Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Mundus Subterraneus

Mundus Subterraneus is an interesting site that features:
A bibliography of literature on the Hollow Earth, subterranean worlds, worlds beyond the poles, the Secret World, the centre of the Earth, the earth's interior, the hollow globe, Symzonia, Geo-Kosmos and the cellular kosmology.

See also Arktos by Joscelyn Godwin on these topics.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ghost station pubs?

An article from last week's Independent dangles the tantalising prospect of pubs, bars or concert venues opening up in some of London Underground's disused or 'ghost' stations. I think this is probably as likely to happen as the Lost Rivers being reopened in central London - another idea mooted in recent years and included in Subterranean City. The main reason will probably be that old chestnut 'health and safety', although I suppose it might be possible in one or two of the surface buildings - the former entrance to Hyde Park Corner housed the Pizza on the Park and other surface buildings such as South Kentish Town are used by businesses. More information here.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Baron Corvo

Many years ago, when I worked in a public library in Kensington a peculiar man, frequently clad in lederhosen, would come in and chat with the male workers and request a series of arcane (for me at the time) books – most of them eventually had to be acquired from the British Library and other specialist sources. One author whose name I remember cropping up many times was Frederick Rolfe, also known as Baron Corvo; I didn’t have a clue who he was.

Decades passed before I was recommended to read the classic ‘experiment in biography’ The Quest for Corvo by A J A Symons, which through a series of epistolary investigations and personal interviews with those who had met him, paints a portrait of a strange, obsessive, difficult, pedantic and ultimately lonely individual who spent many years in poverty writing numerous books and articles which were pretty much ignored in his day. It is also interesting to discover how he was befriended on many occasions, mostly by members of the closely closeted homosexual community of the period (by reading between the lines of The Quest) and managed to turn any potential friend into a ruthless enemy – in his own mind at least. His perverse behaviour was to be his fatal flaw.

One of the most fascinating parts of Symons’s book is the examination of how Corvo’s reputation grew after his death, until he inspired a collector’s cult, for which any scrap of paper or jotting had immense value. The collective name for his writings and memorabilia is known amongst bibliophiles as Corviana – Donald Weeks, an especially obsessive collector and biographer died in 2004; his collection eventually was given to Leeds University. The fate of various Corvo texts has also inspired a huge amount of detective work and manuscripts once thought lost forever have been rediscovered by diligent, truffle-hunting researchers.

Personally I find Rolfe’s writing difficult to take in large doses – he revels in language but also loves to invent new words, which always annoys this reader, whoever does it. I also read his autobiographical novel Nicholas Crabbe last week, again I find the obsessive tone wearying, but it provides a useful insight into his dealings with important publishers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as John Lane and Grant Richards.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Bill Bruford

I am very happy to report that Bill Bruford will be reading from his autobiography at Westminster Reference Library on the evening of 17th June. He played with some of my favourite groups in the 1970s, although when I try to think of the occasions I've seen him live I can only remember the Discipline (before they reverted to King Crimson) concert at Her Majesty's Theatre on 10th May 1981. I'm probably going to be introducing him - below is the text I've compiled for the poster. It hasn't been advertised on the website yet.

An Evening with Bill Bruford

6.30-8.00 pm FREE

In the 1970s Bill Bruford played drums and percussion in some of Britain’s most successful bands Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and UK as well as such cult groups as Gong and National Health before forming his own band Bruford. From 1985 he played in the jazz group Earthworks until his retirement from public performance in 2009.

Tonight Bill will read from his autobiography (published by Jawbone Press, 2009) and answer audience questions. Copies of the book will be for sale on the night.

‘Bruford's autobiography not only provides a humorous insight into the daily detail of a successful musician's life but also grapples with the big existential issues of what it takes to be an artist of any sort in the modern world.’ The Guardian

Monday, 21 March 2011

Future London Tunnels

From London Reconnections a couple of interesting maps: both of relevance to Subterranean City, although the first is possibly the most interesting as it shows all the tunnels planned under the capital in the next few years, including the Chelsea-Hackney Line (often referred to these days as Crossrail 2), the Thames Tidal Tunnel and various power supply tunnels.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Luna Sea

Tonight I walked home from St Leonards station along the seafront and saw a beautiful full moon creating a corridor of light across the water. Apparently tonight's moon is unusually large - a perigee moon in fact. I saw numerous camera flashes going off including one on the pier, which is supposed to be off limits as a dangerous structure since the fire last year. The view of the moon through the substructure of the pier was probably the most impressive of all, the tide was out and the sandbanks and spits were gently illuminated. Until I moved to the seaside I had never witnessed the effect of moonlight on water - I had to rely on painters such Wright of Derby - but when I occasionally feel that I should have stayed in London, sights such as this convince me otherwise. Pity I didn't have my camera with me.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Radio, Radio

It's very likely that I'm going to be interviewed on the Robert Elms show on Wednesday 11th May at around 1.00pm about my talk at the ICA on Legends of Underground London the following evening. I've been his guest a few times in the past, mostly around the time that my various books have been published. I didn't get a chance to promote the Folklore of London book on the show in 2008 as another book on the topic that came out at the same time got the slot - this appearance will help to remedy that.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power played at Westminster Reference Library recently. Some film of the performance can be found here. Not really my bag, although I admire their attitude and the fact that they like to perform in unusual places. Support was provided by poet and raconteur Jock Scot, who, I realised half-way through his performance, had attended my Decadent London book launch with my father-in-law - he left before the absinthe was brought out.


I shall be leading a Decadent London walk on Thursday 19th May, starting from Westminster Reference Library in St Martin's Street, just south of Leicester Square. We commence at 6.00pm and it will last around two hours, finishing at a pub with suitably 'decadent' credentials.

It will be an event for Adult Learners Week, although it also coincides nicely with the exhibition on the Aesthetic Movement at the V&A - I should stress that the walk is not part of their event programme or directly related to the exhibition.

Lest there be any confusion, when I say 'Decadent London' I'm referring specifically to life in the city during the 1890s, when characters such as Arthur Symons, Lionel Johnson, Aubrey Beardsley and of course Oscar Wilde were enjoying their moment of fame. The walk will be based on my book on that subject (above).

The walk is free and should be booked in advance through the library; it hasn't been advertised on their website yet.

Further posts may well have a yellowish decadent tinge as I undertake my revision.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Blandland Blog

I should mention that from this year I am also running another blog called Blandland, which will be added to about twice a month. Any potential publishers wishing to bring it out in book form please contact me via Facebook.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Paul Raymond talk

I've managed to arrange a talk and discussion at Westminster Reference Library by the excellent writer Paul Willets (biographer of Julian Maclaren-Ross) and Marc Glendening of the estimable Sohemian Society on the life of Paul Raymond, pornographer and property baron of Soho. Willets has written a biography of Raymond called Members Only and has promised to bring along some suitable (?) film clips. (Which reminds me that I saw the dvd Primitive London recently, featuring a lot of 'showgirls' and a fascinating documentary on 1960s striptease called Carousella as an extra). It will take place on the evening of 27 May, details will be available from the library website nearer the date. This Saturday British Sea Power are playing there - not a favourite band of mine but I may pop along.

Fairlight and D'Oyly Carte

Today, as the weather was sunny, I undertook my first ‘proper’ walk of the year, from Fairlight village through Fire Hills and Hastings Country Park back to my house. An amusing incident occurred on the journey to Fairlight when the inevitable bus-borne alcoholic dropped his can of beer, which exploded and soaked most of the pensioners at the front - he didn’t bother apologising.
On an earlier visit to the church of St Andrews Fairlight (the tower can be seen from many miles around and can be climbed on certain days) I had made an interesting Decadent London-related discovery: in the graveyard can be found the burial place of Richard D’Oyly Carte (1844-1901) theatre impresario well known for staging Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous works under the auspices of Mr R. D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company. My photo of the grave above.
He also commissioned the construction of the Savoy Theatre, the first public building in the world to be lit by electricity; it opened on 10 October 1881. On that day Patience, G & S’s satire of the aesthetic movement, moved to the Savoy from the Opera Comique, where it had debuted on 23 April 1881. The character Bunthorne has been taken to be based on Oscar Wilde, but initially was probably modelled on Swinburne and Rossetti. D’Oyly Carte managed Wilde’s American lecture tour in 1882. His Savoy Hotel next door to the theatre opened in 1889 – it was recently reopened after a huge refurbishment programme.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

East London line reaches Highbury & Islington

The East London line extension to Highbury & Islington did indeed open yesterday morning. The Londonist has a post about it with links to further information.


Just completed Whoops! by John Lanchester, an idiot's guide to an idiotic financial system which many of us shall be bailing out for the foreseeable future while the people responsible for the recent disasters pocket large bonuses and generous pensions. In 200 pages Lanchester manages to explain, even to finance ignoramuses such as myself, the ‘flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works’, in the words of Alan Greenspan, the man in charge of US financial policy (and disciple of dodgy ‘philosopher’ Ayn Rand) during the crucial years.

In a nutshell Lanchester believes that the credit crunch, ‘was based on a climate (the post-Cold War victory of free-market capitalism), a problem (the sub-prime mortgages), a mistake (the mathematical models of risk) and a failure, that of the regulators.’ He describes in damning detail the origins of the crisis in a quasi-religious, self-deluding belief amongst financial ‘experts’ and governments such as those in the US, UK, Ireland, Iceland and Spain in ‘the market’ and its miraculous self-regulating properties, coupled with newly minted financial instruments such as CDOs (collateralized default swaps) CDSs (credit default swaps), which few fully understood but in which many bankers had blind unswerving belief, especially when they were earning them huge salaries and bonuses. This money-making edifice was built on foundations so shaky and insubstantial that most intelligent outsiders, had they been properly informed of the nature of these transactions, could have predicted a disaster waiting to happen – a few astute bankers and journalists did, but they were ignored or shouted down by the true believers. In the US in particular outright fraud was perpetrated by the likes of Enron and Bernard Madoff.

Over here the inevitably dire outcome was not helped by a housing-price bubble that was bound to burst hyped up by hours and hours of daily gung-ho television programmes telling us we were stupid not to be buying up properties to rent out, or purchase a couple of extra houses to do-up and sell for a massive profit; these shows seem strangely to have diminished in number now. He also points out that Britain has half the total European credit-card debt.

For those put off by the finance jargon of the first five chapters, the final two chapters of the book could be read on their own as they encapsulate the central problems of the whole enterprise. This is pretty much summed up in the section quoted below [from pp187-188]:

‘Mrs Thatcher began, and Labour continued, a switch towards an economy that was reliant on financial services, at the expense of other areas of society. One can disagree…with that policy, but what was equally damaging for Britain was the hegemony of economic, or quasi-economic thinking. The economic metaphor came to be applied to every aspect of modern life, especially the areas where it simply didn’t belong. In fields such as education, equality of opportunity, health, employees’ rights, the social contract and culture, the first conversation to happen should be about values and principles; then you have the conversation about costs, and what you as a society can afford. In Britain for the last twenty to thirty years that has all been the wrong way round. There was a kind of reverse takeover, in which City values came to dominate the whole of British life. There needs to be a general acceptance that the model has failed. The brakes-off, deregulate or die, privatise or stagnate, lunch if for wimps, greed is good, what’s good for the financial sector is good for the economy model; the sack the bottom 10 per cent, bonus-driven, if you can’t measure it it isn’t real model which spread from the City to government and from there through the whole culture, in which the idea of value has gradually faded to be replaced by the idea of price.’

No lessons appear to have been learned from the recent debacle. In The Quiet Coup, Simon Johnson, formerly chief economist of the IMF recorded that as part of his work he had, ‘acquired an extensive experience of countries which had effectively been captured by a ruling elite who governed entirely in their own interests. His startling conclusion about the current crisis is that the US has become one of those countries.’ Given the number of millionaires and ex-public schoolboys in the current cabinet, the same conclusion might be drawn about our own present situation.