Saturday, 25 November 2017

Review of You Are Here by Matthew Watkins

Review of You Are Here: An accelerating history of Canterbury from the Big Bang to noon August 15th 2014 by Matthew Watkins 

Matthew Watkins book You Are Here is, to his own acknowledgement, about many things: it starts with the physical and biological beginnings of the cosmos, but it’s really about the social and historical evolution of a Kentish city, Canterbury. How can these two be connected, you ask? Well, quite well so it seems, and Watkins has done this quite cleverly and stylishly by using lovely illustrations* to take us from the big bang (13,798,000,000 to 11,000,000,000 years ago - and Watkins should know since he is a mathematician and physicist) to his first mention of Canterbury (in 800 to 230 BCE), or at least the place it was eventually to become known as.

However, the book is also not just a history of Canterbury, it’s also a psychogeography of Canterbury. We can see this transition - from the accounts of social history, to Watkins own personal explorations of the city - when he starts to focus his discussion on its more urban aspect, 2004-2006. By the time we get to 2014, Watkins’ book has turned full-blown psychogeographical in his journal-type entries, which are oriented around his discoveries, made through walking the actual city itself. So, since this is a psychogeography blog after all, I will include a couple of the extracts that I particularly enjoyed below, one of which appears to come from a single dérive that lasted well over 24 hours - Guy Debord would be proud!

9:22 on 12th August to 00:31 on 13th August 2014

On my way back home from Rough Common I decided to walk the labyrinth below Eliot College. Its Portland stone was a bit more worn in now, I noticed, with some lichens and mosses having taken up residence. As I sat in the middle reading Jung’s analysis of physicist Wolfgang Pauli’s dreams and drinking a bottle of ale, two middle-aged women wound their way in and joined me. We talked about the soullessness of the University and ley lines. They described themselves as “semi-local”, out for an evening walk, one of them explaining that she was trying to mentally process actor Robin Williams’ recent suicide.

11:53:48 to 11:55:03 on August 15th 2014

Passing the City Arms pub, its A-frame blackboard on the pavement featuring the city’s coat-of-arms: three choughs (Becket’s family heraldry) and a golden leopard in a posture known to heraldry enthusiasts as passant gardant. Two men and a woman were sitting outside enjoying late morning drinks. I turned to look at the admission price for the Roman Museum across the street: £8 for adults. I wondered if my local Resident’s card would get me in for free. A few steps further, Club Burrito. The idea of a burrito suddenly appealed. I’d been walking for hours. But as well as being on a mission, I reminded myself that I wasn’t too well-off financially at the moment. This involuntarily triggered the execrable band Simply Red’s 1985 single “Money’s Too Tight (to Mention)” in my mind, which in turn produced a memory of a party in Whitstable in autumn 1988, the highlight of which was a drunken working class man who’d torn this record off the stereo while a couple of middle-class drama students were dancing to it shouting “You’re all living a lie!” at the stunned revellers.

Watkins journal entries end, in a way, like the book begins, with the physical laws of the universe exerting their influence on space and time - since they are what makes the universe what it is - and Canterbury, too. We count down - in the tiniest cosmic clock level increments - to his last entry, which is hand-written: “the barrier between worlds loses resolution, fragments, and all perspectives collide and fuse together”...

Sketch of Stewy’s ‘Robert Wyatt’ Graffiti

*Illustrations by Matt Tweed, Carol J. Watkins and Juliet Suzmeyan

Friday, 3 November 2017

Slutchers Lane

by Trent Dunlop

The haulage lorries have left, the security has gone, the building is empty and the demolition has begun...

I have noticed the comings and goings of the Spectra warehouse on walks around Slutchers Lane. Slutchers Lane is an interesting place to visit, located within easy walking distance of Warrington town centre. It is a long straight road, about a mile in length, leading to a dead end. It cuts through the middle of the edgelands and margins, surrounded by the River Mersey.

In 2016 the deputy leader of the borough council called for the name to be changed after telling the executive board that in an online urban dictionary Slutcher meant ‘filth, dirtbag , and whore’. He was ridiculed on social media and it was commented that he was a ‘Muppet’. The name stayed the same.

A road to my right leads to Bank Quay Trading Estate. Colourful signs point to scrap yards, back street garages, a martial arts club, an animal welfare centre, and a go-karting warehouse. The road leads past Arpley Meadows railway sidings, under a railway bridge, ending at a path leading to an industrial landscape of chemical plants and the hidden transporter bridge.

I walk past the station overflow car park and the futuristic 1980s small business units. To my left is a restricted road leading to Centre Park, a bland generic business park with equally bland hotels and landscaped pond. The autumn leaves from the trees are covered in warm shades of rusty orange and yellow along the road. Coming to the gates outside the Spectra warehouse, two yellow Cat demolition diggers are parked inside the gates (covered in various warning signs), with a barbed wire fence on either side. All is quiet, with no signs of life this Sunday morning. The road fizzles out at a barrier and another set of locked metal gates, beyond which is an empty overgrown field surrounded by a bend in the river. To my right is a narrow path which leads between the field and the railway line, leading to a footbridge over a viaduct. I walk down this path and turn left onto the overgrown field and start walking across it to the far end. Two mounds of rubble on an oblong concrete patch are the only traces left of what was a golf driving range, along with a few half buried golf balls in the field.

A dip takes me down to the back of the warehouse, Am I trespassing? I have not had to climb over any fences or walls. The demolition is going quickly and the warehouse is vanishing fast A massive patch of concrete is covered in fresh rainwater, the surface reflecting the sky, and looking as if a new lake has formed overnight, giving a strange effect of walking across deep water.

I enter through a hole in a wall underneath a semi-destroyed roof and start exploring. To my left, as I enter, is line of machines looking like a robotic involuntary Picasso sculpture. I alter the settings on my camera as I enter the darkness, trying to get a few sharp photographs. There is not much left inside and this would be called a ‘Derp’ in Urbex language: an empty space with not much of interest. But it is not just about photographs, and thoughts start to percolate, random images, plus memories and the history of the area.

In the 1970s Warrington was an industrial town and this was part of Thames Board paper mills, employing at its height over 2000 people. I remember it had a large wharf on the bank of the river. The river was biologically dead and the most polluted in Europe, with warm water, factory effluent, chemicals and poisons killing the wildlife. The water was foul smelling, a dark claret colour, with a white foam on top which would blow around the street and Bridge Foot on a windy day. A time when workers were looked after by the company with a living wage, holidays and a Christmas bonus, with parties for the children, and a ‘do’ out to a club, like the Golden Garter in Wythenshawe, for a meal and to watch Bernard Manning. The clang of steel in the night, smoke stack chimneys, shops shut and a day of rest on a Sunday. A town of many industries, before closure in the early 1980s, followed by the days of sitting at computer screens in call centres and offices and 24/7 culture.

I walk through massive empty workshops, up gloomy staircases, bare offices, and smashed toilets. Twisted metal is everywhere, the silence is eerie and I lose track of time. Clusters of fire extinguishers have been put to one side ready for removal, and an architect’s framed sketch is next to the exit ready to be salvaged. Glass and tiles crunch underfoot, sounding loud and exaggerated, before a siren of a police car or ambulance travelling down Chester Road, signals that it is time to leave.

Today the River Mersey is a success story: with seals, otters and salmon recorded in the water, and itself the star of a television programme presented by Jeremy Paxman. But time keeps moving and wildlife is again under threat as Warrington plans to become a city, with loss of green belt and part of a nature reserve, and residents fighting against the council for the future of the area.

I head home with a camera full of instant history and another part of my A to Z map out of date...