Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Nodules Part II - West Wycombe to Hughenden

The whole tribe set off through West Wycombe village towards Cookshall Lane; Mum, Dad, Cathy, Diane, Heidi and Ollie. The village is anything but a tranquil idyll, more like Le Mans on race day, the pavement just wide enough for a pram with zooming high performance automobiles inches away.

A Texaco garage marks the start of our ascent on the corner of Cookshall Lane and Bradenham Road, a junction known as The Pedestal with Daphne's Temple over the wall in West Wycombe Park.

Yards along the lane and quietness descends. Dad spots a Blackie's nest (Blackbird) from last year in the hedgerow and Ollie points at a bee visiting flowers. Chirping birds drown out the distant cars. Under the railway bridge and the turbo charged Chiltern Line whooshes overhead. A large graffitied policeman toking on a Camberwell Carrot spray-painted on the wall. We emerge into a wide vista of tilled earth, horizon almost broad enough to gladden Heidi's Australian heart.

We find the path up to Branch Wood through a gate where someone has left a set of keys marked 'spare shed and garage keys' dangling on the barbed wire fence. From underneath Branch Wood there are clear views back across the grounds of West Wycombe House and its palladian columns; a scene like the one Catherine The Great had decorating her Wedgewood dinner service.

White arrows painted on trees guide the way through the wood. It was our intention to cut across through houses to the bottom of Great Tinker's Wood but the path is pushing us up towards Downley. We ask directions, people seem to think that Hughenden is too far to walk, a jogger finally puts us straight and gives clear directions to the Monument although it involves going up to Downley Common. The maps mean nothing to them, confirming the suspicion that representations of planned space bare little relation to our personal topographies.

By now it's just me and the old chap, the others have returned to West Wycombe for tea. He points to a 'stand of Beech', tall dark masts against the backdrop of hills. Again it calls to mind a foreign, epic landscape this time something Russian, Turgenyev's 'A Month in the Country'.

Past a modern-looking school and round a path with electric fencing along one side and alarmingly over the top of the stile and we are in Downley High Street. This consists of the Bricklayers Arms, where the voice of John Motson commentating on the England v Northern Ireland match escapes through the drawn curtains, the Starlight Stores, and the village hall where a sign gives a potted history the highlight of which is when a relative of Wild Bill Hickock, Colonel Cody, landed his plane on the Common in 1912.

A homemade sign on a lamp-post says "MOBILE PHONE MAST - SAY NO!". There's a rusting brazier for burning beacons and heretics on the common and Dad notices Narrow Lane, which we later discover would have taken us down to the Disraeli Monument.
On Coates Lane we are serenaded by nattering Magpies and Dad is surprised to find a gooseberry bush in a roadside hedge.

Turning up towards Hughenden Manor under a noisy rookery we meet an architect and his family. He tells us about the designs he did for a theatre on the Bridge Street site whilst a student at Oxford Poly in the late sixties; and of meeting Colonel Watson who produced a Masterplan for Wycombe back in the 1930's that included pedestrianisation way ahead of its time. His mother informs us about the medieval bridge that was recently excavated when they were building Morrisons.

In our final stretch a woman with two dogs talks about Roald Dahl who lived not far away and we can see the Compair factory site where they have just filmed 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'.

All that's left is the plotting of the final stretch following Coffin Walk back to Castle Hill House.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005


we're working on this as a new term of reference for our work and welcome any comments psychogeographers, artists, writers, architects, urban planners, anarchists, ramblers, buskers, dog walkers, buffoons etc. may have about it.

Crypto Topography more accurately describes what some people call psychogeography or ‘neo-psychogeography’. It’s a study of our environment in all its forms physical and ambient. A peeling back of the hidden layers of meaning. It takes in mere musings on how place makes us feel to more detailed studies of the evolution of communities and street patterns. Marginal studies of graffiti, subverts, ley lines, fairy paths, prostitutes beats. The secret and invisible markers that guide us through space. The cryto topographer does not necessarily aim to change the built environment, although the work may have a use in urban planning and community action, but reveal the hidden city beneath the architect’s creations and the pulse beating beneath the surface of daily grind. People weave their own magic throughout place, an invisible matrix of associations, experiences and stories. It’s our job as evocateurs of space to reveal and present this underlying existence.

Crypto Topography often exists in the spaces between buildings, towns, cities standardised modes of business and routine; in the fringes, the provincial towns, built over plague pits, suburban streets, arterial curb-sides, satellite communities. The next great battle is not over the built realm, but the mental realm, the street plans and markers we create in our minds, the city we experience rather than the one imposed.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


nip & tuck
Originally uploaded by Fugueur.
Markings have appeared on the pavements
- are these the markings of the cosmetic surgeon mapping out the areas for the nip & tuck - those alterations necessary to beautify the patient?


Originally uploaded by Fugueur.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Tour of the TCR site 09.02.05

I’m drawn down the alley near Scorpion Records, next to Labour Party HQ which is based above The Big Sandwich – "HANDS OFF OUR HOSPITAL" poster in the window. The funeral directors regrets that it is closed, announced with a small fading framed sign leant against the window. Running down one side of the alleyway is a sloping tiled roof of a redbrick outbuilding. It looks as though it may have had an agricultural use in the days that this area held the cattle market. A dirty industrial unit offers car valeting services and looks busy. A predatory Sainsbury’s lurks behind ready to move 20 yards forward and wipe out everything in front in the name of getting that prime A40 location.
98 Oxford Road is a ghost building complete with weeds in the doorway and peeling poster for Cottles Circus long since left town. They’re digging up the old gas mains and laying new pipes over the road. I lean on the barrier and chat to the workman; "Concrete’s rotten" he says. "Turned up anything interesting?" I ask. "Just some old bottles", and he goes back to the business of scratching his head at the quality of the earth he’s turning.
The Dole Office on Desborough Road is boarded up, rubbish scattered all around. A dedicated archaeologist of the present would study these deposits in the way that prehistoric middens are dissected for clues about the past. But all I can see is an assortment of super-strength lager cans, fag packets, fried chicken boxes and orangey polystyrene take-away containers. Down one side towards the demolition of the gas works there is a little variation with the addition of a computer monitor, two shopping trolleys and a traffic cone, but the collective significance of this is beyond me at this stage of my study. A demographic survey of the various brands of super-strength lager that is consumed across the area could produce some interesting results.
From Iceland to the Rose and Crown has been wiped out. Fried Food Strip has been consigned to a note on this blog. Scary teenager scavengers haunt the road behind.
I’m filming the demolition work at the old gas works and two workmen shout at me from across the road. I stand my ground but they stomp across to confront me. They’re fed up they say with being photographed. I manage to reassure them by saying that the developer is aware of my study and they calm down. "As long as it’s official I don’t care," one says and they go back to their work.
Later I speak to someone who grew up in Newlands in the thirties, Myrtle Church. Her grandparents were the caretakers of the Zion Baptist Chapel on the corner of Bridge Street where a multiplex cinema is to be built. She never went to the cinema as a child, "It was the devil’s work, you see," her husband David tells me. She says all of the old Newlands is gone except for the gas works. "They knocked it down today" I tell her.
Around the bus station and the Octagon a slight air of paranoia and suspicion hangs in the air. A man in a white shirt speaks into a walky-talky, two coppers in padded fluro jackets stand outside the opticians.
I regroup in The Baker’s Oven in the High Street with tea and doughnut. The tables are inhabited by solitary smoking women. There’s an atmosphere of tranquil despair. The hum of the fridge is comforting. Its feels like a different town to what is happening over at Newlands. Maybe the last stand of the old Wycombe will be here at the Baker’s Oven.

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