Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The plan: Walking to Aldergrove

“I’ve taken to long-distance walking,” extolls Will Self at the beginning of one of his ‘Psychogeography’ columns for the Independent, “as a means for dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum, and decouples human from physical geography.” Such lofty, high-academic language belies Self’s acute awareness of the modern-day psychogeographer’s position within society. “Most of the psychogeographic fraternity…are really only local historians with an attitude problem. Indeed, real, professional local historians view us as insufferably bogus and traveling - if anywhere at all - right up ourselves."

Despite this withering indictment I have resolved to ape Self’s psychogeographic technique of walking to airports, rather than surrendering to the hermetically sealed box of a car or the automated and undeviating route of a train or bus. This week I will walk from George Best City airport in East Belfast to Aldergrove International airport in the far-flung reaches of darkest Antrim. Admitting it out loud makes me feel embarrassed and concerned that people will not understand and call me mad, or a time-waster, dismiss me out of hand. However, since I first conceived it as a possibility two weeks ago I cannot rest until I have done it.

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Perhaps, as Self suggests, it is the simple idea of ‘The Quest,’ the ‘Epic Journey,’ casting myself as some sort of Tolkienesque hero who’s going to subvert the corrupt social order of car-dependent urbanism by wearing out my own shoe-leather and irreparably damaging my calf muscles in the process. Then again, more modestly I hope to achieve a more acute spatial awareness for the city in which I have lived my entire life , experienced as isolated and disembodied islands of Proustian events and the jumbled phenomena of my adolescence.

I have tried in recents years, and increasingly in recent months, to get to grips with the city by marinating in the historicism and literate narratives of Belfast. Pouring over books, records, novels and poetry, every time a place name is mentioned I reach for my laptop and locate it within Google Maps. Occasionally, if I’m lucky, it’s somewhere I know, or at least adjacent to a familiar spot. More often than not it’s in a part of the city I know only by name or reputation. The narrative is only given power if it becomes connected to space. Space then becomes place.

The epic walk, then, becomes cinematic. Reliance on a car or train becomes similar to a jumpcut, or fast-forwarding to the middle of the story and expecting to be able to follow. I wish to understand the city as a narrative progression beyond the five abstracted Lynchian elements. Paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks are all well and good; I wish to observe what connects them, the bleed between them, the ‘dark-matter’ of urbanism.

Since I’ve already invoked particle physics, I wish to declare a niggling worry; the process of recording the journey. I will be carrying with me a GPS logger, inscribing my route as a wiggling line of points across Google earth, while also making use of a video camera literally clamped to my hip. Will this act as the detector at the double-slit, abstracting the wave of my journey into a simple and predictable A to B route? Lets not get too carried away with that analogy, lest I get into trouble with my brother...

I’ll report back in a few days with the results of my anti-urbanist walk.


  1. Primary "physics correctness" complaint:
    You never invoked particle physics. You invoked General Relativity ("space-time continuum"), cosmology ("dark-matter"), and quantum physics (wave function collapse into a history world-line). But never particle physics. :)
    If I use enough of a metaphorical squint, I don't actually think you did that much harm to any of those phenomena either :)

    I spent a few days in Milan once, and ended up offending a bus driver. Long story short, I ended up walking from central Milan to Malpensa airport, and seeing quite a few "interesting" parts of the city. I also discovered that it was nigh-on physically impossible to actually walk to the door of the airport itself since the journey from the penultimate stop is ~200 m of freeway off-ramp. The airport is perfectly isolated from "anti-urbanist" foot traffic!

    1. Good enough then, not too jarring to physicists!

      Will Self describes walking from JFK airport to Manhattan, the first part of which is walking up a motorway onramp and crossing 6 lanes of traffic to get to a footpath! Don't think I'll experience problems of that scale, may be some hairy moments walking along single lane country roads. The verges seems generous around the airport itself.

      Trial run tomorrow making sure the camera a GPS works, then looks like I'm doing it on Thursday. Looking forward to it!