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.

Some Polaroids

Thursday 22 July 2021 – London.

I went to the office today, the second to last day of work before I start my six-month career break. I didn’t need to go in, one of the positive things I can say about the government department I work for is that there has been no compulsion for us plebs to return to the office, and current thinking suggests there won’t be until at least September. Ironically, that’s what they said about this time last year and we know how that turned out. I had to return my laptop, clear a couple of personal items from my locker, and most importantly, see some workmates I’ve rarely seen in the flesh for quite some time.

To be honest, I am also sick of being at home, especially as it’s been 29/30 degrees most days and I’m working in the dark in the bedroom as I don’t want to let the morning sun in. I think Eleanor would say (if she was being polite) that I have been tetchy these last couple of days. Boredom, heat, electing to not go out because we don’t want to test positive before we have fly, have all made Phil a grumpy old man.

So yeah, getting out of the house was a good thing.

Work was fine, the journey in on the tube was as expected; a lot more people not wearing masks as they don’t have to, and they are selfish arseholes who couldn’t care less for anyone other than themselves

I packed the Polaroid in my bag before I left this morning. I don’t use it enough and have decided not to take it to New Zealand. I had an eight pack of film left so thought I would walk from Westminster to Liverpool St Station and take the overground train home, avoiding the Tube, and take some photos on the way.

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I didn’t have much of a plan; walk Thames side to St Paul’s, take a photo of the cathedral and one of Tate Modern on the opposite side of the river, then see whatever happens.

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After walking up the stairs from the Thames to take the photo of St Pauls I was inspired to cross the river and walk to London Bridge and pay my respects to ‘Fairy Towers’m – my late friend Kev’s flat in London Bridge, where I lived from February 2013 to July 2014.

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Wow, this place has changed in the last seven years. Where there were some garages in the estate where the flat was, there is now another small block. Kev told me they were building something here but it has all been finished and people are living there now. I think it is all much needed social housing, least I hope so.

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Kev’s flat was on the 12th floor and had such a great view, I very much appreciated living there for so long.

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I walked past Guys Hospital and took a photo from the foot of the Shard.

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Then crossed over London Bridge, stopping to take a photo of Tower Bridge and the Thames.

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There are a lot more people around now, I was quite hot from walking in the sun and was going to stop for a last pub pint but everywhere was too busy. So I carried on going and bought a can at the beer shop near home. I drank it on my own in the garden, it was nice.

There is one week until we leave, so we have decided to not go anywhere unnecessary, except Tuesday when we have to go back into central London to get our pre-flight PCR Covid test.

Addendum….

We walked locally and I used the last of the Polaroid film up. Eleanor’s house in Walthamstow.

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The old mill house, now a cafe and gift shop for Walthamstow Wetlands.

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Postman’s Park. Eleanor showed me this lovely little park after we had our PCR tests. It has a small memorial wall to people who died saving others, sadly the final plaque is from 1903. It has some lovely tributes to a range of people, young and old who were killed saving family members or strangers. There were a lot of drownings and fires in 19th century London.

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To return the favour I took Eleanor to St Dunstan-in-the-East as she hadn’t visited before and it is one of my new favourite old places in London. I took one final Polaroid.

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That is it for London and England for a while. We fly tomorrow (29 July), our PCR results came back negative this morning, so nothing left to do but wait for one more day.

Home

Thursday 22 July 2021 – London.

It’s hot, too hot for me. I am wired and tired after a long couple of weeks and the past few nights have been intolerably hot. London summer hot, thick and far too warm for houses built 120 years ago. Sleep has been hard to find for the last seven nights and it’s showing in my mood, which has not been the best. Eleanor has gone to bed (not due to my mood) and I am sat here in the backroom of her house in Walthamstow drinking wine and pondering bed but knowing I will just lie there sweating, with an aching hip or knee or ankle, or some rotating combination of all three, just like last night and nights previous. A part of me is saying what is the point of going to bed? Wine seems like the best solution right now, but shit, I have to make some effort to ‘attend’ the last day of work tomorrow. I have one last document I said I would write…

I was slumped on the sofa, listening to music and staring at the wall in front of me when I realised what was on that wall in front of me. This started me reflecting on what this room contains and what it all means to me. My laptop was on the floor playing music so I picked it up and wrote this.

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Directly in front of me is Eleanor’s tiny desk, she finished her last contract at the end of June and her monitor is now in the loft with a bunch of possessions we are leaving here. Resting on the desk is a map of Auckland with pins and post-its and highlighter marks showing where my family live, the bits we have visited and places we could consider living in. An orientation map; we have visited three times, but I do the driving, and well, if you aren’t driving do you need to know how you get to places? I think this map has been helpful for Eleanor to better understand the layout of the city.

Above and left is a framed map of Walthamstow. Eleanor was born here so this is her home town, and she has a huge amount of (deserved) pride in the ‘Stow. Auckland is not my home town, but it is where I spent my life from the age of 11 so there is some symbiotic relationship between our maps. I love Walthamstow too, and hope Eleanor loves Auckland, maybe she will love it more than I do.

Next to the Walthamstow map is a small book shelf. On top of the shelf is the framed cover of the December 1977 issue of ‘Air Dukes!’ a Walthamstow music fanzine, with a photo of The Clash on the cover. Eleanor saw The Clash, and lots of my other favourite groups, a lot. Next to that is a print of a poster of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust – Live at the Rainbow. In front of the Air Dukes poster, and mostly covering the photo of The Clash is a half flat football, with Tottenham written on it…

We both love football and music. It has to be said that Eleanor loves football more than me, she has been a Tottenham fan all her life, as I have been an Arsenal fan; though my fan-ness has been distant, and I have not been a multi-year season ticket holder like Eleanor. There are certain games we do not watch together; other than those games our football rivalry only bubbles up in the occasional sarcastic comment regarding refereeing decisions and the odd tetchy moment. Naturally I am at fault for all of these. Apparently.

The bookshelf is packed, doubled up books on every shelf, we have books everywhere; in the shed, in the loft both here and at my flat, and there is a full shelf of books behind me too. I look at the books in front of me and there is no order to the chaos. Eleanor’s books, my books; novels (the pulp ones are mine), music, travel, history, football and cooking, they all stand out. We read a lot, some, but not all have been read by both of us and some have been read more than once.

To the right of me is the record shelf. We have a lot of records between us. Unlike the books our records have remained separated. I point the finger at myself for this, and no I cannot explain this either. It is deeply complex and way too tied up in my psyche to explain, especially after a wine or two too many on a Thursday. We both love music, though I am the active purchaser of records at the moment. Leaning against the shelf is a large framed print of a photo I took from some friends seafront balcony in St Leonards of dark angry storm clouds looming over the sea. They are borrowing the print while we are away and I am quite pleased by this.

To the left is a TV and a door to the garden.

Behind me, to the left is another comingled bookshelf and my meagre collection of 7” singles, and to the right is another shelfing unit with more of my records, my old turntable, an amp and speakers and Eleanor’s 7” singles. The amp and turntable work, but don’t get used as much as the one I had in the flat, which is now in the loft.

The sofa I have semi-slumped into is a 70s Ercol sofa I bought for my flat, Eleanor had the cushions reupholstered  and it’s the only piece of furniture we brought back to Walthamstow.

So, what is this drunken ramble saying? It is saying that this small, 10 by 12 ft (very hot) room pretty much encapsulates what drew us closer together; the things that made that first date in 2013 turn into a second and third date and still interest us now; books, music, football and our place in the world (and pizza).

Next Thursday we leave for Auckland and a new phase in our lives, but I am looking forward to being back in this room, sitting on this sofa, drinking wine, listening to old reggae and reflecting on those new adventures.

Future London past

Sunday 11 July 2021 – London.

Tapping Lido on the shoulder, I raised my fist in the air, signalling to those behind to stop and be silent. We drop to a crouch, eyes searching all around. What instinct made me do this? There is no sound, no unfamiliar noise, nothing to signal apparent and immediate danger. I am the clan tracker and the silence is what worries me; the complete absence of sound. We are in dense undergrowth, deep in a massive forest and not far from a large river, yet there is no bird call. Nothing. I count down 60 seconds in my head. I signal and we rise as one and carefully resume our journey along this narrow, deeply overgrown path, Lido is slashing our way through the tangle of vine and bramble as quietly as possible. Our hunt for food is too critical, we can’t return with nothing.

I hear a bird call, I raise my fist again and we stop, silent once more. The call is repeated, this time it is closely followed by a response. My experienced ears tell me these are not natural and confirm my previous instinct, we are being tracked. The time for slow careful progress is over, those behind me draw bows and, unsheathing my own machete, I move forward to join Lido and we both start to hack our way forward. There’s a ruin ahead, not far I think, if we can make it we will be better able to fight off any challenges with the stone at our backs. We may get to see the day out.

We are way out of our tribal zone of Walthamstow, I pray those following are from Camden where we have occasional and friendly trade, yet fear they are Pimlicans, bitter enemies. Since the great levelling in the 2030s when the Thames flooded and the city reverted to primal swamp and dense jungle, the tribal zones have been at war, fighting for food and drinkable water in this miserable poisonous swamp.

We hear more calling from behind and to one side; they must know we’re heading for the relative safety of the ruin and are trying to get ahead of us. We slash faster, those with bows have them raised with arrows loaded and strings tightened. The top of the collapsed dome of St Paul’s Cathedral appears through the forest, not far. A few more minutes and we will have a fighting chance….

This is future London. Welcome.

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We have been doing quite a bit of packing and tidying over the past couple of days, so after discovering my big camera was actually still working I thought I would take it for a walk around the finance part of the City, then visit one of my favourite hidden spots; the ruins of St Dunstans-in-the-East. Modern architecture of London’s scale doesn’t exist in Auckland, and neither do old and ruined churches.

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Today is the final of Euro 2020, postponed from last year due to the pandemic. The final of this European wide football tournament is here in London, at Wembley Stadium, tonight. England are playing Italy, but it’s a pandemic so surely there won’t be loads of pissed-up England fans in the City at 10:30am, 9 half hours before kick-off?

Wrong. They were already standing on the tables at the pub outside Liverpool St Station flailing their plastic pint glasses in the air. The cry of ‘INGER……LAND’ being spat out of frothy lipped red faces. Mask on, I hurried past.

I crossed the road, away from the station and the building crowd, and dived down one of the many side streets and into the financial district. It’s Sunday, it should be quieter here. Other than the short walk to St Dunstans, I had no plan and just let the flow of the buildings guide me, avoiding people where possible, stopping to take photos where appropriate.  I took a few.

The City has changed in the few short years since I was regularly walking past, a number of the towers that were being built have been completed. I guess it has been easier to block roads or to get permission to make noise over extended hours when they are less people around to raise a complaint.

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I liked these chairs and table, particularly that three were tucked in and one was left out; a lone smoker or bored security guard taking a rest?  There were plenty of them about on this Sunday morning.

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I did a fair bit of looking up on my walk, always intrigued by the compressed view as the towers lean in on each other, distorted by the wide-angle lens.

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I took a lot more photos looking up than I did looking along. Today, ground level was less interesting.

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I was trying to find some good examples of age contrast in the buildings and this was the best I could find that didn’t have people blocking the view. St Olave’s Church tower from 1450, through some post war low rise blocks to the least loved building in London, 20 Fenchurch St; ‘The Walkie Talkie’ completed in 2014, built 564 years after the church. I won’t see this in Auckland and I will miss it. I must try and make use of the architecture that is there though, less moaning, more pro-activiity.

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After wandering randomly through a collection of small streets and narrow alleys, I found my destination –  the ruins of St Dunstans-in-the-East. Its overgrown and moss stained walls the inspiration for that short piece of fiction above.

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I came here in January 2018 (it seems like yesterday) and very much wanted to get back before we leave for New Zealand in 18 days. I was hoping I would have it to myself. That was a rather desperate hope and wasn’t to be, though it was quiet enough for me to take photos without anyone sticking themselves in them.

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Its not a big site, but is fantastic and I love it,  a little oasis of peace, at least at the weekend. It’s a lot more overgrown that it was when I was here in winter; it had the feel I was after and I am reasonably pleased with the photos I managed to get in the short time I was there.

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Leaving St Dunstans, I walked down towards the Thames and upon arriving found a lot of people wandering about, heading towards the various bars for the game. It was a lot busier than I wanted it to be so I moved back up into the quieter streets of the city to take a few more images before heading back to the station. Some final (or almost final, who knows I may get out again!) images before we leave. There is something quite special about the City of London on a Sunday.

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The station was rammed, loads of drunk idiots singing and shouting, a train load arrived from Essex as I was walking through. I hurried off onto a quiet platform away from them, mask firmly on. I want to stay clear of potential Covid spreaders. 18 days of Covidiot avoidance to go. I took a home test a couple of days later just in case. Negative, thankfully.

Apart from the really drunk football ‘fans’, that was fun. I am so pleased my camera isn’t dead (this time). Much as it is heavy and the lenses are scratched and the sensor needs cleaning, I love its bulk and feel, the way it works and the quality of the images I can get.

The day before, Saturday, Eleanor and I went for a walk around Walthamstow, up to a strangely almost deserted Hollow Pond. On the way we discovered Phlegm painting a piece on a wall in St Peters-in-the-Forest churchyard as part of the E17 Art Trail. I was very happy with that, a final Phlegm before we go.

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I also took a photo of this small warehouse converted into a house, just because.

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I am going to write another short story soon, and hopefully the two weeks in isolation will give me the time and space to do it.  Lido and future London will definitely be in it.

 

Not forgotten (nor forgiven)

Thursday 08 July 2021 – London.

Time seems to be disappearing at pace at the moment, but it also seems to be dragging unbelievably slowly, the days seemingly taking longer than the weeks. I am struggling with motivation, especially at work. It is difficult, though in real world terms I am of course lucky to have so little to contend with.

This week saw the UK government announce that, even though it is projected there could be up to/at least 100,000 covid-19 infections a day later in the month, it is time to remove all restrictions and let life return to ‘normal’ on 19 July. This in turn caused the NZ government to announce they may ban all flights from the UK to protect the country. We are due to fly on 29 July so you can imagine how this has made me feel. Fingers crossed that neither of these things come to pass, but infections have now passed 30,000 a day and are growing. We are both double vaccinated so theoretically and statistically we should be fine, but I don’t want a positive test to scupper the trip we have been looking forward to for months, nor do we want to get ill.

Now we are back in London I was planning on going to the office two or three days a week. My workspace here is so much smaller than that in the flat and the office is big and air-conditioned and more comfortable than working from home. I have been in a few times and there are very few people on my floor, but with infections rising and mask wearing getting less prevalent on the Tube I am going to wind that back and only go in when needed. Today was one of those days. I had arranged to meet Steve for an after work photo-walk followed by some food and a couple of pints.

In preparation for this, last night I got my big camera out of the camera bag and after charging the battery discovered it was completely dead. No response at all when I turned it on, bugger, this is not what I want just when I am about to finish work, have no job lined up and am three weeks off from embarking on our 6 month minimum trip back to New Zealand. I tried a bunch of things but just could not get it to go, so charged the battery in the little camera and packed that instead. At least it is light.

I was meeting Steve at Embankment station and I took a few photos on the way. Making the most of the opportunity of working in a fairly old part of London; there is no history this historical in Auckland.

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Neither Steve or I were really feeling the photo-walk idea, we have both done this part of London too many times and work has been sucking the life out of both of us lately, interest was low.  We crossed the Thames and agreed to take a slow walk towards the pub he had booked a table at. It was a bit of aimless amble, the graffiti walls of Leake Street Tunnel was the first stop. I was pleased to see that there are now more bars and cafes opened up in the main tunnel offshoots. I always felt these were wasted opportunities.

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We walked round the side of Waterloo Station and found some classic English 60s tower block action.

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Back to the embankment. I had completely forgotten about the Covid Memorial wall, and it is long and frightening and wonderful and immensely sad. There are thousands and thousands of names and memories to those who have succumbed to this hideous virus. Walking past it, looking at the names and reading the messages very much puts into perspective my complaints about my desk at home being too small.

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If only the bastards in this place on the Thames bank directly opposite showed some real humility and came over here and read these all too human stories, then took stock of what their negligence has done, hung their heads in shame and resigned.

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There were not may photos on or by the wall which made this one so poignant. 18 years old, so sad.

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Crossing the river via Vauxhall Bridge took us past Tate Britain and through the grounds of UAL, a space I really like, it is always peaceful here when I pass through and the buildings are lovely, and just a little faded.

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We arrived exactly on time for our table booking at The Cask, a beer pub in Pimlico we have been to before; though memories of that evening are vague as they have some very strong beer. We didn’t make the same ‘mistake’ this time, eating a very good burger and chips as well as drinking substantially less. They have the best pub toilets I have ever seen and I am actually very jealous of those tiles.

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4 days later…. Using the mystic powers of the internet I have fixed my big camera. This has made me very happy.