oxford psychogeography



Psychogeography - a phenomenon resisting definition

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What happens when nothing happens?

6 January 2014

Event 4 notes – Monday 6 January

Exhausting a place in Oxford

viewed from the Turl Street Kitchen, Turl Street, Oxford, UK.


We were:  Joanna, Nimmi, Jim, Soo Tian, Ann and Malcolm.



Outline and origins of the project:  

We took up up temporary residence in the front window seats at

The Turl Street Kitchen, Turl Street, Oxford.


From there, we surveyed not the well-documented historical landmarks but, following Georges Perec in

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris,

everything that normally passes unnoticed:

what happens when nothing happens.  Perec made an ad hoc inventory, which he then kept modifying. It included:

-letters of the alphabet and words (e.g. ‘KLM’ on a folder carried by someone, and various words on signs)

-conventional symbols (e.g. arrows)

-figures (e.g. bus numbers – just an example, as Turl Street is bus free)

-slogans (e.g. on passing trade vehicles)

-various kinds of vegetable and mineral matter: asphalt, vehicles, trees, clouds, foodstuff, litter (mostly subsequently

subdivided, e.g. vehicles into public, private, etc.)

-birds, animals

-people (subsequently subdivided, e.g. into what people were carrying, ways of carrying it; what they wear on their heads; groups of different numbers; gestures; ways of walking : stroll, hurry, walk with difficulty on high heels etc.; people’s clothes reveal their job: priest, traffic warden; people labelled by their appearance and bearing: handsome man ravaged by age, grumpy old man/woman, man/woman who looks like a famous actor)

-arising from the above, how far do we rely on binary oppositions (slow/fast, still/moving), how far do we want to nuance them?


-shapes (e.g pyramid-shaped cake)

-micro-incidents (e.g. someone almost trips over; a Japanese tourist takes Perec’s photograph; someone he knows greets him; a man makes a mistake on entering the café and tries to pull the door instead of pushing it); some one has difficulty parking, and passers-by make ironic comments – this causes Perec to reflect on the importance of not only seeing the tear in the fabric (this unexpected event) but the fabric itself (someone parks without attracting attention)

-Events that are programmed (e.g. buses, postal rounds, road sweepers)

-Events that are repeated (‘iterative’ in Perec’s term) as opposed to singular events

-Events that are related to the time of day

-Occasionally Perec offers fanciful interpretations: a little girl between her parents (or her kidnappers) is crying

-He also occasionally adds a stylistic elaboration (the Japanese people in a tourist bus are described as ‘photophages’ [photo-eating]). Does this imply a different level of engagement with the ‘infra-ordinary’ reality being observed?

-Arising from the above, what is the effect of shifts in our own level of attention? Does boredom make us have recourse to fantasy or flippancy?


In the relatively traffic-free ambience of Turl Street, we added:

-people journeys: conjecture on the flow of pedestrians and cyclists.  Groups, pairs, individuals… urgent?  aimless? instrumental?


Some of the points above arise out of reading Michael Sheringham’s discussion of Perec’s book in Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present (OUP: 2006).

Ann Miller





Some of the outcomes, in notes:

Account 1 (Nimmi):

6th January 2014

Turl Street Kitchen, Oxford.

Four abreast, sitting in the Turl Street Kitchen. One at the head of the table. What is it we

each see? We have our own view out of the wide window. I spend awhile just looking.

What is it that catches my eye? What aspect of the everyday am I noticing?


10.40am - 11.10am

-Grey cable-knit woolly hat

-Navy/Gold/White headscarf, knotted under chin

-Tweed flat cap

-Multicoloured knitted bobble hat, white bobble

-Black scarf printed with Zebras, knotted under chin

-Quilted black fabric flat cap

-Green tweed flat cap

-Dusky pink knitted hat with light blue edge

-Bright orange cable-knit woolly hat

-Black pull-on hat, thinsulate

-Light fawn tweed flat cap

-Navy knitted woolly hat

-Dark green checked flat cap

-Green and red checked flat cap

-Black Royal Mail baseball cap

-White/pink animal print hijab

-Grey felt Derby hat with red and white felt flowers on brim

-Navy knitted woolly hat

-White beret

-Light green baseball hat

-Pale mauve corduroy peaked cap

-Green fleece peaked cap

-Black beret

-Black woolly hat, two light grey stripes

-Purple woolly hat

-Grey, small check, flat cap

-Fair Isle knitted hat with earpieces and ties

-Pale red, turquoise and white triangle patterned knitted hat

Then I turn to the colour of trousers, but am quickly bored. Black, black, blue denim, black,

black, black, black, blue denim, blue denim, dark blue denim, tan cord, blue denim, white,

blue denim. I canʼt stand it any longer.

Three teenage girls, enjoying each otherʼs company, skip and bump down the road.

Groups. I will count the number in each group. Some, like those three girls, are easy to

recognise as a group. Others are strung out. I donʼt realise they are together until one

turns their head to speak to the person behind. I see many families; several walk as

unconnected individuals, alone, not even a turned head comment.


11.15am – 12.05pm


Account 2  (Malcolm):

Turl Street Kitchen









At the ATMs

•Male aged about 20 wearing high visibility jacket inserts card, shifts weight to right foot, then left, looks left and up. Folds cash and puts into back jeans pocket

•Female, 20s, dyed blonde hair in pony-tail, knock-kneed, long purple top protrudes beneath black jacket; faux-fur collar – violent colour clash of purple top with red handbag.  Cigarette in hand that operates machine

•Three workmen (scaffolders?) in high vis jackets, two wearing white safety helmets.  Bopping, nonchalant gait and Jack-the-Lad stance. Two of them draw cash, the third looks away vacantly, pulling on fag. One hands ‘new’ money to another – lost a bet?  Paying back a loan?  Wages?

•Female 25ish, carrying Shakespeare & Co. bag.  Librarian glasses and bookish look. Straggly hair – unconcerned about her appearance.  Seems to state she is not there.

•Male, late 30s wheels bike to cash machine which he operates with the bike between himself and the ATM.  Front wheel slews out of control.

•Another gaggle of site workers in safety helmets; only one extracts cash – no distribution to others this time.

•Another biker (m.20s) rides up pavement to cash machines; transaction takes endless time.  Gets off bike and parks it against wall. Why?  Extracts mobile phone.

•During the lull I count 100+ patches of used chewing gum in the roadway.  Like blotches on fish.

Life at the ATMs in resumé: most transactions are not conducted by single people on foot, but those that are involve at least two shifts of weight from foot to foot, and at least one lateral head turn, usually left.  The majority of visits are group/social in some way; this surprised me.  



•Dominant garments: blue hoodie; black puffa jacket (4) - fashion item of the day; yellow sweater; black hood under anorak; red puffa coat; long black coat; baggy jogging pants; wheelchair user dressed in harlequinade and ruff; green overall (market trader?); tartan coat (worn by a dog); painter’s trousers covered in Jackson Pollock paint daubs.

The dominant dress theme is ‘random’ – first things off the hook, out of the wardrobe?  Only two people (in 150+?) would get into a shop window or a fashion mag for co-ordination.  One of the two who did was a mother (child in arms) in an orange beanie, colour-matched full-length coat and floppy jumper and bright blue shoes.  Only two people have ‘dressed a story about themselves’ today.


Objects carried

•Varsity shop carrier bag and large Filofax (rare!)

•Cloth man-bag and cycle helmet

•Flask (rare?) and day-size rucksack

•Black dustbin bag (empty)

•Umbrella as walking stick

•I-pad in new case

•Shoulder-bag with chains

•Cloth bag (Penguin Book cover)

•Green Co-op bag

•Grey woollen gloves (carried)

•Large bag with draw-string – laundry bag?

•White padibag parcel

•Golf umbrella and camera

•See-through carton of muffins

•Water bottle and paper bag

•Sheaf of papers

•Glossy magazine

•Pink see-through umbrella

•Packet of crisps

•Laptop bag without laptop

•Tennis racket


•Very small baby in front papoose

•Blue plastic document cover

•Bike pump with handle

•Bottle of water (are these getting rarer?  Is the ‘must hydrate constantly’ craze over?)

•‘believe in Magic Sparkle’ bags x 3

•Silver backpack

•Peasant basket


•Millie’s Cookies bag

•Metallic walking stick (rare style)

•Ben’s Cookies bag

•Punk bag (f.70s – was she a punk?)

•Baguette with end chewed

•Faux-leopard bag

•Suitcase on wheels

•Brown envelope

•Great Gatsby cloth bag.

Conclusions?  They are bookish and they like cookies.  


How do they walk?  (A gaited community)

•M.50s. Slow lope, stops; douses fag. Deep frown; gazes middle distance

•M.20s shoulders forward; hands in pockets; looks behind

•F.30s mobile phone in hand; shuffle with darting looks up

•F.40s marching gait, extended stride; horsewoman without horse, but with pony-tail

•F.20s Trippy trappy; slightly knock-kneed in short strides, toes down first in mini-canter

•M.60s walks with a struggle; stooped

•Hesitant stride; reading map against the wind

•Flirting pair: he doing ‘cinema smoking’, blowing smoke in poseur manner

•John Betjeman slow ponderous progress (m.70s)

•Teetering and clutching coat together

•Bouncy stride; knees bend

•Fell-walking gait in flat cap and hiking boots.  An urban Wainwright

•M.teens.  Gait constricted by cut of trousers

•M.35,  Loping greyhound.

•Group of teens m&f out for a laugh.  Hop, run, stagger, bend double in laughter, jig about a bit.

I found myself extending the observation from ‘gait’ to body language and it was impossible to resist making value judgements and extrapolating amateur sociological observation from ‘objective’ recording.  Some people walk in the road, asserting their ownership.  They are not all men.  Their demeanour says: ‘this is me in my street.  I own this street and I feel confident here.    I have a goal; a mission from which I cannot be deterred’.  Head up; long stride.  Others nervously cross to the refuge of the pavement and betray their relief in regaining it, relaxing their stride and slowing their pace  Some people don’t own the street, but have borrowed it for the occasion with confidence.  Some people are trespassing in someone else’s street.  Some people seem to be aware of the strangers’ gaze and respond by acting a version of themselves; they are stars while others are extras.  Some are neither stars nor extras.  They happen to be here, but they could be anywhere, alone or in company.



Applying Perec’s procedure from ‘An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris’ turned out to be more challenging than I had expected.  It take ten times longer to write than to observe and select, so you miss 90% of the things that don’t happen.  I found, therefore, that I couldn’t record everything I saw.  This implies some selectivity.  In accepting this, I also found myself beginning to forming categories within which to select observations (objects carried; headgear; gait and body language….).  This implies more subjectivity than I had hoped the process would involve. I further found that looking for examples within categories led me into drawing inferences, making conjectures – extrapolating from what I saw to give it more meaning than it may have been capable of signifying.   I had naively thought that subjectivity could be avoided.  But in fact, it seems we constantly and inevitably make subjective judgments all the time.  Perception seems necessarily to involve subjectivity.  Objectivity is elusive.

There was a temptation to seek out the extraordinary for recording, instead of going with the flow of the quotidian infraordinary.  It took me a long to resist, and resisting necessarily leads to repetition; the urge to edit down or redact is irresistible.  I’m no Perec.



Account 3 (Ann):


Observing the infra-ordinary


Gestures and walking styles


Carrying coffee (very frequent)

Man pushing woman in a wheelchair

Woman carrying two large bags, with two children

Man looking for a place to prop bike up

Couple stopping to read poster (and spotting the spelling mistake – complicitous contact made with us through the window)

Child eating apple

Man dragging rubbish bags

Man smoking with hood up

Man adjusting bag and helmet slung over shoulder

Man (19ish?) making roll-up, smoking it, stubbing it out

Woman adjusting (toque) hat against the wind

Man swinging arms, thumbs out

Man walking with slight limp, examining back of hand

Woman looking into window (at us)

Woman carrying art file, flouncy walk in high-heeled shoes

Woman hands in pockets, hood up

Man tapping something into phone

Dog in red coat races along, woman following

Woman riffling through red handbag

Man weighed down by large rucksack

Man holding hands with small daughter

Man touching woolly hat (because of wind?)

Elderly man, teeth bared

Woman pulling shopping bag on wheels

Man, hands in pockets

Woman, hands behind back

Man with headphones

Man in red hooded jacket, shuffles from foot to foot by cash machine

Man and woman (20ish) embrace (they have seen us watching and are perhaps performing), one holding map

Man walks with difficulty, large gut

Man walks purposefully

Woman (30ish) and man (20ish with gelled hair) light fags

Woman passes hand through hair

Young man (Japanese?) standing at cash machine, contraposto.

Man pushing empty trolley (will push it back later, with 5 heavy boxes in it)

Man standing astride bike, makes phone call

Man (24ish? Japanese?) look-at-me catwalk walk

Man (78?) walking with stick

Two women, files and clipboards

Woman (25?), buttoning coat

Man (78?)  teetering (large gut), carrying pint of milk

Man (51?) tosses hair out of face as he walks

Man coughs discreetly

Man (53?), corpulent, self-conscious walk to point of campness

3 women (18-20), a playful group

Man (45?), talking on phone

2 women and a child, all running

Woman (43?), weary walk

4 men in a group, drably dressed, one gesticulating

2 men in suits, one with umbrella

Skinny man smokes outside window

Man (53?) uses umbrella to stride, carries page-a-day diary

Woman (74?) with Norwegian ski sticks.

Man (32?) shields face from sun, talks on phone

Man (34?) pushes elderly woman in wheelchair

Man (20), furtive smoking

Man (27?), vigorous stride, swinging arms

Elderly couple (man and woman) holding hands

Woman (32?) with child, hand in pocket holding plastic bag

Man (53), keys hanging from belt

Man (27), white guy with massive, ropey dreadlocks

Man (24?) holding half-eaten apple (but not eating it)

Man (55?) carrying long tube of paper

Man (56?) carrying umbrella half unfurled

Woman (27?) holding fruit box

Woman carrying hockey stick and flowers



On opposite wall:

We have moved

Free cash withdrawals

Top up your mobile phone here

Fire exit

Keep clear


Outside café:

Turl Street Kitchen

Registration here


Inside café, next to window, on fire hydrant

CE (European Community logo)



Real farming

Tour includes (couldn’t read the smaller print)



Jacket: Irish Express


Drill: Black and Dekker


Bike frames:


Giant (twice)




The first choice in food service


Lincoln College

Culture calling


La Cave à fromage

Hedges, Purveyors of quality

Martool (with email address)

Leave it to Parcel Pete


TNT zero emissions



Blackwells (several)


The Great Gatsby (a cloth bag)

Sainsbury’s (an old, much re-used plastic bag)

Russell and Bromley

Sunday Times (a cloth bag)

Balliol College

Believe in Magic and Sparkle (bright blue plastic bag)

Fresh fruit

Millies Cookies

Oxford Bus Company

Names of capital cities (a cloth bag)

Breton crêpe company

Nike Air (a duffle bag)

Books are my bag (a cloth bag)


Ben’s Cookies

Celebrate (bright yellow plastic bag)




attempt Nimmi notebook Turl St kitchen 2 018

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