So the other night I was in this dead hip place: I’d been invited to read my long poem ‘Analogue’ again as part of a performance of the art installation for which it was commissioned: ‘Infinite Playback’ by the artist Rosie Farrell. An LP recorded with the sound of itself being made. (The poem has been published in Richard Price’s small magazine, ‘Painted. spoken’.
The Bold Tendencies Project is an annual showcase for up-and-coming sculptors, held every year in the disused car park in Peckham Rye. It’s an amazing place, this car park. And even aside from the whole carparkness of it, the roof is the main thing. The whole roof area is made over into a huge bar, called Frank’s Campari Bar. It has a big red awning over the bar area, and pretty much the most spectacular views I’ve ever had such close proximity to, over London. The entire sweep, west to east, just sitting there in front of you, almost in close-up – and no glass between it and you, either. I’ve seen some amazing views of London but this was something else.
Even this doesn’t capture it. How could it? Peaceful west on one side, all the way to the Dome and beyond on the other, with Anish Kapoor’s Olympic thing glowing red, and St Paul’s calm and stately in the middle…
And because it was the hottest night of the year, and because the roof of a car park is a kind of strange, flat, unbuilt, weirdly shimmery environment, and because people were just kind of sitting around on the floor or at picnic tables or leaning on the wall to get the view, and because of the massive expanse of sky, the whole thing up there felt oddly like it was some sort of concrete beach.
Even the sculptures up there – ‘Pere and Terre Hanging Out at Bistro Repetere‘, by Martin Westwood – were made of, or redolent of, sand. Eroded industrial and epic civilisations, and sand.
They also serve what looks like amazing food. I do turn out to know people who already knew this place; I think in fact that I might be the last person in London not to have heard of it; but it’s in Peckham and that’s my excuse. (Having said which, I found I quite liked Peckham. The neighbourhood itself felt like Dalston – old Dalston, that is. Like a pound-shop colony. I got 200 of the cheapest, most useless, made-in-China hair pins you’ve ever seen in one of those pound shops, which was permeated with a strange, overpowering smell of plastic. And the high street, when I was going back to the station later! Wow. If you ever start thinking London is too sanitised and homogenised, go there.)
Anyway, the toilets in the car park are essentially latrines, built onto the rooftop in wooden rows, which you get to on a wooden ramp. There’s one place where you could get vertigo if you wanted, but it is safe. And it’s not quite as primitive as this makes it sound; and they mainly have ‘Women’ written in chalk on their rough-hewn doors. You just ignore the big open urinal at the end, and the blokes, and the vertigo, and scoot into one of the ‘women’ doors, which I did. To be honest, surprising as this is for London, it’s only like camping or a festival or something, and it made me start to relax and feel a bit as if I’d thrown off some of the shackles of our over-mediated urban life. We do need, in the city, to have some sort of way of experiencing something in a non-managed, non-approved (even) way, and I think the whole car park/new art/Frank’s/rooftop/vertigo/latrine thing was doing that for me.
I was in there reflecting on this Rousseauean reverie when two girls went into the two ‘women’ doors opposite me, and I heard their entire conversation.
Hey, doesn’t this place remind you of something?
Doesn’t it remind you of something? Guinea pigs, it reminds me of guinea pigs or something.
I think it’s the smell, it’s pee and raw wood, isn’t it. You know. It’s making me think of when I was little and had a guinea pig.
You know what I mean?
Oh, didn’t you have a guinea pig when you were little?
Ohhh, I did, I used to love my guinea pig! Until it died.
Aww, how did it die?
My brother killed it.
Well he left the cage open, and it fell out and died, it broke its back.
Your brother killed your guinea pig?
Which brother? …
Yeah, Bazza did it. He didn’t do it on purpose, he said he was really sorry.
Oh. Oh my God.
Well, it was an accident. He did apologise, he just forgot to shut the door, he didn’t mean it…
But it was so cute, you should have seen it! It was the cutest, I loved it.
Anyway so it’s funny, it smells a little like the cage in here…