It’s been a very long time since my last post. A lot has happened. I’ve met a wonderful array of tour-goers, old and young. I’ve taken on Central London with London In Slow Motion, the London Ear and the recently launched Power Walk. I’m slow-cooking ideas for a new tour in 2015 about Common London. And I’ve been having quiet conversations about possibly bringing another Dotmaker into the fold.
Given all these changes, I’ve been taking stock and thinking about taglines that somehow convey the ideas behind DMT. There are some fairly cheesy candidates that I won’t mention. This one, however, really resonates with me: Stop. Look. Listen. Think. It’s not that I want to suggest being held up at a crossing. The walks are about mapping an unusual route through an area, not getting stuck. But what I think the pedestrian safety mantra does well, is jolt us into an awareness of where we are and what we can see and hear around us. That’s something that has increasingly emerged as a theme of the walks. With London In Slow Motion and the London Ear in particular, I’m trying to provide an opportunity for us to pause and re-engage with our surroundings.
It’s a mission born of my own past experience rushing through the city, oblivious to so much, with my mind occupied rehashing past conversations or stressing about future ones. The moment – and there was a very particular moment – when I sat down, breathed, and re-opened my eyes and ears, had a profound effect on my sense of London and its possibilities. It’s that spirit of rediscovery, curiosity and wonder that I want to share.
With London In Slow Motion launching officially on Sunday 22 September, I spoke about my walks to the lovely folk at Slow It Down. It’s an eZine ‘dedicated to making time for the more thoughtful, imaginative and subtle things in life.’ You can read the interview here.
Whether you’re going away for a week or stealing a day out in the sunshine I heartily recommend taking a moment to read this advice from E.R. Thompson. It’s from The Human Machine (1925), a collection of articles that first appeared in John Bull magazine.
The Holiday Mind
This month thousands of my readers will be having their holidays. I want them to have real holidays.
From the viewpoint of psychology a holiday is more than a mere search for pleasure and amusement : more than a relief from the routine of daily work : more than a renewal of bodily health.
A real holiday is the achievement of a completely care-free mind.
Unless you can realise that, your holiday will not do you very much good.
You go away to get a change of air, a change of scenery, a change of life.
Don’t take a scrap of your everyday life with you. Forget there is such a thing as memory. Cultivate forgetfulness !
Too many people take excess luggage with them in the shape of business and home worries. Believe me, they pay heavily for it.
Once you step into the train forget you ever had any work to do. Forget those unpaid bills ; don’t give a single thought to the worries and difficulties of the week after next.
Give politics a rest. Forget there is such a thing as a newspaper.
Most of us live too much in the future : a few live too much in the past.
Just for once live entirely in the present.
Get back to the days when you were young, when you were content to let others do the worrying for you.
Holiday time is the one time in the year when mental slackness is a virtue.
Delicate machinery is given a holiday periodically, for even steel gets tired.
Give the infinitely delicate machinery of your mind a holiday.
Just for once don’t think, just BE. That is the true holiday mind.
Out this morning in the glorious sunshine on a recce for the Thames Bestiary. It’s a walk that I’ve developed for Viewfinder Gallery’s Thames Trail project, but will be leading again this autumn sans Viewfinder.
Passed Aerosol Can Man, about to be whitewashed by Greenwich Council’s anti-graffiti team …
… pigeons sun-bathing …
… a four-eyed pole …
… a man and a goat …
… and a mechanical arm hard at work.
For wintry Thames Bestiary snaps see Back on the Edge.
Generally, what captivates me most about old found photos and documentary footage is that sense of looking at ghosts. Watching this film of London in 1926, I experience the reverse: of being myself a ghost from the future visiting people from the past. It happens as the camera rolls along Petticoat Lane, from 4 minutes 15 seconds in. The result for the viewer is an almost unbearably poignant connection with crowds of ‘London’s husbands amus[ing] themselves while London’s wives cook the Sunday dinner’.
The film is from a series of rare colour travelogues shot by Claude Friese-Greene.
On the Greenwich Bestiary we chuckle at John Reardon’s Monument to a Dead Parrot. It’s a bird (a cockatoo, to be precise) with a marvellous story that I won’t go into now – you’ll have to come on the walk!
Lately, it has put me in mind of Trafalgar Square. Partly, that’s because of the arrival there soon of Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock: another delightfully unexpected bird to find perched publicly on a plinth. (Incidentally, on the Bestiary we swing past a Fourth Plinth alumnus, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare – but that’s a topic for a different post.)
Thinking about how Fritsch’s Cock will cope with the four lions guarding Nelson’s column led me to another curious connection with Reardon’s parrot: this time to do with its deadness. Whilst it might seem bizarre for Reardon to have produced a bronze sculpture of a dead animal, it turns out that’s exactly what Sir Edwin Landseer did with his lions for Trafalgar Square. Apparently, he was so determined to make them zoologically accurate that he had a corpse from London Zoo sent to him. The story goes that the servant who opened the door went to Landseer and asked ‘Did you order a lion, Sir Hedwin?’ much as if he had sent for a pizza.
I’m sure Landseer wasn’t the first sculptor to use dead animals; such details are not traditionally advertised. In that context, I particularly like the wry honesty of Reardon’s unfortunate parrot – as if, in death, exposing a long-held artistic guilty secret.
Another find from Greenwich market: a curious snapshot of nineteenth century London where Nelson’s column looms over the Tower and factories nestle beneath St Paul’s. It’s a city on the move, powered by horses, sails and steam. I am naturally drawn to the chimneys and funnels, painting the sky with their smoky plumes.
Come to London! The largest, busiest, grimiest city on earth.