Monday, July 26, 2004

Wycombe Drift #1

We rendezvous at the Wycombe District Council Planning Office. The staff are friendly and helpful and hand over the latest plans for the scheme which apparently is now called The Wycombe Regeneration Project.
Looking at the drawings and plans induces a raging hunger and although the traffic flow diagrams are mildly hypnotic we need food. We head off for Frank’s Caff on Frogmoor only to discover that it’s gone, replaced by some Formica-free takeaway place. We end up in Littlewoods café and leave a calling card on one of the menus.

We start our orbital tour of the site at the side entrance to the bus station on Lily’s Walk which is like a portal into the fume-soaked sunless Hades that is Wycombe Bus Station. I admire the geometric patterns formed by the cris-crossing concrete ramps of the multi-storey carpark. The alley that runs off to the left leads to the old Wanderers pitch of Loakes Park and I have memories of the excitement of being in the pre-match throng as a kid and the fear of being caught up in the ruck after the Slough Town Cup match. Cathy takes photos of the dilapidated gas works in all its rusted elegance. Men in fluro vests pass carrying plans and white spray paint. Traffic. Two women in saris.

I climb the bank next to what is/was the Dole office, step over the wooden fence, stand outside the zone, feel it from the raised level shaded by trees. This spot feels special somehow – a remnant of the old path through to the Rye? It’s wedged in between roads and brick walls. Looking at old maps in the pub later this could be what’s left of Pagan’s Mead.
Post office vans lined up in the car park. "He’s been so pissed off. He got laid off in December…" two dolled-up girls pass by. The Desborough Road section is desperate. Take-aways, boarded up derelict shacks. Fried Food Strip. Best One Foods. Tuckin Takeaway with Pukka Pies. AT&T Video, Pizza and Kebabs. Numerous alleys ripe for night-time vice lead into the carpark – neglected corners of coke cans. Loud Hindi music blaring from suped-up Nissans, close-cropped youths, bleach blonde black-rooted girls, drawn faced guy on crutches, black youths in hooded tops, white boys in Hackett rip-offs.

Cultures meet/collide on the corner of Bridge Street and Desborough Road. Caribbean, Asian, White, mixed race. Hooded top, Sari, Hackett. Second Hand City on the opposite corner looks as though it’ll survive – furnish the new units? The old map shows that the boundary of the Borough cut through here and it has retained that borderland feel.
Dougie’s Snacks Take Away on Bridge Street "Feeding Wycombe since 1989. Food that’s good enough to eat!" Bridge Street gives me nothing leaves me cold except a planning notice and a view of the site from the corner of Denmark Street – the Church spire pokes up above the Octagon. All the interest is on the other side of the road - Le Sandwich boasting Segafredo coffee and the College Halls student colony. The Esso petrol station is boarded up, decommissioned, environmental hazard.

Oxford Road. The Leaning Tower of Pizza has risen nearby Scorpion Records - the gravitational centre of my Wycombe. I can’t resist going over. I chat with Cheryl and Steg and tell them about our project. Steg has been in the shop for 29 years and says there have always been plans for the site. He makes some good suggestions for creating 3D walk through maps with transparent screens. Maybe we’ll stick one in the carpark.
Oxford Road is a racetrack, grass it over, restore it to meadowland, that’d be the civilised thing to do. Forget about bowling alleys, this is Death Race 2000. The pigeons love the carpark. Police sign warning you not to leave valuables in your car. The roundabout looks like a burial mound – the final resting place of crushed up Cortinas.

I rendezvous with Cathy outside Tescos (a poster behind the checkout reads: "Helping you to spend less everyday". This could be a slogan for the anti-consumerist brigade). We survey the site from the top of the multi-storey carpark. The town pours into the parking bays below, from the roads propelled by the roundabout, from the lanes running down from the higher ground, it all runs off into this spot, just like the Wye stream.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

psychogeography: some notes and definitions

There are nearly as many versions of psychogeography as there are practitioners. “Psychogeography - as noted by Guy Debord, is a concept with "a rather pleasing vagueness".
In a recent conversation between Iain Sinclair and Will Self they both came up with differing definitions. Self’s question to Sinclair was “So how would you describe your variety of psychogeography, because I always understood it in the manner explained by Guy Debord and the Situationists rolling around drunk on the Rue Mouffetard?” Sinclair answered by explaining that it was a convenient way of linking up his work on Nicholas Hawksmoor, leys lines, and what he called “nodules of energy”. This modern post-Situationist flavour of psychogeography has been referred to as ‘neo-psychogeography’.
Here are a few basic definitions and notes that may shed a bit more light on the matter

psychogeography: The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment (whether consciously organized or not) on the emotions and behavior of individuals.

dérive: A mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. The term also designates a specific uninterrupted period of dériving.
Guy Debord From "Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography"

"A more recent phenomenon, particularly in the UK, has been the revival of the Situationist idea of psychogeography. This, and the derive, were techniques to explore and extend the imaginative, experiential qualities of urban and other landscapes, as part of a wider attempt to achieve a revolutionary transformation of everyday life." (Patrick Keiller City Vol.7, No.3)

It is based on the technique of the "dérive", an informed and aware wandering, with continuous observation, through varied environments. It can be sought and can lead anywhere.” (Monocular Times)

“Psychogeography was a method of imagining time cutting through the space of the city and breaking up any boring ‘rational’ notion of the use of urban space. The dérive was a term for a particular art of walking or drifting: as Guy Debord describes it: ‘a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences.’ It was central to situationist practice. This session considers the dérive in relation to other modes of walking – flanerie, notably. It might also consider Iain Sinclair’s proposition that in such a media-saturated age as our own, the dériveur is less significant than the stalker.” (Birkbeck College MA Cultural and Critical Studies Dept.)

"The point (of the derive) was to encounter the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom, innocence in the face of experience. So you can walk up the street without thinking, letting your mind drift, letting your legs with their internal memory, carry you up and down and around turns, attending to a map of your own thoughts, the physical town replaced by the imaginary city."
Greil Marcus (From "Wanderlust")

Follow this link to a plethora of Situationist texts:

A psycho-geography, then, derives from the subsequent ‘mapping’ of an unrouted route which, like primitive cartography, reveals not so much randomness and chance as spatial intentionality. It uncovers compulsive currents within the city along with unprescribed boundaries of exclusion and unconstructed gateways of opportunity. The city begins, without fantasy or exaggeration, to take on the characteristics of a map of the mind. Chris Jenks

.....Debord adds that the adjective 'psychogeographical' has a rather 'pleasing vagueness', and anyone reading recent usages would discover that it is about Jack the Ripper, ley lines, why tower blocks are bad, Hawksmoor churches, the places we remember from earlier in our lives, landscape gardening, Stonehenge and the Kray twins.
And it is indeed about all those things. Most uses of the word now involve three or four main ideas, separately or in combination: the emotional and behavioural effects of the environment, and its ambience; 'cognitive mapping' (the city in our heads, with the places that have special meaning for us); and what might more prosaically called 'local history'. Phil Baker, Secret City: Psychogeography and the East End

Friday, July 16, 2004

Starting Point

Wycombe District Council is embarking on a bold programme of Town Centre Re-development – Project Phoenix. We will be using the developers’ criteria/objectives to inform our criteria as a starting point for the project.
This is a parallel project not driven by planners and developers, but by psychogeography. The outcome will be a people’s map of the town, unlocking its secrets, language, history and topography reconnecting its people with the place through collaborative engagement and shared experience and activity.
We will be inevitably drawn towards ‘nodules of energy’ rather than ‘development opportunities’ and engage in a ‘purposeful stalk’ of the site and surrounding area.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Fugue

"The fugue is both drift and fracture. The fugue is a psychic commando course that makes the parallel life, as a gas fitter, hospital carer, or literary hack, endurable."
Iain Sinclair, London Orbital

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