Cavendish Crematorium

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Wednesday Jun 16, 2010 Under Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Psychogeography, Urban Exploration

The Silken Hotel wasn’t open yet. We were standing there at the hoarding, Silent Motion and I, with that jelly of a man in his yellow vest pointing his finger accusingly, shaking with rage in a kind of mild convulsion, the orbed camera behind him spinning around and zooming in on our faces, like an eyeball rolling back in a head, making the convulsion a complete yet disembodied visceral experience for this lamentably flabby being.

The sergeant arrived, blue lights painting the walls, tires screeching. He almost rolled out of his car “UrbEx huh? Yeah, we get your kind around here sometimes. Tell you what, see that boarded up building across the street there? Let’s see if you can get into that one!” We meekly accepted the challenge as they frantically tried to fix the zip ties on the Heras fencing we had snapped off in our aborted miniature vertical scramble.

Challenge Issued

Across the street, we found that this building, Cavendish House it was called, was boarded up exceptionally well, stone gargoyles on patrol in moody up-lighting, three stone Furies screaming insults at us as we hung from ledges over the road, tugging on widows.

Stoney stares

Furies

With a pop, a seal on one gave and Silent Motion swung it parallel to the floor. We dove through headfirst and when the window closed with a sharp bang, we were surrounded by silence. I crawled to the dirty pane on the other side of the room and peeked across the road. The sergeant was there, his belly still threatening to rip his utility vest in two. He was smiling, staring at the building and smiling. Creepy fuck.

Popped

Marauder

The exploration proceeded as we opened doors and windows for the next team of rogue adventurers, torches moving around like little bugs on walls looking for a hole to hide in. Silent motion found a generator running and hooked up to a small TV. He powered it up and we spent an hour watching an old Bollywood classic, a brief respite from the endless stairs. Room after room of blue and orange light comforted us behind the boarded up first floor. Unlikely to see, impossible to catch, invincibility ensued. Down or up? Up.

Dance music invoked

Creepy

The top of the first building (indeed we now realized there were three of these concrete monoliths, these plywooded Thatcherite government lumps of cement) had a roof that sat level with some office blocks. I peeked in the clean windows across, imaging the illicit affairs in office chairs that took place during our work hours, suits humping secretaries and capitalism. A blue church to our left looked like a plastic Disneyland air-filled jump house, replete with nostalgia for the abbey it was until Henry VIII seized it and ravaged it like a conquered Irish queen in the 16th Century.

Little things

Pink

The millennium eye approached us on the other side, that little monument we all love and love to say we hate. “Ride on that thing? Never!” Its millennium glow bounced off of the Thames, offering no apologies for its slow creep our direction. We did handstands, climbed radio antennae, pulled ourselves around in monkeyed feats of post-adolescent strength. We lost track of time. We didn’t care. Damn the horror of the night buses, we’ll ride ‘em!

The Furies descent

Eye

The lustful runs across the roof deteriorated eventually into a pink sky, and we knew that the time for morning coffee and a long walk to Elephant and Castle would soon be upon us. Time to go down. And down. And down. The building suddenly became distinctly subterranean.

Nuances of texture

It was wet here. It stunk like old dog, soaked in a summer-time sprinkler and shaking all over the children who uniquely appreciated the horrible musky shower, full of love. The empty corridors offered room for thought and made my stomach tense up, knot and twist, crying foul at the late (early?) hour. One turn revealed a large room with a safe, a thick door with twisty dials and an unsettling echo. We spun the lock, robbing the history from the place.

Sort of safe

The watery passage continued until we could stand it no longer, blistering feet soaking in the liquid filth. We went for the ProEx shot to cap off the night, twisted and intoxicated, drunk on our own success at pissing on every wall in this building. Lighting was essential, we decided, draining camera batteries and making film strips roll back on themselves in our multiple attempts to get it right.

Pr0 Shadows

Suddenly, the sharp slap of metal on tarmac stopped us cold. Voices. A quick retreat. How could it be, this UrbEx fortress infiltrated? The retreat continued into a side room where we sat, a gentle humming behind us. Suddenly, Silent Motion sprung up, hitting the hum with his torch and there is was – a meat grinder, working with no electricity to speak of, begging for fodder. I screamed a little, quickly covering my mouth to stifle the alarm, pride on the floor. The voices were closer now, finally clear enough to make out the distinct sound of someone saying “they’re over here.” I knew that voice.

Ground

We fled down the hallway once more, trying to keep the drips and splashes from reverberating, a considering how long the water ripples that announced our direction of departure would continue their hideous radial momentum. The smells of the place began to change as we moved. It smelled… like burning. When we found out why, it was already too late. The swollen bellied sergeant and the jelly-man sidekick were on either side of us, laughing as we both stared in horror at the door to what looked to be a huge furnace.

Burned

“Welcome to Cavendish Crematorium!” The sergeant yelled, spit streaming from his plump pink lips. “The last stop for nosy UrbExers!” Next to me, Silent Motion sighed, staring into the murky water.

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Sewers are perhaps the most enigmatic of urban infrastructures. Most citizens of modern cities are aware of their existence, yet few could accurately describe their layout or appearance.
–Matthew Gandy

Clearly not accurate

Above me, the heavy round metal doors into this underworld shake with a pinging metallic scream that reverbs down these watery tunnels, slowly fading into a seemingly endless succession of dull thuds that migrate down the street above us, some racing black cab speeding a jilted lover home from the pub after the last trains have stopped running. This overworld scenario interests me far more interpreted from below the undercarraige of the cab, little bits of shit-sticky mud dislodging themselves  from the freshly-pried manhole cover edges, plopping onto my bald head. Cue a shuddering shake, aural spell broken.

Water races around my feet faster than the cab, pinning my waders in a strange plastic comfort to my legs, little bits of used toilet paper and raw sewage which we lovingly call “the fresh” blocked by my PVC barrier, pushing around me angrily in an effort to make it down this old river and into the Thames like salmon swimming not toward their spawning ground but the river Styx where the boat will sink halfway across and they will float lazily to the bottom, never to move again. As drainers, we learn to love the waste just as we learn to love the trash left behind in the streets of London at 4am on a Friday night. It is the detritus of passion passion for life that staves off our impending deaths, as Michael Dibdin writes in Cosi Fan Tutti:

This place reeks of mortality.
I thought it reeked of rancid oil and bad drains.
It comes to the same thing in the end.

At some point in London’s Victorian Age, the separation between “river” and “sewer” became blurred. Technically, I am standing in the River Westbourne which no one but sewer workers and daring drainers have seen for a hundred and fifty years. Despite the fact that no one has drank the water from this river since the 1400s, it remains a vital waterway of this city, a throbbing vein of live humanness, rushing underneath our unknowing feet as we run to work on the pavement above. Seeing it is a reminder that, as Gay Hawkins writes, “our rituals of cleansing and disposal are enfolded with this landscape, our personal secrets are implicated in the public secret of sanitation.” This misadventure into the bureau of public secrets is the newest in our chain of London infiltrations, our most recent attempts to make sure that this city is documented from every possible angle through experience, fear and love. Just as I wouldn’t wipe the ass of somebody else’s baby, only London’s sewers interest me.

We view the stigma of what is flushes on these journeys both literally and socially. Our preferred mode of access to these hidden waterways is hiding in plain sight and the classism of London society works in our favour, with both police and the public ignoring everyone dressed in high-vis and a hard hat, benign foreign workers who make their living in places where no “respectable” Londoner would ever step foot. Our team of 4 digs into their toolbelts of large screwdriver, t-shaped keys and crowbars to break the seals into underdiscovered territory, finding what the city forgot existed, our brazen crew seemingly as hidden as this river when we actually look like we work for a living.

Cracked

Pull this bird

The addiction to infiltration does not lay in the adrenaline rush of the experience. Infiltration creates unwieldy complications, difficult mental junctions and moments of crises that confuse, inspire and complicate our existence. My second identity as the underclass, the role that I play to gain access to urban secrets, is slowly becoming my primary identity. My clothing, my language, my social class, all now defined by my behaviour “on the job.” Leaving this tunnel late on this night (early the next morning?), we were greeted by “real” workers at a tube station who tossed slight nods our direction, eyeing us with confused interest, suspicion, respect and likely some revulsion given we were covered in underground wetness that smelled even worse than the rank pub toilet across the street.

We have been systematically exploring London’s subterranean features for the last few months, cracking every stormdrain, abandoned railway, cable tunnel and sewer we can find in the city – elements of this urban environment that Steven Smith, in his book Underground London, calls “London’s best kept secrets.” We know why. Not only are they some of the most beautiful and surreal places in the city, they are also the most foul.

Pour your heart out

The sewer is a place for alterier cartography, a place where no one may reside but where one can pass through, cameras capturing endless angles of the oldly new, remapping our mental conceptions of where the verticality of the city begins and ends. Our embodied experiences move like the stinking water, shifting from one chamber to the next, chalk marks on walls marking our way home, level after level of underground run-off continually sinking into what we imagine to be an endless succession of metal grates covered in dried up cakes of unknown substances, unidentifiable pieces of fabric and scraps of food. Matthew Gandy, in his article The Paris sewers and the rationalization of urban space contends that “by tracing the history of water in urban space, we can begin to develop a fuller understanding of changing relations between the body and urban form under the impetus of capitalist urbanization.” Pretty sure he wrote that line from the Paris sewers.

Alterier chamber

We trace these cultural lines and flows, finding here that nature and culture drift at the same rate in an interdependent foulness. London’s legendary sewer rats are in full effect tonight, running from us in a terrified scamper, climbing the round slippery walls of the tunnel in inexplicable ways and disappearing into holes we can’t even see into. I want to explore what they can see. At one point, some sort of nest is disturbed and they came at our lights, their little claws feet screeching all around us. Staying in the middle of the slimy sticky mud, shit and runoff where the rats won’t swim was clearly our best option.

We spent 4 hours sliding around these chambers, building up our immune system with aching stomachs upon exit and mouth sores to come. As we emerged I felt, as I often have, that tonight was another attempt to document my own disappearance in the course of making the city reappear in alternative iterations. As I sink deeper into my PhD, I sink deeper in this city, still so in love that there isn’t even room for another human being. I can only hope that either I or the thesis emerges at the end of this torrid love affair, unsure I will survive the potential breakup. Until then.

Own the night.
Cherish these secrets.
Wield this power.
Love this life.

Explored

Beneath your pub crawl

More playful than righteous

________________________________________

This author’s endeavour should be to make the Past, the sense of all the dead Londons that have gone to the producing this child of all the ages, like a constant ground-bass beneath the higher notes of the Present.

-Ford Madox Ford, The Soul of London

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In place/out of place

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Sunday Apr 25, 2010 Under Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Psychogeography, Uncategorized, Urban Exploration

Only in and through the struggle do the internalized limits become boundaries, barriers that have to be moved. And indeed, the system of classificatory schemes is constituted as an objectified, institutionalized system of classification only when it has ceased to function as a sense of limits so that the guardians of the established order must enunciate, systematize and codify the principles of production in that order, both real and represented, so as to defend them against heresy; in short, they must constitute doxa as orthodoxy.

-Pierre Bordieu, Outline of a theory of practice

Getting somewhere

One of the defining characteristic of my hometown was always the Air Force base. Military bases in general do a lot to change the character of a place.  They are places of both order and recklessness, classic (though maybe he would say too literal) depictions of Tim Cresswell‘s in place/out of place scenario where what is inside the barbed wire, tall lights and fences is in, is ordered, is surveilled, is financially injected. What is out is disordered, suspect, not be to let in. The boundaries of militarized space are, we are told, above all others, are not porous.

And yet, in both California and Hawai’i where I have lived, the in slips out in the form of drunken sailors and belligerent army thugs in Jeeps with pockets full of roofies, going out for some R&R, maybe a little tussle with the locals. They are like little political terror camps, making sure the locals know the government is that close. Then they escape to their little military islands where they are supposedly untouchable.

Trevor Paglen, a fellow geographer stateside, has been taking people on trips to photograph “secret” military installations for many years. His dissertation work photographing these locations was a huge inspiration to my PhD. Trevor was the first the start visually penetrating these spaces and looking at his photographs, I thought “what would happen if we escalated the virtual infiltration into a physical one?” If the in can go out, the boundary is porous, despite all claims to the contrary and that means the out can go in as well. So we did. And what we found was shocking.

Four stories of fun

These photos are from an abandoned hospital on March Joint Air Reserve Base, a location with no address somewhere between Riverside and Moreno Valley, California. It used to be a full Air Force Base for 78 years until 1996 when Clinton cut the operations budget and a quarter of the 6-square mile base went derelict almost overnight.

Where the fuck is that janitor?

How classified?

Not very

The empty corridors seemed endless, piles of desks and chairs the only things to be seen turn after turn. But as we moved into more discrete levels of the hospital, we began to find rooms full of artefacts, including some very expensive equipment.

I believe you have my stapler?

Bad news

Dangling

We were never modern

Heart trouble

We were all enjoying the opportunity the play with expensive medical equipment. We were also enjoying the fact that everything was so well preserved in the building. Likely an effect, I assume, of being located on a military base. I mean, who would be stupid enough to go in there right? The lingering question in all of our minds though was this – why would the military leave all of this behind? We received part of the answer in the next room.

Somebody help me

The building was apparently being used for urban warfare training. The idea is to create places that emulate different urban environments to train for hostile situations in those environments. Some places, like this room above, clearly had staged scenes with fake blood. In other places, it was not as clear whether the scene was “staged”.

Is that normal?

Sometime after returning home, I was astounded to find an article in the local paper, the Press Enterprize (PE), which detailed plans to build an $80 million medical facility on the base called March LifeCare. I wonder if taxpayers are aware of what happened to the last medical investment on this base? I wonder if taxpayers know that while “Donald Ecker, managing partner of March Healthcare Development, is said to want ‘to move on a breakneck speed’ on the project” (by the way he stands to make 2.2 million on the deal according to PE) there is a derelict hospital across the street being used for wargames? I wonder if any of the patients of this “old” hospital know that their x-rays are laying around in there?

Clearly I was not the only thing out of place here.

Paint bullets

A goner for sure

March Air Reserve Base is a minimum security base in a rather decrepit state. Still, with an abandoned military prison now explored as well as a partially active base, it makes me wonder – how porous are these boundaries? And more importantly, what the fuck are they doing with our money in there? I call for the in to be outed!

Wash up

Up Top

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Ride of the vagueries (conquest of Paris)

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Saturday Mar 6, 2010 Under Cultural Geography, Uncategorized, Urban Exploration

“They rolled down the Champs de Lise in these armored vehicles. They were dressed in black, carrying tripods and camera gear, saying the would explore every inch of the city. It was terrifying.” – Constant Conscious, Baker

“One of them said he had been under the Musee du Louvre bowling with skulls and I was like ‘what the fuck is happening here?'” – Achille Chevalier, Town Watchman

War games

Leave no one alive

Marc called us from Paris where he remains in exile after murdering that poor Gurkha security guard at Pyestock. The Parisian populace was getting downright menacing he said, throwing instead of blowing kisses at President Sarkozy. The wet smooches were slapping him in the face with soppy smacks, knocking him down on every street corner, leaving him sapped of mojo. And a flaccid emperor can’t run this city, as Napoleon III learned 300 years ago, despite his glorious mustache.

Tashe

Turns out, Marc had been rummaging around (as he does) the other week and had located a fleet of abandoned military vehicles, perfect for quelling French proletariat rebellions. He imagined us piloting them down the wide toward the city centre, just as Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann built it to be used, setting all right once again.

Under the cover of darkness, we crept in, leaving behind two operatives to secure the vegetable supplies in a adjacent quarry. I hopped into a small Humvee and ordered the doors battered down. Can’t believe they left the keys in this puppy.

Charge!

We rolled into central Paris in our new acquisitions bumping Del The Funkee Homosapien and drinking blue Chimay, throwing baguettes at hopeless romantics, police and cataphiles alike in a transparent attempt to capture hearts and minds. Implementing an age old audacious tactical maneuver passed down through the Statler family for 40 generations, we climbed every tall building in the city to survey the scene.

Seizure

Just then, Silent Motion cried out, pointing to the horizon, an almost inarticulable gasp pouring out of the side of his mouth. In the distance there was what appeared to be a rift opening in the sky.

Holy smokes!

We took decisive action, speeding over the the rift only to find that it was a reincarnation of Zuul, back from Ghostbusters I to invade Paris the same night as us. Damnation!

This party's over!

With a stroke of luck, LutEx arrived, fresh off the Eurostar, answering our Craigslist ad for reinforcements. Right then and there, he pulled out this horrendous map of some underground city where he claimed previous failed revolutionaries had gone into hiding. Clearly drunk at this point, we decided he was the man to follow.

And then the revolution died

The dejected revolutionaries crawled into the underground maze through a manhole at rush hour, dragging the bodies of their dead comrades, pussing fang marks and all, hopes and dreams tied up in little canvas sacks, squirming and wiggling, screaming for acknowledgment.

Shouldn't have crossed the Rubicon

]

Lest our hopes get the best of us, we left them in the bags and trampled them while we danced to our failures, praying that Zuul had been lenient with the people after her extraterrestrial takeover. And that’s how Marc’s dream of a new Parisian republic died, in a bout of inebriated dirty dancing, headtorches waving in little battery powered gestures, light painting the the walls of the cave we all knew we would never be able to leave.

Here's to failure!

_____________________________________________________

This post is dedicated to that little Swedish boy that died exploring in Stockholm last week. I celebrate you for not sitting inside playing video games like your friends kid.

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Secret Histories of Infiltration

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Thursday Jan 14, 2010 Under Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Uncategorized, Urban Exploration

Sometimes it's an accident

When I began exploring here in London over a year ago, I was never quite sure how secretive I needed to be about what I was getting up to. But in the interest of academic transparency, I decided to be less cautious that I might have otherwise been. I felt an obligation, being here on a generous scholarship, to put my work “out there” to be crossed-checked, criticized and appreciated. It did not go unnoticed; a couple of people challenged my decisions to openly discuss certain exploits.

To tell you the truth, now that I know these places well, I think there was never much harm done in being open about my nocturnal wanderings. But some things change. Not because writing about the places I have been is going to get them locked down, not even because they are super-secret or ultra-sensitive. The real reason is, I think, a philosophical one.

Sometimes it's not

At some point in the last few months, I started doing infiltrations. It wasn’t really intentional; I just lost sight of the line between UrbEx and infiltration.

To be honest, I am not that interested in infiltration. Being an ex-archaeologist, I get really excited about the histories of sites and love seeing them falling apart and decay. Many infiltrations take place on construction sites and I spent a good chunk of my life working in these sorts of places. I therefore don’t find a lot of magic in them – too close to my own history I suppose, though I often make the argument that they are too close to the mundane existences of those who work there, hence my indifference.

So why are we interested in these places? They might be considered the polar opposite of the derelict building, going up instead of down, though they are both in a transitional state. They are also both, in a sense, “hidden”, off the grid and not to be seen. But I think our fascination with these places lies, as with most things, in the experiential fascination and secret personal histories to be found there.

So okay, yeah I am coming out of the closet and admitting that I have done some infiltrations that I have not shared, neither here nor on facebook. I can’t share them, either because I was recorded there on CCTV at some point during the explore, or somebody I know might have a connection to these places, or… I don’t know… that’s somebody’s job site. It would be like publishing pictures of your desk after hours when you weren’t there and I sat in your chair and went through your drawers. It’s just a little too personal. Maybe this is why we like it, because in these places we touch living histories, not dead or forgotten ones.

I wonder how many other explorers have secret histories of infiltration, how many sketchy night wanders were not photographed, caught in the memory of someone a little too nervous to ever talk about it? How much of urban exploration consists of secret histories of infiltration?

Either way, I'm still in love

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