Another journey we went on.
'To see oneself as if from the outside, to see oneself, as it were, in a romance' is how Keiller's Robinson phrases it, as we watch an inflatable Ronald Macdonald buckling up with laughter in the wind. Proverbially, we are living in interesting times, and yet it's as lugubrious an affair as it ever was.
We went east for this one. A long journey on the DLR takes one out through the recognisable urban landscape of zones 1 and 2, the odd forlorn grey church or Passmore Edwards philanthropic effort stands forlornly in amongst quotidian yellow terraces and post war blocks, all of which stare uncomfortably at the glistening Wharf, and the Blair-box post urban dwelling units, all mediocrity and lack of spirit, each made out of a hundred different materials, all of them cheap, all of them nasty.
Eventually though East London becomes something completely different. As the DLR proceeds along its raised path, it moves into the areas south of the Olympic joke; Silvertown, North Woolwich. Space opens out here, there are gaps between objects, factories, wastelands, sewage, the occasional outcrop of Victorian dock-worker housing. This is neither the inner London of familiar neighbourhoods, with their individual characters and attractions, but neither is it the seemingly interminable suburban London of small, identical centres surrounded by seemingly infinite stretches of disconcertingly banal houses. There is no topography out here, it is uncannily flat, and the sky seems larger, more oppressive.
You get out at Woolich Arsenal, make your way up the escalator through a terrible parody of eighties public art that might have once adorned a cocktail bar full of braying brokers. In this case the one who should know better is Michael Craig-Martin.
The first point of call, as it should be, is a caff, in this case a rather cavernous effort on Hare street. Just us at first, followed by a handful of yout' and then an elderly couple. The street itself looks rather upset, empty. We discuss the potentials of genuine Raskolnikoff-style loft-living in a dilapidated building across the street, and the appropriateness of a pound shop with a shrub growing energetically from its sign. After some food, coffee and a charitable donation of superglue from the proprietor, we're off, the route being from Woolwich, along the river to Thamesmead.
Woolwich Arsenal has military pedigree. This now manifests itself as a heritage museum, luxury flats in vintage buildings and strange old men wandering around in fatigues, looking rather camp. Not far away from us, a couple of these old queens were beseeching some young boys to 'MARCH!'. Inside the building they have a section of the Iraqi Supergun.
Gormley is the sum of all the public art ever created. It has something to say about the individual and corporeality, maybe. It's the art equivalent of a half-arsed fireworks display; ooh, aah, that's nice.
A coded message that we were entering sovereign territory. The logo has a sinister simplicity to it, easily carved into flesh with a blade.
There was barely anybody around. The whole day had the feeling of that strange over-provision of space that excites the hauntological imagination so; spaces built for ceremonies that there are no longer enough people to take part in. Rattling around in the old place when the kids have gone. There'll be a lot of this feeling soon.
Where old bikes come to die.
The Keillerian Picturesque.
A flat in the buildings to the right of the photo went on the market a year ago at £285,000. You can get one now for £120,000.
The charming prospect from a Negative-Equity Ghetto. While we passed, there were children playing nearby, the most spirited moment of the day at that point.
More anti-picturesque urbanism. This was parked in front of a square of eco-houses, all wooden framed windows, passive solar gain windows and ventilation towers. It must have taken quite a maneuver to get that into the bush in such an impressive fashion.
Everybody needs something to take the edge off it.
It's hard to quite see how a vicious monster is going to make children more likely to enjoy reading.
This mammoth warehouse was completely empty, not yet finished. And what a time to be finishing off! There's been much nonsensical chat about empty Woolworths and high street space being turned into art-space, but to find the closest equivalent to the to the riverside warehouses or the dead factories of previous generations, surely this is the unfortunate answer - gargantuan blairite distribution sheds?
The plastic sheathe containing this planning notice had filled up with water like a bureaucratic colostomy bag.
What you are now we used to be, what we are now you will be.
Where were you in '92?
We found the last remaining vestige of the snow in Britain.
This is the Ridgeway, a quasi-rural path covering Bazalgette's Southern Outfall Sewer, its blankness punctuated by the ubiquitous surveillance.
A badge of honour, apparently.
Beneath the Ridgeway there is a road whose only users were learner drivers, interminably going back and forth.
The right-to-buy in action.
It seems that Thamesmead is losing walkways...
In fact, Thamesmead appears to be losing rather a lot of itself. This was once the health centre.
Like something from Pynchon, there appeared to be a conspiracy involving the post.
It looks like there's been nothing to report for a long time.
Except that romance can occur anywhere.
Nobody receives any messages here.
At the other side of the lake, horses roam freely.
What's all this about a new way?
We needed to rest, so we popped in for a little bit of milk-plus. Just to take the edge off of things. Although inside the bar certain unfortunate truths about East London became clear; that we were a long way from Kinsgland Road.
Welly welly welly well!
There was a demon spectre at the window here.
Note that on the wall of this community centre, the artist has depicted various different phases in the housing history of the area; The Brutalism, and the two methods in which it has been exorcised; Thatcherite reaction and Blairite apologetic eclecticism.
Nearing the end of the journey, awaiting our train back to Kansas, we were confronted with this poster, two unseemly characters who have been living on the walls for the last year or so, smugly staring at each other in satiated consumptive bliss. Laura depicted them at her last exhibition; they're probably estate agents.
And then, we left, to be injected back into the familiar city.