Purpose of this Blog/Website

This blog has been provided to enable people to contribute with their own experiences of walking through towns and cities in the style of a dérive. Please see just below to find out what this means. If you wish to be able to contribute to this blog (not just comment) then please email your request to derivewithme@yahoo.co.uk

What is Dérive

From Wikipedia, “In philosophy, a Dérive is a French concept meaning an aimless walk, probably through city streets, that follows the whim of the moment.”

The idea is that we normally spend all of our time going from ‘A to B’ and forget to notice our surroundings and details that would otherwise interest, amuse and stimulate us.

Again from Wikipedia, “French philosopher and situationist Guy Debord used this idea to try and convince [his] readers to revisit the way they looked at urban spaces. Rather than being prisoners to their daily route and routine, living in a complex city but treading the same path every day, he urged people to follow their emotions and to look at urban situations in a radical new way.”

To make/create/follow your own dérive is simple. You just need to open your eyes, ears and nose, then walk. When you come to a junction or you need to make a decision about your direction, don’t make this decision on practical terms but rather just do what ever attracts you about a certain route. For example, you may see a person or animal, you may hear a noise or you may have some preconceptions about a route and you want to check them out.

You can record your experience and the different way you looked at your surroundings here.

The process can take 5 minutes, it can take all day. There are no rules, you can stop in a pub if you want, you can sit in the park, it is up to you.

Recipe For Contribution

If you would like to contribute to this log, you can make a record of where you have been on a map (you can use Google maps), make some notes of what you have seen and where, and you can take some photographs. To allow you to submit, you will need to gain permission by emailing derivewithme@yahoo.co.uk

Friday, 14 November 2008

A walk to work

Okay, so a Dérive is normally aimless. Well, I don't have much spare time at the moment, and aimless isn't really a word in my vocabulary. But, what about getting from A to B, while perhaps taking some routes that you wouldn't normally take? That's my take on it. Most days are just a grind of trying to get somewhere while thousands upon thousands of other people are trying to get somewhere as well. However, it doesn't and shouldn't stop anyone from actually opening their eyes and actually looking and learning from their surroundings and even the people you come across.

So, here we are. It's a typical Friday morning in central London. Turn off the damned alarm on the Blackberry. Get up. Have a warm shower. Read annoying email from annoying man chasing you about some annoying bit of work for annoying people who have far too much money or time on their hands. Turn on the tellybox while having a bowl of credit crunch cornflakes. Get dressed. Remember sandwich. Leave house. Only today, I'm not going to just dash to the office, I'm going to go on a 'journey' to work. It doesn't take much to cheer me up on a drab morning.

It's just ticked over past seven am. It's time to give it legs I reckon. So, here we go. I'm not sure if showing the route I took before you read this spoils anything or not. I guess not. At least you have a rough idea of where I went, so take a look:

View Larger Map

You can already see I took a more relaxed "take me anywhere" approach at the start of the journey, then started "straightlining it" when I needed to pick up the pace of the feet to get me to the office in time.

Here we are starting on Hackney Road, close to Shoreditch High Street. I've got my sandwich for lunch, but have ditched the lovely L glass and bulky camera body for a little point and shoot for the day. First thing that catches my eye is a set of urban art (or is it graffiti? No. It's definately art and I love it) by Twat.

Twat clearly puts more effort into his art than his name, but I quite like this stuff. Not everyone does. It livens our area up a bit. I have no time for people who tag something that other people can't even make out, but this is bright, fun and interesting. Plus you smile ironically when people come along and take photos of it just for the same it as if it's some kind of tourist attraction. Which, seeing as I've photographed it, it kind of is. Ironic. I wonder if Ronnie and Reggie Kray would make of being charactertured on wall holding bags from one of these new fangled supermarkets. I think they'd want their royalties..

I carry on along Shoreditch High Street. My journey needs to take me West, but there are so many different ways of getting there, there's no need to look at the time just yet. Here's the Crown and Shuttle on Norton Folgate/Shoreditch High Street. There's a pretty hefty office building proposed for the nearby Light Bar. I'll take a photo of that someday. The 'Shuttle gets its name from the weavers of Spitalfields. It shut down years ago.

Over the road is Fleur De Lis Street. And a bit more art.

Shoreditch loves art and art loves Shoreditch. I'd seen the cloud before, but never close up. Clever. Yet beautifully simple and telling it's own story of the area at the same time.

Carrying on as Shoreditch High Street turns into Norton Folgate and then Bishopsgate, I pass the old Nicholls and Clarke headquarters. Hammerson have plans to turn this into a large scale office development in years to come, but with developers dropping everything in their pipeline at the moment, don't hold your breath. For now, it holds temporary art exhibitions, often with some kind of political theme. More details here and here.

I carry on. To my right is one of the largest or tallest developments the City has seen for a few years - the Bishopsgate Tower and 201 Bishopsgate. They've nearly finished. This is one of it's best angles. From the North West it looks like a giant slab. But that's the price you pay for lettable larger floorplates. I've been involved with a public inquiry for a 43 storey building this year, so although I have my reservations, it's nice to see it make it off SOM's drawing board. The City creeps North Eastwards. If only, if only they'd designed it to light up like the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong, it would look amazing at night. Oh well.

I could carry on along Bishopsgate and go via Threadneedle Street and Cheapside, but in the name of taking a new route, I decide to bear West just after here, heading along Primose Street into Exchange Square.

Exchange Square is actually built above the railway into Liverpool Street station. It's still pretty early in the day, so the cleaners are still at work in the privately owned square.

I come out on the South West corner, heading down the steps towards Finsbury Square. I'm met by railings...

... which send you into the station itself...

...before heading back out on the other side - looking towards 30 St Mary's Axe (the "gherkin").

I carry on. It's amazing how such tall buildings can be invisible until you are almost upon them. The Natwest Tower, sorry, Tower 42, is one of those when you head from the north or east.

I take the decision to bear West again, and am at Finsbury Circus within seconds. The bowling green isn't open at this time of day!

Coming through Finsbury Circus, I cross Moorgate. BP's just over there, where Mike used to work. I then see Ropemaker Place emerging as a building - It's skeleton in place, just receiving it's cladding.

The functional fifties and sixties architecture actually blends in with the new additions. I somehow can't see this Costa lasting the test of time. Can you?

I carry on. This is actually a reflection in a window at the top of Bunhill Row, which is why the signs are back to front.

Bunhill Row is almost a microcosm of London. It's not particularly attractive, it's not that special, yet it works and we all put up with it. As you move along from South to North, you pass almost every form of accomodation from penthouse flats, modern offices, to historic drinking houses, burial grounds, army training grounds to Council flats. And some dodgy 80s public art making something functional look like an eyesore. It's the whole of London in one street, but not one I'd bother making a detour for again in a hurry.

I can see Old Street in front of me, which means I'm heading too far north and ought to making a left turn. I nip down Banner Street. Another fairly non-descript street. At the end though, someone's bunging a couple of quid into a green wall. You plant your climbers at the bottom, drill in some stainless steel cables, and Bob's your mother's brother - you have a green wall.

I love thes old signs. The covenants will all still be in place, so it all still applies. Why replace it with a more modern sign? I like these old ones. The Peabody Trust remains one of the largest (and oldest) social landlords in the country.

I cross Golden Lane and head into the Barbican. I'm into slightly unknown territory here. I know the Barbican has quite a reputation for a lack of legibility, or, more simply, just knowing where you are! It's also home to some of the most expensive homes in the country, as well as some of the City's social housing stock. It's now Grade II listed, and is some of the most brutal architecture ever constructed in this country. Those bomb-happy germans kindly saved a few man-hours of bulldozing in the 1940s. Brutal architecture doesn't necessarily mean bad architecture, but for a lot of people it's a bit like Marmite - either you love the look of the place, or you don't.

I move on from the Golden Lane end into the heart of the estate. They even have Tennis Courts you know. I can smell the chlorine of a swimming pool, but don't know where it is. The lack of signage in the Barbican estate is appalling. On of my pet hates is crap signposting, either too much unnecessary signposting, or a complete absence of it. The Barbican falls into the latter.

I've no idea where I'll end up - the Barbican has this ability to disorientate anybody. If it weren't for the sun rising up to my left, I wouldn't really have a clue. I end up going down a narrow staircase from the elevated section: I see no other way out. I end up here in a service/access road, dimly lit with puddles on the floor.

I get back to ground level and arrive on Goswell Road, heading into Aldersgate.

I'm not hungry and I'm not sure this would tempt me either!

I take a left back into the Estate. Second time lucky I thought. Maybe there'll be at least some sense of a legible urban environment here. Maybe not.

Following my instinct and heading up the ramp, I arrive on another elevated section. I really, really don't know what to make of the Barbican. In some ways, it's an exercise in modernism, in brutalism, in a new tomorrow. Some aspects were truly ahead of their time. Which is probably why they didn't work properly. As the early morning dew drips from what little greenery has been allowed to grow, the place does have a certain quality to it. But I don't think it's the kind of quality I'd like to come home to everyday out of choice. Credit crunch or not - you still need some serious cash if you want to live here.

I'm still not sure about the place.

I find my way out of the Barbican, and it really hits home what a different place it is, what a contrast it provides against the surrounding urban grain as you return to a more recognisable, more familiar arrangement of buildings and streets.

Continuing West, I am heading towards Smithfield and the world famous Smithfield Markets, which are actually a number of different markets. There's plenty of detail here and here. Despite the prospect of redeveloping the general market (the proposal fell down at appeal this year) it's a lively place. The developer has just appointed a new architect to take it forward.

The area is so far removed from it's financial services and law neighbours. Probably the only place in London you'll see people in suits with cases of legal papers passing someone pushing a 'borrowed' Sainsbury trolley filled with choice cuts of dead cow. Worth a visit.

As with a lot of run down areas with redevelopment proposals, it attracts its fair share of both art and flyposting, as well as general graffiti.

As I carry on, I wonder what Dave from Galleywood did during his 16 hour days. I wonder what he does now?

Passing through, you become aware of the changes this place has seen in the last 150 years or so.

I head up the steepening embankment towards High Holborn. You have the choice of the High Road or Low Road, so I go high today. I am now on High Holborn, home to numerous law and accountancy firms. The green concrete blocks are to stop anyone crashing their vehicles from falling onto traffic below. The motor car hadn't been invented when these bridges first appeared.

I'm now heading due west at Holborn Circus. You can see everything from the Sainsbury headquarters on the left by Fetter Lane, through to the BT tower in the centre, to the original Prudential Assurance buildings on the right.

Carrying on west I pass Buchanan House. My old housemate Gav works here, but they're moving up the road in a few months.

The buildings couldn't contrast more with those by Staple's Inn.

The Coffee stall by Gray's Inn Road is doing a brisk trade by now. Everywhere is busier, noticably busier, as we continue west.

On the north side of High Holborn is the Cittie of Yorke, home to a public house since the fifteenth century.

I carry on into New Oxford Street and bear left into Museum Street. This building, the Tea Rooms has gradually become more and more dilapidated over the years. Just look at the difference here - how it has fallen from then.

I come around the corner where the northern end of Shaftesbury Avenue meets New Oxford Street. It's almost a warm feeling to see a milkfloat still plying its trade in the capital, although it reminds me of that Natwest television advert in the 1980s with the Miami Vice theme music which had a milkfloat in it. Don't ask me why - it just does. And that was back when the NatWest Tower wasn't Tower 42.

I cross the road behind the milk float. I suddenly wonder just how much longer these will remain here; they're probably living on borrowed time as it is.

Crossing into Bucknall Street, the St Gile's development is well underway.

As I turn into St Giles High Street, you can't help but notice the enormity of Centre Point.

The enormity of Centre Point is in stark contrast to the famous music shops of Denmark Street.

As I hurry along Denmark Street, my eye is drawn to one of the many blue plaques that adorn buildings in London. I often pass the birthplace of Benjamin Disraeli, and other such plaques, but this one caught my eye. Pioneer of the diving helmet no less. I wonder if all that mucking around by the sea helped him have what, at the time, was an extraordinarily long life.

As I cross Charing Cross Road, I wonder what other blue plaques there are for people I've never heard of.

I also wonder whether Rancid is some new-fangled guitar based combo beat band that I've not heard of, or whether it just describes the general condition of the Astoria. It's a couple of years since I saw the Guillemots there and was last inside the Astoria, but it certainly hasn't improved. It's all up for demolition as part of Crossrail in any event. It turns out that Rancid are a punk rock band. Not really my bag.

I move west into Soho Square. I can't help but think that leaf blowers are just one of the most time-consuming, pointless inventions known to man. When James Dyson gave the vacuum cleaner a kick up the backside, he didnt' decide it would be much better if it expelled air rather than sucking it in as best it can, did he. Oh well, looks like this guy is having more fun than I ended up having stuck in the office today.

I come out on the West side of Soho Square.

I won't be going that way!

I've can't help but notice this pub which I've never noticed before. I knew there was a Toucan on Wimpole Street, but didn't know about this one. It's a bit early for a pint, so I carry on!

As I head into Noel Street, this former Hat Factory really catches my eye. It's more reminiscent of the clothing and woodworking factories of Shoreditch, than the West End. Noel Street runs parallel to Oxford Street, but I'd never noticed this before.

A few moments later, I'm passing the Soho mural.

And just before I hit the office, I pass a sign of the times. I wonder how much parking meters will fetch on the equivalent of ebay in a hundred years time?

And I get to my desk having seen a few new things. On with the day!

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