Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Shipping Forecasts, Subtopias, Bohemias, and other Architectural ramblings


UK Shipping Forecast Zones (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There is a brilliant, beautiful new show on BBC iplayer - Attention All Shipping: A Journey Around the Shipping Forecast - they are reading parts from Charlie Connely's "Attention All Shipping", and it looks set to be a poetic journey on those most mysterious of radio words, those mysterious place names "Cromarty ForthTyneDogger" and the gales, read almost rhythmically after one hears "Sailing By".

I wrote about the Shipping Forecast on this blog sometime ago; after years of curiosity I went so far as to dig up a map, but in this, Connelly actually goes to visit the places themselves! What a beautiful idea. It is nice to hear it read out on the radio as well, because the radio is the format in which one first heard the Shipping Forecast; and it bears the same hypnotic, lyrical quality of the recitations of maritime weather conditions that has etched the Shipping Forecast into the minds of even those who know so little of the sea.

North Utsire
South Utsire
German Bight
Irish Sea
Fair Isle
Southeast Iceland

Ian Nairn

In a similar vein, I have been digging up some old videos of writers, topographers, and radio presenters who spoke a lot about architectures and cities. It begun from a half-remembered reference to an "outraged" english architectural critic named Nairn who had written passionately on the blank, boring anonymity of english towns that also seemed to be encroaching with its disease of sameness all across england, and that was the focus of his book "Outrage". Unfortunately this same passion for what he acutely perceived as the destruction of the landscape also seems to have destroyed his spirit, and he had drunk himself to death, dying of cirrhosis of the liver even before I was even born, and it seemed that all his books (he had written two other books - "Nairn's London" and "Nairn's Paris") were completely out of print today. A mystery, almost unreachable, how would one conceivably find out about him? But I googled around for his name and discovered that he had actually made a number of television shows, and a few have survived and found their way to youtube. This is introduced by Jonathan Meades (also a legend in his own right), and in this show, Nairn certainly cuts a strange figure, coming across as slightly worn-out, and I have to admit, that perhaps he is best and wittiest on the page...

The Guardian also retraced his steps in a series, "Outrage Revisited":
Outrage Revisited: Milton Keynes
Outrage revisited: From Northampton to Daventry
Outrage revisited: From Newport Pagnell to Ely
Outrage revisited: Save Hadleigh from Tesco

From The Guardian: Ian Nairn's voice of outrage:

He made his instant mark with "Outrage", a fearless and revelatory attack on what was fast becoming the unbridled banality of Britain's landscape and "townscape", as the AR labelled the art of the way we should be making our towns and cities. For Nairn and the AR, a journey, by Morris Minor, from Southampton to Carlisle said it all. He forged a word for what he saw: Subtopia – "its symptom will be that the end of Southampton will look like the beginning of Carlisle; the parts in between will look like the end of Carlisle or the beginning of Southampton."

And the outrage? "The Outrage is that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns ... Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern..."

Jonathan Meades

Here is a great programme with the equally brilliant deadpan Jonathan Meades talking about how the exotic begins at home. In some ways, I feel as if Nairn's love of buildings and cities had been passed on in Meades. This show is perhaps even more relevant, as his programme marries the topics of art and architecture (how artist studios affected architectures) and also delightfully explores many fascinating toponymical gems.

Screen Shot 2012-10-03 at 11.01.50 AM.png

He begins by describing a painting which he describes most lavishly and richly, in rather high regard - which he finally, and hilariously reveals, was actually some incomplete painting abandoned in his parents' garden shed by an apparently artistic "bohemian" with an affinity for the drink, and who had convalesced in his parents' house while recovering from a broken leg sustained after falling off a stair while being drunk on the eve of leaving for the navy.

"That would figure, for Lucas was a Bohemian, and drinking clubs were big in Bohemia..."

And on that punchline, he goes on the search for the so-called artistic "Bohemia" in the UK (there are apparently 4 Bohemias in the UK - "Bohemia" in North Yorkshire, "Bohemia" in East Sussex, "Bohemia" in Wiltshire, and "Bohemia" in Isle of Wight). He goes on his own journey trying to discover how the country of "Bohemia" has come to exert such a "toponymical hold" over England in relation to the architectures inhabited by its artists, and how it has come to be related to the sense of "artistic abandon"...

Jonathan Meades - In Search of Bohemia

And... I reckon that's quite enough of my anglophilia for one day, I must really go back to studying French now. But I suppose, thinking about all this, the reason why I am drawn to Architecture is the same reason I am drawn to words. Architectures have the ability to inspire the most sumptuously written poetry, or the most scathing vitrol; in a way the architectures do not have to change in order for one to change's one's perspective on a building simply by having read a rousing text on the very same building - and instantly, with a single word - it is altered forever. For me the text and the architecture must go together.

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