Thursday, July 14, 2016

brutal recreation

Quietus article on Brutalist Playgrounds and an exhibition titled The Brutalist Playground set up by "architectural collective ASSEMBLE" in collaboration with artist Simon Terrill, now opened at Park Hill’s Scottish Queen "after a run at RIBA HQ in London"

These images reminded me of one of the most dour and drear looking brutalist edifices I ever came across - the Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children in Swiss Cottage   - right near the Marriott where we stayed a few times.  It seemed to suck the light out of the air, no matter what the weather or sunshine levels were like.

These pictures does not really do  justice to its squat, dismal quality...

 ... and there aren't any others on the internet because, well, why would anyone take a picture of it?

Also it was flattened in 2007 to make for a new secondary school.

Passing it I would always think, these kids are deaf, so why also deprive their eyes of beauty?

Also in the Quietus, another Brutalist appreciation - this time of the Sound Mirrors of the Kent Coast.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Quietened Bunker (updated August 2nd)

Forthcoming from A Year in the Country -  a conceptual compilation of excellently eerie electronic music titled The Quietened Bunker :

The Quietened Bunker is an exploration of the abandoned and/or decomissioned Cold War installations which lie under the land and that would have acted as selectively populated refuges/control centres if the button was ever pushed; a study and reflection on these chimeric bulwarks and the faded but still present memory of associated Cold War dread, of which they are stalwart but mouldering symbols.

The album travels from field recording subterranean ambience to paranoid industrial distortion via radiophonic inflected electronica and elegaic end of days sequences, featuring work created by Keith Seatman, Grey Frequency, A Year In The Country, Panabrite, Polypores, Listening Center, Time Attendant, Unknown Heretic (The Owl Service/The Straw Bear Band) and David Colohan (United Bible Studies);

Released as part of the A Year In The Country project, a set of year long journeys through and searching for an expression of an underlying unsettledness to the bucolic countryside dream; an exploration of an otherly pastoralism, a wandering amongst subculture that draws from the undergrowth of the land, the patterns beneath the plough, pylons and amongst the edgelands.

It is sent out into the world in two different hand-crafted Night and Dawn editions, produced using archival giclée pigment inks; presenting and encasing their journey in amongst tinderboxes, string bound booklets and accompanying ephemera.

Release date: 15th August 2016. Pre-order 1st August 2016.


I’ve been down one of those bunkers!

When I was about eight or nine, this must have been. My dad was a journalist - he found out that this odd low-lying concrete structure in the middle of a cow pasture about a mile from our house in Berkhamsted was actually the closed-up entrance to an abandoned Nuclear  Monitoring Post - and scented a good story. Managed to get it open and we climbed down there. The ladder was like one of those you get on the outside of a silo or inside of the turret of a submarine. At the bottom was a rather confined chamber, with bunks and loads of sandbags. There might have been some other paraphernalia down there - gas masks, maybe. What I do remember vividly is the shaft of summer light coming down the stairwell and the dust motes irradiated in it.

Then we climbed back up and out and once again were surrounded by thistles and cow pats.

Sydney Reynolds Esq posing on the bunker at Castle Hill Farm, Berkhamsted - a photo used in the Berkhamsted Gazette.

I think my dad campaigned successfully to have it filled in as a danger to kids (which it wasn't really - it was far from easy to open).  A shame really, but doubtless he was trying to drum up more stories for the Gazette.

My younger brother Tim (RIP) became, as a middle-aged adult, obsessed with the whole nationwide circuit of these bunkers. I seem to recall him getting hold of maps that showed where they were and even going on trips to visit them. I suspect that the climb down the bunker, exciting as it was, made a deep impression on him - he would have been six or seven - and possibly it took on a personal hauntological significance as a childhood epiphany -  an adventure with his father. One of the few purely positive memories from  childhood...  

Thinking about that bunker subsequently I sometimes imagine what would have happened should there have been a nuclear war and significant mega-tonnage got dropped on London. Berkhamsted, about thirty miles out, would have  avoided direct blast but been on the receiving end of some very fierce wind and then suffered substantial radioactive fall-out. The bunkers were designed to preserve a rudimentary system of government in the event of societal collapse, and so were reserved for administrators and figures of authority. So the mental picture I get is the Mayor hunkered down there - in his full regalia with the chain of office etc, naturally (in my mind  looking a bit like Arthur Lowe)  - as well as the chief of the local constabulary, a magistrate or two, various other dignitaries... I imagine them struggling to preserve the pecking order and all the ceremonial niceties while living off military rations and dry foodstuffs, and having to take dumps into a pail in plain view of each other. 

This post updated and amended following Julian Bond (in comments) finding an entry on this very monitoring post / bunker at Subterranean Britannica! Rather than my fantasy of local bigwigs hunkered in the bunker, it seems this particular kind of shelter was for Royal Observer Corps personnel to monitor radiation levels and blast damage following a nuclear attack, reporting the information to headquarters so they could keep track of the scale of devastation as it varied regionally and assess the ongoing viability of the area. But I believe there were provisions elsewhere for officials and administrative people to be sheltered so as to preserve a skeleton form of government across the country after a nuclear war. Possibly a bit less poky.

Update August 2nd 

Well, this is an odd one. Just went on a holiday trip to Dorset – to an area called Purbeck (Swanage, Studland Bay,Corfe Castle etc) where we holidayed as kids in the late sixties, early seventies. A hauntological pilgrimage / grief mini-vacation in so far as my sister-in-law + niece + nephew and my mother go there every year to visit the place where we scattered my brother’s ashes: Dancing Ledge, his favorite place in the world. But this was my first time going back since 2010, the year of scattering. 

On my final day there - after making the challenging climb down to Dancing Ledge -  we went for lunch to the famous Square and Compass pub in Worth Matravers, and on the drive there, lo and behold, I peeked out the window and spied an Underground Nuclear Monitoring Post

ROC underground monitoring post, Worth Matravers

Tim, my late brother, was - as discussed above - obsessed with these bunkers and its presence here can't have escaped his notice. Quite possibly this observation post was the very one that retriggered his awareness of their existence - awoke the memory of the one in the field not far from our house in Berkhamsted - and launched him into the obsession. 

He used to go to this area of Dorset every year with his family to camp or stay in a cottage - mostly camp, mostly at the exact same site. This ritual reenactment seemed to relate to idyllic memories of childhood and possibly represented for him the kind of childhood he  aimed to provide his kids. Rather than the the childhood he himself had, which was stormy - but with a few bright spots. Like the vacations in the Swanage area.

Monday, July 11, 2016

second time as farts

Retro rhetoric deployed in political commentary - including Oasis analogy -  ahoy!: International Business Times's James Bloodworth accuses  Labour Party of "becoming a historical re-enactment society"

Recalling a visit to a People's Assembly rally in 2015, he notes that "there is always a whiff of obsolescence about proceedings. It is invariably the same people making the same speeches to a familiar crowd. The audience will be fired up with talk of Chartists, Cable Street and the 'rank and file'..."

"One of the biggest events like this is the Durham Miners' Gala, held annually during the second weekend of July. Now in its 132nd year, the gala is a carnival of nostalgia, featuring a huge march with brass bands and an assortment of magnificent red and gold banners. The march, which can still attract as many as 100,000 people, finishes at Durham's old racecourse, where rousing political speeches are delivered to the assembled crowd of former miners, local people and left-wing activists of all ages. The gala grew out of trade unionism and Britain's position as a major coal-producing nation on the back of the industrial revolution."

But "with the virtual disappearance of the collieries the gala functions today as something like a historical re-enactment society. And there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. The memory of something better – or to be more precise, the memory that better things had to be fought for by workers through trade unionism and struggle – is one that is well worth preserving."

"But when the past becomes an obsession it can act as a dead weight on meaningful action in the present. This was strikingly apparent at the Durham Miners' Gala this weekend, where it became clear that for those running British trade unions performative leftism has well and truly trumped any desire to improve the life chances of Britain's new working class.... the glowing reception offered to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the Gala – and the corresponding message sent to anti-Corbyn MPs that they were 'not welcome' – ought to set alarm bells ringing. No serious person believes that Jeremy Corbyn can win a General Election; yet the old men at the top of British trade union movement continue to back a useless leader because he plays a nostalgic tune that they and a dwindling number of their comrades recognise....

"At the Durham Miners' Gala this weekend, as at so many left-wing events these days, speakers took to the stage amidst the paraphernalia of an abstract idea of what being working class once was – collieries, brass bands and communist tents with portraits of Joseph Stalin... "

"When historians of the future document Britain's decline, they will invariably seek askance at the call centres and distribution sheds which dot the landscape of once proud working class communities and wonder what on earth happened to the unions. If they look a little closer they will find that sloganeering and historical re-enactment ultimately replaced genuine solidarity with the poor. 'The Beatles aren't coming back,' someone once joked, 'and so people make do with Oasis'. The socialism of the 20th century is dead and so comrade Jeremy Corbyn's worthless tribute act rolls on."

You know, I remember feeling like this a bit in 1985 - when I went to some kind of outdoor fair  in Oxford on behalf of the miners. That there was a lot of old banners and ceremonial paraphernalia harking back to the storied glory of the early unions and friendly societies...   such that the whole thing felt a bit like a traction engine rally.


If Corbynism is a throwback, what does that make the Leavers? (Or May versus Leadsom - Thatcher's unelected resurrection versus Thatcher's unelected resurrection)

And Eagle & Crew are worse -  not a Beatles remake, but a tribute act to Britpop (Blair triangulation -  but without even the media-savvy slickness and presentational / public relations skills...)