The Epping Forest Project, Phase 6 – June.

The Epping Forest Project, Phase 6 – June.

Another crazy month! June passed in a blur of activity and as I sit here writing at the end of July, June just seems so long ago. This year is disappearing too quickly. Some days I find myself mentally looking for the stop button so I can put a temporary halt to life and get some rest, though I can never find the damn thing. As I look forward to August and further beyond I see no respite, I am going to have to plan a weekend of NOTHING. Sticking to it will be the hard part.

A few months ago I started seeing a career coach, Nat. I was looking for advice on how I can transition from my IT job into something different, something I enjoy, can make a basic living from and can carry into those first years of ‘retirement’. I have really enjoyed seeing Nat and over time the sessions have morphed into discussions on a range of things. The last couple have looked at what holds me back from doing things, and tactics to challenge those barriers. One of thing has been a reluctance to do anything with my photography. Another is an inability to take photos when I feel people are watching and perhaps judging me. I miss taking a lot of photos if I feel that I look like some sort of weirdo taking photos of inane or uninteresting objects or scenes. Stupid I know, but this is something that goes on in my head pretty much every time I go out with my camera.

Both of those things are around bravery and confidence. I am not, not have very much of either. I know I did a lot of travelling back when this blog started, that took a massive leap in confidence. Looking back it was still very safe travelling, not that I am disrespecting my travelling and what I achieved with it. It was life changing. Some may say that continuing to write this blog is a challenge to the reluctance to put myself out there. However the blog is pretty anonymous, I would be surprised if many people I know actually know this blog exists. I I do not share the blog widely, rarely is it linked to in FB or Twitter.

I have taken a couple of steps to challenge this lack of confidence. Firstly I talked to Buhler and Co, our local cafe about holding an exhibition there during the e17 Art Trail during June 2019. The art trail is a big event, lots of artists and lots of venues, it has been running for years and is quite popular. Sadly, they already have an artist booked for next year, but they have asked me if I would like to show some photos for two months starting in October. Two months to plan, shoot, frame and hang a number of photos for three walls in a very busy cafe. No challenge then!

Secondly, I decided for the June month of my photo project I would go to the busiest part of Epping Forest, suck up my reluctance, my lack of confidence and my avoidance of any potential embarrassment and take photos of what I wanted, how I wanted and where I wanted.

It was an interesting session, this area of the forest is not the most photogenic in my opinion, and summer is not great for forest photography – it is all too green. 

I was again experimenting with intentional camera movement photography (ICM). Continuing to develop my style within this genre. I was initially proposing using some of these in this exhibition and the cafe were happy with this idea.

I am still pondering using  ICM images, but am tending towards doing a series of close up photos of grass and the plants within them. I have been taking a lot of photos like this lately. This is one of those areas where I feel uncomfortable. Standing in a field with my camera shoved into the grass,  ‘What will people be thinking’ is what goes through my head, not ‘wow this grass is amazing to take photos of’.

I loved this tree and its fungal growth. Sadly none of the photos I took of the fungus were interesting or good enough to share. But I liked the face in the tree and the jaunty cap. I spent a lot of time on this tree, using the tripod, different lenses, and avoiding looking at the people looking at me as they walked past.

It was good to challenge my own fear. I just need to do it every time I pick up a camera!

Wax Chattels @ Lock Tavern

Tuesday 26 June 2018 – Wax Chattels @ Camden Lock.

I am a massive fan of Auckland, by way of Dunedin, band Die! Die! Die!. I believe they are the band I have seen the most often over the 38 years I have been going to gigs. It is fortunate that they come to London pretty regularly. I have seen them three times since I have been here, only missing their last gig here as I was too sick to go.

Wax Chattels are a young Auckland band, also a three piece and clearly influenced by Die! Die! DieI, though with one massive difference; Wax Chattels have keyboards rather guitar as the lead instrument. They have been described as a “guitarless guitar band”, an apt, and frankly brilliant description for them.

Wax Chattels released an LP a few weeks ago and have come to London for a couple of release shows. The first was on Saturday night, however El and I were already at a gig, seeing the mighty My Bloody Valentine, a band I have always wanted to see, but have never had the chance to before. This was My Bloody Valentine’s first UK show in over five years, so I wasn’t going to miss that.

Fortunately there was a second gig, on a Tuesday night in Camden. It is not my favourite night to go out, but at least Camden is not a major pain to get too, and it would be a reasonably early one. Plus, it was free.

This was my third gig in six days, definitely a record for me.

I got to the Lock Tavern in Camden pretty early, far too early in fact and had to wait for most of an hour for the support band, Careers, to come on. They were Ok, a bit derivative, a bit London indie pop. Un-offensive but not spectacular, there were a couple of good tracks and I was entertained enough. The light was really poor, and the stage was between two doors to an open balcony holding a private party and the daylight just streamed in. None of my photos were any good sadly.

There was a thirty minute wait for Wax Chattels to get their gear ready and come on stage, it was still pretty light outside, but the light was slightly better. I wasn’t really banking on a full room, so didn’t get myself a spot for taking photos until it was too late. I grabbed a few shots from one side of the stage before moving to the other. I took the big camera and the 50mm lens, but even shooting wide open it was still a bit too dark for the low top-end ISO this old beast of a camera has.

IMG_2643

IMG_2652IMG_2647IMG_2655IMG_2666

They were really good, great songs, and good performances, nice to see from a young band playing a free gig to a small, albeit full room. Highlights for me were Concrete, Shrinkage (the best Die Die Die song not written by Die Die Die) and In my mouth, a song I do not particularly like on the LP. It made more sense live.

IMG_2685IMG_2679IMG_2695

This is my favourite image from the night.

IMG_2697

I really enjoyed the show, and did buy the LP from the merch stand. Hopefully they will be back in London soon. I would definitely pay money to see them again. This is my favourite image from the night.

Mogwai @ Royal Festival Hall.

Thursday 21 June 2018 – Mogwai @ Royal Festival Hall.

Confession time. I came late to the Mogwai party, not knowingly hearing them until the mid-2000s when instrumental post-rock started to dominate my music listening, which it still does. Even then Mogwai were not my first pick, New Zealand groups Sora Shima and Jakob, Japan’s Mono and Texans Explosions in the Sky were usually first to the turntable or CD player. Post-rock really helped get me through the endless journeys I took on my travels. Many of those hours spent in planes, trains, buses and trucks were passed listening to long, winding instrumental tracks.

I am not quite sure when this changed; when Mogwai became not just my favourite post-rock band, but my favourite band of all and any genre; sometime after arriving in the UK I guess. This will be the third time we have seen them.

When Robert Smith (singer, guitarist, songwriter and main man from The Cure, another long time favourite group) was announced as the curator of 2018’s Southbank Meltdown Festival I was excitedly looking forward to the acts he would announce to play over the course of the festival’s two weeks. He does have very good taste, but wow, what a line up, exceeded my expectations! If I was wealthy enough and could take two weeks out of work I could have gone to at least one gig each night, so many great acts were playing. However I am not wealthy, nor able to take two weeks holiday, so I restricted myself to booking two shows. Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine. It was a tense couple of hours when pre-release tickets went on sale, hovering over the refresh button on my computer; even cancelling a meeting at work just to be sure. But I did get the tickets I wanted; and My Bloody Valentine sold out almost immediately. The online queuing was well worth it.

I love the Royal Festival Hall, a fully seated venue with excellent acoustics it is perfect for Mogwai’s instrumental loud-quiet sonic assault. With loads of bars and bathrooms the venue does not seem rushed or crowded and with a long veranda overlooking the South Bank and the River Thames, getting there early for pre-show glass of wine is no chore either.

Kathryn Joseph was the support act, I have not heard her before. A two piece set of piano, drums and voice. It was OK, I warmed to her style towards the end but it was not really my cup of tea.

Mogwai came on stage exactly on time, to a loud roar from the capacity crowd. Opening the 90 minute set with the title track of their new LP ‘Every Country’s Sun; co-incidentally, my new favourite track. A cracking start!

Playing material from the full range of their 22 year existence, they finished an outstanding first set with ‘Mogwai fear Satan’, another favourite track and one from their first LP. The early tracks are a lot more guitar based than the later material which incorporate more electronics, glitchey noises and samples along with piano. Their music maintains a certain core ethic, they always sound like Mogwai, though the sound is shifting and dynamic, developing with each new LP. There are even the occasional vocal tracks on albums these days.

After a short intermission they appeared back on stage, with original drummer Martin Bulloch taking the seat The ‘encore’ was excellent, concluding with a fabulous 15 minute of ‘My father, my king’, coincidentally was my previous favourite track. It all made me feel very very happy!

We were a few rows back from the front so not in the best seats for taking photos. The light show was amazing, as good as the music deserved. I would love to get a press pass one day and be able to take all the photos I want using the big old DSLR. These photos just do not do justice to how amazing the lighting was.

Third time, and I think this was the best set yet. They are a fabulous band, one that very easily transcends both record and live performance , not something that is always accomplished.

The beautifully brutal.

Sunday 03 June 2018 – London.

When I started thinking on this post it was going to comprise a number of semi random images taken during June. However, I could not put together much of a thread for the images beyond ‘All taken in June 2018’, and well, some of them were a bit crap. This post thread has now reduced to images taken on a single walk.

On and off over the past three years I have been visiting towns and villages outside of London, looking for somewhere that I would want to live, and that I can afford to live in. There have not been many. Long term readers (are there any? If you are one “Hello, and thanks ” 🙂 ) will know that I was looking quite seriously at Folkestone back in early 2016. Sadly Folkestone was ruled out with the MEP (Member of the European Parliament) election, where the right wing UKIP party won a number of seats in the European Parliament; and then Brexit happened. Folkestone and its surrounding areas were pretty Brexity, this was something I was not happy with so I subsequently wrote Folkestone off as somewhere I wanted to live.  Hastings, however has come back into the picture, and more of that in near-future post.

Anyway, that was a long preamble, and almost, but not quite pointless. Much as I am trying to find somewhere else to live part time, it has to be said that that has nothing to do with the city I live in. I do actually love London, and do not ever see myself not being in or near the city. There is so much to love about this city, access to concerts, to galleries, its history; and its architecture. Today El and I visit two of those things.

Tate Modern has a couple of really interesting exhibitions on at the moment. As members we get to visit these exhibitions for ‘free’, more importantly we get to visit them an hour before the public. This is crucial as sometimes these special exhibitions can be packed, even with a £16+ per person entry. The Picasso 1932 exhibition was very busy even before the public viewing, I am very glad we got in there early! There was some interesting work there, but with a single year focus the broad range of his work was not on display, it was not the best Picasso event I have been to.

The second exhibition we visited was ‘Shape of Light – 100 years of photography and abstract art’ combining painting, photography, and other light manipulation techniques. I will admit to being a bit disappointed, mainly because I misunderstood the subject. It was OK though. This was the first time I have been to an exhibition where photography was allowed, not sure if this is a new thing, or just for that particular show. I liked the idea and took a couple of pictures. I particularly liked this doorway…

This final room was by far my favourite, and seems to be the subject of a number of Instragram posts. A wonderful moving abstract piece by Maya Rochat.

The other great thing about having Tate membership is access to the various members lounges for food and drink, in relative peace. There is a great members lounge on the 8th floor of the new wing, so taking a detour via the free exhibitions we took to the members lounge. This piece ‘Babel’ by Cildo Meireles is quite amazing, and quite loud. At 4 metres(at a guess) tall and with hundreds of radios tuned to different stations it is quite disconcerting; and very aptly named.

This is Terry, according to his Starbucks coffee. I always try to take a picture in this section of the members lounge, the view down this narrow and beautifully lit passage is one of my favourite bits of the building.

After coffee and cake we decided to take a walk from one key London location for brutalist architecture to another; South Bank to The Barbican. The new wing of the museum is amazing, in fact architecturally, both buildings are amazing, I am going to have to come here on my own one day and spend some just taking photos of the building itself. I love it. A lot.

There are a lot of solid, angular, concrete buildings between the Tate and Festival Hall, including this block of flats that used to be on my courier run when I lived here in the 1980s.

The Barbican Estate was built between the 1960s and 1980s on old WWII bomb sites, there is still building going on around the fringes of the estate as, with new buildings being finished on London Wall. I love the Barbican and the area around it, my cousin lived in one of the towers in the 1980s and I visited a couple of times, the view from her flat was magnificent.

The Barbican Estate is the classic example of 60s brutalist architecture. Being a private estate with relatively (and very) wealthy residents, means it is well maintained and its fine sharp, industrial looks are not marred by decay.

I have been here a few times before, usually with EL or other friends, not usually with much of an opportunity to use the camera. I grabbed a few photos today, trying to catch the lovely late spring flowers against the sharp angles and dirty brown and grey concrete.

We stopped for a drink and very nice lunch in the Barbican Centre before wandering slowly to Liverpool St Station and on to home. A really nice end to a great morning.

A quick trip ‘Up North’

Wednesday 13 June 2018 – Newcastle.

Not a brown ale in sight. The ten minute walk from station to hotel took me past two bars and nothing; no advertising, no ale drinkers, not even the sad relic of a shattered brown bottle in the gutter. So far, Newcastle has been a disappointment.

My view of Newcastle has always been tainted; a city built for and populated by ‘Newkey Brown’ drinkers, dour, gruff/rough northerners, black and white football shirt wearing anti-football thugs, haters of southern softies, the metropolitan liberal elite from London; me for instance.

As is usually the case I was wrong, very wrong. I really enjoyed the 24 hours I spent in Newcastle, it is friendly, welcoming and a lovely city. This sticker I found near the hotel I was staying in didn’t help my original thoughts. I am sure there was some ironic humour there.

I am up in Newcastle on my first official visit to another Cabinet Office location (have I mentioned where I work before? ) There is a large government hub on the outskirts and the team there are doing some interesting development work. It seemed like to a good opportunity to visit them, see what they are doing; and hopefully dispel my ideas of the city.

But first, York.

El and I visited York three years ago (bloody hell, I cannot believe it was that long ago!) and absolutely loved it. One of my key vendors is based in York and with a big project coming up I took the opportunity to visit York as the Newcastle train stopped there. I am very aware that as a civil servant, everything I do, including my salary, is paid for by the citizens of the UK. Taking trips to visit vendors when there is a cost involved is not something I do, though there will be future savings to made after this trip though, so all is good.

I didn’t have a lot of time in York after meeting the vendor. They did buy me lunch, and I had a glass of wine, all under the £25 declaration limit  🙂 There was just time for a short loop walk back to the station. Passing the fort, the minster, and the old cit walls on the way.

The few times we have been to Edinburgh we have passed through Newcastle station and over the River Tyne and the great view of the other magnificent Tyne bridges. I have liked the look of the station and was looking forward to finally being able to get off the train. I was not disappointed; it is a really nice station.

Arriving in town in the late afternoon I went straight to the hotel to dump my bag, passing the above sticker on the way. I was meeting one of my London colleagues for a walk around town before having a beer and burger planning session ahead of tomorrow’s full day of meetings.

Not having a huge amount of time, nor a plan, we started in the centre of town and walked down hill towards the river, passing the now shut, castle on the way. I didn’t know there was a castle here, and know nothing about it all, it was castle-like. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Newcastle is well known for the bridges that cross the River Tyne, individually they are excellent bridges, but the sum of the parts does exceed the components and together they are wonderful, different engineers, different styles, colours and construction. Lovely. There has been massive investment in the river front area and it is a really nice place to stroll, and not full of bars and restaurants for the tourist trade like so many other river and sea front cities. Being able to walk unimpeded by construction and ‘private’ property is a massive bonus, something Sydney could possibly learn from.

Walking back in to the centre of town we found somewhere to eat over a couple of beers, and still no Newcastle Brown Ale in sight.

I was hoping for a little time off after meetings the following day, but in the end it was a rush to the station, though naturally the train back to London was late.

The Epping Forest Project, Phase 5 – May.

The Epping Forest Project, Phase 5 – May.

Reluctant at first I headed down the gentle slope and into trees, uninspired and frustrated at myself for not being able to relax into this morning alone in the forest.

As I descend towards what I suspect will be a small stream the noise from Epping Road slowly recedes, the bird noise becomes prevalent and I start to hear beech nuts and other tree fall crunching under foot. The peace of the surroundings is settling my busy mind and soon enough my footfall is quieter, my march has become a relaxed stroll and my ears and eyes are tuning into the frequency of my environment. I hope to see deer.

Another busy month, another with few opportunities to get to the forest of a weekend. I must try and get up after work some time, battle my way through the late afternoon traffic, or this project will never take place.

For the first time this year I took the mountain bike for a quick ride before El and I went out. I didn’t go far, just to Higham’s Park Lake, though even that was enough for me. The newly arrived adult hay fever has been particularly bad this summer, even with the daily pill I am left sneezing, coughing and streamy of eye on the worst days. It was still great to be out on the bike for the first time in months, though I did suffer for it.

I also found my new favourite tree, so gnarly!

I bought an Epping Forest book the other week, it was mentioned on Twitter and just seemed like the perfect book for me. Written by the naturalist Edward North Buxton in 1884, I found a second edition copy from 1885 on the internet for £17. The book is in fabulous condition and contains the author’s description of the forest and 6 maps, all drawn from his exploration of the forest. Epping Forest have recently released an updated version of their forest map, so it was with great delight I spent some time comparing the two. There were not too many differences, the roads and paths were almost all the same, interestingly Hollow Pond did not exist in Buxton’s book. I looked it up and the pond was only created in 1905 when stone was quarried for the construction of nearby Whipps Cross Hospital.

This morning’s walk was to look at Ambresbury Banks, one of the two ancient earthen forts in the forest; the other being Loughton Fort which I have visited many times in the past. The construction of the earth fort is believed to have commenced around 700BC and the site was occupied until at least 42AD. There is a 6ft tall bank and moat surrounding an area of around 4 hectares.

There is not a lot to see to honest, a bank and some beech trees, some pollarded and some not. It is quite close to Epping Rd and the traffic noise was quite loud, verging on unpleasant. It was not what I needed this morning. I walked the perimeter, where possible I used the top of the wall. Walk in the footsteps of those ancients who created this haven for their families and their livestock. It is more clearly defined than Loughton Fort, but I feel less of it than I do for Loughton, perhaps it was just the nearby road?

Completing the loop of the site I consulted my new map and decided to head towards Theydon. I did not have a huge amount of time this morning, so started walking along one of the mapped pathways, taking the opportunity to experiment further with impressionist photography.

Mapped pathways are not really my thing so spotting a bike trail pointing roughly where I wanted to go I wandered off into the trees. Finding the small stream at the bottom of the valley I could see loads of deer sign in the mud, clearly this place, without a steep bank is where wild life came to drink. I decided to follow what looked to be a well used deer track through the twisted young scrub. No human or cow sized animal could walk though here, it was all very low. I was making so much noise bashing though that I gave up any idea of seeing any wildlife at all.

I followed the stream until it joined with a proper trail and finally I found a scene that was worth spending some time setting up the tripod and getting angles just right. The tripod thing is a whole story in itself, though I am never sure on how to express it, one for another day.

Soon after I found this big old beach, I think it is one that was a coppice (chopped at ground level) which has led to these four separate trunks. I decided to take some time with my camera, walk around the tree, set up some shots and try to make some crisp photos. Then the noisiest man in Epping Forest turned up with a friend and they sat right by the tree I was taking photos of. Talking inanely, he at the loudest possible volume, I quickly lost my happy vibe , took two pictures and stomped off.

Almost back at the car I came across a small open plain area with some lovely tall silver birch on the edge and a wonderful old oak surrounded by fern in the centre. I took a lot of images, though the light was hideous; bright and flat, filtered through low light cloud. I will come back here again when there is some big cloud going on. It is a lovely spot.

These silver birch just screamed out for a bit of panning, so tall and straight.

After a fairly flat and uninspired start to this walk things really did pick up and I was happy with the photos I took, and the time I had outside. My enjoyment increasing the further I moved away from the noise of the traffic; something to add to my mental health toolkit.

A small taste of the Cotswalds

Sunday 20 May 2018 – Cotswalds, Gloucestershire.

How do they fit all this countryside in? This is something I ponder (and wonder at) every time I leave the city and explore somewhere new.

Why is it all stunning? often follows immediately after that first thought. This is now my favourite part of the country, being the final thought in that head conversation.

The UK has a population of about 65 million. It is roughly the same size as New Zealand, which has a population of 4.5 million. Where are all the people in the UK?

Admittedly almost 9 million live in London alone, but that leaves a heck of a lot to fit in somewhere else. I cannot believe the country has so much rural and open space. I am not complaining one little bit.

My daughter, Meliesha, recently took a nannying job in Stonehouse, a small, unremarkable place on the fringe of the Cotswalds town of Stroud, about 3 ½ hours by car from home.

El and I were invited up to stay with her and her host family for the weekend.

We arrived in time for Saturday lunch. After meeting the family, Meliesha, El and I got back in the car and Meliesha showed us around some of the nearby places. Stonehouse itself is not that great, a commuter town, three crap pubs, no coffee shop, and probably voted for Brexit. It is that sort of place. But wowsers; all around is loveliness. Out first stop was the gorgeous village of Painswick.

Painswick made its money as a wool town, and was obviously once a very wealthy place, and probably still is. It is an absolutely gorgeous village, the epitome of English villageness.

It was remarkably quiet when we arrived, with very few cars passing through and very few people on the streets. This made it even nicer, in my eyes. The buildings are primarily made from local stone and are similar in style and colour. It is all very attractive, and I immediately fell in love with the place.

We passed through the churchyard with its sculptured yew trees. I could quite easily have spent 30 minutes there alone with my camera.

Meliesha has been to Painswick Beacon with a local walking friend she has made. Leaving the village, we started up a small section of the Cotswalds Way long distance walk.

The walk begins with a loose collection of interlinked foot and bike trails through a tiny section of ancient forest. Tall unpollarded beech trees tower above and shade the last of the spring bluebells and the abundant ferns. It is quite lovely.

The forest runs along the edge of a golf course that slowly rises up towards the beacon. On its edge lies one of the quarries where stone is carved from the hillside for the building trade.

One of many, many things I love about the British countryside, and a point of difference with New Zealand, is stone walls.  Though they are very difficult to take an interesting photo of.

The top of the hill is a popular place. As part of the Cotswalds Way, walking groups pass by and there was a large group of school kids monopolising the beacon when we arrived. The view from the top was far-reaching in all directions.

IMG_8090

We did not stay long on the top. Too many people and a cold pint beckoned.

On the way back down through the forest I experimented further with some intentional camera movement photography, working on a technique to produce impressionist painting-style images without relying on post-production techniques.

Meliesha had another village to take us to, this time with a pub, rather than a walk. So off to Amberley Village we went. I cannot remember the name of the pub we went to, but I do remember that the three drinks I bought cost less than two in London, and that there was a nice view. A brief walk from where we parked the car took us past fields full of daisies and buttercups. I remember that parks and verges used to be covered in these flowers, but we see so few in the city these days. Is this a false memory?

This mini library in a phone box is brilliant, one book out and one book in. A large version of the little libraries on the streets of Walthamstow.

Our final stop for the day was for an early dinner at the Stroud Brewery and its really nice pizzeria. Sadly being the driver, I could only have a single drink. Nice beer, great pizza and a really nice family vibe, I would definitely be a regular if I lived here!

Meliesha was babysitting that night so El and I went for a walk to one of the local pubs. We didn’t stay beyond a hastily consumed single drink. Not our sort of pub.

It had been recommended to us to walk up to the top of a nearby hill. Meliesha comes here often to watch the sunset.

There is a magnificent oak at the top of a wild flower filled field, though we didn’t get to see the sunset. Sitting down turned us into midge magnets and we were soon swarmed with flying, biting things.

The following morning, after breakfast with the family, Meliesha took us on one of her regular walks round the neighbourhood. Stonehouse sits on one of the canals that were used to transport goods from the mills that abound in the valleys, providing the source of wealth that created these now lovely old villages.

Like the tow paths of the canal system through London, there were numerous runners, cyclists and walkers making the most of this lovely late spring morning. What a lovely place to take some exercise. One day I would love to take a long bike ride along these paths.

Too soon, it was back to Mel’s place and then El and I were in the car for the 3 ½ drive back home. A lovely weekend away, and a place we would like to come back to and explore more.