Extract from Geographic Thought: A Critical Introduction – Chapter Seven

Another taster of the forthcoming and long awaited book… Some of the details here show how long this has taken to write – substitute Spain for Ireland!

Chapter Seven. Marxist Geography.

Consider where you live. Or where your family lives. It is likely that somewhere nearby there is a place where wealthy people live. People more wealthy than you or your family. The houses will be bigger, the cars will be newer. People will dress differently, go to different places to eat. They may buy things in shops you do not even visit. They will take more regular holidays and stay in places beyond your budget. It is also likely that there is a place where people who are poorer than you live. There may be homeless people on the streets or in hostels. Houses may look run down. Street crime rates may be higher. Shops may be boarded up. It may be a place that lacks provision of services such as public transport. Somewhere near you there is likely to a place associated with environmental problems. Perhaps a company is releasing poisons into a river. Perhaps pollutants are leaching into the groundwater from illegal landfill. Perhaps the presence of a nearby busy road leads to higher rates of asthma. It is likely that these places are not surrounded by the homes of the wealthy.

Take a look at the newspaper over your breakfast. As I am writing, the papers are full of stories of financial panic and collapse. Ireland is asking for billions of Euros to save its banks. Here in the UK students are being asked to pay up to three times more for their university education. To the residents of the mansions on the hill this may not matter much. To those who live in what remains of government housing – the ones who live by the busy roads with the high rates of asthma – this is an unbelievable amount of money. Some of these people will decide not to go to university. For the first time in many years students are protesting in large numbers. They are being surrounded and holed up in so-called ‘kettles’ by the police.        Turning the page of my newspaper I see images of people trying to enter Australia illegally. Their boat sank off the coast in high winds and waves. Some died, other are pictured making their way to shore desperate for a life which is better than the one they left. The geography of the area around your home is played out on a global scale. The likelihood is, if you are reading this book, that you are in a ‘developed’ country – one with universities where they teach geographic thought and where you can buy or have access to textbooks. If so, in global terms, you are inhabiting the neighbourhood of the wealthy. The global poor live elsewhere. They may be picking over your trash in enormous piles shipped out from our high consumption economies. They may be taking apart electronic components from mobile phones that we replace every other year for a new model. They may be making your shoes or t-shirts for a fraction of even the minimum wage where you live. They might be dreaming of a life in Australia.

All Possible Worlds – Chapter Two

Ok – due to overwhelming demand – you know who you are! – one more chapter.


Chapter 2 – Six O’Clock.

“What time to do you call this” said Simon Caxton as Max rushed into the dining room at ten past six.

“Sorry dad – a train didn’t come for ages” replied Max, a sheepish look on his face.

His dad scowled but said no more and Max took his seat. The long oak table was laden with bowls of pasta and plates of tomato and mozerella salad. Simon and Annabelle liked to eat well. Rose, sitting across from Max, looked up from her pasta and mumbled “where’ve you been Max?

“Shopping for books” said Max and launched into his customary account of the day. He told them about the ride on the Piccadilly Line, the people in Russell Square, the various shops he’d been in and the things he’d bought.

“I went into a map shop by mistake” he said excitedly, “there were all kinds of maps including some cool ones with monsters and stuff.” He looked at Rose. “And then I found this old tube map in the bargain box for a pound – it must be from at least fifty years ago.”

“Don’t you have enough stuff clogging up your room” muttered Annabelle – “I’m sure you don’t look at half of it.”

“Yes I do” shot back Max. Just because mum can’t find things doesn’t mean I can’t, he thought.

Later, after Max had cleaned the table and taken the garbage out, he gave the unicorn book to Rose who yelped with glee and ran into her room to devour it. Then he pulled out the tube map and traced the Piccadilly Line with his finger. Naturally there was no stop at Heathrow – the dark blue line started at  Hounslow and passed through all the familiar stops (including Russell Square) heading north east all the way to Cockfosters. He has often wondered what kind of place Cockfosters was. The ends of the tube lines held a special attraction for him. He had been to Epping once to cross if off his list – it seemed like a different world from the London he knew – a tube stop with a forest! Cockfosters meant nothing to him – he had no idea what might confront him as he exited the station.

He remembered that he had an illustrated history of the London Underground maps in his room. Maybe he could find this in there, he thought. He ran up the stairs two at a time, went into his room and closed the door behind him. Despite what his mum said, he knew exactly where the map book was. He pulled it down from the top of his fitted book shelves and sat on his bed leafing through the pages to find his map. 1940s he guessed – but nothing in that chapter. 1950s – nothing there either. He was sure there was too much on his map for it to be pre world war two and, disappointed, he put the book down on his bed. He lay down and stared at the ceiling wondering when this map was made. Maybe it was made by someone unconnected with the railways – someone like himself who simply liked the beauty of this network of multicoloured lines criss-crossing the spreading city. He liked the idea of an earlier version of himself – fifty or sixty years ago – competing with the great Beck. That would also explain why it was worthless – dropped  in a bargain box.

There was a knock on his door.

“Hello” he said and he heard his mum’s voice outside.

“Can I come in?” she said.

“Yep”, he replied.

His mum entered and sat down on the end of his bed.

“Please try and get back for six” she said, “we don’t ask much and we were worried.”

“Sorry mum” he muttered, “I just seemed to get stuck in the map shop.”

“Well let’s see your map then” she smiled forgivingly. He picked it up  and passed it to her, still in its plastic envelope. She looked at it quizzically and passed to back to him with a grin.

“Must have been a reject” she said, “they made a mistake”.

Max thought she was referring to the shortened Piccadilly Line and was about to tell the whole history of the London Underground when she said “there’s an extra station on the Central Line  – there, between White City and Shepherd’s Bush – it says Clarendon. I’ve never heard of it.”

“That’s where they’re building the new shopping mall isn’t it?” asked Max. He was surprised and a little ashamed at not having noticed this curious extra stop. He was pretty sure there had never been a station or even an area called Clarendon.

“It’s like on of those deliberate mistakes cartographers use to make sure no-one copies their maps” said Annabelle. “Apparently there are maps of Chicago with non-existent streets placed there to catch copiers who haven’t paid copyright fees. But I guess that would be a pretty stupid thing to do on a tube map though – it would be too obvious – there would be lots of confused passengers!”

“Maybe it could be a test or prototype with an extra station to show it was not ready yet” added Max, now completely intrigued with the mysterious Clarendon.

“We’ll look it up on the net tomorrow, Max, maybe that will solve the mystery.”

The next morning Max sat in his room in his pyjamas staring at his computer screen. He hadn’t had breakfast. His room had piles of books and comics scattered around. His bedclothes were on the floor. He had been staring at his screen for over two hours. He had stumbled out of bed at half past nine, two hours earlier than was normal for him on a Sunday) and jabbed the word “Clarendon” into Google. He was immediately confronted with a list of 18, 300, 000 references to the word Clarendon. Adding “London” to the search reduced it to a mere 4, 850,000 results. There seemed to be several posh and no so posh hotels and restaurants, several streets. One hotel was just near Russell Square where he had been the day before. There was a street called Clarendon Mews near Holland Park, a Clarendon Square in Kensington, a bicycle shop in Acton. He found several references to dead heroes of various wars and a site for a dentist’s office in London, Ontario, in Canada. Nothing near the construction site of the new shopping mall. He added “station” to the search reducing the list to 683,000 results. On page two he came across a reference to a Clarendon Station on a site for model railway builders who had built a model of this station. He read it carefully. Clarandon was

…the terminus of a long since defunct branch situated off the West London Railway north of Kensington Addison Road. The branch was built by the LNWR in the 1880s. As the West London Railway was part owned by the LNWR in partnership with the GWR, LSWR & LBSCR, it could be assumed that these companies along with the SECR, District Railway and the Metropolitan Railway, could be considered as have running rights on the branch to gain access to this part of London. Competition from electric tramways etc, caused traffic to decline before the First World War which lead eventuality to closure in the early 1920s

This was exciting. But it did not solve the problem. While it was in roughly the right place it had nothing to do with the Central Line and was closed way before his map, with its very extensive network of lines, would have been possible. Maybe someone was thinking of restoring it and linking it to the Central Line?

He heard his mum calling up the stairs for the third time with promises of croissants and pain au chocolate. He rested his head on his desk, pulled himself upright, and proceeded to dress, grabbing the nearest clothes at hand.

He arrived in the kitchen to find two crusty, once warm, croissants on a plate on the kitchen counter. Suddenly hungry, he ate them greedily and drank the glass of pineapple juice left next to his plate.

The kitchen was a huge room, complete with a beaten looking oak dining table forming a centre-piece. This is where everything came together in the world of Max and Rose, Simon and Annabelle, While much of the house was treated with benign neglect, his parents had spent a lot of money on hiring a carpenter to make the kitchen cabinets out of local sycamore and the slate counter top (now covered in piles like every other horizontal surface in the house) had been shipped in from Wales. As with every other room, the walls were lined with books – most of them cookbooks of every conceivable type. At one end of the room was a cast iron gas fire place. The room faced out to the garden through large French doors that opened onto a stone patio and on to the overgrown jumble of honeysuckle, rose bushes and various herbs that was their garden.

Simon walked in with the Sunday paper, his prematurely graying hair disheveled and his t-shirt stained with coffee. “Nice to see you at last”, he mumbled, a twinkle in his eye. “Ummm” Max hummed. “You missed the pain au chocolate – Rose seemed to think they were hers.”

“S’ok – I’m not that hungry”, Max said absently. “Simon” (Max and Rose always called their parents by their names) “have you ever heard of a place called Clarendon near Shepherd’s Bush?”

“Ah, no. Your mother mentioned your curious map. Why don’t you just take it back to the shop and see if the owner knows anything about it. Most of the shops round there open around noon on Sundays to catch collectors on their days off – they might know something.”

Max’s heart lept at the idea of another day in the city. “Thanks Simon”, Max exclaimed and ran upstairs, newly energized for the day ahead.

After half-heartedly brushing his teeth and splashing water on his face, Max threw the map into his shoulder bag and worked out in his head the best way to into the city. No point going to Russell Square this time, he figured, Tottenham Court Road would be quicker. He could get on the Central Line at Ealing Broadway and would be there in half an hour. The Piccadilly Line had been slow yesterday when he had returned from Leicester Square.

As he was leaving, Simon said, “make sure you are back for six”.

“Don’t worry Simon, I will” Max replied over his shoulder and made his way with a skip in his step down tree lined Northumbria Road.

It was another clear sunny day – not a cloud in the sky. Families were lounging and playing on the green. The ice-cream store had a long line – too long for Max to wait. He pressed his Oyster card to the yellow reader at the station and descended on to the east bound Central Line platform at Ealing Broadway.

Land Diagrams

Amy Cutler has recently started a new web project called Land Diagrams. In this project she selects diagrams from a range of sources and commissions two writers to respond to the diagrams. The writers are not told of each other’s role in this so they write independently about the diagram and the short essays appear on the webpage alongside the diagram – accidentally talking to each other. The results are quite wonderful. Take a look at http://landdiagrams.wordpress.com/

Amy is a PhD student in Royal Holloway’s geography department writing a PhD on the intersection of poetry and geography around the themes of coasts and forests.

Blank Space 4

I have been reading Glyn Maxwell’s rather wonderful little book, On Poetry and found some lovely ruminations on blank space and silence in poetry.

“Regard the space, the ice plain, the dizzying light. That past, that future. Already it isn’t nothing. At the very least it’s your enemy, and that’s an awful lot. Poets work with two materials, one’s black and one’s white. Call them sound and silence, life and death, hot and cold, love and loss….

Call it this and that, whatever it is this time, just don’t make the mistake of thinking the white sheet is nothing. It’s nothing for your novelist, your journalist, your blogger. For those folk it’s a tabular rasa, a giving surface. For the poet it is half of everything. If you don’t know how to use it you are writing prose. If you write poems that you might call free and I might call unpatterned then skilful, intelligent use of the whiteness is all that you’ve got”

(Maxwell, On Poetry, page 11)

Poems are patterns made from space. Even before a word is read you can see a poem’s shape – the black against the white in Maxwell’s terms. This is one of the most pleasing things about poetry and it serves no function at all in a novel or most other forms of writing.

This notion of the black space (writing) against the white space (the space beyond the poem that nevertheless defines the poem) can be retold as the creation of a “place” in “space”. Making a poem in this sense is place-making or dwelling. There are two spatial metaphors at work in the basic language of poetry that point towards this: these are the words ‘stanza’ and ‘verse’. Stanza means ‘room’ and refers to blocks of black separated by white on the page. These are rooms we pass between surrounded by outside. Verse comes from the practice of tilling the soil – agriculture – the root of culture. As the farmer (or farm worker) tills the soil they come to an edge, turn around the make their way back, pacing out the day. Verse can thus be found in ‘reverse’.  These two ideas – stanza – as a block of bounded space and verse as an action – a form of practice that brings those blocks alive and reminds us that they are only there because of movement – these two ideas describe something of the geography of the poem as the interplay of fixity and flux.

Poetry is often referred to as freezing time. In fact, many kinds of representation are said to freeze time (and thus, in some circles, representation has become deeply suspect). In poetry’s case, this could not be further from the truth. Poetry, to me, is a mobile form related to walking and, indeed, ploughing and reversing. We make our places by doing them –by beating the bounds rather than drawing a line in the sand. Beyond that place of movement is the white of silence. But even that space is being shaped, if only as the negative image of the poem.