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'Paradigm of nowhere': Shepperton, a photo essay (part 1)

Author: • Apr 26th, 2008 •

Category: alternate worlds, Australia, dystopia, features, flying, Lead Story, photography, sexual politics, Shepperton, suburbia, surrealism, utopia

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

All photography by Simon Sellars.

In May 2007 I found myself in England for the J.G. Ballard conference at the University of East Anglia. With that out of the way, I did what comes naturally. I took the train to Shepperton: Ballardian Ground Zero. I had intended to take photographs of the arena that has supplied so much raw material for Ballard’s writing, but at the same time I had no intention of infringing on JGB’s privacy. So, no shots of his house and street here. What I was aiming for instead was the traversal of a distinct psychic terrain (while avoiding the dreaded “p*****geography” word), the blanket overlay of Shepperton with a mental template gleaned from so many Ballard novels and short stories.

In the end, despite Shepperton’s reoccurrence across Ballard’s ouevre, just one book coloured the day, so brilliant is its corona: The Unlimited Dream Company, that beautiful, mad, lush waking dream wrenched direct from Ballard’s cerebral cortex. In the book an airport worker, Blake, seeking to escape his mundane life in London, steals a Cessna and crashes it into the Thames River in Shepperton. He is rescued from drowning by a troupe of locals and discovers that he is unable to leave the town; there seems to be an invisible psychic barrier that denies him egress. Giving in to it, he learns that he now has strange powers. He can fly unaided (although still unable to leave the town boundaries) and he can shapeshift into different animals: birds, whales, deer. He can also conjure into being menageries of birds and packs of wild animals from thin air, or even from the orifices of his body. His sexual appetite grows polymorphously perverse and he attempts to mount anyone and anything. Galvanized by his raw libido, the townsfolk forget about their London office jobs and their safe suburban lives, and a cult soon forms around Blake as he teaches them to fly, to reject their hyperreal consumerist lifestyles in favour of a journey into the sun, an ultimate realm in which they would celebrate “the last marriage of the animate and inanimate, of the living and the dead”.

Throughout, Ballard allows Shepperton to glow lysergically before the mind’s eye, a flaring vision of the suburbs and post-industrial liminal zones that threatens to negate the entire world. It’s no wonder he’s such a powerful influence on artists and filmmakers: the writing has a pure visionary quality that, as I’ve always maintained, transcends literature, that bends time and space (but of course). Here, then, are my photos and commentary from my trip to Shepperton — my small tribute to this remarkable book and the marvellously vivid quality of Ballard’s work, my attempt to provide an on-location correlation for the film of The Unlimited Dream Company playing in the cinema of my mind.

I must thank Jo M. for her company throughout the day. Jo’s marvellous insights into the town and her knowledge of Ballard’s work enriched the experience, and her maps and keen navigational skills greatly surpassed my own wretched sense of direction.

This feature is presented in two parts. In Part 1 we set out from the train station, making a direct line for the fields and water meadows surrounding the motorway just past Ballard’s street. Crossing this metallized river by bridge, which Blake was unable to do, we make our way to the film studios, which feature prominently in the book (doubtless Blake made it by flying). In Part 2, due next week, we explore the reservoirs near the studios, also a prominent feature of the book, before crossing back over the motorway and into town, and then on into Old Shepperton where we attempt to locate the exact spot where Blake ditched his plane in the Thames.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Outside the railway station the last of the office-workers were once again making a half-hearted attempt to set off for London. But as I approached they gave up all thought of work. Ties loosened, jackets over their shoulders, they strolled through the holiday throng, their sales conferences and committee meetings forgotten.

J.G. Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company (1979).

I live in Melbourne, where if you travel in certain directions 40 minutes out from the centre you find outlying suburbs and satellite towns that are basically parched-concrete aprons with brick-veneer boxes on them in which entire families somehow cohabitate. Parks are rare, greenery is sparse and everything is geometric and regimented, with great swathes of freeway cut through the middle. (Here is an example of the type of ennui this leached Australian suburbia can inspire; here is another.) Somehow from reading Ballard I expected similar of Shepperton, 40 minutes from the capital by train, especially given that most people who interview Ballard at his house remark on the dominance of the motorway and the terminal nature of the town.

Ballard himself has been known to play this up, as in his 1988 interview with Paul Rambali. “Post space race, when the moon was discovered to be merely dust,” Rambali writes, “his novels caught the imagination of a young generation that sensed an imminent everyday apocalypse, the future shock of the homogenous new suburbs”:

“I fear this is the future,” says Ballard… He is talking about Shepperton… “Driving through the suburbs of Germany in the Seventies I could see it. Everything is controlled. Even a drifting leaf looks out of place… Once you move to the suburbs, time stops. People measure their lives by consumer goods, the dreams that money can buy. I think that’s more dangerous. People have no loyalties anymore.”

But Ballard continues to live in this suburb where time has stopped, a sort of self-imposed alienation. In this, he is like a character from one of his novels, accepting the entropy that surrounds him.

Paul Rambali, “Visions Of Dystopia”, The Face (1988).

Thus I was a bit taken aback upon arriving at Shepperton station to be greeted by what looked like a picturesque town with a homely village atmosphere, winding streets with real-ale pubs smack in the middle of them, greenery galore and heritage-style red-brick housing. Sure, time has stopped but it’s hardly the dehumanised non-space of Ballardian lore. I’ve certainly seen far bleaker residential areas elsewhere in the British Isles. Still, it’s what’s under the surface that counts in Ballard…

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Completing my transformation of this suburban town, I walked along the main roads leading to the perimeter of Shepperton. To the south I threw my semen at the foot of Walton Bridge. Standing in the centre of the main road to London, I ignored the hornblasts of the passing drivers. Once again I was sure that none of them realized I was naked, and thought they were looking at an eccentric villager trying to throw himself under their wheels.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

In 2004, why did the stars align in such a cataclysmic way in Surrey, the county in which Shepperton nestles? As the Shepperton sign above indicates, it was a bumper year. But that’s not the whole story: in 2004 Surrey was in the top 10 for child road deaths in Britain. What would 2006’s final tally be? The sign’s single interrogation point for 2006 almost begs us to beat the 2004 record. Death Race 2006, perhaps?

Is Surrey, and Shepperton, somehow responsible? Is there any truth to the rumour, spread by Mikita Brottman in her introduction to the book Car Crash Culture, that Ballard in Crash “charts a parallel between road intersections and astrological signs”?

Perhaps the truth is rather more prosaic, yet far more disturbing:

Are we just victims in a totally meaningless tragedy, or does it in fact take place with our unconscious, and even conscious, connivance? Each year hundreds of thousands of people are killed in car crashes all over the world. Millions are injured. Are these arranged deaths arranged by the colliding forces of the technological landscape, by our own unconscious fantasies about power and aggression, our obsessions with consumer goods and desires, the overlaying fictions that are more and more taking the place of reality?

Ballard, Crash! (short film; 1971).

[The] demise of feeling and emotion has paved the way for all our most real and tender pleasures… our apparently limitless powers for conceptualisation — what our children have to fear is not the cars on the highways of tomorrow but our own pleasure in calculating the most elegant parameters of their deaths.

Ballard, “Introduction to the French edition of Crash” (1973).

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

For some reason known only to the interior of my head I was trapped in this riverside town, around which my mind had drawn a strict perimeter, bounded on the north by the motorway, on the west and south by the winding course of the Thames. I watched the traffic moving eastwards to London, certain now that if I tried to leave by this last door of the horizon the same queasy perspectives would unravel in front of me.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ian Allan Ltd. is a travel agent based in Terminal House just near the station. “The Terminal Beach” (1964) is one of Ballard’s finest stories and the blueprint for The Atrocity Exhibition. Set on the Pacific island of Eniwetok, which has been blasted into an undifferentiated slag by American nuclear testing, the story follows a possibly irradiated ex-US airman who wanders around on the island attempting to find the beach that reminds him of where he was born. Detaching himself from reality, he communes with the dead and reinvents — and destroys — himself according to the “any space whatever” of postwar globalism, represented by the sad spectre of the nuclear-poisoned island.

Before we ventured further into the dark heart of Shepperton, I was tempted to ask Ian Allan himself if he would later sell me a ticket to “the white leviathan, zero”, as the spirit of a dead Japanese man describes the terminal beach. But inside I suspected that like the travel agent in The Truman Show, he would conspire to ensure I could never leave Shepperton, that the only journey I would be undertaking would be deeper and further into my skull.

“Our latent psychopathy is the last nature reserve,” said Ballard in 2000. “A place of refuge for the endangered mind.”

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

The helicopter had retreated to the water-meadow across the river. Swept along towards the church, I saw Miriam knocked from her feet by the running crowd. As she knelt on the grass she was seized by the young women, a group of secretaries who happily stripped the clothes from her shoulders and lifted her into a head-dress of feathers.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

At the end of Ballard’s street is a walking trail that passes through verdant parks and meadows. It’s completely unexpected as you follow the winding road and come out the other side. We pictured Ballard, on first arriving in Shepperton, exploring his environs, going for a walk to the end of his street and discovering this wonderland that is like a theme park torn from its context and thrust into the middle of suburbia, like the geodesically preserved forests in Silent Running. The effect is quite unreal, and gazing into these ponds I was summarily transported to that mystical long shot in Tarkovsky’s Solaris, in which vegetation ripples and sways under flowing water, at once completely artificial in the intensity of the film’s colour and focus but at the same time so organic it transcends reason and logic.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Everywhere a macabre vegetation was emerging. Strange predators moved through the grass. Snakes climbed from the banks of the creek. A plague of spiders cast webs of pus across the trees, drawing silver shrouds over the dead flowers. Above the grave white flies festered in a halo. As a pale dawn filled the meadow I could see shrike attacking the last of the hummingbirds and impaling them on the thorn-bushes. The whole of Shepperton was sickening, poisoned by the despair flowing from me.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

It was then, fifty yards from the motorway, that I made an unsettling discovery. Although I was walking at a steady pace across the uneven soil, I was no longer drawing any closer to the pedestrian bridge… the motorway remained as far away as ever. If anything, this distance between us seemed to enlarge. At the same time, Shepperton receded behind me, and I found myself standing in an immense field filled with poppies and a few worn tyres.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Where we found ourselves, a tiny river cuts under concrete slabs and leafy vegetation snakes around motorway pedestrian bridges. The sound of trickling water blends with the Doppler effect of speeding vehicles. Here, where we found ourselves, “the last marriage of the animate and inanimate”, the absolute state to which Blake craves, would be fully apparent to a man of Ballard’s imaginative powers, in fact would appear fully formed. How many of his books were inspired by walks through this backstreet terrain? The Drowned World, with its vision of a lush, overgrown London? The Unlimited Dream Company itself? Even Concrete Island, despite the austerity of its title?

According to Peter Linnett:

The island isn’t concrete at all. It seems to live, organically. Admittedly it overlays the ruins of some old streets, a cinema, an air raid shelter; but on first sight: simply grass.

Linnett, “The Greening of Ballard: A Review of Concrete Island” (1976).

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

An unvarying light calmed the waiting nettles along the motorway palisade. A few drivers watched me from their cars, demented priest in my white sneakers. I picked up a chalky stone and set out a line of numbered stakes with pieces of driftwood, a calibrated pathway that would carry me to the pedestrian bridge. But as I walked forward they encircled me in a spiral arm that curved back upon itself, a whorl of numerals that returned me to the centre of the field.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Vivid blossoms swarmed among the graves, their semen-gorged petals feasting on the sun. Drunk on the communion wine, I set off across the park, the half-empty bottle in one hand. Beyond the deserted tennis courts lay the river, an over-excited mirror waiting to play a trick on me. Everywhere the air had become a vibrant yellow drum. A heavy sunlight freighted the foliage of the trees. Each leaf was a shutter about to swing back and reveal a miniature sun, one window in the immense advent calendar of nature.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

In the book, Blake transforms Shepperton into an Amazonian jungle in which the concrete underlay is merged solid. As his sexual appetite grows polymorphously perverse, wherever he throws his semen plant life springs up, abundant and richly overwhelming. Some of the most vivid scenes involve this suburban outland overrun by rampant plant life, a psychic green aura seeded by Blake and spread outwards via the collective energy of the townsfolk. As these photos demonstrate, the book’s unfurling of an organic machinery is absolutely rooted in Shepperton reality.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

It was now noon. The air was still, but a strange wind was blowing into my face. My skin was swept by a secret air, as if every cell in my body was waiting at the end of a miniature runway. The sun hid itself behind my naked body, dazzled by the tropical vegetation that had invaded this modest suburban town.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

The light faded as I reached the northern outskirts of the town. Two hundred yards beyond an untilled field ran the broad deck of the motorway. A convoy of trucks was turning off into the nearby exit ramp, each pulling a large trailer that carried a wood and canvas replica of an antique aircraft. As this caravan of aerial fantasies entered the gates of the film studios, dusty dreams of my own flight, I crossed the perimeter road and set off for the pedestrian bridge that spanned the motorway.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

As I gazed at the motorway from this bridge, a car passed underneath, travelling so fast it barely registered save for the high-pitched buzzing sound it made as it flew away into the distance. The speed and power of the thing was completely disorientating and provided such a stark, alien contrast to the field just a few yards away. Here, I felt the full, bracing power of the technological landscape, thoughts of nature completely obliterated by “the solid reality of the motorway embankments”, to quote Ballard in Crash. Yet during this rapture it occurred to me that there was a scene in Crash, a narrative completely encased in steel and concrete, that paradoxically seems in the space of one distended line to map out the terrain of The Unlimited Dream Company, at that stage still six years away, lost in the near future:

In my mind I visualized the cabin of Helen’s car, its hard chrome and vinyl, brought to life by my semen, transformed into a bower of exotic flowers, with creepers entwined across the roof light, the floor and seats lush with moist grass.

Ballard, Crash (1973).

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

As I approached the dead elms, a figure stepped from the dark bracken and barred my path. For a moment I saw the dead pilot in his ragged flying suit, his skull-like face a crazed lantern. He had come ashore to find me, able to walk no further than these skeletal trees. He blundered through the deep ferns, a gloved hand raised as if asking who had left him in the drowned aircraft.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

I hovered above the motorway, ready to land in the nearby fields and abandon my passengers, set down the inhabitants of a complete town in the waist-high corn among the startled farm-workers. But as I sped northwards through the air a strange gradient turned me against myself… Swept back towards the centre of Shepperton, I found myself once more above the deserted streets.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Across the motorway bridge is a Shepperton micro-world, a rustic part of town with farms and fields and horses and cows. Just beyond are the reservoirs and the film studios, and it was to the latter we were drawn first.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Thumping my head with his rifle, Stark drove on these exhausted executives, their wives and children. One by one they faltered and broke into a dispirited walk. Catching their breath, they looked back at Shepperton, which had now receded from them, a mirage miles away towards the south. Beyond the perimeter formed by the motorway the red-brick houses of the village lay on the horizon, a distant perspective on a Victorian postcard.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

I felt like a child in a holiday hotel, senses alert to the smallest blemish in the paintwork of the ceiling, to a strange vase on the mantelpiece, to all the exciting possibilities of the coming day. My skin prickled like over-sensitive camera film, already recording the hints of light that touched the pewter sky above London.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

The great arms of the banyan tree had seized the pavement outside the post office and filling-station, as if trying to pull the whole of Shepperton into the sky. I strode down the empty street, and touched the first of the lamp standards, anointing it with my semen. A fire vine circled the worn concrete and rose to the lamp above my head where it flowered into a trumpet of blossom.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

I could not resist these classically — or perhaps cliched — Ballardian shots, above and below, but in all honesty there wasn’t much of the type around, slim pickings indeed. Shepperton really did catch me off guard in this respect.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

I lusted after him, but for his body and not for his sex.

‘Right — I’ll teach you to fly.’

His white skin was dappled like a harlequin’s costume by the coloured street-lights. I could see my reflection in the windows of the cars around me, the ragged pelt of the flying suit, the semen pearling on my penis, the goggles on my forehead like scarlet horns.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Their faces seemed almost hostile. Seen through this strange light, the placid town into which I had fallen had a distinctly sinister atmosphere, as if all these apparently unhurried suburbanites were in fact actors recruited from the film studios to play their roles in an elaborate conspiracy.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

The famous Shepperton film studios feature prominently in The Unlimited Dream Company, with the suggestion that their mass-mediated dreams have leaked from the soundstages into the surrounding streets, coating the locals with a feverish celluloid sheen. We are actors in a never-ending film, the book seems to say, this dream of global capitalism, reading the lines we are given, never allowed to improvise the script, no room for experimentation, trapped in a three-act structure, our potential forever unrealised. Unless we wake up.

I wanted to wake up, to pierce the veil, so I asked the woman in this bunker at the entrance if there were any tours of the studios available. She took one look at my faux-army jacket and rested her hand briefly on her far-side hip, possibly reaching for a walkie-talkie…or something else. For a micro-second I imagined she would shoot us both stone-cold dead. Her brief, frosty response in the negative was like a forcefield shoving us back onto the street and far, far away.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

The town centre consisted of little more than a supermarket and shopping mall, a multi-storey car-park and filling station. Shepperton, known to me only for its film studios, seemed to be the everywhere of suburbia, the paradigm of nowhere.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Once I was arrested by the police for being over-boisterous in the children’s playground… For five minutes one rainy afternoon I was gripped by a Pied Piper complex, and genuinely believed that I could lead the twenty children and their startled mothers, the few passing dogs and even the dripping flowers away to a paradise which was literally, if I could only find it, no more than a few hundred yards from us.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

There’s a child in this shot of the studio backlots although you can’t see her, as she’s camouflaged by the playground equipment, itself barely visible in the foreground. I remembered the quote above and wanted to snap this scene, but I was extremely hesitant while the child remained. With all the hysteria surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann at the time, and the general paranoia Britain smears around people taking photos in public places, a man shooting a child in a playground from long range would most likely have looked very, very dodgy indeed to a civic-minded individual who just happened to be strolling by. But to hell with it. I waited until the little girl was out of view, took the shot, and imagined the film-studio building behind her, container for the “paradise which was literally, if I could only find it, no more than a few hundred yards from us”.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Advancing quietly towards Shepperton, the early dawn picked out the mast of a yacht moored in the marina by Walton Bridge, the inclined ramp of a sand-conveyor by the gravel lakes, the lightning conductors on the galvanized roofs of the film studios.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

He sat at the wheel of his hearse and roved up and down the back streets of the town, ransacking the houses abandoned by their owners. I watched him load the hearse with rolls of carpet, television sets and kitchenware, an obsessed removal man single-handedly evacuating this jungle-threatened Amazon town.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the studios is the backstreets that rub right up against them. The juxtaposition of a Bacchanalian celebrity dreaming just a few yards away from everyday residential-zone living almost cleaved my mind in two. Do people wander these streets at night, imagining they are actors in their own version of reality? I would. Drunk and belligerent, of course. Would you?

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Already the elements of strange ceremonies and bizarre rituals were taking shape in my mind.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

The open gardens adjoined to these backstreet houses surprised me. I am used to the fiefdom of Australian suburban housing, where everything is high-fenced and closed off, micronational backyards scared [sic] and profane. Even more surprising were the three wooden effigies we came across in one of these open-plan gardens, one of their number struck down by forces unknown, its back to us, Blair Witch style. Doubtless the miniature swing and seesaw set is designed to evoke the simple joy of childhood, but reading it through the glare of The Unlimited Dream Company, I couldn’t help but see it as sinister mirror of the playground across the way that I’d just photographed. The Wicker Man and its disturbing pagan rituals also sprang to mind, for Blake is clearly tapping into the same psychic subterrain as that film.

Would Blake himself now appear, leading the child in the playground off to a sacrificial land where absorption into the next world is possible, leaving behind her physical body here in this demented reverse image as a petrified shell?

Ballardian: Shepperton Photo Essay

Calming the females, I led them through the quiet side-streets, coupled with each one… But as I steered them to their places, repopulating this suburban town with my nervous semen, I felt that I was also their slaughterer, and that these quiet gardens were the pens of a huge abattoir where in due course I would cut their throats. I saw myself suddenly not as their guardian but as a brutal shepherd, copulating with his animals as he herded them into their slaughter-pens.

Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company.

Part 2: the reservoirs, the high street, Old Shepperton, the Thames.

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29 Responses »

  1. Outstanding post Simon, great stuff. Takes me back too as I grew up not 10 minutes from Shepperton and know most of the shots well. Looking at them now, heavy with the meaning and invested with all that imputed psychic freight is quite a strange, unsettling experience.

    That shot of the road leading to the studios is double layered for me too as that’s where they filmed the scene in Withnail and I in which Marwood is trying to navigate through a storm and Withnail wakes and utters the immortal ‘ I feel like a pig shat in my head’ line.



  2. Cheers, Matt. And thanks for the Withnail reference. I know that film inside out but still I’m racking my mind to picture that scene. It’s at night, isn’t it? So how can you tell where it’s shot?

    Would you say that Shepperton is far from Britain’s endzone? Or is it just me?

  3. Wow, Simon, this has got to be one of my favorite posts. Many Ballard fans – myself included – are vicariously stepping into the dream-landscape of Shepperton through this. and Sam Scoggins’ film. Now I don’t feel quite so unlucky for not being able to visit Shepperton in person yet.

  4. Hey Simon – I think you’re reading of Shepperton is spot on and you’re right – it’s far from Britain’s endzone. In reality Shepperton is a very affluent, middle class suburb; and in parts the very epitome of that rich seam that runs beneath most of Surrey and the Home Counties. It’s safe and polished and utterly unremarkable – even the studios which should be a site of great thrumming force are innocuous and to a large degree, sterile. Yet as you point out the interesting thing about that is they way mix into the surrounding, the suburban semis butting up against the huge warehouses, each leaking into each…

    As for the Withnail sequence I only know it’s filmed on that stretch of road because of Richard E. Grant’s autobiography, With Nails. Bruce Robinson got Grant horribly drunk and forced him and McGann to drive up and down the road until he felt Grant looked dreadful enough and acted pained enough. Great stuff.



  5. […] immense advent calendar of nature Simon Sellars over at the ever fabulous Ballardian has posted a brilliant piece on Shepperton, the Surrey suburb that has been Ballard’s home for the best part of 50 years. In it Sellars takes […]

  6. Hi Pedro,

    You should also check out Thomas Cazals’ film The Oracle of Shepperton: http://www.ballardian.com/jg-ballard-the-oracle-of-shepperton. It’s taken me a year to finally process this journey, but it was Thomas’s semi-fictionalised documentary of Ballard and Shepperton that was at the back of my mind when I eventually put some thoughts down.

    Matt, I guess that polished middle-class sheen is as sterile as any concrete monstrosity…

  7. Fascinating! Takes me back. What might be a nice addition — perhaps when you’re finished — is a map showing your route within the area described in the travelogue. Map? Sure. As JG told Peter Brigg in 1984: “I can’t resist drawing maps”.

  8. it’s not a bad idea, rick. i’ll see how i go.

  9. I’m curious how he’s regarded by other Shepperton residents. Is he recognized around town — and if so, as the hometown hero or village crank?

  10. Joanne, JGB’s daughters might be able to answer your question:

    BEA BALLARD: I remember him doing the odd strange thing, like I remember he sprayed his shoes with silver paint one day, and then strolled around Shepperton, and Shepperton being a very kind of bourgeois, boring town, you know, all the local residents, you can imagine, were looking and thinking, ‘how weird’.

    FAY BALLARD: When it was hot, I remember Daddy once stripping off and walking around the garden naked, which he thought was quite normal, but of course the neighbours all started looking and thinking, ‘Gosh, who’s that crazy guy next door?’

    (taken from http://www.ballardian.com/shanghai-jim-voiceover-transcription)

  11. As I read this I was thinking it was definately one of your best posts, right up my street, and from the comments above I think I wouldn’t be alone. Absolutely brilliant. More!

    As for you being a bit shocked about what Shepperton was like in reality, I always thought it would be like a Stanley Spencer painting, who lived and painted in Cookham. Spencer was quite similar to JGB (JGB’s a great admirer of his work), in that he lived in a small London village and painted obsessively the streets surrounding his house. In fact, I’ve always wondered if The Unlimited Dream Company might have been inspired by Stanley Spencer and William Blake – both were visionary Christians, and Spencer painted Christian scenes, such as the crucifiction, as taking place in contemporary Cookham. Of course William Blake wrote of building Jurusalem in England’s green and pleasant land, as it might be argued JGB’s Blake attempts to do in Shepperton (isn’t Blake a messiah? [I can’t stop myself from writing no he isn’t a messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!])

    Not that I’m trying to give a Christian interpretation to The Unlimited Dream Company. I know that JGB is an atheist – as am I.

  12. Ian, I myself, sadly, don’t know enough about William Blake to say for sure but a few others have reached a similar conclusion to you. Have a look at Mike Holliday’s essay on UDC for example, in which the Blake/Blake connection is explored: http://www.ballardian.com/home-and-a-grave.

  13. Just read ‘Home And A Grave’. Towards the end of the article it gets a bit too theory with a capital ‘T’ for me. I’m not sure about the fascist interpretation of Unlimited Dream Company. I always thought it one of his more sort of traditionally surrealist novels. Some passages seem to come straight out of Lautreamont’s Maldoror. Mike says he didnt like it when he read it – I think it’s always been my favourite JGB book. I remember reading it on a sunny summer’s day lying in the overgrown grass at the top of my parent’s garden, watching the airliner’s high in the blue sky and wondering how hard it would be to steal a Cessna and fly into another realm… But maybe I have a paranoid fascist messiah complex.

  14. Simon, I love this taste of the mysteries of Shepperton. The images are great, a suitably re-mythologised surburbia. Can’t wait for part 2!

  15. Oh dear, the pressure. Now I have to come up with Part 2! As always with this site, it’s in the can but finding the time is the critical factor.

  16. – been a big fan of Ballard forever – ‘welcome to my world’ – i ived the first 22 years of my life in Shepperton 1977-2002. Know it like the back of my had – schooled there, worked there – all my old friends from there. These pic’s brought back alot of memories. I will have to re-read the unlimited dream company again soon – best book i ever read as i know the parts Ballard is talking about…

    have just heard ‘The good news is that Ballard has written an autobiography, Miracles of Life, and it’s a good one. The bad news is that he has prostate cancer that has spread to his bones, and he’s not likely to survive.’ ;¬(

  17. I totally missed this until tonight poking around. Absolutely fascinating. Great photos. Once again Ballardian dot com reaffirms the usefulness of the internet.

  18. Thank you. Expect part 2 soon… I, uh, got distracted with other tasks since this was posted.

  19. Nice one Simon, reminds me of my own trip to Shepperton a few years ago – a dismal failure due to me cycling there and being absolutely knackered by the time I arrived. I sat in a pub for a bit and caught a train back to London. I’ll have to make another attempt.

  20. While Simon sculpts part 2, here’s my own impressions of the area, from a weekend with sundry other Ballardian researchers –
    ‘What we saw of the destruction of Weybridge and Shepperton’

  21. Way to hijack my thread, Tim! Yes, I’m working on part 2 this weekend.

  22. I’m merely the organ-player in the intermission, Simon. On with the main feature!

  23. Heh heh, of course you’re not — your photos are really fabulous. Love the rich colours and the detail. Looks like you people had a great time, too. Congrats!

  24. Growing up on Old Charlton Road from 1987 – 1998 I knew the mysterious J G Ballard lived in the house next door to my sister’s best friend Tara. Your beautiful photographs bring back so many memories for me, especially the curly bridge from the end of my road. Living there and walking past his house every day I never once laid eyes on the man himself but so many stories circulated about him that he was almost like a mythical character. We believed he was a billionaire but he refused to leave his semi in Shepperton and that he had a car in his living room. I’m sure there were some nudist rumours too. Does he still live there?

  25. Vicky, thanks so much for your wonderful reminiscences. A car in the living room! I *love* that image. Yes, JGB does still live in the same place, I’m told. I didn’t want to post photos of his house, because I am more interested in the resonance of his myth, and the role his version of Shepperton plays in his work — and in people’s minds. Of course, his supposed reclusiveness is a big part of that, as you suggest.

    Re: the nudist rumours… see comment #10!


  26. Shepperton is covered by Google’s Street View, so from the other side of the world you can take a virtual tour up his road as it was last summer – itself some kind of Ballardian media-landscape exercise.

  27. This post is very interesting I lived in Shepperton through the most important years of my life as child. Father was a Doctor and having a mother passing away from a young age, from the ages of 10-20 I lived in Shepperton. Then I moved to Canada and lived here for 9 years now. My life is like J G Ballards life is in reverse so far, so Im looking forward to acting out some fiction situations from his novels anytime. To be honest I was arrested all the time for fighting and stealing in Shepperton, though I grew up at around 18. I had no clue who J G Ballard was until about a year before him passing, I know his street super well, and know people that lived on it for 20 years or so. It will be interesting to ask them and people around about him now, Shepperton is very small and everybody knows everybody. Im very glad to have grown up in Shepperton, it made me such a better person just because you want to leave though you cant, it drags you back. To be honest I dont think that many people even know about JG Ballard in Shepperton. Like he mentioned are to caught up in consumer goods, and the outside world, even though they cant be there or be in it. Im glad I got out, because I could of been trapped. Theres everything you want there in a way, and everything you dont want. you get confused.

  28. […] is sort of resonant as Shepperton’s most notable resident was JG Ballard – author of the 60′s new wave sci-fi novel The Drowned World about survivors in a post […]

  29. […] is sort of resonant as Shepperton’s most notable resident was JG Ballard – author of the 60′s new wave sci-fi novel The Drowned World about survivors in a post […]

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