Why Waylosing?

Bill Aitchison on the Waylosing walk: it sold out in a few days but we hope to rerun it later in the year in conjunction with the wayfinding tour.

 

The idea of leading a waylosing walk may sound a little perverse but it not just a joke, for it comes from the solid principle that if you never go out of your way you never discover new places. I’m aware the terms ‘losing your way’ or ‘being lost’ have negative connotations, they sound like a problem, like a lack of something, but these states almost never exist in an absolute form, we almost always have some idea of where we are: which country, city and neighbourhood we’re in. Even Christopher Columbus landing on and ‘discovering’ the the Americas, which he mistook for Japan and China, was not completely lost. He knew he was five weeks sail west of Europe.

I’m not planning anything quite so ambitious as this for the voyage on the 2nd August in Birmingham with Still Walking. More modestly, I’d like to share some techniques and ideas which I use to put myself off my habitual tracks. This walk will therefore not follow a predefined route that pushes us ever further into obscurity, the route will instead be decided in the moment depending on who is taking the walk, which areas we are unfamiliar with and what we find. In this way it will be about the process of waylosing, the decisions we have to make and how we can make sense of the journey. Since most of us on the walk will know the city to a greater or lesser extent, the chances are we will not be well and truly lost but we might well come across a few unfamiliar streets, talk about what we find, what it means to not know where you are and not know where you are going. 

I’m excited that this walk has been paired with a wayfinding walk as I see the two of them as dealing with very similar issues. I did some waylosing experiments in Beijing recently, as it is easier to get lost in a foreign country, and I found I had to think a lot about how we navigate and find our way. It was necessary, for example, to choose the right area to get lost in, to locate landmarks in order to lose them and to keep a detailed mental map in order to know when it had been irreparably mangled. Like the unruly younger sibling then, this waylosing walk is cut from a similar cloth but attempts to know the rules only in order to break them.

Finally on a practical note, the walk is going to take some time and we will try to include a stop for light refreshment on the way, though obviously that depends on where we end up. There will be quite a bit of walking involved, so dress appropriately, and the plan is to find our way back into Birmingham City Centre by 6PM at the latest. You can bring phones but using their map function is absolutely forbidden!  

Bill Aitchison

Bill Aitchison

Thanks Bill; I’m secretly hoping we do find some lost continents.

You can read more about Bill’s other events over at his blog.

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Sights in Motion – a Pedal Powered Invisible Cinema – the reviews are in!

Last night at the Magic Cinema screening at Ort Café I asked Alan Fair (Small Heath-born cinephile and former MAC film programmer) to cobble together some notes about Saturday’s bike ride around the old picture palaces of Brum. Here’s his amazing essay less than a day later:

 

Alhambra, Essoldo, Tivoli, Rialto, these are names for the mouth to conjure with, as a child these words were the closest I came to exotica, these were words that ended in vowels that weren’t ‘e’ ferchristsake!

Of course and more importantly these names were the abracadabra that allowed me to see all those things and places and people that weren’t in the quotidian world of inner city Birmingham. Picture Palaces was such a wonderful term and it rang as true to my experience as did the dreams I woke from on summer mornings. The cinema names not only conjured the Mediterranean, the Moorish citadels of the Spanish plains there was also those reminders of closer to home but still no less exotic for these names revealed the class nature of British history, the grandiose harkening back to medieval times; The Grange, The Coronet, The Manor, those dreamy distant images rendered hyperbolic in the comic books I would read. Alas all it appears is lost, like the flickering shadows on the screen and the blue smoke paisley patterns written in the air above my head as the brilliant light of the projector was rendered palpable by the luscious lips of Rhonda Fleming, the impossible masculinity of Victor Mature. Open mouthed I saw in those brief gaps in the soot laden street of Birmingham 10 as the way to the stars, the sweeping staircase of the Grange unfurled onto Coventry road and beckoned me up just as David Niven was beseeched upwards to share a space with the demigods of European thought.

So mostly the names have gone, but thankfully not the memories or the architecture of those oneiric forms, saved but transformed by the changing moods and cheapening desires of the marketplace, where now not dreams but plastic buckets and paint and occasionally and more appropriately these buildings are still places of social gathering and community. It was armed with this arcane knowledge of what was called “Sights in Motion: A pedal-powered invisible cinema” that a group of us, signed up already to the inherent philosophy of the wonderful ‘Still Walking Festival’, embarked on a peripatetic pilgrimage pursuing these transformed halls of memory.

 

Tysley

The mistake made by all urbanists is to consider the private automobile (…) essentially as a means of transportation. Such a misconception is a major expression of a notion of happiness that developed capitalism tends to spread throughout society. The automobile is the centerpiece of this general propaganda, both as sovereign good of an alienated life and as essential product of the capitalist market.  (Guy Debord, “Situationist theses on traffic” 1959)

What became clear as we pushed off was that such a quest but not just the journey into nostalgia of a couple of old folks but was rather a wonderful pathway to the past in the present, a group of seekers buoyed by pneumatic tires and enthusiasm, men and women young and old and all sharing the common complaints of backsides on leather seats and the joys of cycling in the inner city, urban explorers reaching the euphoria common to those in tandem with each other’s thoughts. The first cinemas we came across, in Stirchley, had now been transformed into workshops, this became a theme of the trip, the city once known as “the workshop of the world” had rediscovered its heritage in the abandoned dreams of years gone by. Armed with the knowledge of our leader (literally) we began, as all travelers must, to discern these hard (crumbling?) facts of transition and history.

We must replace travel as an adjunct to work with travel as pleasure. (Guy Debord.1959 Ibid)

As the earth began to move beneath the sun’s warmth so to we moved across the built environment, also involved in our small way with a transformation. I wondered as we wandered how many people back in the thirties and forties had traveled to their local cinemas by means of a bicycle, how many patrons pushed forward on pedals while puffing on Woodbines and Park Drives, eager to catch the charismatic fallout from Errol Flynn, from Paul Robeson, from the transcendent Bette Davies? Through Small Heath and Greet, through Alum Rock  and Washwood Heath, we dawdled alongside impossibly grand edifices, The Capitol, watched over with benign warmth by the patrons of the Muslim Community centre, who told us with glee about visiting the cinema in “the old days” to catch the antics of Bruce Lee, then further on to Malik & Sons Cash and Carry, still delightful in deep azure and startling white, the fascisti (sic)emblems picked out perfectly in their stucco rendition of imperial (another name often given to cinemas) Rome.

Even if during a transitional period, we temporarily accept a rigid division between zones of work and residence, we should at least envisage a third sphere, that of life itself (the sphere of freedom, of leisure – the truth of life)Unitary urbanism acknowledges no boundaries; it aims to form a unitary human milieu in which separations such as work/pleasure or public/private will finally be dissolved. But before this, the minimum action of unitary urbanism is to extend the terrain of play to all desirable constructions. This terrain will be at the level of complexity of an old city.  (Guy Debord 1959 ibid)

What seemed, at first, like the ruins of the dream life of angels  quickly became a celebration of the dynamics of the city, as our group of seekers learned to find, so did we begin to enjoy the city captured through the screens of our own desires, to re-map the city as an environment for sharing rather than dividing up. The lines of our drift through Birmingham’s car city presumptions made new byways of discovery, by ways that cyclists and pedestrians learn to re insert themselves into the urban environment where, what was clear to us was, we can once again celebrate the city as a place for people.

Thanks to all on the “Invisible Cinema” trek, it really was a day to cherish.

 

Photo: Mark Wilson

Photo: Mark Wilson

Alan Fair

Lost Rivers of London 2: The Neckinger

The Neckinger is an odd river, both flowing out of and back into the Thames, making an island of an area south of the river currently occupied by South Bank, that for a while was called Jacob Island. The river has completely been built over – qualifying it as ‘lost’ and is the second such river of London along which I have invited people to follow the course. The idea is that there’s plenty of clues of the missing river and simply it’s fun to look for them. Where they don’t appear plentifully, there are other surface details to be intrigued by.

This year, we’d increased out number by personal recommendation from those who attended previously. I sense there’s a real thirst for group observation, with no real agenda of what’s worth noticing. Explanations of curiosities are approached by layered comment and observation. Perhaps we don’t get to the bottom of a ‘mystery’ but the shared experience of suggesting explanations, regardless of background – is a very satisfying experience.

The routes are all determined by Tom Bolton in his book London’s Lost Rivers. A few weeks ago, one of our river walkers pointed out that Tom was now marketing his own river walks. Ours are all-invite only (or by recommendation), done for the sheer fun of seeing what we encounter along the way and seeing who turns up for the event and the ad hoc ‘conference’ afterwards. I feel that at some point over the next five years, our paths will cross…

Neckinger where it enters Thames

Thames level

The premise of the book is that it charts the route of the river, suggesting evidence such as street names, landscape geography, public art and the occasional glimpse of the river itself. Where there is nothing to report, Tom comments on the history of the buildings, especially when there is a literary connection or grisly crime. I decided after last year’s Fleet trip to drop reading aloud most of these comments when we noticed that there were all sorts of bits of river evidence to be found that wasn’t being reported in the book. This may well reflect the publisher’s influence rather than Tom’s observations and I accept there is a finite market for people who want to peer into grids in the middle of the road. But for me, the walks are supposed to be about rivers rather than Marlowe’s bar brawls. As such, a lot of the walk was spent walking over the area we knew the river to be, where this was possible, looking for grids that may reveal the Neckinger. There is a real moment of intrigue when these usually ignorable grates afford an aperture into that lost watery world, like glimpsing a phantom.

For whatever reason, the Neckinger is largely invisible in any form, even climbing down to the banks of the Thames doesn’t reveal the outlet. There’s some evidence in the street levels and names of a river bank, then at the half-way point our discovery of the river window grid. There’s plenty else to keep us occupied, personal favourites being a fortress-like school wall composed of previous rubbled walls and a cluster of houses with a bizarre outline that hints at their mediaeval origins. Finally we finally see our river named in the Neckinger Estate where an archway into a block of flats seems to deliberately straddle the underground river, according to Tom’s map. We’d have missed all of these delightful moments in our usual movements through this city, and only one of these is actually in the book. Pub breaks are determined by occasional, rainfall – seems right.

neckinger_IMG_8451 copy neckinger_IMG_8460 copy

At the end of the walk, at St Saviours Dock, we finally see the Neckinger snaking over mudflats and back into the Thames. Stats show our speed was a leisurely 1 mile an hour. On the other side of the rive, wholly unnoticed by our party, the first stage of the Tour de France was entering the city.

 

Neckbrace

Photos by Helen Frosi ‘cept the one above.

 

 

 

Still Loitering – our opening event!

Still Walking gets full value from the intern: Danielle helps with the usual admin and event behind-the-scenes stuff but she’s also doing the opening event – no pressure there, then!

 

“Hello I’m Danielle and Ill be leading the opening walk of the new Still Walking festival on Fri 25th July: Still Loitering. It’s hard to pin a definition to loitering, but it’s often seen as spending at least fifteen minutes in the same place without intention, according to officials… when pushed, that intention really translates as ‘commercial intention’. This free event invites participants to contemplate whether loitering ought to be forbidden especially when the rhetoric of Birmingham’s homeless community is considered. Lots of places in Birmingham forbid loitering; and once you have seen one sign, it makes it easier to spot others in the city. Here are a few:

 

Loitering2 Loiter1

                                                 Loitering3

Working as a collective flash-mob, the purpose of this opening event is to purposely ‘loiter’ in places which forbid it to encourage authority to challenge our static presence. Who will feel more threatened; ourselves or our observers? I’m really looking forward to the event and I hope that you’ll join in to discover and experience your own definition of loitering. The larger our group, the more powerful our impact.

I come from a performance background, having just graduated* from the University of Birmingham’s Drama and Theatre Arts degree programme. Studying for my degree particularly ignited my interest in political theatre and political performance and how these practices are very different from each other; with political theatre being set in the institution of the theatre and political performance happening around us every day from begging and busking to even putting on make-up and taking ‘selfies’. I see this opening event as a political performance, particularly reflecting Augusto Boal’s Invisible Theatre, where the spectators of a particular action are not aware that it is a performance that has been organised and agreed on beforehand.

As well as facilitating this event, I am also Still Walking’s first festival intern which involves developing events with Ben and guides and dealing with event logistics and promotion. My first association with the festival was last summer where I was conducting market research for Flatpack Film Festival. I came across Still Walking’s Twitter account, and thought that this is a festival I really want to get involved in. I messaged Ben and volunteered for various walks. Among these was David Helbich and Shila Anaraki’s “Drag and Drop”. In this, audience members were instructed to wear ear plugs and remain silent, led through streets in one of two separate groups, before being individually ropped at carefully choreographed corners. After a few minutes standing alone, they were picked up again after five minutes or so by another guide and dragged to the next drop-spot. Ben experienced this for the first time in beautiful Brussels – and the back-streets of Birmingham on a dark autumn evening provided a very different experience! However, this event was certainly the first time I found myself consciously loitering. The experience made me acutely aware of myself and the environment around me, and it made me wonder how powerful a collective of loiterers would be to an unsuspecting public”.

Danielle

 

 

 

Thanks Danielle! Can’t wait to see how this turns out. Don’t hang around, book tickets today.

•with a First