Deep topography

Newcastle is the poorer for the loss of Professor Behooving, though our loss is Tasmania’s gain. And, let’s face it, with fire blight and cheap imports, the Apple Isle needs all the help it can get. However, I was delighted to get an email from the Prof recently, pointing me to a brilliant documentary on YouTube about Nick Papadimitriou, aka The London Perambulator.

I was put off at first by the length (45 YouTube minutes are like several real-time glacial epochs) and so I didn’t watch it through till the other night when The Circumstances were Just Right: suddenly-cooled weather, a flogging at the dojo that left me with aching muscles, and the wife saying “Do you want the water leaving in?” after she climbed out of a volcanically hot bath. It was time! (Watching videos on your iPhone in the bath might seem like crazy, risk-taking behaviour but that’s the way I roll.)

This is a brilliant show. Nick is a walker of London’s “liminal lands”, a researcher for authors Will Self and Iain Sinclair, but also a teacher, a stoner, a polymath, a convicted arsonist, and just a wee tiny bit of a nutter – nutty in that delightful, slightly weird, English kind of way.

I once saw a show on SBS in which Will Self walked from his home in London to Heathrow Airport, then flew to Los Angeles and walked from LAX to downtown. Sinclair describes these tracts of land between homes and airports as “the ultimate shock-corridors of deregulated urbanism”.

“Shock-corridor”: what a brilliant phrase! I’d love to apply it to my own “shock-corridor”, the creek, but in all conscience I can’t. Surprising, yes. Shocking? Hmm.

Maybe not. But when I’m down there I do get a sense of Papadimitriou’s “deep topography”. This is Nick’s own phrase, an evolved form of the psycho-geography that the Situationists coined as a response to the faceless urban environments of 1960s Britain and France. Apparently. Deep topography occurs through the process of walking while carrying a kind of mindfulness of place.

Walking is the key, and as the video shows it’s getting harder to be a walker in our cities. I once had to go to an event at the new Charlestown Bowlo and arrived there by foot. It was impenetrable; the only access seemed to be this deep, black rectangle into which cars disappeared like pellets into the maw some colossal beast. About 30 years ago I picked up a zine in an anarcho-syndicalist bookshop in Manchester (those were the days). The zine was called Away With All Cars, a ranting pamphlet by a certain “Mr Social Control”, head of the “outlawed Pedestrian Freedom Front”. I’d love to see what he’d make of Charlestown Bowlo.

Here’s a bit of Iain Sinclair talking about the difficulty of walking in cities, and the way that walking (as Bruce Chatwin noted, in Songlines) creates its own narrative:

Ease of passage across the city is ever more denied and so the walker becomes somebody like a guerilla, he has to  duck and dive to negotiate a passage across the city. [Walking] is the way that narrative presents itself. I don’t think that any other form [of travel] engenders narrative in quite the same way. If you’re in a car, you’re in a pod, you’re in a kind of dream that’s sealed off, a kind of reverie. If you’re on a bicycle you’ve got to be so conscious of the traffic surrounding you just to survive. There’s no time to get into the stream of natural consciousness which is walking, and therefore walking becomes the most natural form for lifting your consciousness. I think that all the real spirits of the city are doing it all the time.

If only I could be that erudite and articulate! I’ll bet Iain Sinclair doesn’t wallow in his wife’s bathwater watching YouTube videos on his iPhone.

Today I perambulated upstream rather than downstream. I felt like a change and so Jambo and I headed past Hamilton North School and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter towards the Gully Line. To go this far you pass beneath several bridges, at Griffiths Road, Broadmeadow Road, and the new pedestrian bridge by the showground. The bridges provide punctuation marks in the linear narrative of the creek; they’re places to pause, tag, paint, sleep, shoot up, pull the heads off a few prawns, cobble a bong together.

Dump your shopping trolley.

It was nice, but I prefer downstream. I prefer the brackish water of the intertidal zone, the delta where the salt water has pushed up through Throsby Creek and melds with the fresh water that pours endlessly from the hills around Adamstown. But I don’t ever come back from the creek feeling shocked or disassociated from the urban world. Unlike this happy person.

I wonder what he’d make of the Situationists.

2 Responses to Deep topography

  1. I find that even for walking The Circumstances need to be Just Right too.

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Yes, we need some academic to come up with the link between drinking coffee and deep narrative.

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