The situationist Guy Debord defined psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” The medium was the message, as Marshal McLuhan suggested. The city was a city because it was a city. Its shape and its style came well before its use as an economic and social hub.
Will Self had psychogeography as walking to New York from London, an exercise in discovering the personality of place itself. Peter Ackroyd, says Self, “practises a ‘phrenology’ of London. He feels up the bumps of the city and so defines its character and proclivities.” Nick Papadimitriou looks for a place’s deep topography, hunting the minute detail of selected locales. The label bends and moves. It defines, I suggest, an alternative way of proceeding through space. Follow the grid lines. Listen to the noise the streets make. Walk every road beginning with A. Interview people wearing hats. Use ancient maps to navigate the present. Look below the surface and track what remains of the past. Every place has a past. Everywhere is rich in history. Every local has a memory. Tapping it is the prime psychogeographical act.
Saturday’s cycle tour (on which there are still places – book now – and if this Saturday is no good then we repeat the tour the following Saturday, the 29th) will have psychogeographic elements. But don’t let that worry you. We’ll cycle and stop and hear a bit about where and what we are.
I’ll read Mewn/Mas – a poem about what’s in Cardiff fashion and what’s not. I’ll do this at the start outside Bute Town History and Arts Centre at the bottom of Bute Street. The Docks. Now the Bay. Everyone knows it as that. We’ll cycle around County Hall – why is this place here with its pagoda style? What did its arrival herald? We’ll go up through Cardiff’s little Venice, along the development-fronted feeder following streets few Cardiffians know exist. We’ll visit the magic roundabout that displays Pierre Vivant’s Landmark 1992, a wonderful assemblage of traffic signs that somehow sums up just how most of us feel about roads and what they do.
We’ll pass the Vulcan, or where it once stood, with the memory of its original use mixed with the memory of the long campaign to save it from being pulled down. Under Churchill Way lies more of the feeder. Can we see it? There is a place.
At the psychic centre of Cardiff, just a little north of Kingsway, the ley lines cross and the past breaches the present. On some dark nights there are sparks and ghosts. We’ll stop and savour before crossing through the Park to view lost rivers, shifted bridges and gates that go nowhere.
Down Westgate Street where the Taff once flowed are the memories of quays and cannons and eventually at the back of the Prince of Wales of the glory that was once St Mary’s Church. Near here were canals and foundries and ship builders. Their memory remains in the sculpture outside the new central library. I have a poem on the wall here. I’ll air it to finish.
Join us. The Hidden Delta – Estuary Cardiff You Didn’t know Existed. Real Cardiff by Bike in the company of author Peter Finch. Dates and price: 22nd June and 29th June. £12 for the tour, bike hire £3 extra. Limited places.
This tour starts at 14:00 from the Coal Exchange and ends at 16:30 at the cycle festival hub in the Royal Arcade off St Mary Street. More details here