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.

Covid Memorial wall

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.

The South Woodford Interchange

Sunday 04 July 2021 – Walthamstow.

South Woodford high street smells of KFC. It is a rather unique smell, and totally different to the fried stuff smell that emanates from other chicken shops. Not that there were other chicken shops on South Woodford high street. It may be the next suburb over but South Woodford is not Walthamstow where fried chicken shops seem to breed like rabbits, or maybe chickens. I think both sets of residents would be happy with that difference. They might be neighbours but they are worlds apart.

Perhaps the smell of deep fried dead things only existed for that brief moment I walked up the high street and South Woodford normally just smells of burnt diesel and petrol like every other Range Rover filled suburb on London’s Essex fringe. Who knows? I probably won’t be back there in the next three weeks to find out, nor do I know anyone to ask; we may be neighbours etc.

We moved back to London the Friday before last, to Eleanor’s house in Walthamstow, which is currently occupied by one of her sons and his girlfriend. Yesterday a tenant moved into my flat in St Leonards. While these are eminently practical things as we fly to New Zealand in four weeks and we have a lot of organising of stuff to do, one (or maybe two) more weeks by the sea on our own would have been nice. I am finding it stressful sharing a house and with so much to organise, but we have done a huge amount in the last week and things will ease. I hope.

This weekend I have spent time packing stuff away and throwing stuff out (though not books and records!) and was as organised as I was going to be by lunch time. As we were low on bread and milk I volunteered to go and buy some so I could get out of the house for a bit, stretch my legs, clear my mind and maybe take some photos.

Once out of the house and on the way to nowhere in particular I remembered that I wanted to take some photographs of the overpass where the A406 (the dreaded North Circular) joins the M11 and a road that goes somewhere, though I have no idea where. A minor league spaghetti junction that we pass whenever we drive to and from the flat. It was not too far from one of the many supermarkets I can walk to so it seemed like a worthwhile objective.

I took these two photos on the way.

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The overpasses were not quite where I thought they were, or I wasn’t where I thought I was and I found myself walking under a rail bridge in South Woodford where I found a closed car park. Only very small cars would fit in those spaces.

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Out the other side I walked back over the bridge and from the top I could see beyond the houses to the motorway and where I wanted to go, it wasn’t far off. I had just misjudged how deep the bend in the motorway was.

I found an underpass under the A406 and stopped to take a photo, planning on going through it on my way back; though naturally I went another way back and completely forgot about the underpass until I was almost at the supermarket. Lesson learnt; always do something at the time, never plan to do it on the way back or later. Admittedly, this is a lesson I should have learned a long time ago and still fail miserably to on every occasion.

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Back on track I soon found what I was looking for; this wonder of concrete, steel and tar seal. It is not the biggest or most complex intersection, but it is the one I have, and I need to make use of what is local to me, especially now I no longer have a car to hand. I kinda wish I had the big camera with a couple of lenses rather than the little camera with the 20MM lens. [4 days later I discovered that the big camera is now dead, and now I need to make camera related decision again, something I wasn’t expecting, or wanting to do].

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I like how some attempt had been made to green the place, though only half the trees seem to have survived.

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Access to the other side was blocked by a fenced off construction storage area so I couldn’t easily get to the other end, though I had seen enough and was satisfied. One more mission to be taken off this list.

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I really need to do more urban landscape photography as I quite enjoyed myself.

On the way to the supermarket I stopped on a bridge over the A406 and remembered that I had meant to walk under it.

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A short walk by the Lea.

Friday 11 June 2021 – London.

As I walked the tar-sealed path between the River Lea and the football fields of Hackney Marshes, shaded by oak and ash and poplar and willow, the most English of trees, my mind wandered off to the time I clambered down a rock and boulder strewn path in the Borneo jungle. On my own. The benefit of hindsight suggests it was not the smartest thing I have done, there was real potential for something to go terribly wrong. Obviously my walk this morning from Walthamstow to Stratford was not remotely the same, though it was the first time I have walked this particular path and it was the closest I have been to a walk in the forest for a long time. I am missing even the mildest of adventure.

I came up to London on the train after work yesterday and can’t believe how much hotter than St Leonards London is, it must be two or three degrees warmer, and with no cooling breeze. It was not a pleasant night and I had little sleep.

My second Covid-19 vaccination was this morning, and it was a process that went very smoothly. As I am sure I said after the last one, but well done to the NHS for making this easy and stress free. In three weeks I will be safer than I am now. Not that I feel particularly unsafe, we take care when we go out and will continue to do so, vaccination or not. England is a long way from being Covid free and we don’t want to even think about what would happen if we got sick before we leave for New Zealand.

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There was four hours until the train back home. As I needed to return some trousers I bought from the mall last time I was here I decided to walk to Stratford and get some exercise in. From the pharmacy where I was vaccinated the walk is almost entirely though parkland which made the decision an easy one.

There is a fantastic Roa mural just by the pharmacy on St James Street.

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I pass Walthamstow Wetlands on the way to the marshes (and the overbuilding of flats on Blackhorse Rd on the far side of the wetlands).

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We have walked the Wetlands and the marshes on numerous occasions over the past few years, and I’ve never seen the marshes so overgrown. I think the council is letting the grasses and wild flowers run rampant which I am mostly in favour of; there were a lot of bees and other insects buzzing about today.

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There has been some changes where the path passes under the railway line and a lot of scrub has been cleared, perhaps some of the scrubby trees were interfering with the trains? I am guessing the bike ran out of electricity and has been dumped here, it adds to the edgeland feel of marshes; even though they are not on the edge of anything at all.

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The River Lea splits into two near Lea Bridge Rd, into the natural River Lea and the man-made, Lea Navigation. We normally walk the Navigation, so today I chose to walk the river instead, it was slightly longer and I am guessing less busy than the main tow path. Soon after passing under Lea Bridge Road I came across a Phlegm painting I haven’t seen before, something which very much vindicated the path chosen.

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Crossing a short bridge the path follows the river for a couple of miles, thankfully mostly in the shade as it was warm and sunny and I had not thought to put sun screen on.

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It was a nice walk, quiet, but not deserted. I imagine tomorrow it will be busy, the Lea has become a destination for younger folk to party and dip in the cooling water on a hot day, like tomorrow will be. Polluted or not.

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IMG_0722I like the Lea, it is shallow, but wide, not fast flowing; it looks nice, like a proper small river. The tree lined banks place it anywhere in England, so it was easy to take myself out of the city. Looking at the pictures I took as sit here writing I can almost see myself in a jungle somewhere wild; but maybe not those trees can only be English!

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Past the marshes the path crosses under the A21 before entering (or not in my immediate vicinity) the Olympic Park area; a great legacy of the 2012 games.

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Eventually I found a way into the park near the velodrome, which just happens to be my favourite building in the park.

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The walk through the park to the big shopping mall is really pretty, lots of long grass and wild flowers everywhere, lovely. I really like how wildflowers have become a thing again in the past few years and local authorities are letting them flourish rather than mowing them lawn flat.

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I had intended to look for a shirt and some walking shoes while I was at the shops, but I was too hot and sticky to be trying on clothes, and I am sure the shop staff were appreciative of that decision. Once the trousers were returned (too small) I walked out the other end of the mall and caught the Jubilee Line to Southwark. Too many people.

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With 90 minutes to kill before the train back to St Leonards I decided to drop the pace I had set earlier and take a slow walk towards the station. The streets around the Thames were far busier than last time I was here and there are significantly more tourists. With road-work constricted footpaths it was a bit uncomfortable at times. I ducked into Temple to walk in peace.

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I love the Temple area, I often came here on a Sunday as it is virtually deserted with the office workers at home and there are few bars and cafes inside to attract the casual visitor. There were people about not many, and lots of scaffold which was a shame. Temple is the home of the London legal profession and most (all?) of the offices here are filled with legal chambers, some of them very old. It is a beautiful and under-rated section of old London.

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Back on The Strand I popped into Somerset House, another favourite London spot. Eleanor and I love the Herndandez and Wells cafe here; it made the best egg dishes in London and the coffee was always good. However, its gone and has been replaced by the Watch House, fortunately the coffee was equally as good and the sandwich I had for lunch was very nice. I didn’t notice eggs on the menu though, maybe when we get back?

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Lunch filled enough time that I only needed a gentle stroll to Charing Cross Station to get me there a few minutes before the train departed. I had planned on doing some writing on the train, but the journey was so bouncy I gave up and just enjoyed listening to music and reading a novel. A couple of weeks ago I dug out the Kobo ereader I bought ten years ago for my travels, I haven’t used it for a good five years, possibly more, and was surprised that after a quick charge it still worked as it had before. The genius of simplicity. This book reader does one thing, and it does it very well. For the book nerds I am reading Adam Hall’s 1968 novel ‘The Striker Portfolio’, the third in his very successful Quiller series, and I am enjoying it.

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Eleanor had been in Brighton meeting her son Joe for lunch, so I met her back at the station after I going home for a shower and a brief lie down. We popped into a pub for a glass of wine before grabbing some fish and chips and walking back up the hill to eat in front of the first game of the much delayed Euro 2020 football tournament. I was hoping for Turkey to beat Italy, but it was not too be.

I enjoyed my walk and am very keen to see as much as I can of old London as I can before we go to much newer New Zealand in 7 weeks time.

7 WEEKS!!! Where did the time go?

Dungeness.

Saturday 24 April 2021 – Dungeness.

I find it hard to believe that there are (only) 97 days to go until we leave for Auckland. Some times it seems that departure day is so far away, yet other times it feels like there’s no time left at all. 97 days is a bit of a non-period to note; stuck between the newly important ‘100 days’ and the more useful three months. However, as I start typing, that is what the countdown says, and right now I am thinking ‘Wow, there is not a lot of time left.’ Most days I just wish time would hurry up and it would be July now. Is it normal to wish life away?

In unrelated, but interesting news, I entered a piece of flash fiction (in this case a story in under 250 words) into a competition last week. I have no expectation of getting any response other than the ‘thanks for your entry’ email I have already received, but it felt good to do it. This is the first time I have shared any fiction writing with anyone other than Eleanor and a couple of people who provided feedback on the short story I wrote; and still need to finish editing. When the competition closes at the end of May I will post the flash fiction.

Eleanor left for a week in Walthamstow this morning. After doing a few chores at home, (OK, I didn’t but I intended to; I went to the supermarket and wrote that last blog entry instead of painting the wall inside the wardrobe) I drove to Dungeness. I love the sparseness of Dungeness, and have become mildly obsessed with Prospect Cottage, the late Derek Jarman’s home, and it’s semi-famous garden. I used this book as inspiration for today’s photography; though I don’t claim to have managed anything as lovely as what can be found in those pages.

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This entire section of Kent coast is mostly barren, pebbly and marshy flood lands, a narrow ridge with houses is all that separates the sea from pouring inland and I expect that at some point later in my children’s lifetime the sea will claim this land and there will only be marsh and sea, maybe with the occasional chimney visible at low tide.

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It’s sunny and would be warm if there was not a biting cold wind blowing along the coast. I wrapped up warm, as did the seemingly million other people who decided to clog the roads with their dreadfully slow driving and head to the coast as well. Dungeness was as busy as I’ve ever seen it.

Parking outside Prospect Cottage I intended to spend some time here walking around and taking photos of the garden. Given the number of people this was a somewhat flawed plan, so I took a couple of pictures before leaving the family with the kids running around to do their thing and went for a walk on the more deserted beach.

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The nuclear power station perched ominously on the edge of Dungeness beach frequently comes up in Jarman’s diaries; he occasionally dreamed about it blowing up, but most often he refers to it as a quiet neighbour. One of the few interesting backdrops to a cottage on a pebble desert.

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It is a vast beach, though most of the photographically interesting stuff is around the small working fishing fleet. Much like Hastings, Dungeness’s fishing boats are beach launched; using old tractors, diggers and diesel powered winches to get the boats into and out of the water, there is nothing elegant, modern or renewable about beach-launched fishing.

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I am sure I have said it before in previous Dungeness posts, but I love this place. I love the bleakness and harshness of the environment; not much grows on those sun, wind and salt scorched pebbles. There is little sand; maybe some at low tide, this not a holiday-maker beach. Few people come here to sunbathe and swim; people come here to fish, to bird watch, to walk, to be alone; or like me, to voyeur at the boats, the rocks and the fishing cottages slowly being converted into luxury Air BnBs. Sadly it is becoming increasingly popular. I blame the Instagram generation, which includes me I guess.

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I walked a loop, taking some photos of the beach before going to one of the areas with a concentration of boats, tractors and the associated detritus that comes with working boats, before heading back to the cottage. On the subject of detritus; I was really surprised, and very disappointed at the amount of rubbish on the beach around the fishing boats, there was a lot of rope, wire, fishing line, plastic, all sorts of crap, all over the place. For people who should care about the sea and what lives in it they are rather cavalier about how they treat it.

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The natural world is wonderful, I love how over years, maybe decades; or maybe, just over a few weeks, the beach has created its own wave formation, replicating those of the sea. Like the sea these beach waves will be different, maybe not the next time I visit, but not long after.

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I spent some time around the boats and tractors; there are others taking photos as well so I was not alone, one chap I spoke to had a 1920/30s film camera and I would love to see what he was getting in this harsh light. I had been tempted, even before meeting this guy, to convert all the images from today to black and white, but have decided not to. The book has a good mix of both and it is still my guide to today. This environment would suit monochrome though, there are so many contrasts, visual and otherwise.

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A few photos were taken… Maybe I should buy a film camera?

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I walked back to Prospect Cottage. Mid-beach there are a number of platforms, foundations and blackened piles of wood and iron where old cottages, net or smoke huts once stood. Destroyed by nature, by accident or even deliberately? I have no idea. A part of me wishes everything be torched; leave the power station alone on the beach; a monument to the idea that nuclear was the way to go. Scorch the rest of the earth. The future beckons.

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There are bricks and tiles and twisted, rusted iron rebar lying around; my favourite find was this heavy chain; one end loose and the other connected to something in the stones. I have no idea what such heavy chain would be for? Sometimes it is best not to know, I am sure there are stories from here that would keep the sturdiest of us awake at night. I am not that sturdy. I walk on, I don’t want my mind imagining things more than it does already.

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An hour gone; the wind had not abated and it is getting colder (I cannot believe it is late April), there are fewer cars parked on the roadside so I walk back to Prospect Cottage; hoping that at least the families with small children would have buggered off somewhere warm, and I would have the garden more to myself.

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The wind is annoying. I had the tripod with me, though there was no point in getting it out the car. I rarely use it, I don’t care that much for technical perfection in my photography, though today I want to take close up images of things in the garden, and detail requires some sort of stability; my hands aren’t what they used to be. I am less concerned about windblown foliage, in my mind it adds to the scene, as long as the principal object is still.

The tripod remains in the car and I take slightly blurry photos; again. Though it is not yet the season for colour, and I have chosen to use black and white in some images, the  garden has plenty of colour, though muted variants of green dominate. In this environment the plants protect themselves with comformity, only the strong, or the wisest survives.

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I manage a good fifteen minutes taking photos in the garden, it is small to be fair, but I get frustrated by the wind, by other people (admittedly fewer than before) and by my lack of ability to see what I hoped to see. Though as I edit over the following week I am not unhappy with the images I made. I take few photos, usually only one of any single thing, so a good day out taking photos may only ever be 40 or 50 images; those rare days I take 100 are extraordinary. Today I took 76, about half in the garden, so a fairly prolific day by usual standards.

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It is completely the wrong time of year to be taking photos in a garden, especially one that has been scorched dry by salty winter winds, frost, lack of rain and a Covid enforced lack of gardening in a not yet opened ‘museum’ house. However, it is probably the last time I will get to come here before we go to Auckland. I like that it is still only in early spring re-growth and not in full summer bloom. It’s like it should be this time of year, a small semi-cultivated, managed oasis in what was, not that long ago, a desolate wind-swept pebble landscape; and if Jarman’s dreams of the power station melting down ever come true, then that is what it will return to.

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I am uncertain as to why I became mildly obsessed with Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. I am not a film buff and I have only seen one of his works, the punk film ‘Jubilee’. I have no burning desire to see other films either, and that includes ‘The Garden’ which was largely (fully?) shot in Dungeness.

I read his book Modern Nature at the start of the Covid outbreak last year. Initially, because I am interested in writing about nature and place and it is a classic of that genre, he is a good writer. However, the book also resonated due to the correlation with Jarman’s illness with AIDS and how that pandemic was reported in the 1980s, and the situation we found ourselves in with Covid. The panic, finger pointing and misinformation that surrounded AIDS was replicated here in those initial weeks of Covid, it was as if we had learnt nothing in the intervening years (we hadn’t).

In odd way, as well as finding this lack of progress rather depressing, I found comfort knowing there was a way through this pandemic; that others had been there and done that, and that tying oneself to nature and place played an important, balancing, part in recovery.

I look forward to visiting Prospect Cottage and Dungeness when we return to the UK, maybe the cottage will be open then, maybe not. The future is unknown.

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Walthamstow Forest.

Tuesday 6 April 2021 – Walthamstow.

Life has been getting on top of me in a small way over the past few weeks. It has been busy at work, and, along with organising things for New Zealand, plus day to day living in this semi-lockdown world we are still living in the UK, meant things were piling up in my head. I needed a break. To maximise use of Easter’s four days I took the week after off work, giving me a full 10 day break. By the time I returned to work I was feeling significantly better and I manged to achieve a few of the things that need to be done at home. Going back to work was, for a change, quite easy.

We’ve been spending Easter at Eleanor’s place in Walthamstow. There has been a lot of work done over the weekend with de-cluttering and moving things around to create more storage space. I have a lot more records than when we left for St Leonards 11 months ago, and they aren’t coming to Auckland with us, at least not yet. It was a good start, but there is still a way to go, but at least we now have a better understanding of the amount of storage available to us, and how much stuff we need to get rid of; records and books excluded, of course.

It’s Tuesday and Eleanor is working, so I took the camera for a walk. Primarily to find a new Phlegm piece near the forest, it was good to get back into even a small section of forest for the first time in months.

There are a couple of newish Phlegm pieces just off Beacontree Ave On and near one of the underpasses that takes you from the city to the forest; below the A406, the dreaded North Circular.

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Walthamstow Forest is not spectacular; it is a small section of forest that is connected by other small sections of forest all the way through to Epping Forest. I find it very cool that you can walk, or ride, from Walthamstow all the way to Epping without having to touch the road; except where you have to cross them.  This would give you about a five forest hour walk and the start is only 30 minutes or so from the centre of London (by train and then foot), amazing.  I wasn’t doing anything like that today, just a short walk; though perhaps I will when we move back here before we fly away. I definitely want to spend some time in the forest before we go.

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I didn’t take many photos, conditions for photography weren’t great and it isn’t exactly the most exciting section of the forest either, nor the most interesting time of year. To be truthful I really wasn’t feeling it, I rarely am when my head is full. It was very enjoyable being outside with the camera though, and that in itself was enough to perk spirits.

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I had a quick experiment with Intentional Camera Movement to create a couple of impressionist painter style photos. I have not done this for quite some time, though it was an area of photography I enjoyed playing with in the past. Silver birch trees are particualr favourites of mine for this style of photography.

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I wanted to see if there was anything interesting painted on the walls of the passages that pass under the motorway and the main roads around the ‘Waterworks’ Roundabout. I also needed to be back on the other side of the A406 for the walk home, so looped back this way rather than going back the way I came. It looks like the council have cleaned them up, only one of the underpasses I looked at, or used, was tagged. It was a bit weird walking through a clean underpass. I suspect that won’t last.

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A walk through Covid deserted London

Friday 29 March 2021 – That London.

I went for a walk in the centre of lockdown London today. It was rather surreal, not quite 28 Days Later, as construction work continues, but at times it felt not far from it. There were so few people to be seen and even fewer cars on the roads.

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Big news first though. We have secured a place in managed isolation in New Zealand!

This is a prerequisite to book a flight to NZ, airlines will not allow a booking without a space and it is remarkably difficult to get one as there is a lot of competition from other Kiwis as they return home from all over the world. It’s like trying to get a ticket to a rare concert by your, and thousands of others, favourite band. There are few places, and there is high demand. As soon as vacancies are available there is a website pile-on and the web server almost grinds to a halt. It was a frustrating process and bad words were said, frequently.

I got there eventually and managed to book flights the following day without too much trouble. We fly Emirates, via Dubai and Kuala Lumpur and leave the UK on 29 July, then start our 14 days in a managed isolation hotel somewhere in NZ on 31 July. So, yay.

This was my second visit to London during March, Eleanor and I had spent most of a week there earlier in the month. On that visit I had a doctor and dentist appointment and Eleanor had a doctor visit as well, reasonable reasons for travel outside of our local area. This trip was an overnighter as I had my first Covid vaccination today.

I came up on the train after work on yesterday, my first train journey longer than six minutes duration in over a year. It was weird, but very enjoyable, a mostly empty carriage and everyone was wearing a mask. Train is my favorite mode of travel, and something I will miss when we are in NZ. I arrived at London Bridge just after 7pm, the weather was nice and I chose to walk to Liverpool St to take the overground to Walthamstow rather than take the tube.

After crossing London Bridge I walked down to the north side of the Thames to take a couple of photos of the Shard and the surrounding buildings. There were very few people about, it really did not feel like 7pm on a Thursday. Obviously all the bars and restaurants were closed, but still. It was eerily quiet; and it was only going to get quieter. These are hand held photos, so not the crispest.

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Crossing over Upper (or Lower) Thames I was surprised to see almost no cars, and I didn’t have to wait long to get a photo of an almost deserted street.

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Leadenhall Market was no better. This place would usually be absolutely rammed with city drinkers at 7:30 on a Thursday evening, all year round. It was deserted.

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I meant to get some food at London Bridge but decided to wait until I arrived at Liverpool St, though on arriving I found a train leaving for Walthamstow almost immediately, and with a 30 minute wait until the following I chose to take the one in front of me. They have upgraded the trains on the Chingford line since I last used it; these are much nicer than the old clunkers that travelled the line previosuly. I had a carriage to myself. I grabbed a take-away burger from the Collab in Walthamstow. As with the city, the streets of the ‘Stow were empty of everyone but uber eats and deliveroo riders, and what looked like some drug dealers on a corner.

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My vaccination appointment was at 9:30 am but I arrived early and was vaccinated early too. I was on the platform waiting for a train back to the city before the official appointment time. A highly efficient, friendly and pain free service. Well done the NHS! (and fuck the Tories!)

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I had a few hours until my train back to St Leonards from Victoria Station so I elected to get off the train from Walthamstow at Bethnal Green and walk from there; checking out Shoreditch street art and brutalist architecture on the way.

Sadly, there isn’t a lot of street art left in Shoreditch, gentrication and a lack of funds is more likely the cause than Covid, I am guessing a lot of the folk who drove the explosion of street art a few years back have moved on as well. There’s a lot of tagging, this was prevalent throughout the city which surprised me, councils had to cut budgets somewhere I guess. I didn’t take many photos of the street art, a lot of the old stuff has gone and the much of the newer stuff isn’t as good.

A very old Stik, and one of my favourite pieces ever.

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A new(ish) Dan Kitchener.

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I don’t know who these two are by, but I liked them.

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The ever prolific Alo – of whom I am a fan.

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I walked over to the Barbican Centre to take some photos of the fabulous brutalist buildings. Brutalism, of the building variety, isnot something I will see much of in NZ, particularly in Auckland. I love the Barbican, a place I could wander around for ages. It is huge and there is a lot to see, and it has a pretty good vibe. It is well visited by tourists and I imagine those who live here get a bit sick of people like me,  pointing their camera lenses at everything. Not that there were many tourists around today, anywhere.

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I walked over towards St Paul’s and took some photos of the very empty streets. I was genuinely shocked at how empty the city is as I thought a number of people had gone back to Covid safe offices. I heard tales of packed tube trains so I have no idea where those people go to, I don’t believe they are all construction workers or cafe staff. These photos were taken just before mid-day and there should have been some people heading out to buy lunch.

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Some of the food places were open, nowhere as many as normal, but enough. I grabbed a coffee and sat on the steps opposite a deserted St Pauls to drink it and pondered how London can be so quiet.

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I don’t think I have seen the Millennium Bridge almost empty, ever. I took a photo of the Tate Modern, one of the places in the UK I will miss the most when I am in Auckland.

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I came across a Jimmy C. painting outside Blackfriars Stattion, street art on the South Bank. Wow, things have changed in the last couple of years.

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Continuing on with my brutalist architecture theme I grabbed a photo of the block of flats on the riverside. I used to deliver here when I was a van driver for DHL in the 80s, I can’t imagine what a flat costs here now, it was a little run down here back then.

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I then spent 30 minutes walking around the National Theatre and Festival Hall; two of my favourite London buildings. I may come back here before we leave and take some more photos, though by that time we will have seen some Covid restrictions relaxed, so I suspect it will be busier.

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I could only walk aroud the outside as all the stairwells were closed.

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With my train departure drawing closer I started the walk towards Victoria Station. Walking along the South Bank where I stopped for lunch; it was almost as empty as the streets in the city, before crossing Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament. There was more police than citizens here. I elected to take a slight detour to take a photo of the office, which I sent to my workmates to show them it was still there.

As I was walking back towards Victoria St it started to drizzle a little and then the sky just opened and dumped one of the heaviest downpours of rain I have experienced in the UK, luckily I managed to find shelter almost immediately and avoided getting drenched. it didn’t last more than a few short minutes.

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I arrived at the station mostly dry and with enough time to by a snack and a drink before getting on another mostly empty train back home. The station was very quiet too. Victoria Bus Station is nearby and a lot of the international buses terminate there, discharging their passengers into the train station for onward journeys, but not today. No or limited travels meant no tourists hanging about the station looking lost.

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I took a few photos out of the train window as we moved through the city and the countryside, with the aim of continuing the series of slightly blurry and monochrome photos I was working on before Covid derailed transport. It was a bit of a listless affair. When I was home I was surprised to find I had taken 135 photos over the course of the last 24 hours, Wow, that is a heck of a lot for me.

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I arrived back in St Leonards, and the sea, just as more rain arrived, though it continued eastward with the train and the walk up the hill to the flat was not too wet, just enough.

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I love London, but it was nice to get home.

A short walk down memory lane.

A few weeks ago I scanned and uploaded to BookFace some photos from the 10 week European excursion I made from September to November 1987. The intent at that time I scanned them was to write a blog post about the trip, which was my introduction to open ended travelling; and the start of the wanderlust that remained, pretty much unrequited again to 2011. I kept a diary of the trip, but it, along with other diaries from the 80s, was still in London and last week was the first time in a while that we went back there.

I was going to launch straight into writing about the trip, there are quite a few photos and I was initially thinking of just adding them to a post with minimal text, but as usual I have changed my mind and have decided to go way back in time and add some context. There is a good chance that I decide that that is not a good idea and this post doesn’t get uploaded and you won’t be reading any of this. If I do post it maybe you could let me know if writing this preamble was worth while, or least not a bad thing.

That 1987 European trip really was the impetus for the travels I undertook when I left NZ in December 2011 and obviously this blog is the continuation of those diaries I wrote in my 20s. It just took 24 years, three children and a divorce to get from 1987 to 2011. I was patient I guess.

We may as well start at the beginning or at least close to it. I was born in Carshalton Hospital, Surrey, England in September 1962. This makes me not far off 60 and I cannot believe how old I have gotten while I wasn’t looking, I certainly don’t feel (almost) 59. We moved to 177 Windsor Ave, North Cheam, Surrey when I was two, I have no idea of where we lived prior to that, though we didn’t move far I believe. The grey pebble dash house is 177 Windsor Ave and this was taken when I did a walk-by in 2013. North Cheam is and was a working class/lower middle class suburb on the southern fringe of London. I was happy there.

Our neighbours at 177 were the Aubreys. I think they were both retired, I also think they looked after me, and possibly my younger sisters after school if my parent’s shifts overlapped. I don’t have many memories of life in London as a child, but one of those memories is spending time at the Aubreys. They were very interested in archaeology and history and travelled to exotic places like Rome and Greece, occasionally bringing home small souvenirs of their visits. They bought me books and read to me about ancient Troy, Rome and Greece; particularly the myths and legends from those and other places. I still have some of the books they bought me, and they remain treasured items, particularly The Story of Rome and Story of Greece.

The most valued gift of the Aubrey’s was an interest in ancient history, in the exotic, in the far-off places; and the gift of an enquiring mind, though I am sure as a 10 year old I appreciated the stone arrow heads and small fossils they found in England more than the enquiring mind. I will never forget the Aubreys, or the ‘Strawberries’ as the childhood me named them. That interest in the ancient and the exotic has never left me, and though I am not overly interested in the detail of each and every place I visit, I still relish the visit, along with standing, absorbing and marveling at where generations of people have stood before and what they left behind.

We left England for Auckland, New Zealand in February 1973. With years of experience in the industry Dad soon found himself a job with Air New Zealand which meant cheap flights and numerous trips back to the UK. I think we went back to England three times between 1973 and when I left school at the end 79. Each of those trips was via Los Angeles, Hawaii and occasionally Fiji; the route Air NZ flew. We always stayed a few days somewhere on the way there or back, taking in San Francisco and Washington DC on one occasion. I fondly remember those trips and they were a strong introduction into the realities of travelling and long distant flight, of immigration controls and customs; queuing and sleeping in airports and the less glamourous parts of going to a different country. 

I completed a five year aircraft engineering apprenticeship with Air New Zealand after leaving school; finishing in 1985. While I worked there I holidayed in Fiji and Los Angeles. I went to LA with workmates, Scott and Dave, and we rented a car for a few days, just to cruise; like you do when in LA. Just before I went on this trip I bought my first SLR, a Canon AE-1. I still have it though it stopped working in 1994 and was too expensive to repair at the time.

A lot of my workmates went further, particularly Europe, but I spent too much money on music; records and concerts. Some things just haven’t changed. I did holiday a little in NZ, with hitch-hiking trips and camping holidays and adventures down to the central North Island ski fields. A little taster for the mostly tame adventure I enjoy now.

I didn’t particularly enjoy my apprenticeship and engineering was not my thing; too tactile and I am all thumbs. It was probably safer for all when I left, anyway I had an urge to travel and holding down a job with limited annual leave was never going to satisfy that urge.

In October 1985 I left NZ for my first Overseas Experience (OE) as we called it then, going back to stay in my old suburb in south London. I lasted two years. In that time I met and married Deana, moved to the very nice suburb of Richmond-upon-Thames and did a small amount of travel around the UK and touched briefly on Europe with a visit to northern Italy in 1986,

and to Northern Ireland and the Republic. I have Cavan written on the back of this photo, and love the donkey and cart in the high street. I think it was taken out of the window of a bus.

Mostly I just worked to get by; we lived in an expensive part of London and both of us had relatively low paying jobs; I was a courier driver. My desire to travel the world wasn’t really working out.

That was about to change when Deana’s friends from Australia turned up and bought a VW Combi van… This is the van, but the people are neighbours and friends from NZ.