'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Suzy Kendall & The School Of Chicago

At the beginning of Up The Junction (the softer feature film of 1968, not Ken Loach's raw TV drama of a few years before) Suzy Kendall makes a symbolic journey, walking across Battersea Bridge from her parents' home in Chelsea - all Daddy's Jags and Home Counties elegance - to her new life south of the river in a white working class slum. It's a journey from one world to another, across an inner border made outward and visible in the span of the bridge and the bitter worm of the Thames sloughing its way down to the Pool past Wren's serene hospital and the gasworks. It's also a journey I made in reverse for many years when I drove over the river each morning to work in Heathrow. Even from newly flush Thatcherite Battersea to impossibly plutocratic Chelsea it was still a journey across symbolic boundaries, the sort of frontiers without physical walls but all the more solid for being grounded in education, politics, attitude and identity. Cities are full of them, unmarked but always acknowledged and felt. My turf. My space.
But it's a journey I won't be making again. Not just because I've left London long since, but because the other morning a large red 'C' adorned the junction of Cheyne Walk & Beaufort Gardens where you come off the bridge: Mayor Ken's newly enlarged congestion charge zone has arrived and now sits plumb across the route I used to take through Chelsea and Fulham to Earls Court and the intoxicating road to freedom that is the elevated section of the M4. So I won't be going back there no more, as the Bluesman sings: a border, intangible but absolute stands across my very own rat run: I'll need to find another way to blast off in pursuit of the escape velocity needed to slip the surly bonds of the M25.
The locals are predictably incensed by the perceived inconvenience and injustice, but like many imaginariy divisions, congestion charging forces you to re-assess your ideas of the world around you. Introduced by Red Ken, the people's choice, but dreamt up by Milton Friedman of the Chicago School of Economics. After 15 years of chasing material success in South London, my psychological geography of the city I once loved with a passion is now altered by a secondhand idea of Margaret Thatcher's favourite economist.
Suzy Kendall
Milton Friedman
UPDATE: To give this abstract rumination a human face, here's portraits of both Ms Kendall in her glory and Professor Friedman in his dotage.
I leave it to your imaginations to decide who you'd rather have sitting in the passenger seat of your Jag as you drive over Battersea Bridge to Chelsea to promenade down the Kings Road on a summer's evening blissfully careless of the secret divisions of your very own city.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The West Auckland Triangle

V & I have just returned from a dirty weekend - well, a distinctly wet and muddy one - at a rather swish hotel in one of the weird, undiscovered parts of England. The rural hinterland on the borders of County Durham and North Yorkshire seems to have been ignored by the rest of the country, and appears to be doing very nicely indeed thank-you. Tiny villages and farmsteads alternate with shabby-elegant 18th century gentleman's houses. Perspectives in low sunlight flash tantalising hints of medieval field systems; whitewashed barns and farm-buildings cosy up along narrow lanes. One reason for the region's bywater feeling is that the trunk roads thereabouts seem designed to make it practically impenetrable - we'd been there before but it still took a full 60 minutes of circulatory silly-buggers on the A68 and adjoining roads before we managed to find the right turnoff. The hotel is a sumptuous Jacobean manor house, with the recent addition of a modern spa. I can vouch for the incomparable luxury of an outdoor hot tub on a winter evening while the winds blow in from the Cleveland Hills. And the restaurant served possibly the best beef fillet that I've ever tasted. If the thought of an inaccessible country house in which magical things happen and to which you cannot find your way back sounds altogether too much like something out of Alain-Fournier change your plans for next weekend, abandon the kids, switch off the mobile phone and make your way into the heart of the zone of enchantment that is the West Auckland Triangle.

Beghan Bouldering

To Fleswick Bay on a warm winter's afternoon, V & I for the sheer exercise and pleasure, Younger Step-Daughter with her box of water-colours to try to capture the light. For those who don't know it, Fleswick Bay is the great secret of the Cumbrian coast, a sharp declivity between the sandstone stacks of the north and south St Bees Head, where a tiny stream trickles into the sea. Only accessible on foot by the coastal path, its cliffs are the haunt of seabird colonies, its sands the legendary resting place of gemstone fragments. A famous holiday jaunt for face-workers from Haig Pit and the Marchon anhydrite workings, whose shafts and levels pass far beneath it, the Bay has the feel of both a refuge and an exposed speck of wilderness caught between the mayhem of the Irish Sea and the monumental geology of the sandstone cliffs. It was also a favourite expedition for schoolterm Sundays when the boredom of boarding at the nearby school drove teenage lassitude into the urge for intrepid scrambling. We arrived to find Fleswick transformed: a broad sandstone pavement, perhaps unseen for centuries, had been exposed, the gem-bearing sands being carried away massively by the storms of winter. Just how catastrophic this change in the landscape had been only became obvious when a solitary wanderer arrived, bearing what looked like a cross between a gymn-mat and an orthopaedic cushion. He laid down his load, looked up to the cliffs, scratched his head, and consulted a lavishly illustrated booklet. Then he came over and asked us - was this Fleswick Bay? Yes, we assured him, this was. He pointed to photographs of the cliffs, which clearly suggested otherwise. The source of his confusion soon became apparent. He was a boulderer,and this was his first expedition to the route-rich cliffs of the Bay. For those unfamiliar with it, bouldering is a kind of semi-domesticated offspring of mountaineering and gymnastics, a smallscale but hugely demanding variation that values dexterity and intensity over exposure, altitude or inaccessibility. I was pleasantly surprised to find from his book that the sites of teenage free-scrambling (which on at least one occasion almost ended very badly indeed) were now themselves formalised into named routes, starred ticklists and recommended starting points. Except they no longer were. Nature had rendered our boulderer's guidebook obsolete. Each route now began in mid-air, a good 6 feet above the sandstone pavement - the forgiving sands upon which they had once begun having gone with the storm-tides of winter. Every route now had not only a new start of extreme difficulty, but a distinctly uncushioned decking-out below. Our boulderer went off to study further some of the lines and then announced that there would, after all, be no Beghan bouldering that day, a choice which I silently aplauded. On reflection, the addition of those feet of bare rock at the bottom of the cliffs could be said to alter the nature of most of the routes substantially, so I would imagine that enthusiasts are already forming orderly queues to claim fresh first ascents . . .

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Depths

Spotted in a Red City bookshop yesterday morning (upstairs in the coffee lounge, if you want to go see for yourselves). A bookcase with the words 'Academic Sciences' prominent. Below it, a row of heavy volumes entitled 'Plumbing'. So that's why the work on the Battersea flat is so expensive . . .

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Season In Flat-Pack Self-Assembly Storage Unit Hell

I've just spent a half-day in the aforementioned, none-too metaphysical location, putting together bedroom furniture for the Battersea flat. The process goes through three distinct phases - dread, tedium, and despair. The result is a pine wardrobe and chest of drawers. This suffering is as nothing compared to the heroic passion of V who, entirely of her own volition & without me so much as dropping a hint, spent the previous Sunday afternoon over in Gateshead and broke off from important musical work to obtain the aforementioned flat-packs from the Geordie IKEA. This involved the usual obstacle course of being misdirected around the IKEA showroom by grinning Geordies all trying to sell her things she didn't need or want until, on paying for the goods, she was told by said grinning Geordies that she now had to drive 3 miles to the IKEA warehouse to collect them. Readers, I owe this woman, big time. A brief search through the contents of Mr Berners-Lee's interweb invention reveals the startling fact that the domain name 'ihateikea.org' is currently 'inactive'. Well, what are you all waiting for? This obviously represents an opportunity for somebody . . .


Barrow-In-Furness again – at least there’s no IKEA here

Sorry chaps. I'm running the same risk as the ex B-I-F Thornton's manager who dared to criticize the town in his blog. The shop was boycotted and the staff threatened. Thorntons had send out a public apology and give free chocs for a day or so and eventually move the offender to North Wales. Umm North Wales … I dunno which is the worst posting Wrexham or B-I-F. I'd have trouble deciding which one to be thrown out of first. I like the people in B-I-F better hence my reason for being here (B-I-F that is) once a week but I have made a vow never to go into the town centre just straight to Furness Internet/PPS office and then out again. I must blog about the back door at PPS sometime but.. Anyway - I've been boycotting Thorntons for years now, over an entirely different matter, and I do not want to be tempted by free chocs. Actually it isn't Thorntons with whom I have an issue - it's IKEA. I hate IKEA and am already banned from the Gateshead big shed thing. I am hoping that this might get me banned from the other sheds.