The writer and film-maker Iain Sinclair is, like us, a fan of walking in cities. With books like London Orbital, he’s brought a literary kind of psychogeography to a wide audience. (Although he’s uncomfortable with the term psychogeography – he’s talked instead about ‘deep topographies’, which is a lovely idea – exploring the shapes and patterns hidden beneath what we can see.)
Anyway, we’ve had a couple of chances recently to hear more about his work. Firstly, he came and explored Manchester. For a special feature in Corridor 8 magazine, he did a walk from Urbis to the airport – covering some of the same ground as the Manchester Sunrise walk we took part in. You can now download an MP3 and printable guide from the Urbis website – Listening for the Corncrake – and do the same walk he did. I particularly like the fact that there’s a children’s version of the map, with psychogeographical colouring activities.
I got to go along to the launch of the magazine and hear him talk about the walk, which was great. A different kind of approach from ours, laden with references to art, history and literature. As a Brummie who’s enjoying getting to know Manchester, it was good to hear another outsider’s view. (Sinclair is very strongly associated with London, particularly Hackney where he’s lived for decades.) And a lot of Manchester’s other urban ramblers were there in the audience too.
Then Marie and I both got to see him at the Greenbelt festival, in conversation with John Davies, the vicar who walked the M62. (There was a nice psychogeographical theme at the festival – Jon Bounds gave a couple of talks on why Birmingham isn’t shit and the 11:11:11 psychogeographical bus journey. We enjoyed his celebration of the crap, the mundane and the everyday.)
The conversation was really interesting, picking up strongly on the ways that walking and exploring can be a spiritual, transcendental experience. In a nice contrast with our attempts to get lost in new places, Sinclair does the same walk through the area around his home every day. He had some interesting things to say about it:
‘Simply by doing exactly the same walk every day my radar bumping off things confirms my own identity, and if something’s changed then I change with it. And also your whole body, all the molecules, are shaken up a little and doing that same walk every single day, quite briskly, really does clear my head, allows the night’s dreams and things to settle, prepares you for the writing of the day, and so in a sense I do regard it as a kind of walking meditation, as a kind of reconnection with London in every sense. Practically it might be thought to be be boring because you’re seeing the same thing every day but actually it is the everyday becoming transcendent in a very simple way.’
Good stuff. You can download the conversation from the Greenbelt website (together with another talk he gave about London Orbital), and it’s certainly inspired me to go away and read some of his books.