Monday, January 17, 2011

Walworth II: Two Hearts in Example by the London Archaeologist.

Hats to the left, hair in the middle, ears on the right, all at the front, looking onto the street, Moss Side boy, Craig the Indian at his window. When he first came down here, he sold the CDs on the pavement, dodging the council workers, whose job it is, we know, to disrupt those who can be. But the man’s a growing web of connections, and before long the barbers’, catching hold of the flitting presence, suggested he move into their shop, a little stall constructed for the purpose, and there he’s to be seen most evenings, someone ducking down for a chat, a purchase, the hand reaching out into the street for an exchange.

I was there on the way back from more southerly exploration of the area, my attention caught by this set up with the stores, the conversation begun with my asking about a shot of the fronts, since he’d of necessity be in it, the opening of the window, though small, enough to find him part of the street.

In fact, he appears to spend as much time out the front as inside, out chatting to acquaintances, passers by, me – noticing, for instance, before I did, that the lads in the entrance to the block next door didn’t necessarily like the look of this, perhaps a copper, trying to catch shots of them up to something, or at least someone after trouble, which if I wasn’t careful I’d find, but it’s alright boys, he explains, the photographer’s with me, and, as for so many others on this stretch of Walworth Road, it’s true, I am.

Indeed, so much is he out, at the moment, I never seem to find him in, and for a portrait, which I hope he’ll agree to when I eventually track him down, you’ll have to wait till a future posting.

What’s it for, he wants to know, and, learning of the blog, before I go passes me a DVD, just in case, you never know where it might lead. A bunch of skateboarders have made it, passed it to him to see if he couldn’t pass it on to someone who might be interested, perhaps connected, they’ve been doing their thing, looking for an outlet, perhaps I might know someone, or someone who knows someone. The man points out that the photographs I’m taking are not to be described as an amateur affair: underground is the correct word, and immediately the camera holds weightier, sprouts wheels, grows claws.

It was clear from the first a single post would never be enough for Walworth, and don’t think this the last, either. Bermondsey, New Cross, Lewisham, even, Blackheath, Camberwell, Peckham, Vauxhall, Lambeth or Brixton, no less far than Walworth from the northern power centres, are all of them surely in one way or another better known. Of course, a glance at the map will answer for much; if the tendency is to call Walworth at its North the Elephant, hand its East over to Bermondsey, and divide between Peckham and Kennington the South and the West, that will be accounted for by the transport: a station - rail or tube - becoming the heart of a catchment, a maelstrom sucking or geezer spewing population, destination for one leg or outset for another, will tend everywhere to impose name.

The effect of the tube on our impression of the city is huge, hard to grasp, surface space no continuum but a network of interlocking ripples, densest in population around round the stations, thinning out between, and set off by occasional thundering, lights flickering, in the silent darkness below.

And then, anyone seeking to pin the area down with its architecture is confronted by a variety greater than many others better known. There are, there, some of the most attractive of the LCC style estates at their heyday, interrupted by the odd sudden Georgian square, even a church by no less than John Soane. Amongst these are warehouses, workshops or indeed a large park, frowned over by some of London’s largest tower blocks, loosely in the Brutalist style, and to be called equally accurately beautiful, indifferent, or shocking, terrifying, so sublime, in the sheer indifference to human need, flitted with glimpses of an early twentieth-century suburban vernacular looking lost to have found itself so far in, and traversed at its centre and borders with ribbon, again in the Georgian style.

So the visitor must never try to look for the heart of this area any more than of any other, but rather a system of hearts, some pumping objects, some stories, some traffic, and others, for instance, those atmospheres our awareness of which comes and goes.

For the objects, at one point or another it’s to Architectural Rescue they must come, things between owners, down on their luck, looking for a sense or purpose, where, protected from the stifling effects of their slavery to our interests, they’re allowed – encouraged, even, in a form of therapy that has lessons for us all, the mere couch crippling by comparison – mingling and meeting their peers, their predecessors, too, or objects to which they’re completely unrelated, of completely different class – like and unlike minded alike - to reinvent themselves, learn to live a little, imagine for their own and for our benefit a world driven by other needs than function, a world which, since it’s a refusal of meaning, the visitor may be shocked to understand.

Of this universe it’s the Powells to whom the smooth running is entrusted. Luke, cousin to the present owner, presides over the exchanges when I pass by, from an office shed that, so much is it in the spirit of things, threatens at all moments it, too, to join the class of objects removed from functionality. The business, he tells me, has been in the family since before the war. Although most of their stock, of course, of necessity is passing through, certain items, such as the kitten-size cherub I enquire about for some practice with artificial lighting, elect to stay, his uncle clearly as aware of his responsibilities in overseeing the mysterious relations of these objects among themselves as he is of the need to profit from them: like the shark, the locomotive engine, or indeed the mask of Elvis himself, Cupid’s not for sale.

If Architectural Rescue saves our objects, ensuring their healthy circulation, Craig’s trade’s connections themselves, his window where they come to be made, remade, and extended.

The video reveals skateboarding to be not only a sport for the bored, but a method, methodical, a means of experiencing the city, the boarder in fact a flaneur on fast forward, having swapped the absinth for controlled self-admistered adrenaline alone, speed the new slow, the wheels as much a pretext as Nerval’s lobster, of dipping out of the ordinary flow, inventing a new city where at last nothing is as it should be, where movement never leads to progress, must always be repetitive, obsessive, seeking a perfection that ends in itself alone, where bench backs are roads and roads go up walls, where wall tops are banisters, but to slide down the street, bins are bounce boards, bollards bridges, and bridges, little lines between life and death.

Networking, Craig explains with a smile to an older woman who looks admonishingly at him as I pass, someone he clearly knows, and it’s true, but not as many might know it – network being no term for business here, other than the business of life to form relations, which come here to refresh themselves, to extend, branch out, and reconnect.


  1. one of your best archeology for sure - maybe with the help of the mysterious point of wiew clearance (POW ??) at the very beginning of the post.
    nothing for the landless landlord around here ? a gig cancelled ?

  2. Thanks! Yes, one wonders who the Prisoners of War might be, and what they might be trying to hone. As for the Landless Landlord, someone has to persuade him into action, it's true, and certainly the Brewer's was snapped with him in mind. I believe your comments will eventually have an effect...