Lowndes Square was one of several projects designed by George Basevi, the architect son of a London merchant of the same name; he trained under Sir John Soane and his early work includes the St. Thomas’ Church in Stockport as well as Belgrave Square – also in London – which took sixteen years to complete. Basevi was similarly responsible for designing the Founder’s Building at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, but died before it was completed (with Charles Robert Cockerell – who designed the Ashmolean – stepping in to finish the job). Lowndes Square is, so I read, a twist on what was typical of Belgravia. Whilst it features the white stucco grand terraces beloved, then at least, by the likes of Cubbitt and the Hardwick unlike Belgrave Square’s houses – which the aforementioned assisted in designing – Basevi kept tighter control on Lowndes and enforced uniformity by being its only designer (perhaps by pulling planning strings with his cousin Benjamin Disraeli?). Today it is occupied by oligarchs. Roman Abramovich owns a property there worth an estimated £150 million, but I saw that in the Daily Mail so who knows.
The Jumeirah Carlton Tower, a 5 star hotel that describes itself as ‘the essence of Knightsbridge’ and ‘a beacon of British style and sophistication’ sits just behind Lowndes Square and is, I think, the site where Susan Maitland is hurled to her death by what might be called a ‘global weather event’, whereby the speed of the wind increases exponentially until much of the Earth – with perhaps the exception of the far extremities, already windswept in their own icy way – is reduced to powdered stone. There is nothing left of the structures that we have built. Donald, her former husband, who had returned back to his apartment in the complex via armoured personnel carrier could do nothing but stare; he ‘saw her for an instant, catapulted through the updraught rising from the street, bounce off the roof of the Embassy building and then spin away like a smashed doll into the maze of rooftops beyond.’
In the strictest sense, which I would imagine to be anathema to Deleuze and Guattari were they still alive, Susan’s death is not a line of flight. I mean it is in a literal sense, in that she flies out of the window and bounces off of the roof of the Pakistan Embassy (or High Commission as it is listed today), but in a looser sense it still qualifies, in the context that ligne de fuite can cover ‘not only the act of fleeing or eluding but also flowing, leaking, and disappearing into the distance’…note the avoidance of the rest of that quote and its disavowal of flying. Susan is obviously disappearing in to the distance, reflecting Donald’s collapsing support network – which he had assumed no longer mattered, hence his planned departure for London Airport at the opening of the book – but she is also fleeing. Her death is an escape from complicity in the destruction that follows.
The apartment building Donald steps in to, prior to finding Susan semi-hiding out, is in reality an expensive hotel in Knightsbridge, but whilst reading of the gradual destruction of the Capital all I could picture was One Hyde Park, its empty corridors and expansive, shiny floor space (possessed but uninhabited, private security guards stalked by the ghosts of venture capital and secretly executed hedge-fund managers) a proxy for the abandonment of any semblance of interest in the ever-increasing gulf between owners and owned. It has always been thus; at least it isn’t a future of skies filled with nothing but buildings turned to dust. Oh. Excuse me. Donald’s remaining friends in military intelligence, either before or after Susan’s death (I forget which), have to enter a similar complex by blasting through an underground garage, the only point of entry, a security precaution designed by – I think – a man named Marshall as a way of keeping out undesirables. Later, much later, a similar entrance is required to allow access to a gigantic reinforced concrete pyramid, poorly anchored, eventually destroyed, but again designed solely as an insulated system. No connection between multiplicities, no transformations just exteriorities and people staring out at exteriority.
There are three potential walking routes from my house to the University where I work. Two of them converge at this point, with one initially tracing a line along the Hull Road which heads east out the city before snaking up Greendykes to the main vehicular access point to the campus, and the other following the school route past St.Leonards (via a cut-through I mentioned here) and then a shortcut between hospital buildings at The Retreat, the mental health centre established by William Tuke (his confectionery associate, Joseph Rowntree, is buried on the fringes of the grounds). The former route I use infrequently, and more often as a return route if I am accompanied by colleagues who live off the east road. The route includes the nunnery my house backs on to – soon to be redeveloped as student flats – and a number of new-build flats already partially occupied by students. The buildings have been given suitably-York names to remind people of a rough geography of the North, what we might call landscape-factoring structures; there is Bolton (after the castle), Helmsley (after the market town and castle) and Rievalux (after the abbey). These are names referring to other examples of the built environment, allied to buildings not really faintly similar to their namesakes. No bother. Further up the road, there is another set of student flats called The Boulevard. It has a security gate at the front, private security personnel inside, and an architecture that reaffirms the prevalence of flat pack thoughtlessness in design.
‘By the time I came to England at the age of sixteen I’d seen a great variety of landscapes. I think the English landscape was the only landscape I’d come across which didn’t mean anything, particularly the urban landscape. England seemed to be very dull, because I’d been brought up at a much lower latitude — the same latitude as the places which are my real spiritual home as I sometimes think: Los Angeles and Casablanca. I’m sure this is something one perceives — I mean the angle of light, density of light. I’m always much happier in the south — Spain, Greece — than I am anywhere else. The English one, oddly enough, didn’t mean anything. I didn’t like it, it seemed odd. England was a place that was totally exhausted.’
The point where the two routes meet – linked to earlier on Googlemaps – is a small road that has no real access for vehicles except as a drop off point. Until recently Googlemaps had this road listed as the main route in to the University. I attempt to highlight the mistake, owing to my cartographical OCD, but Google offered no feature whereby mistakes could be reported. Seemed odd, or potentially demonstrated Google’s control over the ways in which we interpret territory, or our understanding of the spaces we move through. Perhaps not as extreme as the case last year where Costa Rica was invaded by Nicaragua based on Googlemap inaccuracies over borders. Google’s spokesperson suggested that ‘by no means should they [the maps] be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries’. Good to know. On the new Googlemaps, which appears to remove the old left hand info bar in favour of presenting a full page map with the old information embedded in the image itself, even the unofficial footpath through the trees to the back of the Biology block is included. There is something about this that makes me feel slightly grubby, the idea that this shortcut carved out by dog walkers, occasional student walkers and cyclists, is now codified by Google. Here, the creation of the path, what Lefebvre might term the representational space of walkers, is captured and made representative space, the preserve of the planners, and no longer lived in the same way. A reterritorialization on behalf of quasi-accuracy.
The third route to/from work heads from my house towards the school but diverges at this point. This is one of several entrances to Walmgate Stray, an area that is also known as Low Moor and is, as far as I’m aware, common land. Last year cattle were a frequent sight on the Stray, and made negotiating a route home slightly trickier. As with the east road route, I am more likely to take this route on my way back from work, rather than on the way there, with the exception of last week when low fog in the morning made the route an obvious choice based exclusively on ‘eerie atmosphere’. The route from work involves crossing the Stray partially on a paved path (where a colleague nearly ran me over on their bike several years ago as we headed to the Fulford Arms pub; again, this was in thick fog) before heading north under the usually heavy arms of trees, the mental hospital playing fields on the right behind a high wall, and the currently fallow allotments on the left, behind a low fence. The route between these two zones climbs gently to a peak which seems to be the highest point for 30 miles. From the top of the hill you can see the White Horse at Kilburn.
Last Easter, with snow still on the ground, I walked out to the White Horse along Roulston Scar (accompanied by my wife, and Stokes and Vicky who were visiting; they had brought homemade crème eggs which were the stickiest thing I have ever eaten). The snow was peppered by dog shit, which detracted somewhat from the view across the Vale. Eyes down, not up. You had to pass the gliding club to get out to The Horse. From the viewpoint around about the horses head it was possible to see the Minster through ‘powerful binoculars’. The scar was appropriately windswept, largely barren, but well walked as evidenced by the number of families in the tea room back at the car park. It was also, I learnt afterwards, one of the key sites in the Scottish War for Independence; the location of the Battle of Old Byland, where Edward II was defeated in 1322. The horse itself was carved on to the hill at the request of Thomas Taylor, a local who had seen the Uffington Horse in 1857 and wanted something similar for his village (or so writes Morris Marples in the 40s). None of that Neolithic symbolism for them.
The hill I walk across on my way home has something much older underneath it. The University, around July last year, set up a series of walks and talks around the area and fixed info points to walls from which I learnt about some of this. The walks/talks themselves were cancelled due to inclement weather (rain rather than fog). There is a hint of older structures and uses near the high wall, with a series of undulations and mounds that are clearly man made, but then I’m no archaeologist (or, for that matter, much of anything else). More information here I believe.
The hill was used during the Civil War. As the highest point in the area, cannons were positioned to fire in to the walls at Walmgate Bar, which still bears the marks of prolonged attack during the Siege of York. The gun platform was set up in 1644. Prior to that there was a windmill there. Before that, according to excavations done at the site, it was an Anglian cemetery, the 38 inhumations found there facing East-West. My route off the hill takes me back along the path of the birds at midnight. The spectaculars of history – by which I mean that all of history, by codifying its events and its ‘important people’, becomes spectacular regardless of representational accuracy – and the mundane nature of my walk, beneath the flight of a cannonball, interlink. I am, temporally-speaking, unable to escape the territory.
‘In the centre of Times Square a giant saguaro cactus raised its thirty-foot arms into the overheated air, an imposing sentinel guarding the entrance to a desert nature reserve. Clumps of sagebrush hung from the rusting neon signs, as if the whole of Manhattan had been transformed into a set for the ultimate western. Prickly pear flourished in the second-floor windows of banks and finance houses, yucca and mesquite shaded the doorways of airline offices and travel agents.’
Works consulted, in no particular order, include:
Lefebvre, H. 1991. The Production of Space. Wiley-Blackwell.
Marples, M. 1949. White Horses and Other Hill Figures. Sutton Publishing.
Deleuze, G and Guatarri, F.1980. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Vol. 2. Trans. Brian Massumi. Continuum Press.
Ballard, J.G. 1962. The Wind From Nowhere. Penguin Books
Ballard, J.G. 1962. The Drowned World. Berkley Books
Ballard, J.G. 1975. Interview with James Goddard. Available here