Notes on The London Perambulator

The London Perambulator is a 45 minute documentary about Nick Papadimitriou featuring Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Russell Brand. If Sinclair and Self are refined interpetations of the eccentric urban walker, Papadimitriou is the real deal. It’s an excellent documentary well worth your time if you have the slightest interest in psychogeography (and its confusions), urban exploration and place. Which, of course, I currently am. It’s on YouTube in full.

Having watched it late last night (on Pier Review’s recommendation) I sat down again with my finger on the pause button and transcribed some bits that felt key to my current research. I present them here without commentary for now. (Linked #’s take you to that point in the film).

Iain Sinclair: # Psychogeography had an authentic status in the 1960s when it was connected to Situationalism and to a way of aggressively dealing with a city, and then it drifted off into a kind of no mans land until Stewart Home rescued it with his London Psychogeographical Association in which the thing was activated again into present concerns and had a comedy aspect to it as well. And then it really got into the popular mind as a way of describing almost anything to do with cities, any activity or anything to do with walking became Psychogeography, and Nick clearly challenged this terminology and brought in Deep Topography which makes it seem more like that very British tradition of the naturalist, the walker at the edges of the city, the liminal figure who does all of that and who is not so conceptual in his practice. And I thought this is therefore a very useful term, and I’d like to use it myself.

Nick Papadimitriou: # It’s about getting a very very dangerous balance between finding the overlooked and showing it to the other people who have an eye for the overlooked, and not making the overlooked into something that is gazed at, like people looking through the bars of a monkey house while some baboon plays with his penis or picks his arse. Which is probably a good description of what me and Sinclair do anyway.

Russell Brand: # It’s amazing how your memories come alive when you encounter a place you’ve not been for a long while. … # It’s as if the memories had been left there, as if it were an object rather than something that had been carried in my mind. So it’s interesting in a Jungian sense as if there is a common consciousness or unconsciousness or superconsciousness around that we can access and that there’s somehow a relationship between that and the physical world and topography and geography.

Will Self: # …escape the machine-man matrix that dominates the perception of place…

Nick Papadimitriou: # If you look over here you can really see the shape of the substantial gully forming. In fact we’re looking across a mini river valley towards the far side. When I first noticed that I was absolutely astonished. I felt as if I was time travelling, looking back into the pre-WW1 era. I could suddenly see the rural shape of the land, something that’s just screened out by modern sensibility. A very powerful experience. A kind of portal or window through to other possibilities embedded in the landscape.

Will Self: #. [The places that Nick reveres] are places that feel left behind by the passage of history, the oxbow lakes of urbanity.

Iain Sinclair: # The edgeland is unofficial, it’s between permitted territories, it’s a diminishing resource.

Nick Papadimitriou: # Places steeped in their own time system.

Will Self: # Very interested in the Interzone, liminal places that existed, particularly the border between the urban and the rural, or Rus In Urbe or Urbe In Rus, in a way those three states are all aspects of each other.

Nick Papadimitriou: # The interactive zone between manmade and nature.

Nick Papadimitriou: # I felt as if I’d claimed something for myself that was away from the world that I felt had rejected me. A lot of it was probably just stuff in my head, it wasn’t anything coherent that was happening in the outside world, but within the context of my psychology and how I was seeing the world at the time, it was really important for me to come to places like this. I felt as if I was gaining power over something that had been… I felt as if I had been roughy handled by something that was bigger and more powerful than me, and that by coming here I was aligning myself with something that was prior to and larger than than the thing that had rejected me, as if I’d found a more powerful ally in my struggle.

Iain Sinclair: # Ease of passage across the city is ever more denied so that the walker become like a guerilla he has to duck and dive even to negotiate a passage across the city. [Nick would] have to keep walking to get to somewhere where he’s allowed to walk, and then walk becomes a form of practice, becomes a form of breathing, memory, touching the ground, it’s the way that narative presents itself. I don’t think any other form engenders narative in quite the same way. If you’re in a car you’re in a pod, in a kind of dream, sealed off, it’s a revery. If you’re on a bicycle you’ve got to be so conscious of the traffic surrounding you just to survive that there’s no time to get into this stream of natural consciousness which is walking. And therefore walking becomes the most natural form for lifting your consciousness. All of th real spirits of the city are doing it all the time.

Nick Papadimitriou: # I know when I walk I seem to access all sorts of levels of processes taking place under hedges or memories of people who I’ve never known, memories that aren’t mine, yet they seem so tangible. Everywhere there’s a sense of loss.

Nick Papadimitriou: # Perhaps pick up on other people’s narratives bound up in the landscape in some sort of way.

Will Self: # [airport walks] What intrigues me is very few people in contemporary society have a continuous physical knowledge of moving from the urban to the rural, that everybody leaps over that whether it’s by car or public transport.

Russell Brand: # What must that space feel like when you experience it in meticulous detail step by step, because it just passes in a blur in a car.

Great WS rant at #

Russell Brand: # The way that we’ve organised our civilisation, we’re so detatched and removed now that everything’s been lacquered in concrete and you’re protected from it, you can’t have an organic, visceral experience with your land, with the place that you’re from.

Nick Papadimitriou: # My ambition is to hold my region in my mind, so that I am the region.

Nick Papadimitriou: # I find suburbia eerie, very beautiful. I find it a painful place. So many people have lived their lives here, their sheds have rotted, their cats have died, the car’s rusted, cans of paint have dried out, the wife’s grown a beard, and then it’s all gone, someone else moves in. Rich pickings for the deep topographer. At the same time it’s just a transitional thing. It depends on the timescale you’re looking at it with, it’s either a huge storage vat of regional memory or else it’s just a momentary film, a suggestion of a possibility that could be replaced by other possibilities in due course.

See also this surprisingly excellent Newsnight piece on Nick, and his book Scarp.


p>Related to this, I’m running a Psychogeography Workshop with Cathy Wade at A3 Project Space, Digbeth on Tues 17th September as part of the Still Walking Festival Fringe.