“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
– Lewis Carroll,
I ignore the phone when I’m driving. I was on my way to meet Gimpo at the 24hr TESCO behind Thurrock Services. I was late. It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards. Who am I? What am I doing? How long is forever? Some questions never get an answer. Gimpo was probably stood on the Tarmac wondering where I was. It was cloudy and 13 degrees. No snow this year. The van had a good, working heater. Sometimes I do things I don’t fully understand.
Gimpo is best known to any KLF fan as the man who filmed the Burning of a Million Quid on the island of Jura in 1994. He drove Bill Drummond and Mark Manning to the top of the world as told in the book Bad Wisdom, and he managed to lose his boat ticket, causing chaos and panic, whilst on a trip up the Congo river in search of the Heart of Darkness. But that’s another story. Gimpo was also the ski-masked person armed with lighter fluid and matches when Rachel Whiteread turned up to claim the K Foundation art award for worst British artist on the steps of the TATE in 1993.
Gimpo’s M25 25 Hour Spin happens on the weekend closest to the vernal equinox. The Spin follows the outer lane of London’s M25 Orbital Motorway, clockwise, for 25 hours. It is not a race. The Spin has happened once a year since it started in 1997, and will cease in 2021. The spin is Gimpo’s idea.
As I descended into Lakeside Shopping area at Thurrock, I could see a figure dressed in a Hi-Vis Jacket stood in the middle of the carpark waving. That’s Gimpo. Always ready to go.
“You’re 13 minutes late” he said with a grin. I parked up. Before I knew it, we were in the supermarket picking up supplies. Bottles, packets, cables, memory cards and a lottery ticket. Gimpo may be a lot of things, but he’s never without hope.
Gimpo’s M25 25hr Spin always starts “top, dead centre” on Queen Elizabeth II bridge at Midday. As you pass between the twin towers at the top of the bridge, the view can pull your trigger if you know what to look for. Nothing seems to be what it is, because everything seems to be what it isn’t. Gimpo’s M25 odyssey begins.
Gimpo makes notes, checks the windscreen camera is working, and climbs back and forth taking pictures out of each window. “23 Mark….go to Toll 23” he shouts from the back somewhere. Anyone who has crossed the bridge in years gone by will remember the tolls. Gimpo always used Toll number 23. But now they’re gone, you have to pay the toll online. Gimpo insisted I move over to the right a bit. He wanted me to drive over the spot where Toll 23 used to be. You’ve got to have a system. Any ritual has an opening ceremony.
This year, Gimpo had acquired new technology. A good friend had furnished him with a high definition camera that could be stuck to the windscreen. The Camera could hold 3 hours footage on a memory card at a time. It was a Christmas present. Gimpo had managed to snap the back off already. It was stuck in a brutal manner, with gaffer tape, where the rear-view mirror might have been.
“Have you got my video Mark?” he shouted over the noise.
“Which video is that?” I replied.
“Concrete Enema. The one of the bloke having concrete poured up his ass.” Gimpo said.
“Not this again. No, I haven’t got your video. And No, I dont know who’s got it either. You ask me this everytime.” I said.
Once upon a time…. I went to the foundry in Shoreditch. I took my friend Richard of Discordian Promotions, the soundman from the gigs I organised at The Old Railway, Rhys, and my work experience girl Jane….. who was on her first day. We had gone to the M25 Spin recruitment evening which hoped to find additional drivers and supporters for the following year. The first year’s spin had been and gone. Gimpo was trying to “find the others” who would join him for year two. We had sat through poems by Wormlady, someone described by Gimpo as a “dangerous pyromaniac who hadn’t taken her medicine.” We sat through hours of footage of the previous years spin. We also sat through a selection of special presentations which included “Concrete Enema.” At the end of the evening, this particular video tape went missing, Gimpo has been searching for it ever since. But anyway, if you know who’s got it, please get in touch.
Back to 2017 and this year’s spin, Gimpo proudly announced “This is spin #20.”
“No it’s not” came the reply. “This is Spin #21. You did the first spin in 1987, count on your fingers, how many spin’s have you done since then?” Gimpo started counting and got lost around 15.
“Mark…..stop the van…I need to count. I get to 17, and then I get lost.”
We drove to Cobham services and stopped the van there. Two things followed. Gimpo and I put our hands flat on the dashboard and we counted from 1997 to 2017. 21. This year was Spin #21. Then Gimpo jumped from the vehicle and started putting the signs up. Gaffer tape in one hand, signage in the other, he carefully worked his way round the van. The artist worked.
“OK, we’re ready, let’s go!” He said. The laptop was plugged into the AUX on the stereo. Volume set to 23. The music started pumping. The 21st Spin was under way.
Gimpo jumped about in the back, laughing and wildly taking pictures and providing a non-stop commentary on everything that passed. I began to consider life. Some things cannot be explained. A man in a worn out, high vis-jacket bearing his own M25 Spin logo, armed with a camera phone, pointing out palm trees, crane lifts, pylons and road signs. And all while shouting instructions to the driver, to be sure to get the best picture. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
“Mark! Let’s open both the side doors” Gimpo shouted above the music.
“No Gimpo, you’re not doing that. You’ll fall out. Theres another 24 hours to go” I said.
There was a pause. I could hear Gimpo falling about somewhere behind me. “I am the artist here” he shouted. “I’ll do what I want!”
At 6.36pm the Master Chaos van began a “Timed Lap.” Some things I do for money, Some things I do for free. Some things I cannot explain easily. In the philosophy of language and philosophy of science, nonsense is distinguished from sense or meaningfulness, and attempts have been made to come up with a coherent and consistent method of distinguishing sense from nonsense. Driving Gimpo around the M25 needs careful handling. Nonsense refers to a lack of sense or meaning. To Gimpo, his M25 25 Hour Spin has meaning. You cross the Greenwich Meridian twice on a single lap. You go back in time, before going forward in time. East to West then West to East. Gimpo travels clockwise keeping to the inside lane. He is careful to travel the outside of the M25 whilst travelling the inside lane on the motorway. There are many contradictions when you travel through the Vortex. There is method to Gimpo’s madness. The timed lap was completed at 8.39pm. One complete Orbit took 2 hours and 3 minutes. Work it out. Nothing happens by accident.
“Colin is going to flash us from the Bridge!” Gimpo shouted, as we descended from Queen Elisabeth II bridge and headed over the tarmac where Toll 23 used to be and started the next lap.
The story followed of how Gimpo knows Colin. I can’t repeat it here. After nearly 9 hours on the road, the mind starts to wander. Where is Gimpo going? Why is he doing this? What is he thinking? How did I end up as the driver? Are we alone? What’s the square root of the M25?
Looking out of the windscreen, the cars pass as they do on any day of the week. Behind me I can hear Gimpo jumping from one seat to another, a running commentary just 9 hours in, and the endless photography and documentation of the trip continues. “Mark, we are the only ones left!” Gimpo shouts. “I’ve got to send the pictures to Todd. How do you spell Todd? It’s ok I’ve found his email now. What time is it? Follow the signs. Tell me when you see the bridge. Colin is going to be there in ten minutes.”
I’m trying hard to drive and not consider any other issues. The hypnotic passing of white lines and road signs keeps me calm. I read every sign as it passes. I read every number plate. Looking for a meaning in all this. “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I can’t help thinking about the philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality. And then Colin appeared.
“There he is! That’s Colin!” Gimpo shouted as he climbed headfirst into one of the co-pilots seats, his boots in my face, the light on his mobile phone almost blinding me for a moment. Gimpo took his position in the co-pilots seat and started waving frantically. And banging the windscreen. I beeped the horn as Gimpo pointed and shouted “There’s Colin!”
A small white dot shone down from the bridge. Some people want to be lost. Gimpo and I felt alive, we existed at last, someone was waving from the bridge. Albert Einstein is reported to have asked his fellow physicist and friend Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, whether he realistically believed that ‘the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.’ To this Bohr replied that however hard Einstein may try, he would not be able to prove that it does, thus giving the entire riddle the status of a kind of an infallible conjecture—one that cannot be either proved or disproved. Gimpo’s M25 Spin is not that dissimilar, until someone like Colin waves a torch from a motorway bridge.
Gimpo ordered a stop at Cobham. We took a relaxed break consisting of tea, a comfortable seat by the window and a discussion of the problems Bill Drummond was having with emissions from his land rover. It’s what you do at 11pm on the M25. We tried to blend in with the other late night service station users.
We left Cobham feeling good and ready to drive into the small hours. If only it was that easy. We found ourselves preparing for battle stations as Gimpo pointed out the signs confirming the worst: Only one lane open ahead.
The traffic ground to a complete standstill. Gimpo rolled the side-door back, jumped out and started marching down the hardshoulder. I had to put the handbrake on, and leave the engine running. I jumped out and followed him. Never get out of the van. Worried drivers behind us peered through their windscreens at the man in the high-vis jacket. “What are you doing?” I shouted. Gimpo turned and looked at me.
“There’s traffic officers ahead, they’re blocking the road. I’m going to tell them to move. They’re making us late!” he said.
“Get in the van before we both get run down” I said. By the time the words had left my mouth, Gimpo was already distracted taking photo’s of the nearby road sign. An artist never leaves their work once they are on to something. I shut the side door once Gimpo was back in his seat. The driver of the car behind gave me a look similar to that, which I imagine, anyone would give to a baboon as it prepared to tear their windscreen wipers off. Terror mixed with calm acceptance of what is about to happen. I made sure I gave them a smile and a wave. I always show courtesy to other road users, you never know what might happen. Then I climbed back into the van and considered whether I should have allowed Gimpo to talk to the traffic officers after all. We looked like we were going to be here sometime and at least Gimpo may have made some light entertainment, until the van got towed away and crushed.
I didn’t follow the signs. I found the next exit and headed into the darkness. Any route would do. After a wild safari through West London to avoid the traffic, and providing context to the M25 orbit we had been in all day, Gimpo announced he had a plan. You can’t open the vortex without causing a few ripples. Somewhere between Cobham and South Mimms, Gimpo announced he had come into posession of the keys to the vortex. It was his 21st Spin after all. “Mark, I’ve got the keys to the Vortex. I can do anything I want now…..”
“Really? That’s great. Don’t open the side doors, you might lose them.” I replied.
I could hear Gimpo rummaging around in the back in a frienzied state. “Stop at J23, we’re going for a walk.” he shouted. By now it was getting close to 4am. Strange things happen to your mind around 4am on the M25. Reality starts to melt. You are past tired, your body is in a state of confusion. You look out of the window, beyond the reach of the headlights and think to yourself “Have I been here before?” Scientific approaches reject the explanation of déjà vu as “precognition” or “prophecy” but rather explain it as an anomaly of memory, which creates a distinct impression that an experience is “being recalled”. This explanation is supported by the fact that the sense of “recollection” at the time is strong in most cases, but that the circumstances of the “previous” experience (when, where, and how the earlier experience occurred) are uncertain or believed to be impossible. This of course, is wrong. Colin has proved the Spin’s existence, and I know from the mileage, time on the dashboard and Gimpo jumping about that we have indeed been here before, probably 8 times by now, all at different times of light, darkness, position of the sun and the moon. And my mental health is past caring. We have been backwards and forwards through time as we cross the Greenwich Meridian twice on every lap. Everything looks different but strangely the same. The white lines have blurred and the street lights are starting to look like serpents streaking past the window. The road is flowing backwards. Insanity is stalking the corridors of my mind. I am not the re-incarnation of TC Lethbridge. Ritual Sacrifice. This was not my idea. Have I missed the turning? Le Mans is 24 hours, the spin is 25, it’s one louder. All the people I’ve let down. The prison without bars. Time travel. Unpaid parking tickets. Quantum mechanics. Burning money in phoneboxes. Chuck Berry has passed away. The freedom to daydream makes it easier to reconcile the servitude which is forced on us. There will be hell to pay for all this. What now? The forces of darkness have me cornered. I can’t find my way out of the maze. Let me out.
We stopped at South Mimms and left the van in the car park for a walk. There’s a pathway at the back of the Ramada Hotel. You can follow it back towards the Motorway and theres a stream and a walkway that runs underneath the M25. As we walked through the chill night air, our steps seemed to be almost calming after the long drive. “Let’s go to the dark side of the road” Gimpo said. In my mind, for no reason, I started to remember a poem called “Invictus” by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). The third verse goes
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears, Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years, Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.”
Gimpo, the man who filmed the burning of a million quid in a disused boathouse on Jura, led the way.
Humans live through their myths and only endure their realities. If you know anything of the idea of the hero’s journey you will know the cycle…..walking through the tunnel I started to think about roundabouts and circles drawn on bits of paper….at the top: ordinary world. First exit: call to adventure. Put your phone away: refusal of the call. Junction 30 Thurrock: meeting the mentor, Queen Elizabeth Bridge crossing the threshold, tests, allies, enemies….it’s just a habit of mind. Junction 23 South Mimms: innermost cave. then….. ordeal. All I could think of was “Entropy requires no maintenance” – Robert Anton Wilson. Gimpo walked. People think their way of looking at reality is the only sane way of viewing the world. I followed. What did Nelson Mandela and Timothy McVeigh have in common? I can’t stop my mind considering the possibilities. Here it comes.
From the tunnel, I snapped back into reality for a moment. Gimpo led the way up a flight of steps to a pathway that ran alongside the motorway. My darkest thoughts ran like a film in reverse through my mind. I couldn’t hear the birds singing any longer. Everything bad I could imagine ran through my head in the seconds it took to walk the path. “Look at that” Gimpo said. He stood at the wooden fence. “The M25 from the dark side. You can see the island from here. The road is deserted, there’s no traffic.” All time stood still. No cars. Nothing. Silence.
Gimpo started taking pictures. The road was empty. The island stood in all it’s majesty just three lanes away. Gimpo looked. I knew what he was thinking. One day Gimpo’s going to plant an Argentinian Flag on the island. Gimpo was lost in thought. Robert Anton Wilson once said: Of course I’m crazy, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Gimpo considered the dark side of the road. Hell is just as bad as you imagine it to be. This place was all his.
I returned to some sort of sanity as I crossed back to the other side. I had lost 20 minutes. As I walked back across the tarmac, I felt like I had crossed to the other side and back. But I had lost all memory of it. Nothing could stop us now, the road back lay ahead. The Spin was past the tipping point. Time to get a cup of tea from the service station. Time flies.
The Mileage for one lap was 123 miles, from 212960 to 213083, I wasn’t about to try and count that on my fingers. We headed into another orbit. The M25 becomes a strange place at 11am on the Sunday of the Spin. Where has the time gone? How did we get here? We must have done another lap. My sense of time had completely broken down. I’m sure we had been here before.
People were already on their way back from the car boot sale that started at 6am. People were on their way back from holiday, others were just starting. Take a walk into Cobham services and order a cup of tea from Greggs. As you wait in the queue your mind wanders. What are you doing? Not now, not today, but generally? What are you doing? Then you remember a book you read 25 years ago:
“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere” ― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.
You order a cup of tea, and then the number 23 appears. Reading the menu reveals a reminder: Don’t answer the phone. “The hero’s journey always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide must come to say, ‘Look, you’re in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched……And so it starts.” ― Joseph Campbell. The mad hatter hands you your cup of tea. The doormouse offers you milk. Everwhere you look, flamingoes walk past. The queen of hearts sits in the window with a starbucks coffee. The queen of spades is queuing at Macdonalds checking her phone. Gimpo is hanging around the Krispy Creme Donuts waiting for anyone to show interest in a tray of ten. Some things cannot be explained. In the carpark the van is parked up next to an AA Recovery truck. The markings on both hide the contradictions. Then Gimpo shouts “We’re late, we’re late!” Many people have come and gone round the M25, but only some discover what it’s about.
Gimpo is trying to make the worlds longest road movie. He wants to know where the M25 goes. He already knows what it’s about. He wants to know where it goes. And he intends to document it.
The spin finished 25 hours after it began. “Stop the van, stop the van!” Gimpo shouted. We found ourselves not far from the M40 turning. The van pulled onto the hardshoulder and Gimpo found the nearest road sign. He had fashioned a sticker that read “Gimpo’s M25 25 hour spin finished here 19/3/2017” After the celebratory pictures had been taken we both jumped back in the van. Where does the time go? The pain of our subserviance is never eased. Tomorrow is just a word. Not all who wander are lost.
Gimpo Gimpo http://www.gimpogimpo.com/m25spin/
Gimpo’s M25 Spin 2017 photos https://flic.kr/s/aHskRprd5t
Gimpo Gimpo • Gimpo’s 25 Hour M25 Spin 2017 http://www.gimpogimpo.com/m25spin/2017/