Archive for the ‘british library’ Tag

Self-Listed Londoner

I started this post on 14th March 2014 – I’m finally in the mood to finish it (1st January 2020).

london aerial view river thames

Robert Elms seems to have mislaid my number so I’m having to list myself as a Londoner with the usual questions… (Was listening to ‘Arry Redknapp’s one yesterday – fuckin’ charmin’)

1) What’s your favourite neighbourhood?

I still get an Absolute Beginners kick from Soho, love the surprising London postcode (NW7) tranquility of Mill Hill’s Ridgeway and the adjacent green belt, but I think I’ll go for the long, thin neighbourhood of all along the Regent’s Canal all the way from Golborne Road to Limehouse Basin plus off-shoots.

2) What’s your favourite building?

At first I was contemplating The British Library (especially the Humanities Reading Rooms) – I feel most comfortable among books. But on further reflection it is Senate House (University of London) where I go twice a month on Friday evening for James Joyce seminars (what a wild life). It is beautiful inside, lavished in marble and wood. And outside it is truly monumental. Different lighting at different times of day keeps it endlessly impressive. It sits on perhaps my favourite street in the city – Malet Street with its avenue of delicate trees has a very special vibe. Plus Store Street opposite has a distinctive Bloomsbury feel, especially after dark. My dad went to Birkbeck on Malet St to do his Chemistry degree. And two of my distant forebears set up UCL which is also in the hood so the whole area has taken on an increasing personal significance for me over the years.

3) What’s your most hated building?

Elephant & Castle shopping centre – they really need to just start again from a blank space.

4) What’s the best view in London?

Flying into the city along the Thames estuary.

5) What’s your favourite open space?

St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, N2 – my jogging place,  a tranquil momento mori with wildlife (including woodpeckers and magpies in pairs) and no traffic

6) What’s the most interesting shop?

I’m going to cheat a bit and take two bookshop windows – one local, one central. The local is Black Gull in East Finchley high road – I regularly stop to check out the latest display which is usually determined by a topical theme (an obscure history of Ukraine had shown up when I looked in last night on the way home from work) or a collection recently bought (e.g. a collection of Beat-related books appeared a few weeks ago of which I bought some gems like a 60s paperback of The Horn (John Clellon Jones) and a very pink hardback of Terry Southern’s Candy). The central one is Sotheran’s on Sackville Street, Piccadilly, opposite BAFTA, which is a high-end fine books and prints shop. established in York in 1761 it is ‘the longest established antiquarian booksellers in the world’. The window display is always fascinating with mouth-watering first editions and off-beat treasures. From there I might trot over to the young upstart Hatchard’s, established 1797.

7) What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

I tend to incline towards the Middle Eastern so Yalla Yalla – Soho branch is high up the list but top is the cafe in Sunny Hill Park, Hendon which pretty much introduced shakshuka to London and is the only place I know to get jachnun.

8) What’s been your most memorable night out in London?

E-fuelled night starting out at James Taylor Quartet in Forum, Kentish Town and ending after dawn dancing in the car park at Hampstead Heath (South End Green) concluded by some cops pulling up and asking something along the lines of ” ‘Allo, ‘allo,’allo, what’s goin’ on ‘ere then?”

9) How would you like to spend your ideal day off in London?

Early morning swim (summer – water temperature around 25 degrees) at Men’s Pond, Hampstead Heath. Breakfast at Banners in Crouch End (with Jon & Stu reminiscing about the Select Latin, Blvd St Michel). Pop up to The Ridgeway, NW7 for an open-air read. Walk along the canal to Trellick. A coffee and nata on Golborne Road. A themed walk of my own making across the city e.g. Profumo Promenade with my sons. Lunch at The Wolseley including chicken soup. Boat trip down the river towards the estuary, at least as far as North Greenwich. G&T at an old pub by the river eg The Angel, Rotherhithe. Walk along the river East of Tower Bridge. Cocktails at Bar Américain with Peter Curran. Dinner outdoors at Sunny Hill Park. Watch the sunset at Waterloo Bridge. Go to a gig at Ronnie’s. Night walk with Adam Zuabi.

This is of course logistically totally impossible.

And I could easily write it again right now with an entirely different itinerary.

10) Where would you take someone visiting from out of town?

The Arab Hall at Leighton House.

The Rose Garden at Regent’s Park.

11) What’s the worst journey you’ve had to make in London?

Any morning rush hour tube – in the words of Ian Dury, who could have been the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station, wot a waste.

12) What’s your personal London landmark?

Whitestone Pond – my birthplace with one of the best views of the city.

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_An_English_Autumn_Afternoon,_1852-1853

Ford Madox Brown ‘An English Autumn Afternoon’ (1852-1853) painted from up by Whitestone Pond – he is buried in the St Pancras & Islington cemetery by my house as referenced above

The red-brick building beside the Pond was a maternity hospital when I was born but has now become an old-age home – I’m aiming to get back there to complete the circle. The only person I have met who was also born there was David Aaronovitch 9this came out on a coach journey back from Aldeburgh).

13) Who’s your favourite fictional Londoner?

Sherlock Holmes’ street urchins crossed my mind first but it has to be Charlie Chaplin’s tramp. (I know he operated mainly in America but he is essentially a creation of Kennington and Chaplin’s native London).

chaplin-charlie-city-lights

My favourite movie of all time – City Lights

14) What’s your favourite London film, book or documentary?

Blow Up – I must go down visit that park (with the dead body – or not…) sometime, been meaning to for years

15) If you could travel to any time period in London, past or future, where would you go?

Swinging 60s including seeing The Doors at the Roundhouse

Jim Morrison at London's Roundhouse 1968 the doors

back to 1968

***

So that took just 6 years to complete – and I still need to refine most of the answers.

Diving back in (Day 82)

 

man_diving_into_sea colourised

Kicked off writing and work in 2014 by spending the morning at the British Library co-writing one of the spin-off projects with an old colleague/friend from Melrose days (the first production company I worked for). I came home and finished the draft we had been working on, useful but something of the displacement activity about it. The prospect of coming back to When Sparks Fly post-holidays was strangely intimidating. Finally I dived in, beginning my 2nd draft by looping back to the beginning, the Ginsberg/Literature chapter. It was better than I expected, more polished and well structured, slightly surprising only because of the non-linear and fluid way it was written. I hope the rest is up to the same standard as I revisit it.

At the end of the day I stumbled across a blog post via some random email – one of those meant to be things – which reassured me by showing how common such feelings of intimidation are. It’s by an American writer called  Caroline McGraw:

I changed my habit of working on “scary” writing projects sporadically. Now, when I’m working on a big creative writing project — a book, a proposal, a guest post, etc — I work on it every day. With the exception of 1 weekly day of rest, I make sure to do at least a little bit each morning.

I love (and often repeat) the Anthony Trollope line: “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the efforts of a spasmodic Hercules.” Committing to a daily task helps me maintain momentum, and it also helps render the task less terrifying. (If I work on it every day, it simply CAN’T be that scary — it’s just part of my routine, after all!)

I’ve also noticed that, if I skip a day, it’s that much harder to get back to the habit. And if I skip yet another day, it’s as though Mt. Everest springs up between me and getting back on track. If I write every day, though, the barrier between me and good habits is more like a pastoral English countryside hill. Like something out of a Jane Austen novel, a rise that Elizabeth Bennett could scale without breaking a sweat.

dived in submerged in bubbles

Bitty Titty Soft and Bouncy (Day 72)

Sylvia Beach with James Joyce at Shakespeare & Co., Paris 1920

Sylvia Beach with James Joyce at Shakespeare & Co., Paris 1920

Another bitty day but progress was made. Kicked off with some Channel 4 work looking forward to to 2014, meeting a sports presenter to further develop a really interesting  idea we began kicking around a couple of months ago. From there I walked along a golden Malet Street past the University of London to the British Library where I installed myself in the Anthropology Library to work on the music project prompted by my interview with Jon King of Gang of Four yesterday. Got a few ideas down to start to set the scope and whacked them over to my radio friend. Then settled down to process my notes from the David Amram phone interview last night – mainly making sure it’s all legible in the long run.

Finished off my initial research into Sylvia Beach over a bowl of hot Greek bean soup in RADAland, sitting next to two glamorous, screwed-up actresses discussing boyfriend trouble and CBT experiences – in other words, very good quality eavesdropping material. The Beach research touched on her time in Savoy and mentioned Chambery where I went to university for a year, a not oft-mentioned town.

Once back home I  gave Malcolm Garrett a ring to set up an in-person interview with him about Tony Wilson & Manchester. Malcolm, who I know through working together on the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment committee, is the excellent designer behind the Buzzcocks record sleeves among many others, so first entered my life in the form of the silver and orange cover of Another Music in a Different Kitchen which delighted the teenage me. Rounded off things by getting in touch with Barry Miles, biographer and friend of Allen Ginsberg.

Took off for Chalk Farm on that note, the work day ended, to see the opening of an exhibition of photos of Andy Warhol (who I loathe and consider the opposite of Ginsberg – I wrote a scene about their meeting out back in a New York club where Ginsberg cut the twat neatly down to size in his own gentle way) and Edie Sedgwick (who, from the vaguest memory I have of the book I wrote about her – oops, Freudian slip, read about her I consider somehow tragic, like Basquiat and all the other cowardly damage Warhol left in his wake). It was at my friend/associate Alex Proud’s gallery in The Stables, an extravagantly large space, not really the right shape but different and fun.

From there to the 10th anniversary party of mySociety, a digital agency I admire hugely which is why I sacrificed the Channel 4 Christmas do to it (which was conveniently and teasingly  beside the Stables) and trekked off to Mozilla in St Martin’s Lane to see Tom Steinberg and crew. And that I’ll leave for my next post…

Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier in Savoy, not a million miles from Chambery

Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier in Savoy, not a million miles from Chambery

Spin off (Day 47)

Afro Hair styles for women

Something of a tangential day. Was researching an alternative case study for the Music chapter when I came across a music spin-off which gave me the idea for a simple business proposition/side-line. I discussed it with the friend and former colleague who was having the 70s music discussion with me and then brought a second former colleague from the same era into the Circle of Trust and we gathered on the morning of Day 47 to decide whether we all thought there was something in it and what creative approach to take. Our kick-off venue was the British Library, which is a building I’ve really come to respect for the way it respects the ornateness of the surrounding buildings, especially St Pancras, and for giving a home to a lively studious community.

I was reminded as they set up an exhibition about Georgian Britain (opening today) about coming here last year to see Jack Kerouac’s scroll manuscript of On The Road, a landmark on the way down the track to this book.

I had a pleasant couple of afternoon hours carrying on with the Hettie Jones research outdoors in the large courtyard of the Library site. It’s resonant for me because I came across the play Dutchman, by her husband LeRoi Jones, during a teen-age burst of play-reading and the whole milieu on the memoir reminds me of those enthusiasms of that time in my life. As the milky sunlight turned greyer and the temperature dropped, headed inside beside the wonderful tower of books, a great glass cabinet cutting through all the floors of the building, filled with rare volumes. Found a seat among the stooodents next to a girl with a fro worthy of the East Village and a winning smile. Read some more in the bookish shadow of the tower.

I love the way a no-nonsense commercial idea has spun out of this project with bookish roots, focused on the pre-digital age. The idea is very digital in that common paradoxical way of being centred on a beautifully designed and made concrete object in the physical world. One of the highlights of the day was seeing our designer’s mind take off the minute he started generating ideas, questioning shape, texture, nothing assumed, everything possible…

70s afro woman female

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