The River Lea

Sometime around late May 2022 – River Lea, London.

I actually can’t remember the date I did this walk. I know I could walk upstairs and find the hard drive with the images on it and they would tell me to the second when they were taken, but that seems like a lot of effort right now. I’m tired. It has been a madly busy almost two months since I last wrote anything and my head has not allowed me any space to put fingers to keyboard and come up with anything vaguely intelligible. More on those last couple of months in the next couple of posts, it’s all pretty good stuff.

I got a really bad head cold a couple of weeks after the Gnod gig and then Eleanor got Covid; along with her son and his partner who were still living with us at the time, though they have moved out since. I tested myself five times during that period and was negative every time, I’m not certain I believe the tests.

Eleanor was working, and I had a day off, so, as I’m enjoying taking photos again and keen to keep that roll going for as long as possible, I decided to walk the River Lea towpath to Stratford. I needed to pick up a couple of things from Marks and Spencer’s and a two hour walk sometimes beats taking the bus. I need the exercise too.

After saying that, I cheated and got the bus to Walthamstow Wetlands, a wildlife reserve that is next to where I was joining the Lea towpath. The walk along Forest Rd from home to Blackhorse Rd just depresses me, so many cars and so much pollution; best to get to the good bits feeling more upbeat than I would’ve been if I had walked.

My walk was off to a good start, I saw a (grey?) heron between the Wetlands and the towpath.

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Though the next scene wasn’t as good.

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The first kilometre or so of path, from Tottenham Hale to Walthamstow Marshes runs alongside residential streets and housing estates, with a view over the river to the raised banks of the Wetlands reservoirs.

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This section of the Lea has always been busy with houseboats but with austerity on the increase and the cost of living going up seemingly daily there are more boats than ever. Some of these riverboats have had a lot of money spent on them, others less so.

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And others; even less.

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Once past the housing estates and parks of Tottenham and Stamford Hill the walk gets a little more interesting; a little darker as the overgrowing foliage narrows the path and pushes walkers closer to the boats. The grass is longer here, uncontrolled, the weeds more feral and the brambles and thistles are close to head high.

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There are few places to stray off the path. Though there are fewer people walking here to stray, the boats seem deserted and derelict, it felt like London was turning into some post-apocalyptic dead-zone as I walked. Maybe I slipped through a portal into a quieter, darker universe. The Lea can do that to you; this is an old waterway and there have long been stories and rumours of mysterious and unusual goings-on; have you heard about the headless corpse of a bear found floating…

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Anyway, on the other side of that thin line of trees are sports fields and houses, and on weekends loads of people. Reverie over, normality returns. The cycle path has been resurfaced since I last rode along here.

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I stopped for a much needed coffee at the far edge of the old Olympic Village before heading in, going to M and S and jumping on a bus back home. It was a nice walk.

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Gnod with The Black Arches @ The Piper, St Leonards-on-Sea.

Friday 6 May 2022 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

This was to be the first gig I’ve attended since January 13, the first since we’ve been back in the UK and the first at The Piper since February 2020 when we went to see Penelope Isles; the last gig I attended before the country went into lockdown the following month. I was a little wary approaching this event as a number of people I follow on various social media platforms have caught Covid at gigs in the past month; while no one was particularly ill, I still didn’t want to join them on the ill list. As I write this two weeks after the event I am day three into a nasty head cold. I’d forgotten just how unpleasant a streaming nose and blocked sinuses can be, I guess it not being Covid is a blessing.

The headliners, Gnod, are an English psych/noise rock band that have been around in various forms since 2006, though they didn’t come into my radar until the 2017 album ‘Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine’, a title that surely attracts attention. They have released four albums since then, of which I have three, though the latest album ‘Hexen Valley’ has yet to arrive in my letterbox and is very late due to vinyl pressing issues.

I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight, the last records have been heavier and sludgier than the early drawn out psych jam style tracks which I have been listening to a lot lately.

The Piper has undergone a refurbishment over lockdown and is quite a bit bigger, with the stage moving 90 degrees into the new extension. This is good. What they haven’t fixed is the crap lighting, and tonight was pretty bad, The Black Arches under a red glow and Gnod under the even worse (from a photo perspective), blue.

The night started with a set from the Black Arches, a Hastings group led by the writer Gareth E. Rees. Gareth wrote the book ‘The Stone Tide’, comprised of part fiction/part non-fiction tales of Hastings. It was released just as I looking to move to St Leonards and was in part one of the reasons I decided to move here. The other, non-musical, Black Arches are three arches carved into the side of East Hill in Hastings in the 18th century. On a good day when the scrub is clear and viewed across the valley from west Hill, they look like the entrance to a church. No-one really knows why they were carved, possibly as an elaborate prank. It took three attempts for me to find them, finally achieving that goal in Jan 2021. As you would expect I wrote about them at the time.

I enjoyed The Black Arches set, they were a better band than last time I saw them, tighter and a bit heavier, maybe the sound last time was poor? Apart from going to a lot of gigs I know nothing about sound and systems, but to my ears the Piper has a decent PA, loud enough and oomphy enough to allow a good wall of noise that doesn’t sound like sludge. Anyway, The Black Arches set was good.

As the light was so poor I was shooting at a very low speed so some of the images are a bit blurry. These are the best of a poor bunch of images. Red light, it sucks.

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For the final song of their set the band were joined on vocals by Medway artist/poet/musician Sexton Ming, producing one of the best songs of their short set.

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You have to admire a band that has two drummers. The last band I remember seeing with two onstage was Swans and they were amazing and set a high bar for how well two drummers can synchronise a beat, before that it was probably The Fall, an even higher bar. Two drummers means a lot of volume for the guitars to compete with so it was loud, very loud; not oppressively so but definitely loud; my ears were still humming in the morning as I stupidly didn’t use the earplugs that were in my pocket.

I had a good position close to centre front. Paddy Shine, vocals and guitar, stood in front of the low stage, making it more difficult to take photos of the rest of the band as they were in deeper shadow. He has a very expressive face and it was interesting just watching his performance.

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The band played a few songs I recognised, none of the log slow jams with repeating keyboard and guitar riffs and drones, but I knew that due to the lack of keyboard on stage. The set was pretty aggressive, very much the heavier end of their musical spectrum.

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They started with ‘Regimental’, one of my favourites from the their second to last album ‘La mort du Sens’ (The death of meaning), followed by a track I didn’t know and then ‘Pink Champagne Blues’, also from the La Mort LP.

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The fourth track was the 15 minute , repeating two note ‘Spotlight’ off the most recent LP ‘Hexen Valley’. This was the track where the two drummers truly excelled, 15 minutes of pummelling in perfect synchronicity; with no apparent flagging; just fantastic.

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Spotlight was followed by two more songs from Hexen Valley, then a couple I didn’t recognise. The set finished with a cracking, fast version of my favourite of their heavier tracks ‘Bodies for Money’ from ‘Just say no to the psycho right-wing capitalist fascist industrial machine’, an album title that sums up the political stance taken in their lyrics.

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It was a great gig, well attended, loud, hot, sweaty and I enjoyed it immensely. I heard the following day that apparently the band did as well, and they will be back to play St Leonards on a future tour. Yay.

10 minute walk and I was home, who can ask for better than that.

London Brutal Day Out

Saturday 23 April 2022 – London.

I’ve been looking forward to this ‘Brutal Day Out’ walk since it was muted a couple of weeks back. Someone I follow on Instagram was keen to organise a Southbank brutalist architecture photo walk if there was sufficient interest, which there was, from about 20 people, though only nine turned up on the day; which I guess wasn’t at all bad. It was a great group, everyone got on, there was a load of chat and quite a few photos were taken; I mean I alone took 126, which is a huge number for me. I very much enjoyed myself, and though I mostly prefer photography as a solo activity, going out with a group of like minded individuals for a change was a heck of a lot of fun.

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As the meet-up point was outside Blackfriars Station I caught the tube to St Paul’s and walked the few hundred yards from there, sneaking a bit of practise in on the way. This is a very cliché shot of the cathedral, but it’s also a great angle and a photo had to be taken. I guess it’s why it’s a bit of a cliché shot.

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I lugged the big camera bag around with me today, and used all three of the lenses I packed, but mostly I used the 50mm. I’ll travel lighter if there is another walk, which I think there will be. I will also go back to the National Theatre and take some more photos inside, and try and get there when there are less theatre audience members milling. Apparently taking photos inside can be tricky as security are known to stop people, though I was pretty lucky today it seems.

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The walk started at Baynard House at Blackfriars, a place I haven’t previously visited. I think it’s mostly empty now, but it used to be occupied by BT. The building was completed in 1979 and BT have occupied it ever since. It was an interesting place to walk around, and I took quite a few photos, we were here a lot longer than expected due to the group’s interest. I liked it, partly because there was no-one else about and I knew our next stop on the South Bank would be busy. Herding photographers is like herding cats and our organisers spent a bit of time trying to get us to move along. We all like to get the ‘special’ shot, preferably with no other photographer in it.

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I particularly liked the steps out the front of the building.

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The ‘Seven Ages of Man’ by sculpture Richard Kindersley is a seven metre tall aluminium totem pole, and weirdly I cannot work out when it was either made or erected here. It is definitely strange, and rather creepy. I liked it a lot, though only took photos of the bottom of the seven heads and the text inscription.

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The underpass that links the two halves of the building had a well polished metal mirror that was screaming for a photo.

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We crossed the Thames on Blackfriars Bridge and took a few photos around the River Court apartment building, of which I can find very little about on the internet. I know the building was here on the South Bank in 1986 as I occasionally visited it when I was a courier in this part of London. The other side of the building overlooks the Thames and the view from the flats must be spectacular.

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I have taken photos of the IBM Building, The National Theatre, The Hayward Gallery and Festival Hall quite a few times before, along with the Barbican Centre they are the most well known examples of brutalist architecture in London.

The IBM Building and its neighbour the National Theatre were both designed by the architect Denys Lasdun in the early 1980s. I love the National Theatre building, less so the IBM Building, though am warming to it; it is definitely on the uglier side of ‘brutal’ architecture. I love the stairs on the side next to the about to be/maybe/possibly not demolished ITV tower, I can’t believe I haven’t walked down this side before. They look like the prow of a giant concrete ship.

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I’ve never tried to take photos inside the National Theatre (NT) before, and was surprised I was allowed to take so many as I’ve heard tell that security clamp down on it. They did know I was there as I told them I was taking photos when they searched my bag, maybe they thought I was official? I arrived just as a show was being called so there were a lot of people milling about for a while which hindered progress. I was under a bit of time pressure to meet up with the rest of the group, so didn’t stay as long as I should’ve. I enjoyed it in there, it’s great inside; all harsh lines and clean concrete with interesting light lines. I will go back one day soon.

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We stopped for a lunch break on the steps at the side of the Hayward Gallery, us and 10,000 other people it seemed. Most of whom were being fed from the food market behind Festival Hall, including me; very nice samosas.  A part of me wished I’d stayed inside the NT and taken a few more photos, but I was hungry and it was good to eat and chat. It took a couple of photos around the Gallery, though it was my least inspired location, maybe the lunch break broke the roll I thought I was on.

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After the Hayward we milled about the Festival Hall area for a bit, including a return to the roof garden for the first time in a few years. The scene of an almost fight a few years back with some very drunk poshos. We all got told to leave by security.

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The group agreed it would be an absolute waste if we didn’t walk to Tate Modern and take photos of the magnificent curved staircase in the Blavatnik building. I have taken (everyone has taken) photos of this staircase before, but it is a modern work of art, and it’s verging on mandatory to take a photo of them if you’re in the vicinity of Tate Modern.

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And that was it. A few hours out with likeminded strangers, taking photos of huge lumps of concrete was a lot of fun and I hope there is another walk soon.

Walthamstow Wetlands

Sunday 27 March 2022 – Walthamstow, London.

It was Eleanor and my first walk together that wasn’t just a pre-work walk round the block or trip to the supermarket since we arrived back in the UK a month ago. The plan was to walk down through Walthamstow Market (mostly closed on Sunday) to the Marshes then walk the River Lea towpath to Ferry Lane and back home. It’s about a two hour loop if we don’t stop for lunch at the Ferry Boat Inn; which we won’t as it was awful when we ate there a couple of weeks back. They will get a chance to redeem themselves one day. That was the plan when we left home anyway.

When we arrived at the Coppermill Lane entrance to Walthamstow Wetlands we decided to walk there instead. It’s a slightly shorter walk, but there’s a nice café for coffee, and we took the opportunity for an unplanned and early lunch too. It seemed the right thing to do.

The wetlands were opened to the public in October 2017 and are a 211 hectare collection of ten reservoirs providing water to London. The reservoirs were built over a fifty year period from 1853 to 1904 and run alongside the Lea. Sitting in the Lea Valley the wetlands are part of an important corridor for migrating birds and are very popular with the birding community. There are a number of fishing spots around the various ponds for licensed fisherfolk as well. A multi-purpose environment.

Cormorant Island from Coppermill Lane.

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I love the island, it’s almost completely white with guano, it looks a lot like snow or a good frost, but imagine it doesn’t smell like either of those. The small grouping of trees are leafless in winter and sometimes the large birds can be seen in the branches. Over the years the view back drop has become more and more built up as the developments around Blackhorse Rd Station take shape. From this angle the new buildings almost mirror the shape of the trees.

Just inside the Coppermill Lane entrance is the copper mill itself, now used by Thames water and obscured by tree in this photo. There’s been a mill on this spot since the 14th century and I’m sure bits of the original still exist somewhere buried in the bowels of the building. Originally built to grind corn (the mill was powered by water from the Coppermill Stream) over the centuries the mill has been used in the manufacture of paper, gunpowder and leather. It was mostly rebuilt in 1806 and the publicly accessible viewing platform was added in 1864.

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Over the road from the marshes is a much newer water treatment plant, a site that has been growing in size and complexity over the past few years and there is a lot more security as well.

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The paths around, and between, the reservoirs were quite busy, it was cool but dry out and there were a few families taking the the opportunity to get the kids out. The demographic in this part of North East London has moved even further towards young middle class families over the past year, seemingly accelerating towards some form of peak gentrification. Every time we come back to Walthamstow a little bit more of the older rougher edges have been nibbled away. There is still a way to go mind, Walthamstow isn’t anywhere near being posh!

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As well as families, young and old, there were huge swarms of midges, seemingly not of the biting kind as neither of us were scratching at bites later in the day, though we were constantly waving our hands in front of our faces as we walked. I remember this from when I used to cycle or run home from work along the Lea towpath, this time of year you need something to cover your mouth, nose and eyes.

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I took the big camera with me, a habit I want to maintain as I’m enjoying using it immensely, though as I have previously noted (moaned probably) it’s quite heavy and not the easiest thing to carry around. I’m liking the images I get out of the very lightweight 50mm lens though so it will get lumped around a lot more for a while.

Another angle of the developments at Blackhorse Road Station. There are a bunch of new and small breweries in Blackhorse Rd, all with brew bars, and a couple with decent size music venues. It is turning into a destination now, something no-one would have said about that bit of Walthamstow ten years ago.

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Developments at Tottenham Hale Station.

There is a theme to these new building projects, they are all near transport links into the city and a number of them have limited or no parking, which is obviously a good thing. When they are grouped closer together, like at Blackhorse Rd, they become less jarring and hideous. I’m fairly certain the skyline here will be a lot different in a year, and some of those gaps will be filled in.

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Leaving the Wetlands we walked up Ferry Lane back to Walthamstow, walking past those new Blackhorse Rd apartment blocks, they don’t look so bad. Now.

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My photography has very much drifted from rural landscapes to cityscapes and architecture over recent years. This is now being reflected in what I’m reading, with a number of books about place, cities and walking in cities (flânering) taking up space on my shelves. My place in the cities and towns I live in is constantly on my mind (in a good way) and I’m enjoying taking photos again, I’m getting less frustrated with the perceived lack of opportunity to get out and take photos now I’m interested in my more immediate surroundings. Let’s face it I’m a city kid adult.

A day by the sea

Saturday 19 March 2022 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

It’s been great being back in London and back at work (sort of). London is sooooooo much busier than Auckland and the twice a week commute on the very busy Tube was uncomfortable to start with, but I’m getting used to being so close to so many people again. I’m one of the few wearing a mask on the train and it can be unpleasant when someone unmasked is breathing right into your face as the carriage is rammed tight. Covid numbers are on the rise as all restrictions have now been removed, so I’m taking some responsibility for myself. The Victoria Line train to Oxford Circus this morning was very busy, so it was a bit of a relief to jump lines to the Metropolitan which was much quieter. I love these old carriages on the Metropolitan, so 80s.

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I had a book and my phone to read, though spent most of the journey south from Charing Cross Station with headphones on staring out of the window, bright sun shining in my eyes, enjoying the urban, then country scenery as Eleanor read next to me.

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In the early spring the English deciduous trees are still without leaf giving a longer view over the mostly lovely Kent and East Sussex countryside. The lack of leaves also a reminder that the grimness of winter isn’t long gone, that grimness reflecting what is going in the world outside. I pondered life and England and my hopes and fears for the day as we travelled.

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We moved out of my flat in St Leonards on Friday 26 June 2021, almost nine months ago;  266 days to be precise, I’m not going to count the hours. It seems like yesterday, yet at the same time it feels like forever ago. I could say that I’ve thought about it every single day we’ve been away, but that would be a lie. I have thought about it most days, more so now that we are back in the UK and it’s so close.

I must confess to having had a level of trepidation regarding today’s trip to St Leonards, I was concerned that I may no longer like the place, it’s a small but valid concern. The town has been changing for some time, starting well before I arrived in 2019, though the pace of change has increased over the past year, house prices particularly have sky rocketed. I hope it won’t trip too far over the line and become even more unaffordable for those who were there before gentrification and people like me arrived. I kind of like the balance of roughness, gentrification and the arts the town has, and when it tips too far into gentrification it will be the art that leaves first and that will be a shame. I have the same trepidation about liking the flat, though I don’t get to see inside until April 9, after the tenant has moved out. I very much hope I’m still in love with it when I walk through the front door.

We disembarked at West St Leonards Station strolling up West Hill Rd towards my flat. I’ve seen a number of flats for sale, or sold, for stupidly high prices on this road and was interested to see how things had changed; the answer was not much, but a lot more houses have been painted in the last 9 months. It does look nice, maybe too nice.

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We did a quick walk-by of the flat and it was good to see the old pile looking resplendent in the late morning sun. I liked looking at her, thankfully, and am now very much looking forward to walking in and looking out of the bedroom window to the sea and over to Beachy Head.

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St Leonards feels the same, the residential streets we walked haven’t changed at all, though there seems to be even more scaffold up around the big houses at the top of Pevensey Rd than there was when we left, yet no work seems to have been done over that time. There were a small number of new shops in Kings Rd, no dramatic changes and all the places we liked are still open. It looks like this part of town survived the pandemic well enough.

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I was shocked to see scaffold around the ‘Old England’ pub, what seemed to be the last of the old school boozers boozer. It will be interesting to see what happens to it, it has always been a miserable looking dump, even just a lick of paint will improve that corner of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike a proper pub, even an old school old man’s pub is fine, but the Old England was an eye-sore.

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The day was drifting towards lunch so we walked down to the seafront looking for something to eat. As usual and as expected, Goat Ledge was mega-busy and quite a long queue had formed. We carried on towards Hastings without hanging around, much as I love Goat Ledge, and a fish sandwich would have been great, a 40 minute wait in the wind was not what we were after.

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Bottle Alley is a 480 meter long lower boardwalk along the sea front between St Leonards and Hastings, it was built in the 1930s and the inner wall is concrete inlayed with thousands of fragments of coloured glass, hence the name. Other than the occasional smell of urine and strong cannabis and un-picked-up dog pooh it’s an absolute wonder and I love walking through it; at night it is lit with constant changing coloured lights and I have always felt safe walking home that way.

As we entered I saw some legs with roller skates dangling from the boardwalk above so we stopped to take a few photos. I love a scene like this, they so rarely happen and I was very glad I had brought my camera with me.

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There were a lot of people around, and a lot of those people had small dogs; there has been a dog explosion over lockdown and everyone in St Leonards has one it seems. I’ve never seen so many people (or dogs) around at this time of year, even on sunny days, I suspect this coming summer it will be crazy busy at the weekends. when we are back I must make better use of work from home days and get down to the seafront and the nearby cafes and bars while there is some semblance of peace.

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I’ve never seen a car in Bottle Alley, it was being driven by a policeman. I wasn’t sure where he was going as the car had gone by the time we got to the end, maybe he did it for a dare? Admittedly we stopped for lunch at a new place in the Alley.

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The food was really nice at ‘Starsky and Hatch’, though quite expensive; gentrification is here to stay I guess, hard to roll back wanting people to spend money. Eleanor’s hair reminded me it was windy (it’s always windy in St Leonards) and quite cool as we waited for lunch.

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We strolled past the closed pier (why is it closed?),

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and past Hasting Beach to the old town. With the aid of some judicious tweaking in Lightroom, the beach almost looks like a 1960s postcard.

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Not a lot seems to have changed in either the old or the new town, George St was absolutely rammed in places and it felt like there were fewer shops and more eating/drink establishments, which is probably a good thing for the local economy. Not that we come here much ourselves, we tend to spend money closer to home. There were a few empty shop fronts though that is not unusual this time of year.

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We stopped for a drink and some chips at a pub in Queens Rd, before taking an even slower walk back to St Leonards, stopping for a further drink at Graze. I’m glad Graze made it through the lockdowns, on a good day it’s one of my favourite places for a quiet glass of usually good wine. We were meeting some friends in their flat in Marine Court, my favourite building in St Leonards, though I wouldn’t want to live there due to the service charges and all the maintenance issues.

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The building still has some of the original 30s fittings and I love the common area interiors, faded as they are. I love this font.

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I took a couple of photos from our friend’s front deck that overlooks the sea, and one from their kitchen over the houses behind. The view from the desk is one of the best in St Leonards.

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Some other friends joined us and we all left to go to a gallery opening of an artist friend of our hosts. Eleanor and I stayed briefly before heading off to catch the train back to London. The train was fine, but there were issues with the Tube at London Bridge so we walked up to Liverpool St (knackered) and I took one final photo for the day as we crossed the Thames.

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Reflecting back on the day, both on the train back to London and over the week since, I think it is fair to say I can barely wait to get back to St Leonards, to the sea, to less crowded streets, significantly less air pollution and to the people and places I was enjoying before we left. I’m still hopeful I will love my flat, two more weeks and I will have the answer to that question too.

‘Swell Maps’ @ Rough Trade East, London

Thursday 24 March 2022 – Shoreditch, London.

I’ve no idea when I first heard Swell Maps, given I didn’t start listening to punk until late 1978 and my exposure to new music as a mid-teen in Auckland with no older siblings was limited. I expect I didn’t hear them until after they broke up in 1980. I know I had their first single from 1977 ‘Read about Seymour’ on a cassette one of my workmates made me in 1981. I guess that was possibly the first time for me. It is a great song, as were the other singles.

They are an odd band, originating in Solihull in the English midlands the various members muddled around experimenting with music and sound in various duos and trios from the early 70s but didn’t form as Swell Maps until the punk explosion. Their early singles were short sharp bursts of jagged guitar driven punk, ‘Read about Seymour’ is only 1 minute 27 long. Resolutely DIY, they used cheap instruments in cheap studios and it shows in their early recordings, they all sound fabulous. I love that lo-fi over driven sound.

They released two LPs; the first in 1979 ‘A trip to Marineville’ and the more well known ‘Jane from Occupied Europe’ in 1980. Both were on the fledgling label Rough Trade. The band split soon after ‘Jane’ came out and most of the members went onto other musical projects, none were what you would call commercially successful. Both their LPs are more post-punk than what most would consider punk, with longer songs (Gunboats was over eight minutes), some instrumentals and lots of weird instrumentation and found sounds. Those records still sound good today.

They were not a band I followed, perhaps because they split before I started buying music. However, I suspect it’s more likely that by the time I first heard them their music had moved on from three chord DIY punk to something more challenging and interesting and I hadn’t moved on at all. I have been listening to them more over the last few years though and was interested enough to order bassist/guitarist/vocalist Jowe Head’s book about the band when it was released earlier in the year. A copy is waiting for me in my favourite bookshop, Printed Matter in Hastings, when I get back to St Leonards next month

As was normal in the early punk days most of the band members had made up names, Jowe Head, Epic Soundtracks, Nikki Sudden, Biggles Books, Phones Sportsman and Golden Cockrill. Sadly Nikki Sudden and Epic are no longer with us, both passing too young. After Swell Maps split Jowe Head was in an early line up of the Television Personalities.

I only saw that this interview with Jowe Head was on tonight at Rough Trade on Tuesday. As it was free and early in the evening and the weather was going to be nice I decided to get a ticket and make the walk to Rough Trade in Shoreditch after I finished work in Westminster. I need the exercise and the walk took an hour which was perfect, I’d earned my pint. I didn’t realise that after the interview and Q and A with Jowe there was going to be a live performance of Swell Maps songs by Jowe and friends. This was a massive bonus, and I was glad I had lumped the camera around with me. 

The band tonight comprised of – Jowe Head, guitar and vocals,
Dave Callahan of The Wolfhounds and Moonshake, guitar and vocals,
Luke Haines of The Auteurs, guitar and vocals,
Lucie Rejchrtová of Instant Flight, keyboards,
Jeff Bloom of Television Personalities, drums
Lee McFadden of Alternative TV, bass and vocals.

The band was joined for the songs ‘Harmony’ and ‘Cake Shop’ by Gina Birch from another seminal band, The Raincoats.

It was a lot of fun, the band were great, a little chaotic at times, the mix was really good, and it was a joy listening to songs I never ever expected to hear live.  Midget Submarines was probably my favourite song of the night, though Seymour and International Rescue were brilliant. The set ended with a five minute or so jam of what was apparently a Can track. Kinda the perfect way to end a set really.

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Dave Callahan, Jowe, Luke Haines. Lee McFadden

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Dave Callaghan singing ‘Let’s Build a car’ with Lucie Rejchrtová in the background. I wasn’t able to get a decent photo of Lucie from where I was standing. 

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Gina Birch.

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Lee McFadden and half of drummer Jeff Bloom.

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Luke Haines summing it up (he is a great performer)

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At one point when I was taking photos I realised I’d moved just out of sight of my back pack which contained work laptop, I could feel the person behind me getting closer to me, so I stepped back a bit and turned round and it was Thurston Moore, I realised my bag was going to be fine.

I’m really glad I went, it was a fun atmosphere, with what I’m guessing were loads of friends of the band giving them loads of love.

Lloyd Park, Walthamstow

Monday 14 March 2022 – Lloyd Park, Walthamstow.

We’ve been back in the UK from New Zealand for two weeks and I’m not quite yet in a position to say if it is good or bad here. There’s been plenty of good, but crikey it feels really cold after weeks of temperatures in the mid-to-high twenties. We are at staying at Eleanor’s in Walthamstow until mid-April when we will relocate back to my place in St Leonards for a while. We need to see what demands our employers make on us attending our respective London based offices on a regular basis before making any longer term plans. The good news is that there are currently limited demands, though I’m sure this will change over time.

I’m back at work now, mostly working from home though I’ve been into the office a couple of times. The first time I went in I got off the Tube at Green Park and walked through the park and across St James Park towards Victoria, then down to my office on Marsham Street. It was a lovely morning and a walk through the park seemed the right thing to do as I’m about 7kgs over my normal weight so longer morning walks are a good idea. The following time I took my camera.

I enjoyed walking through these two lovely spring-filled parks, but got a genuine heart-pumping thrill once I got back between the buildings, that lovely mix of gorgeous Queen Anne terraces, the brutalism of the Ministry of Justice Building and my favourite building in the area, the old Transport for London offices at 55 Broadway. This is the city I love, and I never get that little heart pump of joy walking in Auckland city.

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When I’m not going into the office I’ve been taking a pre-work morning walk in nearby Lloyd Park; it’s about 200 metres from the front door and is one of my favourite ‘inner-city’ parks. It is more than logical that I walk there most mornings, though I suspect I’ll get bored by it eventually; hopefully not before we move down to my flat. I can barely wait to move, but I have a tenant in there till 1 April so patience is the key. Eleanor and I are taking a day trip this coming Saturday and I will probably do a walk-by of the flat.

Once the grounds of William Morris home, Lloyd Park was donated to the people of Walthamstow by the Lloyd family in 1898. The council buying a further 16 acres from the Aveling Estate in 1912 to create the park as it stands now. The park hosts a range of activities; there is a bowling club, public tennis courts, a small café and gallery, a skate park, outdoor gym and a kid’s playground. None of those things particularly interest me, I just like the park for walking and I’m not the only one. It’s not a huge park, maybe twenty minutes to loop the whole thing, though it has two large fields and is very popular with runners and dog walkers, especially, it seems, in those hours before work.

My first attempt at taking photos was only partially successful, I left the house about 8:00am and the park was quite full with adults taking small children to the schools that surround it. It was very busy and I’m not comfortable taking photos surrounded by people, though I can settle into it when I try. I’d have thought after years of taking photos that this would be second nature for me, but it isn’t. Perhaps I should do a self-confidence course?

The main gate to Lloyd Park is on Forest Road, and was the front entrance to the lovely, what is now, the William Morris Gallery. Morris was a 19 century artist and ardent socialist, his major contribution to the arts was in textiles, particularly with interiors; wallpapers, tapestries, furniture etc. His influence and work is broad and still relevant today and he was a proud Walthamstowvian too.

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I think the socialist in Morris would be pleased to find his old stately home is over the road from ‘Five Star Fish Bar’ (not bad) and ‘Pat Bunz’ (never tried). Much as Walthamstow has been gentrifying over the past few year, that gentrification is yet to hit Forest Road.

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There is a wall that runs to the west from the side of the gallery, separating the grassed front of the garden from a more formal as well as a ‘wild’ (I’m not sure how to describe it) garden at the rear. I absolutely love this wall, it’s one of my favourite bits of the park. It has aged so gracefully and has been stained over the years by the sun, the rain and the vegetation that has grown up against it.

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There are a few of these plants, (possibly a Cardoon?) growing in front of the wall and they are magnificent, some are taller than me, though they grow on quite slender stems. I took a few photos of them over a couple of visits.

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Outside the  rear of the gallery are what is left of the formal gardens. These get planted each season, but are not as resplendent as they used to be according to Eleanor. I guess with more funding there would be more resource to pour into this popular space, though the council has many other worries and much more important things to do with the limited money they have.

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Moving on from the gardens there is a fenced off moat surrounding an ‘island’, which has a band stand at one end that was used for concerts, public speaking and other events. Inside the fence line on the island side of the moat the scrub has been left to go wild and is now mainly a huge tangle brambles; hopefully home to some of the insects and wildlife that use the park.

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I love how this tree has grown over and around the fence.

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My walking route takes me through the centre of the park, past a small café, the large kids play area and a room that has been used as a small independent gallery space, then on to the skate bowl and outdoor gym area.

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I usually turn right here and walk around a large field. The first morning I was there to take photos it was quite busy,  as I said above I didn’t take any, though I enjoyed walk.

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I went much closer to 7 am the second time out and there were far fewer people when I arrived than before, though it got busier with runners after 7:30. 

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I missed the sunrise, but managed to capture some nice early morning light over the trees and houses that surround the fields at the back of the park.

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Completing the loop I finish back at the front of the gallery before wandering off home to see how successful I had been with the photos. I was pretty happy with my efforrts.

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The loop normally takes 20 minutes or so, it’s not huge; but enough to set a clear delineation between sleeping and starting work each week day.

There is a great mural of William Morris painted on the outside of a house next to the park.

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Wanstead Park

Thursday 03 March 2022 – Wanstead Park, London.

27 April 2022 Update. This post has seen a huge surge of views in the past few days, presumably from lovely folk like yourselves looking for photos or info on Chalet Woods and the bluebells. This post was written well before bluebell season, but you can click here for bluebells.

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

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It’s been a long while since a muddy walk has featured in my life and after today’s stroll I’ve vowed to never leave it so long again. A similar vow was also made today about walking in Epping Forest, a place I frequented on an almost weekly basis a few years ago, yet had barely been to since I bought the flat in St Leonards in 2019. This became especially true when we relocated there during the lockdowns as working from home was not just the norm, but was actively encouraged. I intended to walk in Epping Forest in the month we were back in Walthamstow before we left for New Zealand, but like so many other things, I didn’t get around to it. My heart just wasn’t in it. I wonder (if I’m honest with myself, I know) that if I went to the forest, or even just for a decent walk, more regularly I would be in a much better place, and my heart would be in it (whatever ‘it’ is) again. A virtuous circle, unlike the vicious cycle I have been in.

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Wanstead Park is the most southern outcrop of Epping Forest. Looking on a map it doesn’t appear to be connected to the forest itself, though I’m fairly certain I could find a way between the two where I wouldn’t be fully exposed to the sky. A linked muddy trail under tree canopy looping between scrub and ferns and bracken and holly, and the only roads are roads that were crossed, not followed. It would be a grubby edgeland, empty cans and bottles, used tissues scattered everywhere, well used and abused by the human inhabitants that surround or pass through it. Not necessarily a path to take at night.

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A friend of mine who is now retired (I feel I’m turning into an old man as friends start to retire; however my mortgage lender tells me I’m years off joining them) has been walking some mutual friends dogs once or twice a week in Wanstead Park and earlier this week he invited me along on one of his walks, an offer I gratefully accepted. We caught the bus from Walthamstow to Wanstead, I was tempted to walk but in the end I was glad I didn’t as we walked far enough with the dogs and I’d have been even more knackered if I had taken those extra thousands of steps.

I’m not sure what breeds the dogs are or how old, they are small and whitish, extremely well behaved, and frankly, just lovely little dogs. One male and female, the female was the most adventurous. We collected the dogs and were in the forest almost immediately after leaving their home. The dogs were off the leash for the entire walk with the exception of the four road crossings; two there and two back, they knew the walk better than us. The first section of parkland we walked though was possibly Bushwood, though I’m not 100% certain of that. We walked past the rather impressive looking Belgravia Heights, which appeared suddenly when we momentarily popped out from under the trees. It would look great in the fog.

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Wanstead Park was opened to the public in 1882, two years after being acquired by the City of London Corporation, who also manage the wider Epping Forest. The land was enclosed during the reign of Henry VIII, about five hundred years ago, and was the manor ground of Wanstead House, originally a royal hunting lodge. After serious financial mismanagement the house was demolished in 1824 and parts of the grounds were sold off over the following few years. The park has a number of small man-made lakes with islands in the middle and paths round the outside. It’s a great place to walk and I’ve been here a number of times before, usually in late spring for bluebell season. I’ve never done the walk we did today, and I was surprised to find the park was much bigger than I’d previously thought.

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The Temple was originally built in the late 18 century, though numerous additions were made in subsequent years, it is believed the colonnaded middle was the original construction, and it is certainly the nicest part. The building has been fenced off ever since I’ve been visiting and I wonder if there is anything inside. The avenue created by the chestnut trees was only planted in the 1990s; it’s a lovely addition and really does draw your eyes towards the building when you enter the park from the west, as we did.

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Our walk took us along the paths that run alongside the ponds on the southern and eastern boundary of the park, we met quite a few other dog walkers on the way. This is a popular place and the dogs appreciated the opportunity to run unfettered and make a few friends on the way. After a few days of rain it was pretty wet everywhere and the River Roding that flows on the far side of the trees in the below photo was very full and very muddy. There was a lot of mud in the paths under the trees.

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Half way along the ponds we spotted The Grotto, which came as a complete surprise to me as I haven’t heard of it before. It’s original construction was completed in 1764 and it was built as a rich man’s pond side folly. Over the years that building has served a number of purposes though was destroyed in a fire in 1884 when it was being used as a boat house. The ruins have only been exposed in the last ten years, but are sadly all fenced off. They were a nice surprise.

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We stopped for a coffee at the popular tea hut in the park before walking back to where we started, eventually returning a couple of very muddy dogs to their owners. The dogs seemed to have as good a time as we humans did, at least I hope so. I suspect they slept well.

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It was a longer walk than I expected, though very enjoyable. It was so nice being out under the trees, walking in some mud and chatting with a good friend. I need to do more of this.

Farewell New Zealand

Thursday 24 February 2022 – Auckland.

Neither with a bang, nor a whimper we leave New Zealand on the 18:15 Emirates flight to Kuala Lumpur; destination Dubai, then onto London three hours later. Six months and 24 days after we landed in Auckland and were whisked directly to a managed isolation hotel, not passing go on the way. We spent two weeks in that hotel and then the city went into a full hard lockdown 2 ½ days after we left its front door for the one and only time on 14 August. The city eventually opened up just before Christmas, almost four months later.

I’m not going to call the trip a failure as it wasn’t really, but from my perspective it wasn’t a great success either. Eleanor made much more of the trip than I did, which is absolutely a good thing, though it wasn’t really the holiday she, nor I, were expecting to have. I don’t really feel as rested as I should after six months away from work, and Eleanor worked virtually the whole time we have been here. I really feel for her, we both start working again in just over a week on Monday 7 March (how can it be March already?)

Of course this whole trip was blighted by the real and perceived risk of Covid and the necessary restrictions of the New Zealand Government, so it was just a case of unfortunate timing on our behalf. A part of me wonders if we should have delayed until things got better, but I’m not really sure when it will be a good time to travel again. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but ultimately I think we did the right thing in coming.

I didn’t do a lot of what I normally do when I come back to New Zealand. Not once did I go to Piha or Karekare and I only ventured into the very fringes of the Waitakere Ranges when I walked along Exhibition Drive, and I’m almost embarrassed to even suggest that Exe Drive is even a fringe of the Waitaks. Not having a car didn’t help, though of course I could have rented one, and did on a few occasions, and we were offered the use of cars as well, I just didn’t take those offers up. I never had the right headspace to get out there, though the few times the effort was made it was fine and enjoyable and not as stressful as expected.

Headspace and desire were an issue for most of the last six months. I have struggled with motivation and finding the energy to think about things, let alone do them, was almost impossible some days. I loved managed isolation and we made so many plans over that time of things to do when we were free, so going almost immediately into lockdown was a bit of a blow, and I underestimated how much of a blow it was. I definitely didn’t do the people I love and the country the justice they deserved. It will be better next time around, I promise you this.

Overall I’m glad we came, I loved spending time with family and I got to see plenty of my grandson and son, my Auckland sister and her two children and spend loads of time with mum. They, particularly mum, were the main reason I came, not going for walks in the bush or mountain biking or travelling around sightseeing.

We did get out of the city a couple of times and I very much enjoyed the few days with friends in Whangamata and the weekend we had on Waiheke. They were proper highlights of the trip and gave me opportunities to take photos and write notes that were positive and excited as well as just being fun times in themselves.

We took one final walk around Wynyard and the Viaduct last night, and I enjoyed a final glass of Man o’ War Syrah outside the park Royal Hotel. We liked it there a lot.

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We are looking forward to being home in a few (too many!) hours, and will spend a month in London before moving back to St Leonards where we plan on staying for a while as we figure out what’s next, where our next holiday will be and when we come back.

I’m not going to miss the humidity though.

Challenge House

Anyone reading my blog over the past few weeks will have noted I have some antipathy to Auckland’s Central Business District, particularly the rampant, seemingly unregulated, and frankly, hideous construction that blights the city centre, and has done for years. It seemingly never ends; and I’m not talking about the work being done to build the new underground light rail system, which is something the city desperately needs. What the city doesn’t need right now is more commercial and residential blocks.

I absolutely agree with and understand that a city centre needs to move as its demographic changes. The city centre; particularly Queen St, is no longer the primary retail centre of Auckland it was in the 1960s and 70s, and it hasn’t been since suburban shopping malls arrived in New Zealand. As retail moved out to the ‘burbs during the finance boom in the 1980s the centre became further aligned with  business and new office blocks and shiny towers to mammon went up almost as fast as the older buildings came down. Buildings by the corporate raider Ron Brierley (jailed for possessing child pornography) and investment bankers such as Fay (accused of tax avoidance and insider trading) and Richwhite (only accused of tax avoidance) were erected to show how important and flush they were with other people’s money.

Admittedly the Fay Richwhite Building completed in 1992 and now known as 151 Queen St or the SAP building is one of the better constructions. I worked in a slightly less lovely office block next door in the 90s and was slightly jealous of its shininess; until someone jumped off the roof in the midst of the financial crash that followed the boom, when other people wanted their money back.

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There has long been a move to include more residential living in and around the centre, though the explosion of cheap and poorly built blocks of tiny flats for overseas students wasn’t what most people had in mind. This appears to have changed for the better with more attractive and thoughtfully designed (read more expensive) blocks, such as the one we live in, now being built. However, there appears to be a lot of inner city flats for sale (there are 1198 Auckland City apartments on realestate.co.nz today) and walking around the city I see a lot of apartments that appear to be vacant. Like cities and towns all over the world, absentee and second home owners buy property they rarely use, pushing up prices for everyone else and leaving city centres void of much needed life.

As I wander around the construction site that used to be Auckland’s heart I wonder if the work going on to build new towers for offices and flats is a final attempt by the monied class to remove the last remnants of a working class presence in the city. There seems to be a desire to finish the job started in the boom of new wealth in the 1980s to demolish the last of the small workshops, the warehouses and factories where the less privileged slaved for poor wages before schlepping back home to the suburbs. Each decade sees more of the old working city disappear and I find this monumentally sad. Blandness will eventually reign supreme.

I worked for a Brierley owned subsidiary when I arrived back in New Zealand in 1988 after a couple of years in London. Brierley bought the business, asset stripped it; flogging the good bits to another one of his companies, then making the warehouse and retail staff redundant. The building I worked in just up from the city centre, on Hobson St was demolished in 1991 and is still a small shabby car park to this day.

I walk along Wolfe Street on about 25% of my walks through and around the city because I love this derelict and half demolished building. It used to be Challenge House and was sold in the early noughties to be demolished for some new thing. However, there were issues with the consent to demolish so nothing happened and the first three floors were eventually turned into a very rough car park. The demo of the car park first finally started sometime in 2018 but stopped soon after. This is what it looked like in October of last year. It was graffitied and messy, with dangling plastic secure fencing on some levels, but no razor wire and no scaffold and no work being done.

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Almost the entire block is now being demolished to make way for a ’multi-level commercial project planned to maximise gross floor area ratios’ (whatever that means in normal people speak). Naturally the developers are backed by overseas finance  with a company registered in that bastion of financial openness, the British Virgin Islands; not that I’m suggesting they are carrying on with the property development and financial standards set by their predecessors (accusations of tax avoidance etc). A couple of the old buildings in the block will have their frontages preserved in a new found rush for facadism in Auckland, though that is as it says,  just a façade. Nothing much is preserved and even that small amount is not by choice.

The block includes the building that housed Food Alley a very popular hawker style food centre which I used to enjoy eating at when I was working in the city. it was a good place to meet friends, buy a beer and food from the multitude of, primarily Asian, food stalls. It was the closest Auckland got to Singapore style eating and that has been taken away. Maybe it was too radical for the good burghers of Auckland city.

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Weirdly, when I looked the address up on Google Maps, the shadow from one of the older towers casts a darkness over the building site; as if Google or the Gods don’t want to acknowledge the development is happening; or maybe its just the CIA have hidden something.

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When I was walking past last week I was shocked to find that the demolishers have come back, razor wire is all around the site and scaffold is now up and work has commenced on pulling this old, and frankly ugly, mess down. I took a few photos over the fence to remember the place as it will be gone when I’m back in New Zealand; possibly, I thought that last time I was here too.

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Though I’ve just called it an ugly mess, I am a little saddened by this, this graffiti covered relic of a bygone era was unloved by many but it was symbolic of the rush to knock down the old and rebuild with the new, even if the new had never been planned, financed or even agreed. ‘Pull it down’ they say, ‘once it’s gone it’s too late to protest and they will accept our cunning plan for a replacement. Bastards.

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The building on the other side of Wolfe St, number 6, was for sale in 2018, I’m not sure if anyone bought it. Built in 1912 it has been vacant for 23 years, and it still is. I wonder who owned it and whether it had been land banked until the money was right, though why it couldn’t have been repurposed for something and saved I don’t know, surely there would have been some value in restoring a heritage building? Perhaps I’m just a fantasist who longs for days past?

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Challenge House was nothing special; so much so I couldn’t find a photo on the internet of when it was built or being used as it was intended. So, given its current state it has to go.

Few of the other remaining early twentieth century buildings left in town are ‘special’ either, but that doesn’t mean we need to get rid of them. There is an excess of commercial and residential property in the city, and now its largely unaffordable, few see the city as a retail destination either. We just don’t need any more large buildings; investment should be made in preserving and re-purposing the last remnants of Auckland heritage, while there is one.

Challenge House is dead. Long live Challenge House.