Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Party in a Squat in Balls Pond Road, London N1 c.1990

Another recent rediscovery - a couple of photos that I took on the day of a party in a squatted building on the Balls Pond Road. A friend was playing in a jazz ensemble in one of the rooms, and I remember that throughout the place there were plenty of sculptural installations pieced together from found objects. Most of these gatherings seem to blur around this period as there were so many places like this in London - often short-lived but perfect sites to host these kinds of word-of-mouth happenings.

The next step would then be either being knocked down for redevelopment (as in this case), or smartened up to be transformed into luxury flats or offices.

But out of the blue comes a visual reminder of London's recent history in the days before the ubiquitous smartphone grab destined for immediate social media consumption. 

WHAT'S BEHIND is inscribed on the corrugated metal fencing - but what's the story of the requisitioned four door family saloon in front?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Mark Twain in East Germany: Ladies, Language, Liberty, Literature, Liquor, Love

Back in December 2013, I wrote a post about 'Seven Sea Books' of East Berlin. Last Saturday I picked up a copy of a paperback called 'Your Personal Mark Twain' for £1. It looked unread, I'd never seen it before, and significantly it has slotted neatly into my very slowly increasing collection of books published by 'Seven Seas'...

Seven Seas were based in Glinkastrasse 13-15 East Berlin, and had been founded in 1958 by the American Gertrude Gelbin, the wife of the German author Stefan Heym (whose real name was in fact Helmut Flieg).

Heym had fled Nazi Germany in 1933. He lived in the US from 1935, and during WW2 was attached to the American psychological warfare unit. His task was to compose destabilizing communications to the German soldiers. Then in 1952, he and his wife Gertrude decided to quit 'the West' in protest of the American involvement in the Korean War. 

Seven Seas Books published Heym's own writing, as well as the work of 'Blacklisted' Hollywood screenwriters like Abraham Polonsky and Ring Lardner Jnr, and what they called 'The Classics' - Charles Dickens, William Morris, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. The editions were all printed in English, and mostly geared for the export market - India, Ghana and Australia were popular destinations. In the former German Democratic Republic they'd have cost you 2.85 Deutsche Marks a piece...

Gertrude Gelbin declared that the Seven Seas publications were by 'progressive authors, neglected or censored in their own countries, and favouring work that demonstrated anti-fascist, anti-racist, and anti-war themes, but which also possessed considerable literary merit'.

Although there doesn't appear to be a great deal written about the history of Seven Seas, several online posts include incomplete listings of their output over some twenty or so years. Around 140 books in all...

Published in 1961, book cover designed by Lothar Reher