Monday, 30 May 2016

From cottage estates to A Clockwork Orange

Blink and you missed it. Held as part of Clerkenwell design week, a photographic exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives, ‘Somewhere decent to live’, held in May, celebrated almost a century of council housing built by the London County Council.
It’s a rich and varied tradition. Created in 1889, the LLC used its powers under the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890 to create housing schemes on newly-cleared slum sites.
Opened in 1900, the Boundary Estate in Bethnal Green (shown in the exhibition) housed 5,000 people in five-storey tenement blocks, with shops, a laundry and a club-room. This high-density housing model, not for poorest but for those on artisans’ incomes, had already been demonstrated by the Peabody Trust. But, assisted by government subsidies from 1919, the LCC was to become a far larger and bolder landlord than the philanthropic housing charities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Built in the ‘arts and crafts’ style the Totterdown fields, White Hart Lane and Old Oak housing schemes were prototype council estates of two and three-bedroom ‘cottages’ with parlours, on the then fringes of London. The LLC got into its stride in the 1920s. Among its 90,000-odd new ‘homes fit for heroes’ in the inter-war period were Becontree – straddling the boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, the largest council estate in the world.
Inspired by the Greater London Council’s Home Sweet Home exhibition of 1973, ‘Somewhere decent to live’ combined photographs of newly-completed developments with continuous projection of films made by the LCC and, from 1965, the GLC. The touchingly dated films advertise their now anachronistic aim ‘to relieve overcrowding and to make sure that people who have no real home are decently housed, as soon as possible’.
In the LCC’s County Hall offices planners, surveyors, architects and even sociologist once bent over plans and models, toiling to convert their visions of the future into reality – aerial roads, walkways in the sky – nothing was off-limits.
By the 1950s, the LCC’s architects’ department, called ‘the hothouse’ was the largest in the world. Its professionals had scoured the continent for inspiration. They found it in the workers’ housing of socialist Vienna, in Scandinavian modernism and even in Le Corbusier’s later derided ‘ville radieuse’ (which found a faint echo in the Loughborough Road estate in Lambeth).
Daring to hope for a better world and to embrace the new, LCC and GLC architects changed London’s streetscapes irrevocably with their neo-Georgian walk-up blocks, modernist slabs and points and scissor-section maisonettes. They built ambitious overspill housing schemes in Andover, Haverhill, Huntingdon and Thetford. In Thamesmead, from 1965, they even aspired to create a ‘town of the future’.
By the 1970s, professionals were experimenting with h0using floor-plans that could be specified by tenants. But the tide was turning against them, especially after the Ronan Point explosion in 1972. Their utopian dreams were now portrayed as ‘high-rise hells’. Symbolically, Thamesmead was used as backdrop for Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian film, A Clockwork Orange.
Once neo-Liberalism came to dominate the political landscape, state institutions and their architecture could only be disregarded. London’s strategic authority was abolished in 1986 just before its centenary. County Hall became a hotel and the GLC’s proud architectural heritage was discredited and largely forgotten.
In an age in which dreams are derided, only bad things are thought to come from Europe and communal responsibility to the poor has been replaced by rampant individualism, it was good to be reminded, in these quaint photographs and films, if only for three days, that things were once different.

Somewhere Decent to Live London’s Council Estates in Photographs, 1895 to 1975, 24 to 26 May, London Metropolitan Archives

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Monkey sex god

Let’s speak of Russell Edward Brand
The owner of a mighty gland
His seminal fecundity
Recalls the rakes of history

His natural proclivity
For rutting shows  supremacy
For with his beads and tousled hair
Russell is Casanova’s heir

Astride his leather trousered tool
A libertine and jesting fool
He breached the walls of film and rock
And beat all comers with his cock

He’s squired hundreds, it is said
Out of doors and in his bed
Against the wall or in his shed
To Katie Perry he was wed

Jemima, Geri and the rest
Put randy Russell to the test
Fresh-faced Kate Moss, he had her too
Asda were doing three for two

An affront to the world of men
He tickled us with with dick and pen
Russell the revolutionary
R0used the mob to apathy

Speaking on the Paxman show
He attacked the status quo
Russell ruled the red top news
And posted on his blog, the trews

With disarming lucidity
Through page and screen and DVD
He showed us what is to be
A sexual celebrity

Not too old to rock and roll
He took a spin in Courtney’s hole
Combining his fecundity
With mystical profundity

A million blogs and Tweets he sired
Then to Henley he retired
Now – shocking news for Essex lad
He’s only going to be a dad!

His trouser monster limp and still
He’ll have a lot of time to fill
Perhaps Russell will learn to cook
Or write another bookie wook

Can he show us that a man’s
More than the measure of his glans?
By withdrawing his manhood
And only screwing those he should?

Will he leave world of glamour
And lay aside his velvet hammer?
Merely rely on punditry
Or trade in stand-up comedy?

Will he take himself in hand?
They’re all as one for Russell Brand –
Satyr, film star and guru
The monkey sex god of the zoo

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Sky walkers

Spinning like gossamer down the cliff face 
watch them dancing on gravity
They ply their trade lightly –

in their shining world, they are weightless.
They are sky walkers, not artisans
Only one footprint from calamity
they bring us stories of eternity
At least they are not charlatans.
In their aerial ballet is artistry
As they dangle in space and time

polishing their glass walls to brilliance 
their skill lies in their mastery
of the ordinary and the sublime.

Like true artists, they don’t need us.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The understudy

Heir to a Tweeted conspiracy
Imprisoned in luxury
He is the ultimate understudy
His wife – an accessory

Carefully, we itemise her
He smiles weakly, his hair is thin
Each expression is a metaphor
In nature, he would be the hen
There is almost a tragedy
In his carefully folded poise
Function denies identity
In the illusion of ordinariness
For he is supposed to be like us
Son of a murdered princess

Friday, 29 April 2016

The idle prince

Officialphotographs of Prince William and his family skiing fuelled growing criticismin the British press on Tuesday (March 8) of the "workshy" royal,driven by frustration at his perceived reluctance for a life in the public eye.

With the brave heart of a lion
He watches the sky or scratches his behind
An English Sunday: the smell of roasting venison
Wafts across the solarium
His wife is trying on her new hat
She is part clothes horse part fashion plate
Sometimes the strain of expectation
Shows on her perfect face
One day a Tweet will come
The old man will be gone
The garden looks rather unruly
Should he fly the helicopter?
And the next holiday. Barbados or Monserrat

Do not suppose that it is not a huge burden
To pretend to have a job and to embody luxury
While appearing to be ordinary
Someone must feed the peacocks
And programme the fountains
One day, he’ll have to mow the Home Counties
To say that he, William, is work shy
The understudy to an elderly heir
How unfair! It is no mean thing
To wear the Polo shirt of state
Please do not accuse him of indolence!
It’s a tough job being a prince.
His sole purpose is to wait

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Must try harder

It peered warily through the fence
like a stranger at the fair.
As pale as a slum child
it was too weak to climb the stairs.
It displayed itself reluctantly
when it turned up at all.
It needed prompting constantly
and there was no curtain call.
Like an argument that lacked rigour
it was tentative. It drew back.
In short, there was a want of vigour
there was no strength in its attack.
We need to put the food in the larder.
Next year, the sun must try harder.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

My father's clothes (part two)

Why do I dislike so much to dress smartly
Could it be, perhaps, to piss you off?
You barely noticed me anyway
My big days, it seems, were not big enough

Carefully, you avoided the foreground
There was no sense of occasion for you
And yet, often, when I am slopping around
With no shame, splattered with paint and glue

I am touched by our strange similarity
Waiting in the wardrobe, you are still here
I can breathe you in, step into your shadows
Your slowness, the language we did not share

Our arguments have faded into history
You would not have noticed the irony
Of my reluctance to wear smart clothes
You only had one suit, dad. So do I.

I can hear your slow, patient voice
And remember what you showed me
When I am touching a piece of wood
Your old sanding block, boxed up for charity