay generation of gentleman homosexuals, was chalk to Jarman's extra-strong cheese.

Also, one suspects that Jarman's art is a rather easy target for this rigorous critic. Jarman was an artist, but maybe his talent never found its perfect medium, although he created some beautiful, wonderful and memorable stuff on the way. Or maybe that he sacrificed (scarified) his god-given "career" in the English arts world for the gay cause.

In fact, Sewell's review (in the Evening Standard) is commendably restrained, even generous in certain areas (but not others!)

 He does not unleash the verbal hell he so often inflicts on his contemporaries.  He leaves that damning by faint praise to others. He quotes the film reviewer who said Jarman's work mainly amounted to a lot of "significant mischief" - and the archduke of British film, Lord Goldcrest of the Chariots, David Puttnam, who apparently observed that Jarman would probably never have to bother himself about the Oscars.

As an older gay man occupying a lonely niche high up in the vaulting of the English arts world of the 1970s, you wonder what Sewell thought of this hugely personable figure who emerged from the alternative art-squatter scene pod the 70s to become the UK's best-known radical artist-turned set designer turned film-maker.

Having thrilled art movie buffs with the sets he designed for Ken Russell's The Devils,  Jarman went on to make the first, but also the strangest and best feature about UK punk - Jubilee.

This, and his weirdly beautiful version of The Tempest, are not mentioned in Sewell's review, which is odd as they are often thought of as his most successful films.

Nor does Sewell have much to say about Jarman's extensive writing, which I think is probably his most enduring achievement. Dancing Ledge is  a touching and hugely enjoyable memoir. His infectious enthusiasms come across vividly in his books about colour (Chroma), his garden, his politics, his film-making. Even when he going blind and knew  death was close, there was a generous spirit at the heart of everything he wrote - even when he was slagging off some enemy.
Derek Jarman on the cover of one his last books, Chroma, a series of essays about colour .

He could write, he did write. He also painted and gardened and - by his own account - still had time and energy to spare for a hyperactive sexual and social existence in that now impossibly distant world, the London alternative arts scene of the 70s and early 80s.

Having been part of the late 60's counter culture scene, the Balls Pond Road set, David Medalla's the exploding galaxies and so on, Jarman seemed to be on the highbrow edge of the hippie scene. You imagined him smoking reefers with Robert Graves and Kevin Ayers on Ibitha, but I doubt if that ever happened.

Then came his agit-prop phase, which was more than a phase - it was the rest of his life. It was one which led naturally into the climax of all his work - from squatting in Butler's wharf, and being woken up one morning buy Pier Paolo Pasolini filming Canterbury Tales in its original location, to his roles in there Alternative Miss World,  the anti-Section 28 movement, AIDS awareness, forcible outing of gay celebs - you name it, Jarman was there at the front.

And still making movies - lots of them, through the 80s and early 90s. Caravaggio, The Last of England; the movies that enjoyed much more cult adulation than financial success, but which did launch the careers of some well known actors, Tilda Swinton and among them.

I didn't know him, I wished I had. Wandering around the Charing Cross Road area at that time you half expected to bump into him or catch a glimpse, and often you would. He was famously friendly and apparently unaffected, loved chatting to his fans at favourite cafes in and around Soho.

Sewell predicts this will the last major celebration of a Jarman anniversary. He may well be right, but
that to me is more of a damning verdict on the fashion-driven wolf-pack nature of the media who seem to regulate these things, than of the worth of the artist.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The ghastliness of GQ

Interesting to read that GQ - I think that used to stand for "Gentleman's Quarterly" - is the last lad standing in the mens' mag quarter of UK magazine publishing.

This was one of those annoying laudatory articles in the ES business pages about GQ editor Dylan Jones marking his 15th year in this distinguished seat.

I used to think Jones was a good man, one of the 80s lot who stuck to magazine journalism, and one who clearly deserves much respect for creating jobs for loads of journalism graduates.

But reading this piece, I began to wonder. He is the last man standing in this world of glossy men's magazines, and he has to hold up the side. He is dismissive about sponsored editorial, though admits it provides some useful work for "unemployed journalists". Among his top half dozen distinguished contributors is Blair's former pr man Alastair Campbell, who seems to be going back to his journalistic roots.

Well, yes, I know what he means there. As an unemployed journalist, I have worked for all sorts of sponsored pages in all sorts of publication. It makes me ill to remember this.

But then he's also on the offensive about Russell Brand and his remarks about Hugo Boss.

He thinks it's a bit off of Brand to bite the hand that gave him first class travel and luxury accommodation in LA. Brand bites hands. The Boss story is a bit more complex as we probably - as citizens of a country that, up til 1939, fell over itself to sell nice cars and clothes to the leaders of Europe's fastest-growing economy - know to our shame.

Depending on whether you read this article online or in print, you will come away thinking Mr Jones is a genius at wall-sitting. His views on PR seem to be more fully explained in the web version of this interview.

But the thing that really comes across is how much like a champion boxer Mr best-dressed Dylan Jones can be. How he jabs at his target, then pulls back. At least, he says of Mr Brand, "no-one died".

You know something is happening here….etc.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Baldrick's London knicker-twist

Arise, Sir Tony Robinson, to accept the Microgroove Award (2014) for the most easily missed non-sequitur on British radio in this year of our Lord, 2014.

The famous actor was being interviewed by diamond geezer Robert Elms for his weekly "Listed Londoner" feature on the BBC Radio London mid-day show.

Having talked at length about his favourite bits of London, his favourite buildings and open spaces, the Baldrick actor then asserted, without any particular irony, that he was a north London bloke through and through, and that in his opinion,  south London was something of "a contradiction in terms".

A question or two later, he is asked to name his favourite London film, book or play. He chooses John Lanchester's 2012 novel, Capital. The novel, he said, gave him an insight into the new London, the city of hedge funds and the meeting of extreme wealth and dire poverty, and of clashing ideologies.

So, Capital is clearly a powerful novel, the quintessential early-21st century London novel? But it is almost entirely - and very specifically - set in south London. South west London. Well,  Clapham, if you must know.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The fickle world of flickr stats

I've been posting photos on flickr for about 6 years now and have accumulated up a solid group of friends and contacts around the world. We check out each others' photos and as often as not click on "favourite" and often write a comment or critique.

There's a real core of mutual loyalty, and some of my "flickr" friends would certainly be real friends if they lived a bit closer. In fact I've met several of them and hope to continue with this.

In all this time I've posted over 650 photos which together have received 77,000 views, a modest enough total in the internet world.

But this time last week I had had less than 65,000 views. Just one photo, posted on Monday, has been viewed nearly 11,000 times in three days.

Normally I am very pleased if a photo gets more than 50 views, and  if two or three people, usually those reliable old friends,  add it to their favourites, I am even happier. Some pics get no views and no fans at all.

But this picture already - which you can see here -  has over 100 "favourites"- most of them from people I have never encountered before.

So, what is so good about it? That is what puzzles me. It is a scan of a black and white photo of a railway station (Sanderstead, near Croydon, 12 miles south of London) I took back in the late 1970s. The station was near my father's house and I had gone to help him (and his dog) get the train to Uckfield in Sussex, where he was visiting old friends.

The photo shows the train just driving at the platform, with, in the middle ground, a large middle-aged lady with a middle-aged lady's hair-do seeming  quite oblivious of the approaching train. Just behind her another lady, also in middle-aged drag, is reaching for her bag.
This rather unexciting photo got me 11,000
views and 100+ favourites on flickr. Why?

The train itself is uninteresting to me - an old diesel-powered four-car unit of the sort that British Railway's Southern  region used for commuter routes that had yet to be electrified.

It's not a particularly good photo technically - it is self-developed and bit too contrasty, and just not as sharp as I would have liked. It is also, as I now realise, slightly crooked.

But there's a bit of detail and the composition is easy on the eye.

Also, I think, it has a slight air of mystery, and of belonging to a lost past, so I posted it in that spirit.

I must have been Tuesday evening when I noticed it had over 700 views - the most I'd ever had for a photo, and all in a day. There was a message from a railway enthusiast and that struck me as the clue. One of my more popular early photos was of Stockwell Bus Garage (a beautiful bit of modern architecture just down the road) - and it was then I realised that transport enthusiasts of all types are among the most enthusiastic internet users.

I even had a message from a former train driver who actually worked this routed back in the 80s, another indication of the brilliant reach of flickr.

And all that without even tagging the pic or offering it to asny of the relevant groups.

I all happened (I soon realised) because th epic was selected by flickr staff (I suppose) for its "Explore" feature, a gallery of what the manamgement think are the most interesting pics of the day. But the time I realised this my pic was already deep down under a pile of hundreds of other explored photos - but sure enough, there it was.

And soon I had a request to add it to an "explored photos" group, which I did.

Today, it has all gone quiet again. This massive flurry of visitors disappeared as quickly as it arrived. Not many of them, judging from the stats of surrounding photos, looked at much of my other work - but why would they?

I was touched by how friendly and appreciative so many total strangers seemed to be - and no, it turned out the majority were not train buffs at all, just people interested in slightly strange, oddball,  unusual photos.

Well, I suppose it makes a change from the sunsets and the cats and dogs.

For all of what to me seem retrograde developments of the website, I still love flickr, mainly because of the people I have met there.

I've used other photo sites but always come back here, and will until they make it physically impossible for me to post my scratchy dusty old pictures. Thanks.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Needled by Twelfth Night Christmas tree massacre

Spruce it is not: Thousands of pounds worth of mutilated Christmas fir-trees are thrown out onto London's streets within month of purchaseIt must have been the second Saturday in December, around 3pm, that sales of Christmas trees in the
middle class suburbs of inner London reached their peak.

That day - spruce Saturday, you might call it - young single people and foreigners watched in amazement as smart-casually dressed dads staggered back from the local tree market with a six-foot spruce, sealed inside a sort of giant tree condom, over their shoulders. As often as not they would have cheerful children skipping along beside them.

What a great day for family values - the first big event of the English christmas, decorating the tree en famille.

What a great day for the sellers of these trees, which this year seemed to range in price from about £20 for a tiddler to well over £50 for a grand spruce with guaranteed stay-on needles. Maybe not such a great day for the trees themselves - though the debate over the ethics of Christmas tree cultivation seems to have died down, except on the UK hippy website. Anyway, in places like these - Dulwich, Blackheath, Greenwich, Herne Hill, Clapham, Balham, Battersea, Wandsworth - a healthy proportion of these trees will be "ethically sourced".

Last Sunday was the inevitable, sad sequel to this heartwarming story, the day of the expulsion of the spruces. It wasn't even Twelfth Night, but it was close enough. Monday morning's early commuters cursed their way to the tube station, as their normal route had been turned into a fir-forest obstacle course by all the big and little trees thrown out onto pavements, then blown around by the overnight gales.

A quick glance down this street revealed probably two grand's worth of trees, abandoned in their prime, less than a month after they were so warmly received into their owner's homes. Most seemed  in good condition, and some even had bits of tinsel wrapped around the needles.

A sad story, but then these are not the sort of trees anyone would want to hug. On the other hand, there's at least one better way to re-cycle your old christmas spruce - feed it to the lions of Linton Zoo.

Lambeth's latest recycling idea is rubbish!

They appeared a week before Christmas, like a litter of unwanted puppies, clustered around the big wheelie bins outside each house in the street.

These mini-bins were about a foot tall and had big folding handles like a supermarket basket. When you opened one you found an even smaller grey plastic bin inside, Russian-doll style - and an explanatory leaflet from the good people at the London Borough of Lambeth.

Only those with the time and patience to study this 12-page document will learn the  full and proper use of their new food waste bins. You also learn that the mini-bin inside is more accurately named your "kitchen caddy".

And that you are supposed to line this with the free starter pack of caddy-liners provided by our generous council. Sadly, these were not evident on our doorstep.

And that, when full, you put the caddy into the outdoor food waste bin which is lockable and supposedly rodent-proof.

Unfortunately, over that much extended Christmas holiday period, all four of our food waste bins have vanished, whether into flats or into some fly-by-night bin thief's van,  remains to be seen.

Of course it's an exemplary green initiative, and apparently we all asked for it. And once we all get down to composting all our food waste (but not fats and liquids, please) we obviously won't need so much black bin space.

Such is Lambeth's faith in our conscientious approach to re-cycling they already removed our five large wheelie bins (one for each flat) and replaced them with one, only very slightly larger new bin.

The bin was emptied on Friday and full again by Sunday night. And that is with only half the normal occupants of these flats in situ.

Sorry Lambeth, but who exactly was it who asked for this new service? How much didi it cost, and will it be policed?

Because if noty, I fear there's going to be an awful lot more mess around here. Sadly, many of the young tenants of flats in this area are working 18 hour days in the city.  Back home they often binge on take-aways and tinnies. Their idea of recycling is to put all the packaging and leftovers back into the takeaway bag and leave it on the pavement. The foxes get fat on this stuff, but they are almost as messy as the the yuppies upstairs.

Oh well. All this and yet I still prefer living in Lambeth to the brighter borough just down the road.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Nine Elms disease revisited: welcome to the seriously bland quarter

 Nine Elms from my bedroom window: au revoir, view of Westminster, hello the new cuboid US embassy instead.
Since the last entry on the redevelopment of Nine Elms in South West London, things have moved ahead at a terrible speed. The view from here has already been partly blotted out by cranes and skeletal buildings shooting up along the river from Vauxhall to Battersea.

The killer tower now has stupid stripes of white lights all the way from top to bottom, making it look even more like a giant AAA battery stuck into the Thames mud.

And the developers have revealed their master plan, complete with the obligatory 3D computer visualisations of the finished project.

What's it  like? Well, when even the local free magazine, Battersea Time & Leisure, damns it with the faint praise that it was "a pretty model…But a new Southbank? It just didn't look, well, cult enough"- you realise we're in for something amazingly dull.

The editor of this mag, whose revenues come mainly from the estate agents who will be flogging these flats for millions and millions, is being quite bold here.

Not that the property men will care - they know that their customers would much rather buy into something safe and secure, bland and convenient and comfortable,  and certainly nothing like the real Southbank, which as I recall has relatively few luxury apartment blocks and lots of great big buildings devoted to theatre, music, art and cinema.

But we must withhold judgment - any investment in art and community has to be good, and even if it's just lip-service, or just a veneer, it could still do some good. Apparently the RCA is involved and maybe Testbed as well.  If they could get the Battersea Arts Centre on board, with all its attendant philosophy of arts for everyone, pay what you can afford, then we might be a bit less sceptical.

Anything that might lure the young and penniless into this zone of the super-rich and powerful could be a good thing. Maybe a new skate park, graffiti and all,  will develop here to make up for the one currently on its last days at Southbank…

Anyway, enjoy those green river views here at the nineelmslondon.com website.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

An Ambridge too far: will Radio 4 be the death of me?

I suffer from what I believe is quite a rare long-term ailment.

I am addicted to BBC Radio 4, but I am allergic to its most popular show, The Archers.

The addiction goes back to the early 1970s, when, as a trainee house-painter with a Grundig transistor radio, I became hooked on the afternoon classic serial. That summer, it was War and Peace in 13 one-hour instalments.

Even now I feel distinctly unready to face the day without at least half an hour os so of the Today programme. Best of all are the wonderfully eclectic current affairs programmes such as From Our Own Correspondent, which can range from the quality of espresso in central Roman cafés to attempts to abolish female genital mutilation in Sudan within the 45-minute span of one programme.

Nearly all the book adaptations are worth a listen - Book of the Week etc.  it is such a good way of keeping up with new publications. I find the news programmes increasingly annoying and rtepeptive yet I  still listen. Woman's Hour is a love-hate thing for me, all those splendid Oxbridge feminists and their very right-on guests, the earnest yet "ballsy" jazz chanteuses. It's a wonderful programme, including the cookery and the obligatory items on penis size, etc.

And then, twice a day, comes that dread sound - the most annoying theme music ever written. The Archer's tune must be solely responsible for the famous British glom. ANy nation exposed to that hideously jolly little shanty four times a day (at the beginning and end of each 15-minute episode and its repeat) for nearly three quarters of a century would be bound to be packed with seething depressives.

But if you really want to kill us all dead, play the Sunday Omnibus version, the bucolic accordion is even jollier and bouncier and would have me leaping off Beachy Head if it was within skipping distance.

The actual programme with its cast of ghastly well-off upper-middle home counties farming types and the chirpy, stinking stereotypes of every other socioeconomic group - well, that just makes one vomit, it is not truly dangerous.

SO, Radio 4, you're a heady drug all right. I got hooked when you were in a purer form, when you had true genius of the likes of the sadly missed, tragically late Ray Gosling, when it was Ned Sherrin doing Stop The Week, Robert Robinson on the quiz shows, and well before the rot set-in with poor John Peel (who i loved on Radio London) droning on Saturday morning live.

And yet I'm still hooked.