Gothic London: Phantom Railings

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Warning (M. Germana)

Ever walked home late at night and become conscious of somebody else’s footsteps behind you?

I was taking a short walk on Malet Street when I was startled by a strange sound that seemed to echo my footsteps. 

When I walked faster, the beat of this uncanny tune became quicker, too. When I stopped, it all became quiet again. I was puzzled and curious.

As I walked on, I reached the gate to the Malet Street Gardens and the mystery was revealed to me at once.

Malet Gardens Gate

Malet Gardens Gate (M. Germana)

The sound I could hear was produced by technological devices, which on detecting the sound of footsteps replicates the rhythm with a metallic sound, as if a stick were running along the iron railings.

These ‘Phantom Railings’ have been here for about a year, and I’m glad I stumbled across them. It’s the work of  ‘Public Interventions’, an artistic collective dedicated to developing innovative ways of engaging the public within the urban environment of London.  They are particularly interested in using technology to establish new lines of communication and aesthetic response: in this case, they successfully manage to draw your attention to the strange absence of iron railings.

Malet Street Gardens is one of few places where the iron bars taken off during the Second World War were never replaced: the residual trace of the past punctuates the wall with dark metal stumps. The historical dimension of the installation also made me think of another evocative use of sound: Menashe Kadishman’s Shalechet (‘Fallen Leaves’) in Berlin’s Jewish Museum: this uses 10,000 metal ‘faces’ carved in metal discs, and placed in an area of the museum that visitors are invited to walk on.


Ghostly (M. Germana)

‘Phantom Railings’ speaks of a past that once was but also of the meaning of fences, barriers, and other kinds of lines demarcating private spaces. Such borderlines are expressions of power, status, ownership. They are reminders that the city has fewer and fewer public spaces. At times, the railings become, themselves, contested spaces. Like proper frontiers, they are the site of urban conflict: the number of signs urging cyclists not to attach their wheels to railings is on the increase.


Untitled (M. Germana)


These kinds of warnings – and the transgressions associated with them – make me think of a poem I read when I was studying English at school: Jenny Joseph‘s Warning.

Here the poet, who was only 29 at the time, longs for the little subversions she will be indulging in later in life, breaking all the rules and regulations she is abiding to as a young person:

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

When was the last time you broke a rule? And how did it make you feel?

2012 in review

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The End of It All


Jamaican Colours

Jamaican Colours

… never happened.

2012 was the year that was meant to put the world as we know it at rest. Much to the disappointment of the apocalypse-enthusiasts amongst us, it looks like we will need to look for another meaningful deadline. And while we wait for another ancient calendar or occult textbookto throw some light on our eschatological expectations, we may, perhaps, try to enjoy our time before the next end of the world is upon us.

Despite the ill-omen attached to all leap years, 2012 has been, after all, a year like many others. The usual carousel of births, marriages and, sadly, deaths will have kept everyone busy.  Most Londoners will agree that the Olympics weren’t, after all, as apocalyptic as everyone feared; other places haven’t had it so easy: perhaps the most iconic sights from this year are from the wasteland of Manhattan, when  New York City was hit by the unpredicatble force of  hurricane Sandy.

When we look at  the world today, it may well seem like it is approaching its own demise. The Middle-East does not appear to be more settled than it did this time last year, though glimmers of hopes signal that things may, one day be different.  If I had to give a personality of the year award, it would have to go to Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who has defied the Taliban by exercising her right to go to school.

So as we get ready to celebrate the fact that we are, in spite of natural disasters,  ongoing recession, failed Mayan predictions, and Olympic games, still alive, we may want to start the new year with some positive energy. It should be an easy job for me… I will be eating Caribbean food, drinking rum and listening to Raggae music under the moonlight rays and star-studded sky of Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Caribbean Winter Scene

Caribbean Winter Scene

Wherever you might be celebrating your New Year’s Eve, I would love to hear from you. And if we may, let’s rerun last year’s experiment. Whether it’s fireworks or policemen, dancing children or sleeping husbands… share it with us.

So what was the first thing you saw after midnight?


Here is my post from the recently launched ‘The London Postcard’. You can follow it at:
Hope you’ll enjoy reading about my first correspondence with London…

The London Postcard

I received my first postcard when I was an embryo. Actually, I think I was already a foetus, but embryo is a nicer word, so let’s agree on poetic licence.

I was rummaging through the contents of a drawer at my parents’ home, some years ago, when I came across this postcard. I was already living in England, and this old image of Piccadilly Circus caught my eye. It was clear from the cars – Mini Coopers, Westfalia minivans – and the old square configuration, with the decentred Eros Statue, that the illustration had some history. I turned the postcard over. The postage cost 4p. It had been stamped with an advert for Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, then showing at The Ambassadors Theatre (four months later it would move to the St. Martin’s Theatre); and a date: 5th November 1973. Remember, remember the 5th of November: what…

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‘My Notebook’ 2011 review by WordPress

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 920 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 15 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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