The unexpected arrival of Islington

[Events last week that aren’t covered here: Preview of Alpha Papa at the BFI plus Q&A with Armando Iannucci; special showing of Otto Preminger’s Laura at the ICA; Screen Epiphany showing of Badlands with Alice Lowe at the BFI]

Even through all these wanderings I don’t have much of a sense of the contiguity of the various London neighbourhoods and boroughs. The only remedy is more walking, I imagine.

On Saturday, I set off for the Barbican to see what was going on as part of their Hack the Barbican programme. There were various installations on the way in from the Silk Street entrance (the only one I can reliably find when walking from Liverpool Street), including an extremely large whiteboard, open for public contributions in erasable marker form and @shelf_story, which contains the objects people have suggested for the story ,on the shelves. Looking down from the bridge, I could see some dancers, who were miming to a Muse track. They weren’t on the programme and I think they were called ‘Craft / the Rag Factory’. Once again I was struck how much trust in each other is needed in a dance troupe, especially when you’re being spun around by a human centrifuge. The people sitting in front of me when I went down to that level to watch properly described themselves when the performance ended as the troupe’s “biggest fans”.

Other manifestations I saw included A series of unfortunate events, which comprised drawings of damaged phones with vignettes describing the nature of the damage-causing episode and the owner’s attitude; Soundhack the Barbican was a recording of elemental sounds from around the Barbican; while I didn’t participate in the Ministry of Measurement I did enjoy the bleeps it was producing from the cloakroom downstairs and the intermittent flashing of the stall lights it was producing. According to the signs I saw, there was something happening in the VIP room on level 2. This may have been a tricky trick, because the signs directed me to a nexus of locked doors. As ever, the terrace provided a pleasing lunch venue, while some kids noisily played on the incongruous table tennis table.

Hack the Barbican

The next stop was the Islington Museum, to see From Hollywood to Highbury: Islington goes to the Movies. From the bus taking me there I saw some newlyweds having photos taken in front of an office building entrance. The aesthetic qualities of the entrance were not sufficient to justify such efforts, so I wondered whether this was to commemorate the location of the beginning of the romance – a note slipped during a business transformation workshop. As well as all the photos around the walls, there was a recreation of an old cinema, showing a series of short silent films made by Robert Paul, some usherette uniforms and a 35mm projector. I’m pleased to say there was an old-fashioned comments book, as well. I love reading those.

Parasol Unit after that for the final day of the Merlin James show. Quite a variation in quality, for me, though I felt the colour combinations worked more often than not. I suppose I liked that other than the introductory text, there was no blurb alongside each painting. A fellow viewer went around more quickly than I did and I saw them again upstairs, sketching a painting of a viaduct. Is this just a way of remembering their favourites?

On another bus, towards Camden, there was a strange incident with a cyclist, whose bike was pointing towards us. When I arrived, I was early and so had time to eat a little. Having wandered around a little, there didn’t seem to be anywhere to sit down that wasn’t part of a rent-seeking establishment, so I leaned against the wall of the World’s End pub, nearly facing the station. It’s a very long time since I’ve spent any significant time there and it was simultaneously reassuring and disturbing that all the Indie Tribes were still around. What I didn’t realise for a while is that I’d disturbed my bag contents such that the Banana Shield was poking out, like a strange implement or device.

I’d booked a couple of comedy acts at the Camden Fringe, lacking as I did the good planning or resources for an Edinburgh trip this year. Both were at The Camden Head, so accidentally I had avoided erratic traipsing. Twisted Loaf described themselves as a “clown/character sketch” duo and the description did make sense afterwards. There is something enlivening about comedy gigs in such small venues and they made the most of the situation, the slightly startling interaction with the audience members being physical rather than verbal. For Iszi Lawrence, I had a sofa at the back all to myself, even though with ostentatious politeness I’d taken the end so that there was room for others. Hers was a more traditional ‘show’, albeit a little derailed by audience interventions (by her own admission).  Rather disgraceful was the behaviour of the Chelsea-shirt wearing man in front of me, who actually continued his phone conversation after she’d started her act. Later on he and his lady companion were chatting quite a lot – tsk. A German woman, encouraged by Iszi Lawrence’s questions, rather forgot to rein in her contributions.

Twisted Loaf

On Sunday, for once I had nothing planned and externally-suggested arrangements meant that I needed to find something in my approximate locality, allowing for a prompt return back East. What I found was Arbonauts at the Grave, a commemoration organised by the Blake Society to mark his death in 1827. I arrived a little early and heard what I realised were some of the organisers talking next to me:

How’s your health?

It’s better than it is in Paris. The dirty stuff collects in the valley.

The musicians and singer rehearsed part of their performance, and then the latter wandered around the gravestones, practising her scales. The second violinist arrived admirably late, with no time for pfaffing. It was quite a lovely performance and I was glad to have caught the Arbonauts, having missed Biped’s Monitor the previous weekend. Once they’d finished, the head of the Society gave a short speech and invited people to give their own readings or perform their own choice of poems. To my surprise, several people did, including quite a high proportion of American women. A man in front of me with a Bear Stearns bag, took off his hat to declaim his choice, while others picked Emily Dickinson, W. H. Auden and Patrick Hamilton. Apparently the Blake gravestone isn’t on the actual site of his remains. They’re around the corner, by a plane tree, and the society is campaigning for a new memorial to be created. Russians come and visit the head of the society, amazed that there is no such memorial already, and that seven of the nine houses in which Blake lived haven’t survived, whereas anything even slightly associated with Dostoyevsky is celebrated and preserved.

William Blake 2013

Pigeon Quorum

In contrast to this uplifting and elevated event, I heard genuine Essex types discussing their ways at a pub by Epping Forest later that afternoon:

You have to have a poo on a Sunday morning don’t you, with the paper.

and an incredible amount of linguistic labour went into their car-related discussions, along with adhesives. There are some photos from this walk here.

It was while walking to Bunhill Fields for the Arbonauts that I saw the Islington borough sign and was surprised to see how far south it comes, showing, if show be need be, that I have no idea where I am most of the time.

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