Going places; Psychogeography and Agoraphobia.

(December 2019)

I’ve taken the day off. I’ve been restless, unsettled, indecisive. I went to collect an ASOS parcel from the shop over the other side of the railway line. I was nervous, I don’t normally go over there, or in shops like that. It was fine though. I might do it again. Everything fits too, for the first time. I’m prevaricating.

I couldn’t decide what to do next, I need to go shopping for a jumper to wear for one day, probably from Primark.

I made an unecessary detour of indecision to London Bridge, loitered long on the esplanade, before going back towards Stratford via the DLR. Slightly anxious about going to those parts after so long away, but needed to buy this item, get it out of the way, and something in my head is saying it’s a waste of energy to go out and not do anything worthwhile.

I suppose this is a passive warning sign; going out to not do anything is the essence of my practise. Place inspires words, images, movement. At this time of year we get caught up in pressure to conform, to buy, to go to social gatherings, to spend money. To HAVE FUN. To achieve. I tell myself that I rebel against this conveyor belt, but I’m actively absorbing the assumed pressure to buy a jumper. There is no time left to do nothing. A resolution will be to re-balance, and make time.

I used to be more comfortable flaneuring unknown parts, but often these days I reach a certain distance or time and have an overwhelming urge to get home. I have to try to ignore it, but awareness of the impending possibility means I delay, distract myself, waver. I am more reliant on mental maps of known places and terrain nodes to reclaim safety and solitude. I have to force myself, with rules. A bike, a railway map, night, a camera. I will start re-making my own maps. Queerly, my mind seems most active after dusk these days.

On the train journey – London Bridge to Greenwich is the oldest passender railway in london. Viaduct routes are good for looking down on surroundings, and for aspirational free thinking amongst chimney pots. Some favourite films feature scenes on rooftops. Not action drama, just being. I passed the streets from Surrey Docks to Deptford and New Cross. I’ve walked those streets before, when I lived in a disused library with a French fascist and a model at Neckinger Circus. The difficulty I have is in remembering why I was walking there, whether I was aiming for anywhere specific. I also now struggle to piece the different streets together, and connect them to places I know now. My mental map is faded. I remember the mix of Edwardian terraces, light industry and modern metal and plastic flats which quickly look worn and dirty.

In the Glenfurness Avenue suburb of Bournemouth there are large detached houses with roof tiles that appear to have turned green through weathering, in the way that copper discolours. Surely their roofs aren’t made of copper though.

In Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Thomas De Quincey referred to the quickly changing terrain of early 19th century London; the inpenetrable, unmappable, impossible to picture alleys, courts and lanes of London, and his search for a “North west passage”. I think this was meant as a metaphor for a path towards a better understanding of the built environment and it’s relationship with the human condition. A sometimes drunk meandering thinker. Nothing wrong with that. One of the theatres I work in has an area which used to be a public street, which because severed from others when Charing Cross station was rebuilt to incorporate a large office block on top. The street is trapped now. Theatres are fascinatingly confusing buildings.

I suppose I’m lost, no, not lost, but annexed in the south east corner of London, on a polluted marshland of grey. I didn’t aim to be here, but connections and times collided. People near me were connected to me in the past. Those connections are now severed, but coincidence brings me nearby, temporarily, until a literal passage emerges, either north west to a London of grand dusty Victorian townhouses, or south to the coast. I don’t entirely rule out a romantic passage to one of those other European cities of the flaneur.

The terrain of the South London sinking marsh estate is changing, routes cease to be welcoming, before becoming sealed, entire buildings cease to function, apart from as monumental ruins, symbolic of lives decanted. According to ill-communicated and inexact plans, I will continue to live here intact, while other streets and blocks are deleted from maps, new thoroughfares will form themselves, and the intangible notion of community will further fragment and dissolve, whilst the masters of the brave new world in brighter colours attempt to forge incompatible, unnatural, artificial boulevards ofdismal aspiration . The Beautiful Thing flats are already gone. People apparently stole bricks from the wall where Malcolm MacDowell threw his droogs into the lake. The community centre in the Channel 4 series Misfits is now artists’ studios and a creative hub. But in a few years the artists will have gone, forced on their own passage through demolition of the grey blocks they were told to make their own. Will the process just repeat elsewhere? Far from artists creating vibrancy and providing the catalyst to regeneration and gentrification, here they are providing a muted fanfare for the end of a community. It can’t be good for one’s sanity to be forced into such transience, even if we accept a level of sacrifice to be creative. To be fair, though, the floors all slope derangedly.

I must start mapping places and relations. Places in isolation, tenuous connections. Fading, erasing, deleting over time.

In Westcombe Park the houses by the station all have very tall TV aerials pointing south, presumably towards Crystal Palace. There is a ridge of high ground that must block the signal, hence the aerials needing to be so high. I’ve no idea what is beyond that ridge. It is unknown. I haven’t had a TV set for over ten years.

Incidentally, the next time I ordered from ASOS, the shop was no longer listed as a parcel collection point, so I had to collect from a different shop across the border in Kent, ridiculously. And none of the items fitted. Distopian alienation at work.

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