Local author Iain Sinclair was signing the paperback copy of his book Hackney, That Red Rose Empire outside our local bookshop at the weekend. However I missed it due to an antenatal class at Homerton hospital. Well, my wife attended the class, while I walked the corridors of the spookily empty hospital explaining to our two year old the various things we saw.
(We're at the endless questions stage. "What's that daddy?"
"It's a chair."
"But what is it daddy?"
"Well, it's a chair actually."
"What does it do?"
Actually, come to think of it, the experience was quite Sinclairian.
It was a shame to miss it though. Firstly, I wanted to see if he actually made it, or was blocked from Broadway Market by the council's henchmen. Apparently they took offence at his dim view of the Olympics and barred him from speaking in council venues when the book came out in hardback. They took a dim view of a lengthy piece he'd written in the London Review of Books voicing his concerns about the 'Lympics.
Secondly, having read the book I feel like I'm sort of stalking Iain, or he's stalking me. It's an odd sensation to have your stomping ground mapped so assiduously. My history in Hackney is just over ten years, whereas Iain's dates back to the Sixties or Seventies. We've both seen changes.
This was brought home to me the other week when I was browsing a book of photos of Hackney from the early Eighties. One of the black and white shots was of the playground next to the Pub on the Park. This is a favourite of ours and somewhere I've seen Iain Sinclair a couple of times with his wife and grandchild (I told you this post was stalkerish. In my defence, he mentions his grandchildren in the book, and their birth in Homerton Hospital. He is also highly visible in Hackney as he walks constantly around the borough).
Anyway, the playground in the picture was a rather depressing and bare place with a slide and some swings on a patch of scruffy grass. See Iain, some things do get better over time.
I suppose the point I'm working towards is that there are no coincidences in Sinclair world, so it was probably just as well that I didn't make it to the book signing. Who knows what might have happened. The earth might have folded in on itself or something.
The book itself is fascinating, although being so familiar with the area, I found that his slightly dyspeptic view of the borough didn't chime with my own. This hasn't been the case when I've read his other books - it's his unique perspective that I enjoy. But if his philosophy is about anything, it's about how we relate to our surroundings, and I guess I'm a bit of a happy, clappy Hackney champion. Hell, I even think the Olympics will be great. Yes the Lea Valley will have lost an urban wilderness, but it would have been developed sometime and somehow. At least with 2012 there is something of a grand plan in place, and I'm a sucker for those.
Maybe I'm too literal in how I think of psychogeography, but I was surprised that he didn't mention the effect of the borough's murder rate on Hackneyites. In the relatively short time that I've lived here I'm struck by the number of places that I now associate with death. Within a few hundred yards of here in any direction there are places where, usually young men have died. In front of the town hall, London Fields, Dalston Shopping Centre, Amhurst Road...
As I walk the borough I find it hard to dissociate myself from this violence, and yet I remain a great fan of Hackney and its people. It's a complex place.