Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Richard King

Richard King | 18th December 2009

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

I’m lucky enough, if you like this sort of thing, to live in the countryside. In 2009, however, I was immersed in the spectral, semi-functioning, half lit infrastructure of this country. Iain Sinclair calls it edgeland; I’m tempted to call it the United Kingdom.

The year was spent looking out the window of a train. I spent an inordinate amount of time on the bloody things. Is it just me or does every train journey feel like a new, deeply disappointing, experience? Each was worth taking though, as I finally completed two years of research on a book. My interview technique – broadly speaking listening to remarkable people whilst sat in a pub – continued to affect time to stand still. Two interviews in particular stand out as highlights: watching Edwyn Collins and Grace Maxwell unlock and weave between the memories of two extraordinary lives; and sitting in a rainy Devon inn with Andrew Lauder, hearing unbelievable, and sadly unprintable, Stone Roses and Neu! anecdotes. All I have to do now is write the thing.

Two books: Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism and Joe Moran’s On Roads, were the perfect accompaniment to my sojourns. Hatherley writes about architecture the way Michael Bracewell wrote about Dexy’s Don’t Stand Me Down. Moran’s ghost maps make new sense of the British Isles. Both made for wonderful changes of perspective, a perspective largely defined by the depth of field of a train window.

Zero Books who had an incredible year published Hatherley’s book. Texts (I think they’d approve of the use of the word) by Nina Power and Mark Fisher did to the plump culture of middlebrow, what Wyndham Lewis did to the Bloomsbury Group. Zero was part of a very happy trend. Located somewhere between the films of Adam Curtis and Patrick Keiller, at some awesome midpoint of blood and fire, compassion and intelligence made themselves known again. I include the charming Words on Water in this emerging space, and perhaps, in Loops, I made my own small contribution. If the financial crisis left most of us poor, pissed off and scratching our heads, it may just also mean that irony, for so long the sine qua non of contemporary culture and its attendant commentary, may have at last been told to sack it.

The day after the Loops launch I spent two idyllic hours wandering around Richard Long’s Heaven & Earth at the Tate. A remarkable autobiography. To witness a life lived so deeply, and so seriously, in nature, is to feel both limited and inspired. Nick Hand’s cycle journey around the coast of Britain, recorded with such wit and humility, was equally resonant. We met Nick three days into his journey on a sunny evening in Pembrokeshire, a man of real warmth and of a wonderful, almost monkish, countenance.

Not sure if I mentioned this, but I took a lot of trains; so much so that I began to recognise the train spotters on Newport station. I was born in Newport and my parents still live there. It’s a place I now pass through, the sight of the Corus steel plant, forever re-opening only to quickly close, stirs in me a pathos I now acknowledge as a shared national identity. Always sitting at the same table, the train spotters became a constant presence. I began to notice that as well as talking excitedly and sharing their flasks, they also communicated in sign language. Their sense of fellowship, their deeply felt enthusiasm and never-ending smiles – I’m not sure why they left such an impression on me, but leave it they did.

Nothing short of heroic.