Sunday, August 31, 2008
Stewart Home and Greenwich Park
Stewart Home's novel Memphis Underground features 'a stroll in Greenwich Park. I went up to the Observatory, where I'd participated in a Neoist Time Picnic in 1984. Somewhere I had a snap taken during the course of this do showing assorted retro-futurists, including myself, standing on the meridian line. A decade later I'd participated in a London Psychogeographical Association meet at this location... I'd been a regular visitor to Greenwich Park over the previous twenty years, its dramatic rise and many curious features made it one of my favourite places in the whole of London. I took in the view across the Thames to the Isle of Dogs, then meandered past Queen Elizabeth's Oak and on to the gardens at the top of the park. After looking at the deer, and then the ducks in the pond, I sauntered along Charlton Way to Greenwich Point.
Pausing on the way to enjoy the open view to Blackheath, I wondered if I'd ever realise my long standing ambition to spend at leastt a few years living in this area. There would have been a time when it would have been easy enough for me to find a flat in East Greenwich with a rent I could afford, now even that was beyond me, and Blackheath? Well, I might as well forget about Blackheath, it had been expensive long before rising property prices made proletarian enclaves such as East Greenwich attractive to the upper-middle classes.
The view, or rather the lack of a view, from Greenwich Point was stunning. The City of London was wreathed in a miasma of smog. I could hardly make out the monumental architecture of the financial district. It was a shame I'd arranged to spend the evening in Stamford Hill, since the pollution that made my eyes sting and my throat smart also created spectacular sunsets...'.
This comes from a section of the book where the author is apparently describing real events in his life as artist/writer/hustler/proletarian post-modernist, so I assume the Neoist picnic actually happened there. The London Psychogeographical Association interest in Greenwich is discussed more fully in an interview between Stewart Home and the Greenwich-raised writer Tom McCarthy.
The latter recalls 'The first time I met you [i.e. Stewart Home] was at seven minutes past two o'clock on the afternoon of the fifteenth of February, 1994, in Greenwich Park, South London. It was the hundredth anniversary of the death of Martial Bourdain, the French anarchist who'd blown himself up while carrying a bomb towards the Royal Observatory, and in so doing become the inspiration for Conrad's novel The Secret Agent. I wanted to do something to commemorate the event, and thought of phoning a bomb threat into the observatory, but chickened out and opted instead to create an organisation called the Society of the Black Glove whose members, i.e. myself and my girlfriend at the time, dressed up smart and went and threw down some flowers on the exact spot where Bourdain had died'.
Home replies that he was in the park on the same day for an event organised by his friend Richard Essex (who was the 'London Psychogeographical Association'): For a lot of reasons Greenwich became a focal point for a lot of what both of us were doing - partly because it was nice to go over there. A lot of that was destroyed in the build-up to the millennium, especially Greenwich as a centre for books, and the pie-and-mash shop Godards seems to have disappeared too more recently, which I've been going to for years; it is my favourite pie-and-mash shop in London. But Richard discovered this ley-line that went through Greenwich and across the river to the Isle of Dogs, and Canary Wharf Tower was a virtual pyramid and if you extended it down then the ley-line crossed the base of the pyramid' (in another of his novels, 'Come Before Christ and Murder Love', Home postulates a curved leyline between the imperial palaces at Greenwich and Richmond, linking Elizabeth I and her astrologer/magician John Dee).
All of this is a reminder that Greenwich Park is not simply a stage set for a heritage industry narrative of royalty and empire, but a place with a strong counter-history of unofficial encounters, subversions and feats of imagination. It seems to me that the unpopular proposal to use the Park in the 2012 Olympics for equestrian events (with a possible threat to trees) is tied in with this clash about what the Park represents. The Olympics proposal links in with Greenwich's history as a site for state pageantry and spectacles - horse events are very much tied in with royalty and the upper classes generally - whereas the opponents of this want to keep the park as a public space which people can use in many different ways.