Leake St and The Vaults.

Sunday 8 March 2020 – London.

As is often the case with my blog posts, this one has been written some time after the event happened. What is very different this time is, the world has completely changed in the last two weeks. This is the last time that I can wander the streets of London with my camera, hangout with friends in bars and watch a play in a small intimate theatre for the foreseable future. I am missing those days already.

Life has been (had been) normal lately, weekdays in London and weekends mostly spent at my flat in St Leonards-on-Sea. Work, relax. Not doing a lot as we have had storm after storm in the UK this winter. I was fortunate that none of those storms seriously impacted the south and I feel for those in the west and north who have been hit with flood on flood and have been so terribly let down by our government.

This weekend was different. I spent it in London. The first in what seems like ages.

El’s son Joe is producing a one person show as part of the month-long Vault theatre festival in the spaces off of Leake Street tunnel in Waterloo. I have been to Leake Street a number times, especially back in the street art photography days. It is still a very important spot for legal graff, and very popular with those who want an ‘edgy’ background to a photo shoot. I was looking forward to visiting again, it has been ages.

I had intended on going to the forest yesterday to take some photos. I had charged the camera and had the bag out and everything. However, I am in a bit of winter slump and ended up not going, doing nothing at all. I was not feeling like doing much more today either, Corona Virus is happening, and I can see it is going to have a massive impact. I just don’t know what yet. To be honest, that was the excuse, I just don’t like winter, and am lacking motivation for anything at the moment.

We had arranged to meet our social group at the station at 1:30, then take a couple of tubes to Waterloo to see Joe’s play, Glitch. Waking early, by mid-morning, I was bored and decided to chuck the big camera with a wide angle zoom in a bag and head in early, take some photos and do a walk. Stretch my legs, get some air and attempt to rise up from the slump. It was sunny and not too end-of-winter cold. I also wanted pizza, but didn’t want to admit that to El, we are supposed to be eating less.

I caught the Overground to Liverpool St and then walked to the Southbank.  I took some photos on the way. I was surprised at the amount of people about, normally this part of London is dead quiet on a Sunday. It was great taking the big camera out, I really need to do it more often, it just feels good to use it. Though, even after years of taking photos I still have ‘getting my camera out in public’ phobia…. I also need to replace the 50mm lens I broke, what is now almost two years ago, there would have been a lot less cropping in post-production.

I stopped for lunch in Pizza Express on the south bank, taking some basic precautions, washing my hands when I walked in. The only advice we have been given up till then. I enjoyed the pizza and a glass of wine, and watching the entirely unexpected heavy rain pouring down the windows after I had sat down. The glass of wine lasted until the rain stopped.

Walking the short distance from the south bank to Leake Street felt completely different. The rain had cleared the streets, streets that were only half as busy as normal. With the low, heavy and dark sky it was feeling a little zombie apocalypse, thankfully with no zombies.

Today was International Women’s Day and the annual ‘Girls Can’ event was on in Leake St. All the doom and gloom with the virus, and what has turned out to be a fairly shitty day weather wise, has massively reduced the number of people coming to the event, an opportunity for women and girls to take control of the walls in the tunnel, and have a play with a can of spray paint.

I was very early for the play, the rain had thrown my schedule of walking the South Bank out of whack, I took a few photos in the tunnel, then walked up to the Vault, expecting to be able to go in and have a drink in one of the bars. It was closed, and not opening for another half hour. I found a pub on Lower Thames and watched some football on the TV. Little did I know it was to almost be the last live football of the season I would see, and one of the last pubs I would visit.

El messaged me when the crew arrived and I went and joined everyone and we had a pre show drink in one of the Vault bars – after a thorough hand washing. The new normal.

The play was OK, I liked the premise, though a one-person show is not my thing. I mostly enjoyed it, and the venue was half full, which Joe was pleased with. He had some great reviews and if we were in different times I am sure it would have been a full house.

We stayed for a drink after the play, and I took a walk around the venues and bars and tunnels that make up the Vault, it is a very cool place and I should have prowled with my camera rather than my phone. Still, phones make for damn good cameras these days.

After the drink we decided to walk back to Liverpool St station rather than taking the tube, a decision that suited me perfectly, more opportunities to take photos and not being underground is always good.

Unsurprisingly we all walk at different paces, and less surprisingly I am one of the faster walkers. This put me on the Millennium Bridge a few minutes before everyone else, and the opportunity to play with some slightly longer exposures. I was very happy with how these hand held shots came out.

Sadly, we missed a train at Liverpool St by about 30 seconds, so were forced into the bar at the station for one more drink.

It had been very good afternoon and I am glad we got to go to a theatre, a bar (or two/three) and I had pizza. Who knew then what we know now, and we really have no idea of what is coming.