Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

18 December 2010

Three recordings from Greenwich and its peninsula

TODAY’S SNOWFALL MEANT shelving a second attempt at collecting sounds along the River Colne. The sorry service run by Chiltern Trains was stuck fast to the rails.

But Greenwich was reachable and the park there was full of people hurtling downhill on toboggans. These ranged from improvised sheets of vinyl flooring and plastic bread-crates to faster-moving shop-bought efforts. Everyone was enjoying themselves.

Londoners have always tried to extract some fun from the coldest weather since the time of the Frost Fairs when the Thames froze above London Bridge, and back to the earliest written descriptions of city life. William Fitz Stephen’s panegyric A Description of London from around 1173 includes this passage:

When the great marsh that laps up against the northern walls of the city is frozen, large numbers of the younger crowd go there to play about on the ice. Some, after building up speed with a run, facing sideways and their feet placed apart, slide along for a long distance. Others make seats for themselves out of ice-slabs almost as large as millstones, and are dragged along by several others who hold their hands and run in front. Moving so quickly, the feet of some slip out from under them and inevitably they fall down flat. Others are more skilled at frolicking on the ice: they equip each of their feet with an animal’s shin-bone, attaching it to the underside of their footwear; using hand-held poles reinforced with metal tips, which they periodically thrust against the ice, they propel themselves along as swiftly as a bird in flight or a bolt shot from a crossbow.

The pleasures offered by the O2 Dome are flabby by comparison. A long gallery of themed restaurants and amusements curves along the inside before reaching a dead end. Recorded music echoed everywhere against the deep roar of the heating system which was on full blast.

One curious feature in the Dome consists of perspex columns displaying adverts on a cylindrical plasma or LCD screen. The two vertical edges of the image don’t quite meet at the back and there’s a narrow seam filled with an accidental-looking and restless mosaic of coloured squares.

Taking this as a reminder that margins can be more interesting than what they surround, I headed for a run-down stretch of the Thames path along which hardly anyone walks.

The tide was going out and the lower shore was filled with London’s clutter and rubble, dirty against the snow further up. Rust and peeling paint, weeds sprouting from cracks in brickwork and the river holding the city’s din at a distance – bliss.