Dennis Villelmi: Welcome to The Bees Are Dead, Mr. Goodman- or, may we call you Rob? Naturally, given the specific themes we deal with here at B.A.D., a sit-down with a guest such as yourself is exactly the kind we pine for. In light of your reputation, certainly your visit is going to leave the deepest impression yet on us.
Rob Goodman: Hey Den, good to be with the bees buddy, and yes of course: please call me Rob.. Well thanks for your kind words man. I will try to answer any questions as best I can. I could write an entire book in answer to any one of your great questions, but space and time don’t allow, I would be happy though to enlarge and elaborate on any point if you would like . There is an ancient folk tradition in England that says one must talk to the bees. So here goes..
DV: So, what has the past year yielded, both in terms of opportunity and creativity?
RG: Well the last 12 months have been quite exciting in many ways. As you know Den, I live in London in the UK, but over the past year I have travelled to Switzerland, Prague, Spain, and Romania, on various filming jobs. I love getting onto an aeroplane, and flying off somewhere, looking out of the planes windows down onto huge towers of cloud, and vast fluffy canyons in the air. In Spain, I was in a small town called Alcantara, filming in a derelict abandoned Cathedral at night. It was like something out of a Spaghetti Western, (My favourite genre of film). I was able between filming to wander off alone into this huge empty architectural palace, and resonate with the ‘Genius Loci’ of its past. A great psychogeographical experience, which filled me with a magic that enabled me to really connect to the past of this place. We were filming for ABC, a series called STILL STAR CROSSED, about what happens next after Shakespeare’s play ROMEO and JULIET ends. I play the role of Abbott Kinnissimo, the Abbott of a Monastery, (The disused Cathedral). Along with various acting roles, I have been busy writing, and am right now talking to a film company about shooting a documentary I just finish writing about the ‘Ghosts of London’s theatres’. The area around Shaftsbury Avenue in the centre of London is known as theatre land, and there are a couple of dozen theatres in Central London, all of which have their legends of the theatre ghost. This must surely make London’s theatre land one of the most heavily concentrated areas of ghostly goings on in the UK! I am also writing my book, entitled ‘The Magic Of Acting’
DV: You’re originally from Northampton, U.K. What was it like for you growing up there, especially with regard to your school days, which you often describe as a “living hell?”
RG: Yeah, school was a living hell! I loathed, and hated everything about the nasty evil place. I was bullied by the other kids, who by and large were either feral or potential criminals. The teachers were mostly sadistic child beaters: This at a time when corporal punishment was a ‘normal’ part of the ‘education’ system in the UK. The weapons of abuse wielded by these ’responsible adults’ under whose care we were placed were, sticks, canes, sharp edged rulers, blocks of wood, used as blackboard erasers, and hands and fists, and boy did they dish it out. They seemed to have it in for me specifically, and they laughed at, and even encouraged the bullying. Incredible to believe isn’t it, but it happened. The teaching was of an appalling quality, and the day I left school, was a good day to say the least. I tended to ‘Bunk’ off a lot though. However, school apart, living in Northampton was OK.
Northampton is a weird and wonderful place. It is extremely significant historically, sociologically, and spiritually. Here’s how: It is, by divine revelation in the very centre of England. The exact centre! A story goes that in the middle ages, a crusader from England was in the Holy Land, where he unearthed an ancient iron Cross. The voice of God, so the story goes spoke to him , telling him to take the cross back to his homeland, and re bury it in the very centre of this land. The crusader arrived home after several years, and on arriving at Northampton, the voice of God again spoke to him, saying that this place is the very centre of England , and that the cross should be buried here. The crusades actually started from Northampton, and King John, (Known as ‘Bad King John)’, lived in the castle here. For a short time Northampton was the seat of Parliament, and was the Capital of England. Thomas A’Beckett was imprisoned here, the Royal mint was housed here, and the nearby village of Naseby was the scene of one of the greatest battles of the English Civil war.. The last of the Shakespeare line lived here at Abington Abbey, and the poet John Clare lived and wrote here, choosing to sit in the portico outside of All Saints Church in the centre of town to write.
So, all this and much much more on Northampton. Lots of pioneering music bands hail from Northampton, and it is the home of one of the oldest working theatres in the country. Come to Northampton, and there is a danger that you will never leave. Writer, and urban shaman Ian Sinclair, has likened Northampton to a Black Hole, saying that “once things are sucked into the place then nothing can escape”. Being here, it certainly feels like this. Everything is here in this magical bedlam because once here it stays put. I myself had to move at an incredible speed to leave, although I am regularly drawn back. Northampton is full of wonderfully mad crazy people, and some of the most intelligent eccentrics I have ever met.
DV: These experiences of your boyhood, in what manner do they affect your work today?
RG: One can always draw on past experiences, especially in creativity. In fact it’s the only thing we can draw on. Creatively we take from our own lives and we work from our own crazyness. Our own authenticity. As an actor or a writer ones past is golden. It informs creative endeavour. Some drama schools try to clean the student up. They want to clean up conditioning, so that this conditioning doesn’t invade our work. This in my view is a mistake. Real people have issues. As a creative artist we should embrace them, and take all of our baggage into our work with us. This is truthful and honest. A cleaned up version is clinical.
DV: Before you began what would become a very storied sojourn in the fields of performance and writing, you were a culinarian. Where did you study the culinary arts, and what’s the most intriguing anecdote of that time that you can recount?
RG: On leaving school, I went to college to train as a Chef. After two years I emerged with a rudimentary idea of how to prepare a cook food . I then spent a further two years working in Hotel kitchens working my way up to 2nd Chef. Chefs can be dangerous people. They can get very passionate about the food they prepare ,and they have tempers that a young chef does not want to be on the wrong side of. I guess I learned to prepare food with love. That’s love for the food, and respect for the people that are going to eat it. It does make a huge difference. Food that is prepared with respect and love, does definitely taste better than the same ingredients that are just thrown together in a mechanical way. The intention that is injected into the process is all important to the outcome. Funny isn’t it? It works though. Love what you do, and the result will be so much better. Cooking is one of the creative arts, and like all the creative arts some sort of intention is crucial. Same in Magic. Get you intention sorted out. There is of course absolutely no difference between Art and Magic. On a simple note the other thing I learned about food is that if it is hot food then it should be just that: HOT! So very often when I eat out in restaurants the food arrives at the table warm, but not HOT! As a young chef I remember the head chef telling me to heat up some food that had been sent back because it wasn’t hot enough. I asked him how hot it should be. He told me to pick up a metal dish which unknown to me he had just removed from under the grill. I yelped, and immediately dropped it. “That hot” he said. I understood, and have since always prepared food HOT!!
DV: Now it’s circa mid-seventies, and you’re in a state of transition. Was it some sort of epiphany that pointed you in the direction of the theatre?
RG: Well, in truth I had always wanted to be an actor. It was due to Parental pressure that I studied to be a Chef the theory being that I would always be able to get a job, between acting roles. This I disagreed with, and still do. If you’re going to do something then do it, without doubt, and without compromise, so after two years of working in volatile kitchens, I finally left to follow my calling. No great epiphany, just a nagging need to explore aspects of myself that being an actor would allow. I wanted to get to know myself more.
DV: Around that same time you were also chaperoning tourists through your new home of London. What particular themes about the capital did you convey to your listeners?
RG: I have always been interested in the darker side of London: the underbelly. Here is an example of the sort of thing I might have talked about on a walking tour starting in Whitechapel:
“This is the roof top night garden of angels and chimneystacks, smoke and ghosts, pestilence and poverty. Angels will whisper here to a man, as he stands here alone in the quietest moments of the cities night in that darkest moment just before the dawn. This is the roof of THE ROYAL LONDON HOSPITAL, screaming in surgical terror, dark and horrific in the heart of deadly Whitechappel, cutting through the East End, razor sharp. Look down now, look down with the angels to number 259 Whitechapel Rd, now an emporium of exotic robes and Indian sowerys but formerly a place of special entertainment, where one Tom Norman, showman, exhibited here, for the delight of night revellers, in a squalid, shadowy rat infested back room; a man with such horrifically unimaginable disfigurement to his skin, bones, face and body, (caused as we now know by neurofibromatosis) that the very sight of him repelled all who paid to see. The man was discovered here cowered and pathetic by Frederick Treves, a Royal London surgeon. Treves brought the man over to the hospital and placed him in rooms in Bedstead Square. This room is now a walk in freezer, being part of the hospitals kitchens. The man’s name was Joseph Merrick who, during his short showbiz career, was billed as The Elephant Man.
Move our eyes and our awareness now to the left, to Vallance Rd, where after having given birth to twin boys in nearby Hoxton on 17th October 1934, Violet Kray brought her boys, the pride of her life home. Ronald and Reginald Kray became part of the areas fear and folklore. “Leave yer doors open, let the saucepans lids loose” but remember to doff yer caps or Ron will not be pleased; and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. It was nearby in the Blind Beggar public house one night, where Ron, (taking exception to being called ‘a fat puff’ ) shot through the head at point blank range, one George Cornell, local villain, hard man and ultimate loser. There were over 30 people in the bar that night and no one saw a thing. Some say that Cornell was punished to harshly as he was technically correct in what he said. Ron Kray was overweight, and was indeed by all accounts a practising homosexual.
A few rooftops along, and here captured in time, like old forgotten and yellowing photographs found in some attic, is the shop of Mr. Katz, string seller, a lone remaining testament to the areas Semitic past. Opposite in Princelet Street is the old Synagogue, closed now and empty save for the phantasmagorical presence of David Rodinski, ex caretaker, who one day vanished without trace. Had he really found (as some said) the secrets of cabalistic flight? Not only had he, it seemed, escaped this worldly plane, but he had also escaped all memory. It was some 10 years later that Rodinskis room hidden away on the top floor of the building was discovered, the door being opened for the first time in over a decade. Untouched by time the room shrouded in secrecy remained exactly as Rodinski had left it. The mystery was to occupy the mind of Rachael Litchenstein, a Hoxton artist, whose search for David resulted in a collaboration with urban shaman Ian Sinclair. The book, Rodinski’s room is a work of magick and mystery and is an insight into life in the Jewish East End.
One block along and we come to Hanbury St, where on the 8th September 1888, local prostitute Annie Chapman became the second victim of the areas prowling and predatory evil. Having no money to pay for her bed that night, her last words to her landlord were; “Don’t sell my doss, I’ll be back with the money, just look at the pretty new bonnet I got”. Her body was found a short time later in the back yard of number 29, her entrails placed around her neck and her few belongings arranged neatly at her feet; a comb, a handkerchief, a halfpenny, a small hand mirror. The only witnesses to this, and the four other killings in the seriel being the Saints and Angels engrained here within the rooftop architecture. They surely saw everything, and they alone know for certain the true identity of ‘Jack the Ripper’. But even the Angels here keep the east ends code of silence.
This London then, or this circle cut into the map of London to the east seems to attract into it certain forces: it is a magnet. Nothing changes. Crime, murder, disappearance, poverty, bloodlust, magic, mystery and danger are all at home here. And always have been. Come now then, stay close together as we delve deeper now into the abyss, and cut off into Old Nicholas Street as Jack himself surely must have done. Now renamed Old ‘Nichol’ street, this ‘resort of thieves’ was in the 1880s at the centre of the most depraved and violent group of streets in London; a rendezvous for street fighting gangs. It was here that Fagin came to visit Bill Sykes in order to recruit the captive Oliver Twist into the profession of burglary. It was either this or something much worse.
We must now move at unimaginable speed to escape from this land of the lost, this place of wonderful loneliness through the flaming inferno, caused by a careless baker in the aptly named ‘Pudding Lane’.
Get ready then: and one, two , three we dive into the earth, the ground giving way, and becoming fluid, past, or rather through the skeletal remains of the mad and damned, through the stench of a by gone time, past Roman treasures, never to be discovered, and out into the forgotten tram tunnel at Holborn.
The smog cloaks the September afternoon: A right ol’ pea souper.
Moving down Fetter Lane then towards Fleet Street, I am reminded that here lived traveller, and adventurer, Lemual Gulliver, and am relieved by the fact that it was here that the Great fire of 1666 was arrested.
Following the course of the river Fleet past the hot metal of immortal print to St Brides Church with its wedding cake spire, and on which the familiar many tiered wedding cake is modelled; we arrive at The Cheshire Cheese, where Chaucer drinks ale regaling a drunken Dylan Thomas with Whiskey and Lemonade, and tales of pilgrimages. We walk along the very flagstones that Sam Pepyes walks having been born here, past Temple bar where the Dragon guards the City defiant against St. George, on to the Royal Courts of Justice: The statues of Solomon at the front and Moses at the rear, and on into THE STRAND.
Here stood the thriving Saxon town of Lundenwic, just outside of the ancient city walls on the banks of the Thames. A lively commercial town as recent excavations have shown, unearthing locks, pottery: beads: Glassware: combs and brooches. The area is now known as Covent Garden, and is a thriving market selling, locks, pottery, beads, glassware, combs, and brooches. Nothing changes. The cafes in the piazza give a nod to the coffee houses which sprang up here in the 18th century, and where the likes of Garrick: Sheriden: Boswell: and Hogarth among others would come to take tea. It wasn’t long before these ‘Houses’ were converted into ‘houses’ of quite a different nature: an astonishing number of them masquerading as Turkish baths. As I say, Nothing changes. It became Known as ‘The Great Square of Venus’. Where, ‘One would imagine that all the prostitutes of the Kingdom had picked upon the Rendezvous’ so said magistrate Sir John Fielding.
Moving Northwards, we arrive at the Seven Dials where
‘Here to seven streets seven dials count the day, and from each other catch the circling ray’..
..and on to the Charring Cross Road at Cambridge Circus where the Palace Theatre as with all of the theatres hereabouts has its fair share of spectral luvvies. Here the ghost light perpetually burns centre stage when the building is empty and closed. This, in keeping with theatrical tradition, is for the phantom spirits of long dead actors, lighting their performances as they re create past triumphs before an empty auditorium.
Outside we hail a cab
The cab moves off entering The Tottenham Court Rd where Sherlock Holmes purchased his Stradivarius as recorded in the Cardboard box, and as we pass the long established firm of Heals the furniture store, we are reminded of the Heals ‘Cat’, who sits in a rather superior manner on the grand staircase, and who always has since anyone can remember. He has now become a London institution and it is suspected that should he ever leave Heals then like the ravens leaving the Tower, England may fall!”…..
RG: Psychogeography is resonating with the ‘spirit’ of a geographical location: connecting with the genius loci of a place. It is understanding where you are, at a particular moment:, its fictions, its history, its sociology, its past, its present, and its potential futures, and it is knowing this same place as it exists in your mind. Your own idea of this place, and then mixing all of these elements up to make a special unique place.
Below is a short extract from an article I wrote for Paranormal magazine.
Psychogeography is a pursuit, whether practiced physically, or from an armchair that has been indulged in since time immemorial. But it has only in recent times arrived in the general consciousness as a labeled and formulated system.
The term can be traced back to the Paris of the 1950s. To the avant-garde artistic, and political groups of the ‘Lettrists’, and the ‘Situationists’. A founding father, Guy Debard, gave a definition to the term psychogeography as:
‘The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’
Can a more precise meaning be given though to this ambiguous pursuit?
It could be said to encompass: Ghost Hunting: Crypto zoology: Ufology, and anything else that forms the ‘Genius Loci, or spirit of a place.
We start by taking the map of a town or city: (pschogeography is mostly viewed as being Urban, although I personally would see it also as being rural).
We draw an outline on the map: Circular: triangular: Square, it doesn’t matter, and then we go out and walk the outlined area, taking note along the way of the ‘signposts’ etched within the landscape: graffiti: a spilt milkshake: a cracked window pane: Street names: What could these things mean in relation to where we are? What story do they tell? What repetition can we find?
We record our thoughts, our feelings along the way either on film, or in written record, or just in memory. We look for clues as to the unwritten history of the place, and we inject our own fictions onto the picture. The purpose of this ambiguous pursuit is to develop a ‘sense of place’. To gain understanding of the environment, and to notice how we are affected emotionally by where we are geographically.
It is feeling the emotional emanations of a location, and resonating with a locations past: feeling its ghosts, fictional: real, and architectural. It is looking for connections: coincidences, and it is reading the signs sketched into the urban landscape.
Why is it that certain places have a ‘bad vibe’, while other locations are positive and attract creativity? This being constant. The Walworth Rd as against the South Bank of Paris.
Psychogeography is the pursuit of the urban shaman.
Author and Urban Shaman, Iain Sinclair: (Downriver, Lights out for the Territory, London: City of Disappearances, Whitechapel: Scarlet Tracings.), has crowned William Blake, ‘The Godfather of psychogeography.
Blake, a great London walker, said of London,
‘My streets are my ideas of imagination’.
Blake wrote of his own real London, but magically charged his work with his own ‘visionary experience’ of the City, overlaying the harsh grittiness of 18th century London, with the London of the mind-His mind.
‘The fields of Islington to Marybone, To Primrose Hill and Saint Johns wood, Were builded over with Pillars of gold, And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood’.
There is definitely a literary tradition connected with the practise of psychogeography.
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s, allegorical tale ‘The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ he not only shows us the two sides of mans nature: our light side, and our darker, or shadow side, but he shows us the two sides of the City: The wealth and opulence of the West End, and the despair and squalor of the East End. In a psychogeographical sense, I believe that Stevenson was suggesting that where we are geographically: where we spend our time, drives our mood, and thus our character.
De Quincy’s drug fuelled musings as recorded in ‘Confessions of an Opium Eater’, show a London seen from a somewhat lateral mindset, and Arthur Machen seems to create his own territory which he superimposes on to the map of London, a kind of dreamscape which has similarities to a real London, but where everything is slightly out of kilter, slightly to the left of reality.
In his work, ‘The London Adventurer, or The Art of Wandering’, Machen writes,
‘So here was the notion. What about a tale of a man who “lost his way” who became so entangled in some maze of imagination and speculation that the common material ways of the world became of no significance to him’.
For me psychogeography is also about:
Ferreting out the psychology of the urban landscape: Looking for the outward signs of a geographical personality:
Timelines merging fact, and fiction:
During one of my own outings of aimless wandering, and observant wondering I arrived at an old haunt of mine: The Serpentine Bridge, separating Hyde Park, (Visited sometimes I shouldn’t wonder by the egotistical Mr. Hyde himself, skulking around in the undergrowth.), and Kensington Gardens. The Serpentine is a man made lake on land that used to be owned by the Monks of Westminster abbey, until in 1536 when during the dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry the Eighth seized the land, and used the area as his own private hunting ground, hunting boar, wolves, deer, and anything else. All of this was in my mind as I walked through the tunnel on the right side of the bridge if you face Hyde Park with Kensington Gardens behind you. It was night: late: and no one was around. I always find night walking, ‘More informative’, than daytime wandering. It is said that Angels whisper to a man who walks alone. They Do.
Looking down the tunnel as I entered I could see water through the exit at the end which was illuminated by the moon, my footsteps eerily echoing around the walls of this peripheral place adding to the atmosphere. I looked at the arched brickwork, and considered for a while the builders of this London familiar: What was it like to be them? I stopped mid tunnel, and breathed in the resonance of past pedestrians. What had happened here? I connected with the ‘Genius Loci’, or Spirit of the place. This sort of thing comes easily to me having been born a ‘sensitive’, and having embraced and practised this since childhood. I was transformed back to the 1920s. Nothing scary or disturbing as picking up on the resonance of a place can sometimes be, but rather a joyful and content feeling. I saw in my imagination, (and therefore probably really did), the ghosts of two happy and secretive lovers, clean cut: I would say middle class, and surely members of that group of 1920s youth who became known as ‘The gay young things’. (Gay, having quite a different meaning then). The detail in which I saw them was intricate. The pastel; colours of the cloths, the stocking seems. On this night, for those two, a nightingale sang in Berkley Square. I continued to the tunnels exit affording the lovers some privacy, and as I strolled by the shores of the lake the associations that now pervaded my thoughts brought my own childhood back to me.
I saw myself as a child sailing my toy boat, even though I can not recall ever having done this on this particular water, and I saw the long neck, and back humps of a great lake kelpie surfacing on the midnight lake, silent and graceful, a notion born in a light hearted Brit flick of the 1960s entitled ‘What a Whopper’, in which a group of British comedy actors of the day, embark on a caper to photograph a Serpentine lake monster which they had faked in order to cash in on the scam with the press.
Psychogeographically at least, now that this has been created albeit in the word of film, there will always be this created beast in Hyde Park projected from our own psyches. Just like the ‘Beaste’ of Loch Ness. This later one so much so, that it now leaves footprints. Its Serpentine cousin that night fair scared the wits out of the crew that were manning my toy boat.
I looked back towards the tunnel, my attention being drawn by the sound of stifled laughter. There, under the arch to my surprise, and amusement was a pair of lovers: two modern day retro punks, or I assumed that they were Retro, and that I hadn’t passed through another time portal and in to the early 1970s. A swan skimmed the surface of the lake, and I am sure that the nightingale once again sang in Berkley Square , though probably some song of aggressive anarchy.
We must develop an awareness of place, be that place physical, emotional, or fictional or preferably all three. A mindset where the past shakes hands with the now, and where we build a bridge connecting the world of reality, and the world of the imagination, creating another world where it all gets wonderfully mixed up. A place of the mind, made real by the landscape of the City.
If we can do this, then we can work in harmony psychologically with the places in which we spend our time, thus bringing about outer causal change, but more importantly inner spiritual understanding: this latter development being the duty of every magician.
In short, psychogeographical practice is magical ritual.