A dérive is an unplanned journey in a city, guided subconsciously by the feelings evoked by the architecture and geography around you. Situationist theorist Guy Debord described it as: ‘A technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.’ Cynics would call it a pub crawl. As would Madame Debord.
While it is true that all good Urban Drifts should begin and end in a pub (otherwise, what is le point?), there is something to be said for the aimless wander, guided by barely registered emotion. You end up seeing your city’s ignored corners. And, in the wrong state of mind, the unnoticed can be remarkable.
Equipment is vitally important for a successful drift. There is none. Unless you count shoes as equipment. And hipflasks. What you don’t need is a bag of any kind as it will mark you out as an amateur and see you ridiculed by other flâneurs, Situationists and Reificationists. Especially the Reificationists.
You can forget about Google Maps too. What is the point of getting lost if you can instantly find yourself on a mobile super computer and direct yourself to the safety of the nearest Chicken Cottage?
So if you’re ever drawn to try a road simply because it has an odd name, or feel inexplicably called to mysterious alleys, maybe there’s a psychogeographer inside you, whimpering to get out. Or maybe you’re drunk.
Les dérives are available from SE1 to SE28 and beyond and this is one we made earlier on the Greenwich Peninsula, or as we know it…
‘It’s cheating to drift by the river’, I told Half-Life, as one direction is ruled out, but he tends to disregard going north at the best of times. Going west from the Thames Barrier you can count on vast stretches of riverside strolling without encountering any other human, or being pressed to try Mexican street food.
The Barrier itself is impressive, not just as a feat of engineering, but because it’s also very shiny. Soon though you stumble on the Anchor & Hope, possibly the least pretentious pub on the Thames, with a view to match:
Then we found possibly the only ‘Danger Quicksand’ sign in London. Certainly it’s the most exclamation marks I’ve ever seen on a sign, indicating a level of danger that makes this job so exciting.
Extra-terrestrial activity was later confirmed by this giant plant where humans are turned into aggregates.
And here, an example of why artists will never rule the waves:
After being drawn inland to the Ecology Park for more staring at water, we found ourselves lured by psychogeographic forces into the Pilot Inn, on the only terraced street on the Peninsula to survive the 19th, let alone 20th century. Now we had cable cars above us and boats everywhere.
Unknown impulses drove us away from the O2. Maybe it was an allergy to giant ugly buildings packed with chain restaurants for lovers of mediocre food. The sensation inside the tent-like Dome is one that’s not quite as comfortable as being inside a building, and a bit worse than being outside, combining the worst of both experiences into a uniquely colourless encounter.
Finding ourselves on vast, deserted sites west of the Dome, we ran about like lame gazelles, jumped on moored boats, flipped the bird at Canary Wharf and pushed each other in bushes. After miles of what some would call an industrial wasteland and others, a gloriously bleak riverside playground, we reached Enderby Wharf, without which there’d be no internets.
Whereas all our instincts told us to walk next to the river at Lovell’s Wharf, where the Thames Path used to be, a combination of the council, developers, Beelzebub, the Evil Dead and the Environment Agency thought it would be better to have a riverside path that was in no way by the side of the river. They moved it inland by a few yards so we would have to smoke a fat one outside the developer’s sales office, rather than gazing over the river, as nature intended.
Thence, happily to Ballast Quay, home to the Cutty Sark pub, a charmer whose Thames view and welcome ale provide a great place to start or end any journey.
We’d always wondered about the lack of bars mentioned on Debord’s wanderings. Didn’t he like a drop? Turns out he was a massive alcoholic, so that’s alright then. At least it was until he committed suicide.
In fact, Debord relentlessly pursued the perfect point of intoxication; it was his beautiful game. A game he had plenty of time to play since Situationists believed work was pointless and workers slaves to needless production. I just hope that amid the booze and the theorising, he learned to laugh his tits off, because philosophy without laughter is just philosophy.
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