A second pilgrimage, of sorts

Saturday 6 August 2005

I had two points of entry into London: Patrick Keiller’s film London (now out on DVD) and Iain Sinclair’s book Lights Out for the Territory. Between them they painted an idiosyncratic, irresistable portrait of the city’s complex psychogeography (Sinclair is the more metaphysically paranoid of the two) that made me want to explore it all for myself.
Before I can hope to get a handle on this place I have been visiting some of the sites mentioned in these two works, in an attempt to sense what type of signals I should be alert to when walking the city in search of points of personal significance, of the kind that won’t be found in the Time Out guides. This is why I wound up one sunny afternoon standing in front of the Tate Britain at Millbank, facing the other way and photographing the nondescript building on the south bank of the Thames.

For a similar reason I had gone to visit the Henry Moore sculpture Locking Piece: Sinclair draws a connection between this artwork outside the Secret Service headquarters and another Moore bronze, Two Knife/Edged Bronze which sits on College Green, outside the houses of parliament. Anytime you see a shot of a journo on the news standing with the Palace of Westminster in the background, odds-on they’re standing on College Green, where the sculpture “comes into its own as somewhere useful to stack camera equipment.”
Three buildings downriver from Locking Piece and the MI6 Building is the tower block pictured above, that I knew as Alembic House. The central episode of Lights Out for the Territory is when Sinclair gains entry to the building’s penthouse apartment to meet its owner and occupant, Jeffrey Archer. Archer, pre-disgrace, isn’t home but has granted Sinclair permission to look at his art collection and admire his view of the river. By chance, the two of them bump into each other soon after, on College Green.
Now I need to find the other Moore bronze on College Green, but in the current climate I don’t feel like taking lots of photographs around large numbers of police armed with automatic rifles.
Alembic House was recently renamed Peninsular Heights, and as far as I can tell Jeffrey Archer still lives in the penthouse, prison stretch notwithstanding. If you want to make a call to find out, the phone number ends 0077 – the legacy of the penthouse’s previous owner: John Barry, composer of James Bond movie soundtracks.
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