A quick one.

For the past few weeks I haven't been drinking. Hangovers were getting to the stage where they were impacting on my life in a truly negative way, so I thought I'd have a few weeks off and try and work out a better way of doing things.

Physically, I don't feel different - apart from the no hangovers thing. And mentally I don't feel better, but I do feel stranger. Life feels a bit more distant - like I'm holding it at arm's length. Things don't seem so urgent, or exciting, or terrible. I feel like I have more time to respond, like everything has slowed down just the tiniest amount.

The main feeling is one of ownership - everything I do and say is mine.There is no external influence. And if I do or say something ridiculous, then I don't feel worried about it, because I was bound to do or say it anyway.

It's a sober shrug. A sort of dry determinism.


On Sunday, I braved the cold to drive out to the edge of London with Tim Bowditch and Nick Rochowski.

Tim and Nick have been taking photos of the M25 - or, more specifically, they have been taking photos underneath the M25.

(A quick note to say that [obviously] these aren't Tim and Nick's pictures - these are, as always, low quality digital photos from my phone)

All around the motorway are underpasses - some of them are small tunnels that allow the road to cross streams, others are more traditional underpasses that bridge small roads or footpaths, and some, like in the above photo, are for farmers to drive tractors between their fields, divided by the M25.

This tunnel had some unique graffiti with a big focus on anal concerns.


And the usual hastily sketched cocks.

Tim and Nick are trying to avoid the graffiti - their photos will highlight the material, abstracted nature of the architecture.

But Nick said something which, for me, connected the graffiti to the architecture in an interesting way. He was trying to rub off a chalk mark on one of the walls and he said that the tunnels were like the surface of the moon - any human trace would be preserved for many years, protected from the elements that would normally wash them away.

I was also thinking about "bad" graffiti (tags, lewd comments, drawings of cocks), and how it tells you a lot more about the social history of a place than "good" graffiti (skilful spray-paint work, big colourful letters etc.). Like the EUROZ tag in the photo above. When did the tagger choose his name? Surely before the crisis in the Eurozone? Or is it a comment on the economic situation? If I was a tagger I'd go for RENMINBI (the Chinese currency) in the current climate.

We ended the day here, a large underpass over a river and public footpath. These triangular areas of negative space caught our eyes immediately - unintentional masonic symbols brought about by the extreme functionalism of the architecture.

These are the sort of dead zones that feel almost haunted - the M25 is right above you, you can hear the suspension in the bridge working constantly - echoing, clunking, swishing noises.

From far away the road sounds like the sea. Up close it is more like factory - the noise never ceases, inseparable from the functioning of the motorway. Maybe the noise is the product? Or maybe it is a symptom? The tinnitus ridden ear canal of a giant.

The camera Tim and Nick are using for the project has an achromatic digital back. That means that it can take photos in almost total darkness because it picks up the whole light spectrum, including infrared waves.

The camera takes in a huge amount of visual information, with the surface of the concrete rendered in textural detail that is breathtaking - zooming in on a few hi-res images on the computer is like taking a magnifying glass to the surface of another planet.

The downside (on a cold January night) is that the photos need long exposures - up to an hour. And this is then doubled by the in-camera processing.

On the other hand, this long, enforced habitation of dead space becomes an extreme meditation on the built environment. Squatting in the cold, on a muddy bank, for two hours, certainly focuses your mind on what's around you.

This focused attention is always there in photography - especially landscape or architectural photography. Noticing and planning and understanding the shot you want to take is as important as your technical skill with the equipment.

I suppose it is a sort of enforced mindfulness, or this idea of 'the importance of paying attention' that I have written about before.

Also, the language of photography allows Tim and Nick to talk about embarrassing, romantic ideas like beauty or the sublime in technical terms. The need for a certain depth of field or exposure time is a technical appreciation of the task of capturing such a landscape in one image.

We had to give up on the last shot, it was getting late and they couldn't get the angle that they both understood to be the essence of the picture they wanted. Nick said, 'it's so frustrating - you can see it in your head, but it just isn't there'.

I'd say that this ability to conceive of a unified image that isn't there is one of the basic functions of human understanding. Without it we wouldn't be able to think about ideas that we couldn't directly perceive: like the idea of 'London' as a single place; or 'Me' as a single identity; or the M25 as a single road, circling the city endlessly, chasing its own tail. Round and round and round.

Lars Iyer

Here is a brilliant extract from an interview with Lars Iyer. It perfectly captures the sense of total impotence that encompasses contemporary creative activity, and then turns it on its head, making it the only reason anyone should carry on creating.

Lars Iyer's new book Dogma is out in Febrary. His first book, Spurious, is a masterpiece of adolescent humour and philosophy and you should read it if you like that sort of thing.


Have you found it possible to make a living by writing the sort of thing you want to, without other work? Do you think there is a place in our current economic system and climate for literature as a profession?
Making a living by my writing? No! I have a job, and the writing I do is a sideline, a hobby. I use this belittling word on purpose. My literary endeavours bring in no more than pocket money… In some ways, I deserve to be mocked, not because I carry on writing literature without understand its posthumousness, but because I go on regardless of the very real material proof of its posthumousness!

There is something glorious about Kafka’s night-time writing in his room in his parents’ flat. Something wonderful about his obscurity, about the fact that he published so little when his friends published so much. We can read his diaries and letters and think: there’s a man of integrity! That’s what it means, really means, to be a writer! But our impression is dependent on Kafka’s eventual success, and on a culture, his culture, where there was a potential audience for his work all along.

There is, by contrast, something pathetic about my obscurity. The blog, Writers No One Reads, celebrates forgotten writers whose work is barely known in the English-speaking world. But I’m already a Writer No One Reads, whose work didn’t register sufficiently in general culture to be forgotten. I say this without self-pity, rather with a certain amusement. Nevertheless, it is pitiful in some strong sense. I really am wasting my time... Why bother?, I ask myself. But the challenge is to pose that question in the work itself.

How is that possible? It means, for me, the foregrounding a kind of imposture, not only in what the characters say or do, but in the form of the novel, too. For me, my novels mustn’t look like literature in the old sense. I’m not aiming at producing meta-fiction in the manner, say, of ‘60s American ‘high’ postmodernists. Their work, for me, still shows a belief in the novel. It is still supported by the collective fantasy of the novel, of ‘literature’. There was still a crowd before which they performed their hi-jinks. The experimentalists produced tolerable perversions of the still-sacred Novel, and their works could still be taught in the university.

For me, what needs to be exposed, laughed at, is the fiction of literary autonomy, of l’art pour l’art. For me, the literary novel itself is a fiction, existing through a kind of collective fantasy. In our time, the literary novel has to show its efforts to be itself – its sweat, so to speak. The literary novel must show how it hustles for itself, promotes itself. Because it’s become increasingly apparent that there is no ‘itself’, that the collective fantasy which sustained the novel is breaking down.

It might be objected that this breakdown reveals what was always the case: that novel-writing has always involved a performance of novel-writing — an act of belief, a kind of ritual on the part of literary reviewers, literary publishers, etc. This is true. But, still, it is the moment at which this fantasy reveals itself, the moment at which it breaks down, that is crucial. For me, this is what has occurred since the ‘high’ postmodernity of the 1960s, when it has become clear that all the ludism in the world cannot by itself expose the literary imposture. There is a terrible melancholy to this realisation, I think. It opens no new horizon, no fresh world for literature to conquer. Something really has been lost …

This is what, for me, career literary novelists, who understand literature as a profession, never understand. They believe in what they write, and their publishers believe in what they sell, and the reviewers believe in what they review. Good luck to them! The ‘current economic conditions and climate’ will allow them to thrive for a little while yet …


I'm finally getting down to do some real research for this project at The Royal Standard. I've started reading Iain Sinclair's Lights Out for the Territory. Which charts a series of walks done by the writer across London in the mid-nineties.

It's good. He seems less angry than in London Orbital, which was written much later, in 2002. But then again, by 2002 Labour had been in power for five years. Tony Blair was about to throw us into a nine year war in Iraq, and, for a resident of East London, such as Sinclair, the Millennium Dome  was there, just waiting to bring the bile up to the back of one's throat.

Sinclair references the Dome a lot in his writing. For someone interested in the city as a mystical place - with city politics as black magic - the Dome is an obvious touchstone. The Dome is something that everyone remembers for the wrong reasons, and as a signifier for corrupt and pointless acts of government expenditure, you can't get much better. Well, not yet anyway. London 2012 awaits...

Anyway, as I'm reading a lot of Sinclair, I thought I'd walk to the Dome and see if I could sense any of the dark energy being picked up or sent out by those yellow metal struts.


To get down to Greenwich foot tunnel I have to walk through Canary Wharf. That place is mystifying. It has its own security force. Not the people in the orange jackets - sure they're paid to stand around and look at you with a beady eye as you take photos. No, the real security are the joggers. The infinite lunchtime joggers.

As I approached the roadside security hut (private land - if you're driving you get checked on the way in. No undesirables - not that anyone would know what Canary Wharf desires, apart from incredibly fluid capital, but how do you fit that in your car?) I saw a guy jogging up and down the road beside Billingsgate Fish Market. Back and forth. Sprinting slowly. He would hit a wall as he got to the edge of the land owned by LDDC (London Docklands Development Corporation). Perhaps he was trying to escape. Needed a run up. Maybe he had one of those metal tags in his feet, like a supermarket trolley with a magnetic security feature. Everyone gets one when you work here.

As I took this photo (there is the Dome, lurking in the background, behind the masonic pillars that mark the edge of the territory [maybe they send out the magnetic signal to stop escapees?]), two more joggers passed me, on lunchtime patrol. Australians. Talking about their Olympic tickets. I imagine Olympic tickets raining down on Canary Wharf like confetti, or torn up £50 notes.

Here is a nice dead zone across the water. I think I can get onto there - maybe something to try when Colin Dilnot comes down to visit me for more research. What would I do there? Perform shamanistic rituals? Sacrifice a Pret a Manger sandwich? Gymnastics? How long would I last before the joggers dived in, swam over and escorted me from the property? Is it in their jurisdiction, or would they bounce back off the LDDC's force field, and watch me from the edge of their Zone, wondering what on earth I was doing and how I could possibly monetise it?

As you get across to South Quay, the money starts to fade away. More fencing, less security. Less brand names. More independent (read: weird) retailers. Faceless warehousey-offices designed by no-namers. Here is a nice altar upon which to perform for passers by - mostly lost tourists and shame faced Canary Wharf workers who live the wrong side of the South Quay footbridge (because who else would live here? Why?).

And here is some fake grass around the base of a tree.


Greenwich Foot Tunnel. The lift is out of order (has been for at least a year) - so it is stairs down, and stairs back up the other end. I'm surprised by the amount of drain covers in the tunnel. What are they for? Surely we want to keep the borders pretty tight on this place? And why are there puddles on the floor? Is there something we should be told? Occasional light rain perhaps. Spilled bottles of water. Dogs who can't wait. We hope.

Then along the Thames path for a while, From Greenwich towards Blackwall Point (Points and Quarters, very regeneration-y terms. Don't see them much outside of the yellow signs that attempt to navigate you around a blank world of new build houses and empty streets). Many diversions, because of all the developments - thousands of empty flats. Sorry, luxury riverside apartments. Almost as many flats as there are pubs called The Cutty Sark. Maybe someone should call a meeting. There should be a catchment area around the ship which gives pubs the right to call themselves The Cutty Sark. It gets confusing.


As I approach the Dome from different angles, I keep seeing the big hole that pierces the side of the tent (For that is what it is, a big tent. Let us not forget.) like a trepanated skull. Maybe it lets all the bad vibes out. The sad John Prescott energies. It lets all the good energies in. The O2 energies. The branded energies of well known food chains. The Cineworld vibes.


I get to the Blackwall Tunnel underpass.More Dead Zones to colonise. To inhabit. Good places to drink tins of super strong lager and howl at the sky. Exorcise New Labour with Big Society street drinking and sick up the life blood of Peter Mandelson into a discarded traffic cone. Carry it around like an Olympic torch. Pour him back into the river.


To walk to the Dome is to miss the point entirely. Why do you think we built all the roads? What was the Jubilee line extension for?

I'm on Millennium Way here. A begrudging pavement finally accepted me after a haphazard road crossing. I went over the roundabout, climbed it like a shit mountain, and dropped onto the traffic-less approach to the Dome.

Fenced off water feature. Everything is still being built. All the time. For ever. Nothing has been finished here since they started building it.

These water features are on Peninsula Square, in front of the entrance to the Dome. They look like they are a mistake. Bad plumbing. Oozing filthy water up from the Thames. Maybe from the drains of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

I don't know what this is, but it was humming and no one else was looking at it. Does the Dome have its own  power station? Is it sentient? Maybe it creates the Millenial force field within which the correct '2000' style conditions are maintained in order for the Dome to stay erect.


I went into the dome, got my bag searched (Standard. They should have done it when I crossed the border into Canary Wharf). The whole place was empty - it being a Friday morning in January. No big shows. No summer crowds. Putting on a brave face. It was me, the security guards (no joggers), and a few more lost tourists.

There is a big sign advertising the opportunity to download a Kasabian gig that took place on New Year's Eve (2011, not 1999). The band look sad in the photo. Like they know that they are stuck within the Millenial force field, forever failing to create music that sounds like the present. Retro-necro at the Dome. Maybe they never played on NYE. They just ran a tape from a gig in 2000, did some video FX to make them look a bit older and fatter. Richer.

And that was it really. A lot of empty restaurants. A few bars. Oh, and a Nissan promotional 'Experience' where you got to pretend to drive an electric car.

And design an electric car.

And have your picture taken in front of a green screen with an electric car. You got to choose what caption went on your picture. Mine says 'grim'.