Monday, March 23, 2009
Foul Deeds and Deep Topography
The other evening I went to meet Nick Papadimitriou for coffee in Hampstead - at our regular rendezvous - The Coffee Cup. He slides a hot-off-the-press copy of his book 'Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Barnet, Finchley and Hendon' across the table to me. I ask him to sign it. "Bollocks to Psychogeography", he writes.
Any thoughts that this is a standard local history text are quickly banished on page 1. "In order to 'frame' the zone within which the murders described in this book occurred I undertook a series of long walks crossing the borough in order to examine the site of each killing". At the risk of deeply offending the original Deep Topographer, this fits many people's definition of psychogeography.
".... a quiet yet brooding power lurks in our hilly region of serried rooftops and arterial roads. A walk down the Hendon Way from my home in Child's Hill, in April 2007, revealed traces of the old Hendon Urban District Council sewage farm still visible in concrete culverts and the raised lines of a buried aqueduct at Brent Cross." Pure Deep Topography.
Nick takes what could have just been the lurid recounting of some murders culled from the local archives and produces a detailed study of the topography, psyche, neurosis, and mythology of the region of his birth. It has all the qualities of the books that both he and I love, the commissioned walking guides to the fringelands of London that went far beyond the brief of describing the locations of footpaths and towpaths to put forward a heightened sensibility, a new way of connecting with the suburban landscape.
My film about Nick is finally taking shape. I did another cut on Thursday where a sequence from our walk from Finchley to Arnos Grove shot last February was added, "suburbs are just the dream of a mushroom god", Nick lays forth whilst looking at a neat row of Edwardian villas. The challenge still is to feel that Nick's world is done justice, that the film takes us some way to seeing what he sees and experiences. I've spent this evening spooling through a couple of hours of archive footage to pull out about 90 seconds of choice cuts. The contributions from Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Russell Brand seem more priceless with each viewing. The experience feels as epic as our longest walks together.
Once this is done I look forward to going back out walking with Nick - without a camera.