Saturday, 28 May 2011


Hauntology - courtesy of Jacques Derrida - is a very fashionable interest these days; you might call it 'nostalgia with a theoretical turn'.

There are various musings to be found here and here. An interesting article by Simon Reynolds in this month's Wire magazine is also worth reading for this thoughts on the gains and the losses (only gradually coming to be realised) resulting in the change from analogue to digital culture and the ready availability of material that was once eagerly sought out, sometimes over many frustrating, but ultimately satisfying, years.

Shopping in London will soon be dominated by two vast malls called Westfield - the one in Shepherd's Bush has been open since 2008, the Stratford version will form a retail gateway for the 2012 Olympics - perfect examples of timeless 'non-places'.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A New Map of Underground London and other news

Following my ICA talk I met the artist Stephen Walter, who kindly bought one of my books. He has been commissioned by the London Transport Museum to produce a map of underground London; he previously made 'The Island' which was completed in 2008 and can be viewed here on the British Library website. He told me that Subterranean City had been a great help in his preliminary researches. More information on the map can be found on the LTM blog.

Apparently there is a very favourable review of the new edition of Subterranean City in the current London Topographical Society Newsletter. I shall read it next time I visit the City of Westminster Archives Centre.

Apropos my other interests in folklore and witchcraft, an extended interview with probably the leading scholar in these areas Ronald Hutton can be found here.

The little-known Ceremony of the Lilies and Roses at the Tower took place recently - a well-illustrated report can be found here.

Claude Cahun was one of the lesser-known Surrealists - probably because she was a woman. A new exhibition in Paris should change all that.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Walks and Talks

A reminder that there are still places on the Paul Raymond talk at Westminster Reference Library on Friday 27th May; bookings are also being taken for Bill Bruford on 17th June.

The Decadent London walk on Thursday is now fully (over) booked. Because a tube strike was announced for that day I increased the numbers - then the strike was cancelled, but more people had already booked. I always reckon on a third not turning up, so it should be manageable. Apparently people are still trying to book and names have been taken, so I may have to do another one within the next month.

This blog is one year old - almost the only comment I've received was about a remark I made regarding the style of a certain writer - I won't put the name here again as I suspect it was posted by someone who spends all day trawling for mentions of his favourite author.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Rainbow climbing high

On my way to the Stan Tracey gig on Monday night at around 8.15 I was greeted by a literally jaw-dropping sight at the end of my road where it comes out onto the panoramic views of the West Hill. The most spectacular rainbow I have ever seen formed a perfect arc from somewhere in the Country Park (it seemed) to a spot far out in the English Channel - all the colours were clearly delineated and there were two sides of a double rainbow. People were talking about it in the jazz club, which is down on the beach.

The light was incredible and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed - yet again, a pity I didn't have a camera with me, although perhaps there's too much emphasis these days on capturing everything for posterity and not enough ephemeral events.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Low-Flying Aircraft (apologies to JGB)

I have transcribed below a letter published in this week's Hastings and St Leonard's Observer, a not untypical example of the kind of material frequently submitted. I have omitted the name and address of the sender - it could of course be an Ortonesque prank (not guilty). I have never witnessed this alleged phenomenon myself, although coastguard and military planes and helicopters sometimes fly low along the coast - we also get a lot of sea mist at certain times of the year (term times?):

(headline is 'Cloudbusting above [sic] the skies of Hastings?')

I would like to ask the councillors of Hastings to explain what is going on in the skies over the town.

I live facing a local school and college and I have noticed that every term time, the skies over the area have planes constantly flying at low altitudes and leaving behind a trail which spreads out during the course of the day and forms grey clouds which can be seen dropping slowly into grey mist over the areas. I have researched normal contrails that are a natural occurrence when planes are flying at high altitudes, this contrail disperses very quickly, but these low flying aeroplanes criss cross across the sky leaving grids which is [sic] predominantly over the schools and college.

So my question is, why is this happening? And while I am on the subject, who is responsible for this and what is in the cloud that it doesn't disperse as normal?

And why only in term time?

If they have no answers then who does?

I have heard of weather modification and I would think that people should know exactly what's going on and if there are any dangers especially when its [sic] seen to happen over local schools, has anyone else noticed this phenonema [sic]?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

J K Huysmans

This week I finally got round to reading La Bas by J K Huysmans (the Dedalus 2001 edition, it was first published in France in 1891) - what a great book. It's notorious for the depiction of a Black Mass, but the descriptions of the sadisitic excesses of Gilles de Rais - the subject of a biography by the main character Durtal - are equally graphic and disturbing. The translation by Brendan King is excellent and gives the book a very modern sensibility of cynicism and ennui - as Huysmans says, 'There's only one reason for literature to exist, to save those that write it from the tedium of living.' The book can also serve as a guide to the mentalities of the period, when Sar Peladan revived the Rosicrucians and all kinds of religious eccentrics, quacks and charlatans were abroad. Again Huysmans observes, 'At the precise moment Positivism reaches its height, mysticism awakes and a mania for the occult begins'.

I intend to read some more of his oeuvre, starting with En Rade (available from Dedalus); he was also a formidable art critic. His most famous work is A Rebours, translated as Against the Grain or Against Nature, a remarkable book, totally without a plot, consisting of a series of erudite heightened descriptions of the methods used by a wealthy aesthete to cut himself off from consensus reality - you will either love it or hate it - I had trouble getting through the whole thing last time I read it, although I think it is highly relevant in the age of 'virtual reality' and estrangement from the natural world. Arthur Symons called it 'the breviary of the Decadence' and it appears anonymously in Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. After having written it Huysmans was told by his friend Barbey D'Aurevilly that he would have to choose 'between the barrel of a revolver or the foot of the cross' - he chose the latter course, as his later novels testify.

There's a very comprehensive site on Huysmans here.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Victoria line stock

The new trains on the Victoria line have been gradually introduced since the first ran in July 2009 and are due to take over all services by July this year. An error in Subterranean City regarding the seating has been brought to my attention: on p.201 I say that all seating is transverse, in fact I should have written longitudinal, as on the new North London and East London line trains.