Archive for January, 2009

Birling Gap

January 31, 2009

Birling Gap

Buy a return train ticket to Eastbourne for Beachy Head. Obscure Jeffry Camp painted the chalk cliffs. Birling Gap is the only access to the sea along that coastline the Eastboune side of Seven Sisters. Foolhardy, from Birling Gap I swam out a mile into the mainstream. Take a dip in the turquoise water. Walk back to Eastbourne along the cliff base, only possible when the tides out. Recent collapses whiter than the cliffs, white also because they are vertical. The schoolgirls of St. Bede’s play hockey in the Bourne. Phantom pilots offshore. Un-recovered remnants of compacted car parts wedged in the cliff base chalk like modern art. Henry Moore inspired by tidal shore flint and chalk formations. The rock shelf scale-less like Siberia Steppes. The inland dry valleys are reminiscent of the sets of Lawrence Olivier’s Henry V. Larry lived in nearby Brighton. A sparkle underpins Beachy Head contrasting with it’s solemn reputation.

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Fortunes Green

January 30, 2009

Fortunes Green

In a dire house off Mill Lane, an Australian girl in the lotus position in a dark recess telephone niche as if floating. Her face lit and her ruby red lips obvious. Thin and spiteful but no one listening. Her boyfriend far too good looking for her not to be worried. Downstairs the South African preacher and his wife has a congregation in their single room. A gay couple, newly skint, are off to Kilburn State bingo. There is an indian woman at the back, who only appears some days. There is loft flat, and one other flat overlooking a derelict garden and the Midland railway line. The landlady a tiny one eyed Maltese. Bedbug nests migrated streetwards after building work. In winter the balcony sucked heat out of the room larger on its side, as it were.
The houses slip on the hills of Green, dry cracks opening up on the railway path. Nails sticking out to catch the commuter. In the waiting room of Hampstead hospital din reverberated through the subterranean corridors. Someone is talking. A Serbian man from the flats is tapping. A telephone rings. Silences are broken by lone coughs. From the great white light beyond the swing door, a male nurse appears with clipboard. “Angela Spirelli” “Angela Spirelli?” “Risolda Greenberg” “Risolda Greenberg?” A black cabman with a walk on part asks for Anthony Wilson. Some minutes later the nurse reappears. “Darren Caseman” “Darren Caseman?” “Sophie Kirschner” “Sophie Kirschner?” Not one of these names are here. The living, somewounded are. Afterwards I am standing on the platform of Silverlink Hampstead Heath station looking in to the long straight tunnel to Finchley Road wondering why Willesden Juction was so impassable. Wasn’t it, after all just like a toy train set but bigger?

West Berlin, 1990

January 30, 2009

West Berlin, 1990

Down the telescope in the Sun’s crucible glowing magma is thrown up millions of miles in a slow motion commensurate with the distances involved. Off Libya in the Tomcat cockpit a missile lock registers with an eerie clicking sound and the MIG is seconds away from being blasted out of the sky.
Marlene emerges from her bedroom with a reptilian menace.
Kai picked me up in a brand new sports car and drove me straight through the Brandenberg Gate and we circled the television tower at Alexanderplatz like a swirling animation, the Berlin sky delivering, lit up and bigger than the tower. He then gave me DM500 from an all night bank on Ernst Reuter Platz.
Kai then went off to Frankfurt and I stayed on to help Marlene whilst she nursed their baby. It worked out well. I was determined it would. The baby arrived I arrived in Berlin: 5th February 1991. I took the pram from Belle Vue to Wansee. The rock of the wooden train sent him off to sleep. Actually we got on really well.
I did not mind being very close, and I knew when to disappear. I escaped every day run along Spree Bogen to Alexanderplatz, some seven miles. Apparently, I did this very well, but was otherwise useless. She resented this freedom, but it was for the good. We never fell out, until one day, we did.
“Good or bad news, that thou com’st in so bluntly?” I had a job in Zehlendorf. The taxi opposite, spins a perfect half circle and cruises off towards Spanische Allee. I moved to Motiv, a student home off Bismarkstrasse. I left Motiv and slept in my car in Grunewald forest. Returning by car from freezing Cuxhaven, I notched a kestrel being struckby a bus wing mirror. The image of the sudden death of such a bird etched itself into my memory.
On Christmas day 1995, when Claudia was visiting München I walked from Botanische Garten to Ruleben. That winter I ran from Aalman Ufer to Volkspark in Prenzlauer Berg. Brian visited us in March 1996, returning ours from the previous summer, and swam in the rain in Schlactensee. All the time I’d been playing football every Saturday and Wednesday either on the Reichstag lawn, Anhalter Bahnhof, Mauerpark or Jahn Stadion in Neukoeln with Frank, Arne, Tilo and Ebbe. Frank, from Göttingen, had been a Anhalter original and stood out as a mouse head blue eyed and blond with long striding legs. The N was back from a few weeks secondment at Bahnhof Noo. Remote Ebbi would get in at Yorkstrasse. I kept a record of the goals I scored and still remember actual ones.
I moved to a flat in Wilmersdorf, more central, in an U-Bahn triangle, then moved in with an English art student in Neukoelln, then moved back. Brian died in the Tor Na Coil hospital in Marycuter. Bede, my brother took me to Marsden for a bike ride after the arch had fallen in. I returned to Steglitz for six months. My architectural office was in Lichtefelde West, one station down from where I lived. From the Curtiusstrasse villa, I noticed the wind ruffling. The wind takes two days to get here from England. I felt fragile. Relentless and unforgiving with annihilating beauty. At Schlactensee a rain storm had lashed torrents of sand into the water across the path. The gravity at work becomes visible.
From the postman an underage girl in hot-pants accepts a parcel. The single small gauge tram rattles in the snowy forest. The Sachsendamm traffic scares me. So does my incurable sore throat and killer bronchitis. Claudia had arranged stuff, like a silver bell and the Gordon Highlanders Celebration Whiskey bottle on a dresser, a kind of memory of our life in Begoniaplatz. I looked
at it for a moment. I could hear the chattering builders. A black Mercedes limousine waited for me in the street but I would not get in. It was time to go home. I said goodbye to Frank and Arne took me to the airport.

New End

January 30, 2009

New End

In the Hungarian Café in Hampstead village on Sunday morning reading the papers. I’d moved to New End. A large pastel painting representing the Vale of Health pond hangs there. Jan rings from London. Photographs of the first Donegal holiday are in my post-box. I’m writing this in Steglitz afterwards. Our sincerest, loveliest, funniest friends were Jewish girls then. One of their mothers remembered Dylan Thomas from a PH in Fitzrovia. The girl suffered from bulimia, and then I heard the stomach removed and re-installed the wrong way, still works: A kind of 100% indifference. My mind is not so indifferent. And if anyone asked what I liked most about living? It might be public information films, especially the one set on Beachy Head. A tall blonde Jewish actor calls in to New End asking about something. I send him upstairs. One was often the victim of vitriolic launched from girls after a few drinks, but it was good practice and afterall, I had a way with words myself. One was an honorary girl. Then Lily and I were off to Rickmansworth on Sunday. I filled in the emptiness of Saturday by joining a X-country club, ending up in High Wycombe or Banbury, Finsbury or Battersea Park with Mornington Running Club, incidentally nearly all postmen so I think they should have said. Of course I loved the imagery of athletics. Some weekends were spent at Wickham Market, Suffolk. We walked on Overy Staithe. Walked among St. Andrew’s church, Covehithe. Her dad said “I’ve got a few years in me yet!” ascending the stairway. In the cottage hall hung pictures of Bobby Charlton and George Best, Shepherd Market and Hampstead village. From Shingle Streets I could see derelict radio masts. Cliff and beach paths were awkward and fragmented because of erosion. The lost villages miles offshore are legendary.

Kilburn and Kensal Rise

January 30, 2009

Kilburn and Kensal Rise

Spa emerges black hooded, carrying the pink FT. An English spring morning with promise, from the cosy back kitchen with superb view of London from Honeybourne Road. Within two weeks I moved to Christchurch Road, Kilburn. The Welshman talked in a phoney transatlantic accent as only the Welsh can do. I was shocked by the half dozen carving knifes and a meat axe, and the daily blood red carve-up he relished. Occasional visits from voluminous American students. I met this lot in “77” on Mill Lane. I commuted daily to Penge via Victoria or Farringdon reading the FT in a café on Cowcross Lane. Paul from Bromley, when I asked why there were no black faces answered “We don’t!”. Penge, five pet shops, and home of the world ballroom champions. I returned via Penge West in trains without corridors, then moved to Kensal Green and nightly the delivery business my then girlfriend ran, took me from Muswell Hill to Chelsea, New Malden to Marlborough, in an old BMW. Weekends were spent at a grand old villa in Ipswich. I visited Agricento, Catania and Syracuse and islands north of Sicily that early summer. On return I became ill. My father, understood healing and drove me to Corbridge on a beautiful summer’s day. A Tornado aircraft passed below us over Otterburn. I moved into Narcissus Road in West Hampstead and left my then girlfriend. I was still flying up to Dyce ands going off on trips to the west coast of Scotland. Later that year I worked in Croydon and Sutton on the Eurotunnel project. Everything was European now. Whilst farmers still pointed at aircraft in Norfolk, I’d been to 30 airports on hundreds of flights. And then I remember when I was eight my mother having to get off the 16 at Pelaw and walking home in the sun to Primrose, Jarrow in 1963.

Banchory-Devenick

January 29, 2009

Banchory-Devenick

Of life’s long, laborious and tedious themes, homosexuality perplexed me most. I certainly enjoyed a relationship as Emperor Hadrian‘s. I was not Hadrian. I have been disgusted gay men behaving so outside what was good or decent. Marlene and I, we take a trip to Templiner See to see a castle she is selling. It’s a pleasant orange day of low sun. It was her who had been leaving silent messages on my answering machine.
Brian and I take his Ford Ghia to Argeles-sur-Mer. Cycles on the roof rack. Brian was banned due to the hotel car park incident north of Inverness so I drove all the way. He put on white slacks in Orleans out for a strole. M6 traffic and the Periferique scared me. In hot sunshine I spotted a gap in front of the bus on the next loop. 26 seconds, just tucked in. I met a black schoolgirl in Coleur from Wolverhampton and took her up to fort on the Spanish border. Arne rings me from Upsalla like an angel.
In the week I used to be up to Dizzies then met Brian in the bar inside Grampian TV. He kept me in the dry room at the back with his books in the House near Duthie Park. I walked round Loch of Skene thinking about the girl from Lockerbie. I read “A White Bird Passes Over”. The damp cobbles of Aberdeen. Its cloth-capped urchins. I am at the cooling evening beach to the roars from Pitodrie across the dunes. Some prankster has driven his Ford Capri in to the sand and the tide is lapping over it. After another penniless morning in my Station Street studio I walked up Bridge Street to the Belle Alliance Hotel. I asked Brian for a look his “Stage” and this is how we met. His quiff hair a shifted wig look over manicured and greased like a dame. A House of Frazer cowboy. He looked very handsome in his hand made green suit, like James Mason. His cupboard back home was stuffed with hundreds of jackets.
I was standing at the cottages of Catterline, the fishing village where Joan Erdley had painted after Glasgow. The former whaling port formed a perfect circle, with an odd jetty in the shape of a larger stone halberd. I was embarrassingly fond of Scottish jetties. Brian’s unique skill was to reflect like a mirror, revealing little of his own thoughts, like the TV show host he was. And timing. I always relished seeing him again. In his dark suit Brian lands at the airstrip at Benbecula to officially open the transmitter. When my then girlfriend moved to Carlisle I hitched down to see her weekly despite having barely no money, miraculously getting lifts without pauses or deviations. I guessed 60,000 Glaswegians lived in the high risers. She stayed at a dark Edwardian room in a terraced house and Carlisle is so dull. Brian and I sit in the pub round the bay at Ullapool watching the Klondike’s. At the dam a submarine pipeline guarded by warnings and an exclusion zone drops through the mountain, joining the world we’d just left. The last great wilderness of Europe. The elegant bridge at Klystron locks as we cycle round Sullivan, the world’s oldest mountain.
By removing the central post rocket from the iconoclastic Spandau Werner von Braun photograph I had the white uniformed technicians looking in to nothing from a photograph I’d kept from Berlin. Thats how artists work. I put them all into the empty Bon Accord Baths currently empty and being renovated. I visited the baths when it was closed. Scaffolding and tarpaulins draped the diving board.
I though about the Tom of Finland exhibition in Mehringdam whist doing gardening in Banchory. Hard work. Everyone seemed to be homosexual except me. Even the gardener and the Morris Dancers from the University. I had moved into gay circles without noticing or anyone telling me. The price of oil slumped in March 1986. With no money, but with youth on my side, I returned to London.

Ferryhill

January 29, 2009

Ferryhill, 1978
Comparing existential Berlin and North East Scotland, clearly contrasts would reveal themselves. Aberdeen had a tight knit community of arts and TV. The Aberdonians were inquisitive folk and friendly, eventually, to decent individuals. Now the city is allegedly cosmopolitan. That I was damaged that was fairly certain. I surely identified with Paul Nash. Leaving Earl’s Court with £8 I reached Dumfries by coach. I liked Scotland instantly. But I felt absurd like Black Bob‘s shepherd. The climate was famously milder than North East England. I walked past Muchals, the faded resort. Union Street, tilted and elementary like an airstrip. Pity the trams weren’t still going like in the shop window picture. The rest of the thoroughfares mainly dips to the port and quarters of the city. In a grove a white horse appeared out of the mist, then vanished. I started venturing down to the quayside and the pubs and met a pint-drinking, dart playing gypsy girl called Anna who was known in Ashington, and casually and ongoingly abused by her father who she lived with south of the city.
The Peterculter caravan was situated on a crossroads in the corner of a farmyard, under a cherry tree. And after the Northern Lights birds settled on the telephone wire.
The farmer was easily hurt. The laird, a hippie in his thirties and sympathetic to people like Gavin in his plum vintage Ford. Gavin lived Cammachmore near a disused quarry where I spotted owls on weekday afternoons. I walked over the fields deliberately cutting across miles to the coast at a random place. An outdoor sanatorium. It was, so. A good place to take time and repair. For a short period I lived at Newtonhill garage cottage. How far away I was now from Anders Ufer.
I moved back in to town to the cruelly named Prospect Terrace. Then moved to Sandilands Drive tenement, north of the Swallow Hotel and the cattle market. In Sandilands even the dogs bit. I then stayed in various grim hovels. Then I met people from Grampian TV, but that is outside the scope of this story. The music teacher’s house stood out uncomfortably with the kit estate. When the slump came in 1986 Americans left without selling.
I befriended a Scottish planning engineer and we started going to Gabriel’s, a night-club, converted from a church, laterly the Ministry of Sin. I met a girl there who liked to Hoover, just a little bit, every day. Her father, a pub manager out in Cults, had earlier been murdered.
After painting in WASPS studio, me and portraitist, used to go down to the Prince of Wales where he would meet up with his wife, a librarian from the art school. I talked to artist Rory my tall dark stranger with the Phil Oakey looks.
Above the shop the Italian lived a whacked out couple from Sutton. A haunt of Aussies, and locals after Dizzies. Later thieves and violent blokes started going there. I dragged myself in to WASPS on Sunday, my body drained of power by alcohol
Years later I spotted one of them in Sutton in a gutter outside the bank, and hurried on. When I wrote this down it was in a room in Berlin. Marlene called me. So did Jan. At once, I did not really want to pick up the telephone. I did not want to let go, but enjoyed silences.

Berlin, 1978.

January 29, 2009

Berlin, 1978.

The walled city forms a pincer around Mitte, the middle.
A great German Russian Alee leads from there to Frankfurt am Oder 100km east to the Polish border. Kreuzberg, an enclave with an elevated U-Bahn now reconnected to Lichtenberg over the river Spree via Überbaumbrüche. Open at the west, bounded to the north by the river Spree, The Wall to the east overlooking Teltow Park, and to the south by Templehof, a now disused airport. Now Kreuzberg is just another part of Berlin. The wall had checkpoints Alpha, Beta and Charlie. There is a monumental Russian figure in Treptow park. The strongest image is a cargo boat held in winter ice. You have to stand on Warsaw Bridge to get a feel for this cold city.
There was a clever open-ness from ‘Radio In American Sector’ and a fantastic air show. They had radar on Teufelsberg, a hill built from rubble. This contrasted with the pettiness of the east German Border Guards.
Leaving on the Dover night ferry we crossed Belgium staying in a Flemish apartment. Then Essen. Then by Autobahn direct to Kleistpark. Andreas Muller, a Berlin photographer gave us a lift in their VW van, and I remember him moving to a Bergmanstrasse appartment in that then great street under the big illuminated white crucifix.
Berlin, frankly had been fragmented, so there were numerous visual experiences like the disused tunnel under Gorlizer Bahnhof now exhumed and a mere blemish in a park. A highlight was gas lit Chamisoplatz, again only understandable by a visit there. And the legendary Frau Mittensweig.
For three winters it was very cold in Berlin with no summer to speak of. Meter deep snow turned solid in the depths of night.
Who remembers Heinrich’s Bar on Monumentenstrase? These are memories no one else has.
SO36 Klub, obviously nihilistic and punk and no place for an Austrian girl in national costume. My girlfriends ruddy face out of place among the damned. She loved Berlin, even if Berlin didn’t love her in return.
Frau Jungkans, eighty-one, who lived on the landing below had vacated our flat so she did not have climb too many steps. Her husband had been killed in the War. She told me she’d worked at the Patentamt in Hallisches Tor, the first target of the Soviet Army.
For a short time I lived on the Factory Floor off Yorkstrasse .
Much of my interest in Berlin were as a student of cities and as a voyeur I.e. To Watch but not participate. So I left Berlin via Wansee for the last time on the train to Hook van Holland.
England from Harwich railway looked stuck in a former age as it still does in Folkestone harbour, where the station remains un-demolished. Beeching did not spend any money on closed branch lines. In the six months I worked on Pinnapple Market in rejuvenated Covent Garden, and delivered garments from Petticoat Lane to the West End out of Foley Street. North Sea Oil made a revival of London possible. Yuppies moved into the former squats. London was so depressed I moved to Aberdeen.

West End Lane

January 29, 2009

Hitch-hiking, commonplace in the 1970’s, had disappeared in England by 1980. I kept thumbing it, usually from Brent X. Like a seabird struggling to take a leap from a sea cliff ledge. The wrench of leaving etc. Although I loved Geography, I was awkward with fellow college attendees. Contacts outside college led to riveting adventures. At Angel, I worked evenings and weekends at Muskrat Mirrors. Despicable individuals at college had spent their grants. I was earning for then very much money. There was a fashion for those mirrors. Mick, an art student from Bradford, who looked and dressed like an everyday Harold Wilson, drove a Rolls Royce. He founded Muskrat with Jeff, an art school hippy. We had contact through Dave Hart because of their art school origins. He borrowed us the white Bedford van at weekends and we drove out to see girls from Jarrow living in Staines. Spa, a superb skilled very fast driver was leant the Mercedes or Mustang. Other characters were Steve and Dave, two lovely Jewish lads who brought in work from Showbiz. Sidney Venning’s hardware shop was still open on West End Lane. There were links to Cambridge and Heaven beyond the scope of this story. I frequented the Blitz, The Wag, Heaven and the Embassy Club, and played football in the West Hampstead cage.
Public Houses in West Hampstead changed and the Black Lion’s name changed back again to the Black Lion. A vortex of provincials, foreigners and local lags. That’s where I met Marlene, a friend, and beyond the scope of this story. A man she met regularly at mysterious Mr Koch’s Charlotte’s Café was an Austrian count. He had a bit of finger missing, was a half-Irish Punjabi. Very haughty, perhaps in that Brahmin way. The year before he had been an Arab Sultan him.
Henry, the Hong Kong house minder looked after the building. Quite frail, he rarely left the basement. Sundays were slow and the faulty TV was tipped off the window ledge still plugged-in landing on the retaining wall adjacent to Henry’s window.
The workshop, off a short corridor where the Chinese boy grew vegetables for the upstairs restaurant. A foisty smell, registered at a definite point, remained un-locatable.
At the V and A an Exhibition on child death in the 17th and 18th century. Women in black and Nottingham lace, the child’s coffin portable and neat, like the ultimate travel accessory. High mortality meant a mix of siblings, uncles and opportunistic marriages in a time when bigamy was common and long before the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages. It reminded me of a visit I’d made to morbid museums in Vienna.
Hampstead Heath to me had no feeling of antiquity, despite the Saxon dykes. The presence of the ice age though was obvious especially when the glacier edge was right here. Accidental fields and overlays by poets etc. On the occasion of the Great Storm on the evening of the 16th and the morning of 17th of November, 1987: I went up to Hampstead Heath. Several trees had fallen beautifully across crushed fences and paths.

Bravingdon Road

January 27, 2009

Spa’s character was that of a well educated Rhodesian whose disaffection with war and killing had driven him into abstract Hippydom, contrasting with his real frontiersman entrepreneur-ship, Vortrecker Wart Man self reliant gift.
There were larni larny relatives “aat” in Godalming.
Meanwhile we dashed the wrong way down Queensway on our bicycles.
Occasionally, I was hospitalised through overdosing.
A driver stopping on Harrow Road was shot dead. Over in Kentish Town one knifed to death in the chippa Q.
A ladder half way up the stairs led to a small roof for sunbathing in this balmy hot summer.
Gaby’s acceptance into the squat was on the premise that she had cancer and did not have long to live. If God had made anyone bad, perhaps accidentally, it may have been her. Or maybe it was revolting female normality.
Spa had another flame called Liz, a half-caste who he ostensibly called his girlfriend but she was effectively a prostitute and lived in the curved flats of Charing Cross Road now demolished. When in the flat Liz got all territorial. I hated this repugnant colonisation of food and kitchen’s which would inexorably lead on to them owning the whole house and locking you out when it suited them. I absolutely despised Liz and her fat sister, but she had a point when she ticked me off for sitting on the sawn off round table. I had it in my mind the sofas were crawling.
We were passing around Cashmere Twist or a Tai Stick and minds were, say, drifting.
“Excuse Me, do you mind!” said a voice from Liz’s revolting Dylan perm. I guessed it was Liz’s obtuse way of objecting about my sitting on the holy hippie communal table.
“No I baby-sit, actually”, but less than convincingly and with a self parodying simper accompanied by a side glance whilst my mouth hovered over the glass. My mind used to go a bit. Tai Sticks are dipped in Opium and left to distil . Cashmere Twist is left buried in the hot sun for a year.
“Do you mind not sitting on our table”. I believe Liz lives down Charing X Road.
“Sorry Liz, I did not know you lived here”
“I don’t,” she said without adding an additional qualifying argument.
Spa winced and glanced away. He knew we were rough.