About Me

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

Friday, 26 June 2015

Look what they've done to our park, ma!

Building the safety cage around the Battersea Park FormulaE circuit - doesn't seem to leave much room for the cars….
For the past three weeks, large swathes of Battersea Park have been closed to the public as preparations continue for this weekend's electric car racing.

On a quick visit yesterday, it was clear that the Formula E track has been created around the perimeter road by building a compete, linear cage of steel, with the occasional bridge and makeshift seating areas.

It's really tricky to get into the park now, people are waiting all round to turn you away, sending you off down paths that lead nowhere. In theory you can still cross the park but in practice it's just too much hassle.

The sports areas at the eastern end of the park are still working, but the rest of the place is unusually quiet for this time of year, with only the most determined dog walkers and sunbathers bothering to break through the various cordons. Once you get in, of course, it's nice - but then you have to find a way out as well.

You wonder how long it will take to dismantle and remove all this fencing, the huge concrete block barriers that line the course, the caging and seating. The published target is to have everything cleared away and back to normal by July 3 (Thursday). Let's wait and see.

Then again, how many more HGV trips will be required - sort of cancelling out the point of the emission-free race cars…? At least locals will be able to get in to watch the events free if they want. Well, that's if they can get hold of  one of the 1,000 tickets given to the council. Normal ticket prices range form £8 to £224.

So, you have to hope Wandsworth Council has made an enormous profit out of this, having deprived its population of full enjoyment of one of its finest open spaces for at least three weeks.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Questions and theories about the trucks that are killing cyclists on London streets

Caution, keep clear: eight fat wheels accelerating fast from the rmc site at Silverthorne road.

On Monday 22 June 2015 a 26-year-old woman became the eighth cyclist to die on a London street this year - and all but one of them was killed by heavy goods vehicles.

The woman killed yesterday outside the Bank of England died in now grimly familiar circumstances - crushed beneath the front wheels of left-turning tipper truck at a road junction.

How often do we have to read that terrible phrase: "crushed by the wheels of a left-turning tipper truck"? And how many more times will we have to read it this year, this decade?

There's little doubt the deaths will continue while London's construction business booms, and cycling to work becomes more and more necessary for cash-strapped workers. So that at the same times of day, every day, there are thousands of each of these totally incompatible forms of transport hurtling down the same  narrow, complex web of streets towards the same central honeypot.

Pundits are busy speculating why so many women are being killed this way in central London (six out of the eight deaths this year were of women, mostly young women).

But of the all the theories put forward and all the angry debate, no one seems to have asked two questions.

First - when they say a tipper truck, what precisely do they mean? Are they always really tipper trucks? It would be helpful if media reports were more specific in each case. There are many shapes and sizes of tipper trucks, but some of the newest ones seem to be incredibly powerful and to accelerate like sports cars.

Second - how often do they consider the nature of the construction business, and the sort of pressure drivers of these trucks are  working under to deliver their materials at the right time??

Photo: Bill Hicks
The notorious Walkie-Talkie tower: how many truck loads of
cement, steel, glass and plastic went into building this
monstrosity? And how safely were they driven to the site?
Look at a building like the (hideous) Walkie-Talkie in Fenchurch street, imagine how much concrete,
steel and glass went into its construction, how many truck loads had to be negotiated through the narrow streets of the square mile. And how many tipper trucks to clear all that excavated mud, stone and debris from demolished buildings on the site.

Look at the way the construction industry deals with the logistics of such a site: material shave to be there at exactly the right time, there's no space to keep stockpiles of steel. And above all the concrete on which all these vast buildings rest has to be poured within 90 minutes of its mixing.

The lorries which have scared me most often are the massive four-axle ready-mix trucks with their giant rotating barrels on the back, but I guess that's because I live close to one of the main ready-mix supply depots.

Here the just-in-time method is at its most acute - they fill up with ready mix at one of the many depots in zone 2, then they have a very limited time to get to the building site.

If you don't trust me, check out some of the business school papers on the topic. For example,  this one from the University of California, Berkeley (1999), Iris D. Tommelein1 and Annie En Yi Li2's paper, Just-in-Time Concrete Delivery: Mapping Alternatives for Vertical Supply Chain Integration. 

As these authors point out, "Since concrete should be placed no later than ninety minutes after the addition of water, travel from the batch plant to a site should not take much more than half an hour or so. A plant’s operating radius therefore tends to be limited based on the nature and condition of haul roads."

They of course were not thinking of the road conditions in London. If a driver is delayed to the point that the load is useless, what happens? Do the driver get just the same pay, whatever? Are they incentivised? Are there bonuses, reasons for pushing just a bit harder to get there at exactly the right time?

It's just a thought. Some of the other suggestions for this tragic death toll are equally plausible: for example, that females tend to be less aggressive and more careful, hanging back at junctions, but being invisible to the driver, become victims of their own caution.

Tipper truck at Battersea Power Station
Is Boris going to restrict the movements of these trucks? Is Parliament going to legislate to stop the use of unsafe trucks or unsafe incentives for drivers? Probably not in the next five years. Despite the big noise about safer cycle paths, there's clearly not much progress in other areas where a little rearrangement of traffic could make a big difference.

It's clear that the safest way to deal with traffic lights in heavy London traffic is either to jump the light - to move off when the pedestrian green lights ar eon, say: or at least to push to the front, occupy the centre of the lane, and move off in front of the first bus, car or truck.

Either that or stay well back. Having cycled in London for about 40 years, I've come to the conclusion that the best way of not becoming another statistic is to ensure you make eye contact with every driver potentially crossing your path. This worked for me quite well until August 2006 when I was hit by a right-turning car, straight in front of me on a main road. I had looked at the man driving, he seems dot see me, I accelerated, he accelerated faster than me. Bang.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Two tales of a city, two types of austerity

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , LondonWent on the anti-Austerity march on Saturday 20 June, having said maybe it was not worth going. Then today cycled west into some of the most extensive pockets of affluence I have ever seen - the golden triangle of Putney -Barnes- Richmond.

So, what (the fuck)'s going on?

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , London
Having felt, ever since the biggest ever demo in London - the 2003 anti-Iraq war march - failed so dismally to change Blair's mind, then what's the point? - I was all ready to be negative and dismissive of this one. Even though I actually love these massings of angry, excited people.

Thanks to god for the people who keep on pushing against the wall of apathy, kicking against the pricks who are basking in their new found wealth and power.

They called it an anti-austerity march, but surely it's equally a protest against the hyper-luxury which the new rich seem to regard as a right - you know, the three cars plus a tank-like SUV on the gravelled drive, the en-suite showers, the designer brands and private cinemas, subterranean swimming pools and marble tiling, the memberships of exclusive clubs, etc, etc.

Anti-poverty, anti-war, anti-privatisation, anti-social-cleansing, anti-racism, anti-unfettered capitalism, anti-petrolhead? yes. Anti austerity? Not so sure.

In the 50s age of austerity there were priorities: we had an NHS, education for all, a welfare state benefits system, but we still  went around in demob clothes, food was rationed and holidays were the annual week in Southend or Brighton or Blackpool. There was even a sense that that was the choice: the greater good.

In the 60s, never had it so good, before or since - all the cake and ate it all. But even then WIlson's government clamped down: for example, there were strict limit on how much currency you could exchange.

Then the 70s - we fought for what we had and expected and thought we had won, until Mrs T arrived like that big boot at the end of Monty Python's animated sequences.

After the trauma of early 80s, a re-run - the cakes, all the best cakes, go to those who work, fight, bully and  bullshit the best; they who dare win, the oe who work hard play hard, and like the heat in the kitchen. As for the rest, buzz off, losers, wimps. And forget the welfare state.

Now: we are firmly back in about 1988, but the fire-sale of public assets is just about to begin.

Thank god, miserable defeatists like self - those who prefer to roll in the shit to lifting themselves and their friends out of it, then throwing it back of the people who dropped it onto us all…thank god I am irrelevant, and that they are fighting for all.

This demo was organised by the People Assembly -  the new and  healthy coalition that has swiftly and powerfully distilled itself around the cause of opposing the cuts to the welfare budgets coming our way from the new Tory government.

So many causes out on the street: many of the same banners and and agendas we saw at the Anti-cuts demos of 2010 (NHS, universities, student tuition fees, libraries, services for the disabled, pensioners) but of course on the edges a hundred other groupings of communities and individuals  feeling under a whole new massive threat.

There were many speakers, much repetition of messages - but still we cheered, we cheered loudest when Caroline Lucas  made so many of the points others had already made, but she made them so powerfully, so succinctly.

One of the big points of protest was Cameron's absolute refusal to allow any of the asylum seekers from
Syria, currently being plucked out of the Mediterranean and dumped on Italian islands, to come to the UK.

The day after the demo I cycled from Clapham to Richmond Park, through some of the wealthiest suburbs of London. Once I hit WImbledon Common, the green spaces went as far as the eye could see. All the roads were chic-a-bloc with gleaming new BMWs, Audis and Range Rovers, packed with smartly dressed families and their pedigree dogs.

I hit a billionaire area near Caesar's Camp and had to turn back - huge gated mansions, cctv, rude signs, private property. Eventually I got across WImbledon Common and into Richmond park, then  back via the massive 1960s housing estate of Roehampton. Those  buildings with the lush green spaces between them are showing their age, streaked with grime, but they are providing homes for many new migrants.

Build another Roehampton. Occupy those huge houses around the commons. Offer rooms to Syrian and other refugees. Even in the most crowded corners of affluent south east England there is space!

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity demo, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London . Photo: Bill Hicks

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

20/06/15 Anti-austerity march , Parliament Square, London

Friday, 19 June 2015

Smug, callous, complacent - that's London in 2015

Two items in local papers this week underscored the casual callousness of so much of well-heeled London in this age of extreme greed.

In Wednesday's Evening Standard, an setae agent who's a regular columnist in their Homes &  Property section mentioned a client who was trying to selling his property quickly, but had a sitting tenant on a short-term contract. Things came to a head when the tenant was sectioned over the weekend: it was, as the columnist graciously  mentioned, a rather "sensitive" issue for all concerned. And of course, the situation was "far from ideal for the vendor".

Nevertheless our highly professional estate agent went ahead and "terminated the lease" - even though this involved a phone call for advice from her director, George, and meant her getting home "later than usual".

Oh dear. And presumably this all  means that the tenant is now going to be homeless if, or when, she recovers from her problem. Oh yeah, there's that thing, er - what's it called? Oh yeah, "care in the community". So long as your community doesn't consist of landlords and estate agents.

The grateful client sent the estate agent a case of champagne with "a sweet thank you note". That's at least £200, isn't it? I am very ill-informed on the price of champagne. Maybe would have been better to give the cash to a homeless charity? Yes, why not go that extra mile?

Then a copy of a scrappy local freesheet came through the front door: the Wandsworth Guardian. Not sure why, as this is Lambeth, but still. Anyway, on page 6 there's the cheery headline: "Game over for illegal immigrant".

The story beneath is written in a similarly chirpy style: an illegal immigrant had the misfortune of jumping out of the truck he had stowed away on in France, outside the lawn tennis club in Wimbledon.

A witness reported how he was "running around giving everyone the slip" in the well-heeled streets of SW19. As the paper added, this was yards from the club where shortly a bunch a multi-millionaire tennis players will be hitting soft balls at each other.

So, not much chance of anyone there giving this young man somewhere to hide out I guess.

He's 26 and believed to be Syrian. Anyone got any sympathy for this young man, who is now in police custody: not our witness. All he had to say was, "It is shocking to think he got all the way here".

WHat is the matter with us all, living our fat comfortable lives, in fear of the prosecco running out at Waitrose? Don't you ever think how desperate these people must be to risk all to come to this disgusting city?

Don't you ever think a bit how it might be fault of a complacent and deeply compromised country like ours that people like this guy have had to leave their homes?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Iain Sinclair hits SW8: the literary equivalent of a papal visit, in my book

Wandsworth Road Overground station: this where I and other  Clapham bumpkins can jump on a train to get to places such as Shoreditch where I can gawp at beautiful young hipsters. But it used to be an even more useful station.
So as promised I get my hands on Iain Sinclair's new book,  London Overground: A Day's Walk Around the Ginger Line and immediately commit the unspeakable crime of jumping straight to the bits about my home turf - the stretch of this more orange than ginger line between Denmark Hill and Clapham Junction.

Oh my god, he's walking through Will Self's manor, but by god he does it with style.

I think I did  Sinclair a disservice in the previous entry. His chapter on Angela Carter is superb, unusually warm for  him ( but perhaps he is softening in his late middle age?) and also fairly uncomplicated.

He relates various encounters with the writer over several decades - from earliest meetings when, as a secondhand book-dealer and aspiring writer, he went to her house to buy a load of surplus signed first editions left over from book signings.

Then there was the time of her high-profile review of his novel Downriver in the London Review of Books, in which - if I remember it rightly - she confesses to finding the East End quite alien and scary, what with its bustling streets and wide pavements.

And so on through the decades to the publishing and literary prize parties of her later career, right up to her death in 1992.

This new orbital route through London's inner suburbs - a zone 2 railway version of the M25 - is also a sort of literary merrygoround. Sinclair uses it to link Angela Carter to J G Ballard and his dystopian novels of the near future, set in places like Chelsea Harbour (Imperial Wharf station); thence to Michael Moorcock (the bard of W11, author of Mother London, etc, who nevertheless grew up in Norbury) and Muriel Spark (Peckham Rye, Ballad of…), all as he says strewn along the Overgound line like carelessly scattered pearls.

He speculates on how the line might have affected Carter's work, had she lived.  It seems odd to me that the Overground actually leapfrogs over the heartland of her fiction, which I always imagine to be a mix of Camberwell, Herne Hill, Brixton and Lavender Hill.

It's not just me, is i,t who find it odd that the trains do not stop in Brixton? But maybe this is in reality a mercy for Brixton, maybe it will be spared the blandification that this Ginger Line appears to be bringing to some of the neighbourhoods it serves. A visit to a metal-bashing garage under the arches of Loughborough Junction last week made me think all is not lost in this area, and that there's still some space for dread beat and blood style living in SW9; the world of the Magic Toyshop is not completely dead, nor completely swept to the outermost suburbs.

 But that's just sentimental, dear: look what they're planning for the nearby estate.

But, back to Carter. I often saw her, and literally bumped into her in the local Arundel Newsagents several times. I always wanted to say something to my literary heroine but never had the nerve. She sometimes smiled, though.

So, swiftly,  back to the case in hand. I can't help wondering, as he and his companion strode along from Wandsworth Road station to The Chase, if Sinclair's literary divining rod dipped at any point as it picked up, then lost, the faint traces of  CAR Hills, the recently re-incarcerated writer of short fiction, reviews and other journalism,  perhaps best known for his Clapham Omnibus column in Prospect magazine, back in the early 2000s.

Known to many locals as "Prince Charles of the Wandsworth Road", Hills would trudge up and down this drag many times a day, often heading for free lunches at various church halls, or off to one or other of his grim, short-lived employments. Or, on a Monday evening, on his way to my flat for white wine, Bombay mix and Marlene Dietrich records.

Had he lived in Hackney, I've no doubt he'd have ended up as a vaguely sinister character in one of Sinclair's works.

But that's a different entry: I must get back to this wretched Overground. Sinclair bemoans the loss of the old Dalston Juntion to Broad Street commuter line. Here we have a similar  grudge to bear. When CAR Hills lived here, what is now the Clapham to Peckham stretch of the Overgorund was part of the the delightfully underused Victoria to London bridge loop, a splendid alternative to the heaving Northern Line which hardly anyone seems to know about. Those little two-carriage trains got me to work in Wapping in relative comfort, the final walk over Tower Bridge capping the pleasant journey.

OK, so now I can get to the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Brick Lane in double-quick time. And yes I am that Clapham bumpkin he mentions. We feel all the more like a wrong-side-of-tracks community these days. Rather than enjoying South London for what it is, the newcomers are trying very hard to turn their bits into honorary North London outposts. It has already happened to much of Battersea and Clapham, Vauxhall, Southwark and Bermondsey, Elephant and Peckham are following on very fast.

You'd never know, would you, that this house
 has  an interior straight out of the 1001
Nights….575 Wandsworth Road, now
 a National Trust property
Old Vauxhall and parts of Stockwell now exist virtually under the  shadow of the new wall of the Nine Elms Lane apartment blocks.

I like to imagine Sinclair and his mate glancing at the twin towers of Wandsworth Road, and wonder if they sensed the heavy, looming horrors of that massive property development just over the tracks. Poor, emasculated Battersea Power Station, its power removed, awaiting its new lightweight safe chimneys. As for the new 'affordable' housing and the promised linear park, well, I've not ever seen more oppressive architecture, not even in the suburbs of St Petersburg.

Sinclair and his companion will also have walked past 575 Wandsworth Road, the extraordinarily but I don't think there's a mention of this or its eccentric, multitalented owner. The house is now owned by the National Trust, open to visitors on a strictly limited basis.
decorated former home of the late poet, philosopher and civil servant, Khadambi Asalache (1935-2006),

But there's a mention of a Wandsworth Road junk shop where Sinclair's friend bought a "Bruce Chatwin draught excluder", something I can not even begin to visualise. (Shit, he means a book!)

But I do wonder if they went into my friend's shop (more of a vintage clothes and records shop than junk, or at least that's what I like to think), Eclectica; of course there are several other "junk shops" along this road.

I'm also excited that he gives an honourable mention to Russells, the British motorcycle spares shop in Falcon Road, which always makes me think of leather jackets, goggles, Up The Junction, early 1960s bikers racing over Chelsea Bridge on their BSA Gold Stars and Norton Featherbeds, their Triumph Bonnevilles and Matchless whatevers.

It's a beautiful survivor, and as Sinclair says there's an echo of Antonioni here - but it's a second echo, I am remembering a scene of Blow Up where he's driving through Brixton on his way to the park in his open Rolls, and he passes a long parade of shops, all painted red from top to toe.

And I know those shops, it's the Stockwell Road, where now there's a skatepark, but then it was owned by the big motorcycle dealers Pride and Clark. At 14, after school, the 109 bus to Brixton,  I used to lust after motorbikes in that shop. But was it really all red, or did Antonioni do one of his well-known paint jobs on it for effect?

All I really want to do is thank Iain Sinclair and his collaborators for another beautiful, essential book, which allows me to shudder about the present and the future as well as wallow in the past.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Right round the Ginger Line to catch Iain Sinclair's musings on underground Hackney and overground London

The Round Chapel, aka  the Clapton Park United Reform Church, was the suitably atmospheric venue for Iain Sinclair's readings from his latest work,  London Overground: A Day's Walk Around the Ginger Line
True to the ethos of this so-called blog, I tried to use only the most appropriate means of travel to reach the Lower Clapton Road for an evening with Iain Sinclair, who was kicking off a whole week of talks organised by the Hackney Historic Buildings Trust.

As Sinclair was billed to talk about both subterranean Hackney and his new book on walking the Overground, it seemed fair enough to travel both by Underground (Clapham North to Highbury and Islington on Northern and Victoria lines) and Overground (Highbury & Islington to Hackney Central). The journey took about half the expected time - so this clueless reporter arrived at the ancient St Augustine's Tower, on Mare Street, about an hour before the event was due to start.

Which was great for two reasons - first I had time to reacquaint myself with Hackney, and apart from the pedestrianisation of upper Mare Street, it seemed mercifully not too different to how I remember it in the early 1980s (so unlike London Fields just down the road, which seems to have a totally different atmosphere now).

This bit of Hackney is still almost aggressively ungentrified.  I mean by that that the streets are full of people, people of all ages and classes and races, and I suppose what I really mean too is that there are a lot of not very well-off people, these people are still in the majority. It's perverse to say this, but I like that. There are still plenty of ordinary cheap and cheerful shops, and not an artisanal bakers in sight (I did find an artisanal booze shop but that's a different thing altogether).

I remembered the bus station off wonderfully named Bohemia Street, and the famous church tower - but I had forgotten how lovely and extensive the old church grounds were, and how the graves have all been pushed to the perimeter and stacked up against the walls.

I had also forgotten that this talk was not in the old tower at all, but in the Round Chapel.  I'd never been there, and assumed it was somewhere near the old tower or the new church - but it wasn't. I enjoyed walking around Sutton Place with its immaculate Georgian terrace, and then headed up Lower Clapton Road on a hunch - and there it was , unmistakable and magnificent, the Round Chapel as beautifully restored by the HHBT, like some grandiose Roman temple dropped into the chaos of London E9.

You could sort of tell it was going to be a Sinclair event; quite a few  blokes of a certain age, close cropped grey hair, black jeans, black jackets, not many hipsters to be honest. But inside the crowd was very similar to those at the National Trust talk on 575 Wandsworth Road I attended a few months back - local history buffs, solid, smiling white-haired couples, probably retired, in their late 60s or older, knowledgeable, affable, friendly, curious, intelligent, lovely people.

Oddly, Sinclair himself almost seemed to be part of  this demographic. Couldn't help thinking, hasn't he  aged  well? He's positively handsome, tall, slim, in slightly smarter jeans and shirt and specs than most of the audience - but then again, his distinct professorial look does set him apart. One of us, sort of, but also one of them. Not a hint of eccentricity there really, despite the high rounded dome of his skull. And so much the better, so much of that is affectation - but what he has in abundance, is passion! Energy!

He talked and read for an hour without break or sip of water, he got excited about his many subject, he went off on some of his famous, Sinclair-patented verbal riffs, rhapsodising the old Dalston to Broad Street line before fit was co-opted into Boris Johnson's shiny new world. A local journalist asked him to mention Haggerston Baths, which are (inevitably) threatened with closure and re-developing as luxury flats. No problem, he had already planned to talk about this amazing tunnel-like building.

I love how he compared the great mole-man of Hackney, William Lyttle (whose work, it seems is to be preserved and used by the hipsters, thank god, they do have their uses) with the present day burrowers of mega-basements, which are supposed to make their multi-million pound pinched terraced houses  something they can really feel rich in - with swimming pools, gyms and private cinemas, wine cellars and underground car -parks.

Probably that's where their staff have to live as well, Wellsian style. I like the way he got the Olympic Park perimeter fence into this discussion, as though it had been broken up and redistributed to hide their furtive diggings.

I love the way he pointed out how on parts of the overground, people are all reading books, then at certain points they all change and the new lot are all tapping at smartphones or tablets.

Getting to the Round Chapel itself, Sinclair's riffing hit a sort of Coltrane-style high with his remarks on how this place was  usually empty, and how it always had time to recover from the impact of a human audience, but how each group or congregation had left strange traces in the atmosphere of this great meeting hall.

I knew he had mentioned Angela Carter in the new book (which, to my shame, I have not yet read), and so I was hoping he'sd maybe talk a bit about this stage of the walk. It's amazing to think that one of the greatest psycho-geographical amblers on the planet has been wandering through one's own neighbourhood, and I was longing to find out what he thought of it all.

Clapham definitely needs some forensic dowsing, there's a lot of bad stuff here, and it comes out, occasionally, in terrible violence on the Common, in the gormless hedonism of Clapham High Street of summer Saturday evening, the vomiting, the fighting!

All that and the Clapham Sect and the  Temperance movement too. And poor old Natsume Soseki in his miserable bedsit on The Chase, 25 yards form the house where Angela Carter lived her final decades.

But he skipped this bit, and located poor Angela in Wandsworth, rather than in the Lambeth bit of Clapham where she lived and died. I think he was more excited by J G Ballard and Chelsea Harbour, and I can understand that - there is a real symbol of the changes of the last three decades, the 80s flash harry marina, and so on.

I'm sure he does her more justice in the book. I know he writes at length about another low-profile hero, the school of London painter Leon Kossoff,  who provides a neat link between the East end beauty of  Arnold Circus with the oceanic railways scenery of Willesden Junction.

One thing I don't know if Sinclair comments on is the strange way Overground leapfrogs over the whole of Brixton, just given passengers the slight frisson of  views of the dark interiors and backyards of the covered market, and glimpses of a heaving Electric Avenue. But then it clunks on, moaning, as Sinclair points out, in never quite consummated pre-orgasmic pleasure, to hit my  drab home station - Wandsowrth Road, and the short walk home past number 575.

Good, I have short-circuited this entry, which was well into the early stages of morbid tediousness. It's time to start reading the real thing, and to abandon this messy regurgitation of last night's Hackney word feast.

London Overground: A Day's Walk Around the Ginger Line by Iain Sinclair is published by Hamish Hamilton inn 4 June 2015, price £16.99

Friday, 12 June 2015

Choked, crushed, blinded by the dust - London's property gold rush is killing us in so many different ways

These massive mixer-trucks drive in and out of the Battersea depot at the rate of about one every three minutes throughout the working week
Cycling down Silverthorne Road, almost lose it hitting a ridge of what looks like concrete in the road. At the same time the Range Rover Evo in front fires a couple of small pebbles at me from its fat back tyres.

Approaching Queenstown Road, it's hard to see a thing. It's about the 101th windy day in a row, and the wind around here - anywhere in fact in the SW8 area - is always full of grit from the massive building sites of Nine Elms Lane.

The people responsible for erecting that monstrous barrier of high-rise, low-on-architectural-merit apartment blocks are getting at us local residents in so many different ways.

But we also have a major cement works to add to the fun - the big Lafarge Tarmac place at the junction of Queenstown and Silverthorne Roads.

The huge six-wheel cement mixer trucks seem to be on some endless convoy, roaring in from the north, filling up with ready-mix concrete or whatever, then charging off in all directions, presumably serving many other big construction sites in  west and south London, such as the old Chelsea Barracks site, as well as Nine Elms itself.

They're messing up our roads - particularly Silverthorne Road and parts of Queenstown Road, at junctions where the huge trucks often clip the kerbstones in their eagerness to get in and out of the cement depot extra fast. The newly-filled lorries often spill  bits of their load - hence all those lethal pebbles and the growing ridges of cement in these streets.

So for most of the local population, who will never be able to afford one of these new flats (and most of us probably wouldn't want one anyway), the developers are bringing a lot of pain and no joy whatsoever.  Look at the list of our woes:

Silverthorne Road junction with Wandsworth Road
  • They're destroying our views of the river and central London
  • They're clogging our roads with a constant stream of massive trucks taking away debris and delivering building materials.
  • They're closing down pubs, clubs,  shops and colleges.
  • They're killing and maiming cyclists and others with their high-speed dumper trucks.
  • They're blinding and choking us with the dust thrown up by the constant pile-driving, demolition, digging, and so on during this unusually dry and windy spring.
  • They're shattering our peace with the constant crashing and hammering and drilling and thundering of trucks emptying materials.
  • When all this is finished what do we get? Another influx of a few thousand super-rich types with their hideous armoured cars,  a couple of new tube stops on a spur of the already overcrowded Northern Line, and a linear park which looks like it will be  yet another of those closely observed (by cctv) manicured public spaces a la Canada Water.
Call me a cynic. Everyone else does.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Getting the hots for a short-cut

Have been enjoying reading Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks, which, I have to agree with the Guardian, is "a joyous meditation on words, landscape and the relationship between the two. This is a field guide to the literature of nature, and a glossary containing thousands of remarkable words used in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to describe land, nature and weather".

Thanks to this book we can rediscover not just some delightfully sonorous words, but the realities of nature which they describe. Such as "Smeuse", which according to MAcfarlane is an English dialect noun for “the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal”.
Desire lines, London, cycle paths, cycle routes, short cut, democratic
As soon as you know what "desire lines" are you start seeing them everywhere. Here's one on Clapham Common, south London - it provides a short cut link between two sections of cycle-paths, also avoiding a dog-leg on the dangerous rat-run of Windmill Lane.
Photo: Bill Hicks

Once you know the word you tend to notice the things they name more often. As I live almost entirely in an urban setting, you'd think there's be little use for such a glossary - but you 'd be wrong. LOndon is full of smeuses, even if they're more likely to caused by rats or pets or foxes than by field-mice.

London's parks are also full of another phrase which I first heard in a radio discussion of this book - "desire lines". Sadly these have little to do with illicit assignments in dark alleyways - a desire line, according to Websters, is "a path that pedestrians take informally, rather than taking a sidewalk or set route; e.g. a well-worn ribbon of dirt that one sees cutting across a patch of grass, or paths in the snow".

I did not have to cycle far from home to find my first desire line. It was in the middle of Clapham Common, and it's a path cyclists have worn, to create a quicker and safer route the the next bit of the cycle path from Cedars Road to Clapham SOuth.

I'm reminded of the goat-paths you see in the Atls Mountains, worn down by the hooves of grazing goats over centuries.