The intention had been to continue the walk from Guildford last week but a combination of illness, work, failing light and a Tube strike made this unfeasible. So I swopped a day’s leave, did some work on what would have been the walking day, and this week went to Cardiff for 24 hours instead. Maybe this is how walkinghometo50 will end – never actually finishing, just getting diverted into aborted projects, side trips, health issues and random new starts and isn’t that just like middle age itself?
The train journey was long but interesting, leaving Chester under a rainbow for a long twilight run through Shropshire into Wales. I had taken a book with me – Mythogeography: The Art of Walking Sideways – which I had known about for some time, but not delved into until now. It proved to be a compelling and fresh exploration of the ‘world of resistant and aesthetic walking’, part pseudo-literary account, part manual, part encyclopaedia. Plug:
The reach is wide and deep, occasionally idiosyncratic. The fragmentary and slippery format recognises the disparate, loosely interwoven and rapidly evolving uses of walking today: as art, as exploration, as urban resistance, as activism, as an ambulatory practice of geography, as meditation, as performance, as dissident mapping, as subversion of and rejoicing in the everyday. Mythogeography is a celebration of that interweaving, its contradictions and complementarities, and a handbook for those who want to be part of it.
I was absorbed in this stuff when, somewhere near the border into Wales, the book broke the fourth wall as the passage I was reading turned out to be a quote from this blog. A few pages on, my name appeared in a list of ‘Exemplary Ambulatory Explorers’ amongst such luminaries as Peace Pilgrim and Arthur Machen. So if nothing else I have edged my way into some kind of provisional pantheon.
My mission in Cardiff was to accept an invitation to the private view of an exhibition – Everybody Knows this is Nowhere by Andre Stitt. I’ve known Andre for 30 years but not seen him for nearly 20 so thought a surprise visit was in order. I had also read the catalogue from the show’s original outing in Northern Ireland and, based on the photos, wanted to see the real pictures. And, if I was a salaried psychogeographer who had to justify his time in terms of spatial exploration, Andre’s show would be on topic:
The artist’s psychogeographic experience of Craigavon is examined through a series of site visits and explorations via the new city’s cycle and pedestrian network. This process is then in turn extended to the wider context of trauma, and conflict transformation in Northern Ireland. The project is both an investigation of the failure of institutional planning; exemplified by dead-ends, planned but uncompleted city sectors and vacant land, and a celebration of utopian aspirations through the integration of housing, civic amenities, dedicated paths, the separation of traffic and green space.
Up close the work is very powerful. I love the way maps, diagrams and writing are buried under pigment…
The re-meeting was great. These not being the old days (for instance, neither of us were downing bottles of Thunderbird) and, having arranged to meet the next day, I wandered off at 7. Walking around Cardiff on an exceptionally windy night was a fragmented experience – the regenerated centre delivering flashes of other cities, bits of Leeds, bits of MK, even bits of KL (Chinese students in late-night shopping mall.) There was the same stuff you see everywhere – gorgeous lights, giant digitised faces of agony, and Lovecraftian incursions into old photos in the back corridors of the pubs. I was in bed by 10.
The Premier Inn was a quiet space in the general hurricane. The room worked well for my newly-restarted, haven’t-given-up-yet meditation practice
Then down for the all-you-can-eat breakfast, where the waitress was amazingly wholehearted by UK service industry standards. As well as making interaction with the largely machine-delivered breakfast a pleasant experience, she was conferring with colleagues about drifting leaves and spending ages sweeping up every conceivable shard of a dropped glass from the tiles next to the Costa machine, which as she said was difficult ‘when the floor has a sparkle in it’.
I checked out and walked around the outside of the hotel, took some pictures and had another look at those leaves. Then I headed off towards the art school, trying to keep my psychogeography eyes open, noticing things like 1980s-style graffiti inciting REVOLT and a woman in a headscarf playing an accordion, looking like something from the 1930s, maybe caused by leakage from the 2000s media success of the time-travel-based TV shows made here.
Back at UWIC, I was casting a professional eye over their publicity when Andre reappeared and we went off to his studio. We drank coffee and caught up from a couple of decades. The studio had been a funeral director’s yard. It was as if we had only met up last week. He had been given the keys of the city of Manila. Andre gave me a painting: ‘Prospecting for the Memorabilia of a Lifetime (The 1980’s)’. Traces of words and glimmers of a camp 80s pink show dimly through a bitumen surface, and I’m in there somewhere; we agreed that on the whole things work out OK; as the Mythogeography man says ‘you can explore the whole whirling snowglobe.’