Wrong Speed Records all dayer @ The Strongroom.

Saturday 8 October 2022 – London.

Wrong Speed Records is a small and vital record label created by Joe Thompson, bass player with Hey Colossus and Henry Blacker, during the early Covid lockdowns. The label is the centre of the Hey Colossus multiverse, with most of the (at the time of writing) 38 releases on the label coming from bands associated with current or ex-members of the band, and there are quite a few of those. I don’t own all those records but I have at least one by all the bands playing today, or I do now as I picked up the Gum Takes Tooth record from the merch stand after the show.

Today was the Wrong Speed Records all-day gig at The Strongroom bar in Shoreditch. Six bands, five on Wrong Speed Records and one (Gum Takes Tooth) about to be, all for the amazing price of zero pounds; yes it was free. Fantastic, and such a good line up as well.

The first band was on at 3:30 and I arrived just before The Mute Servants hit the stage, meeting Sean, a Walthamstow friend at the venue. The Mute Servants are a two piece formed around the songs of one of Hey Colossus’ three guitarists. The songs were short, sharp and fun, nothing over two minutes in length; garage punk at its finest. They did (at least) two covers, The Breeders ‘Do you love me now’ and The Fall’s ‘Industrial Estate’. It was a great start to the day.

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The Strongroom is not a bad venue, I’m not sure if hosts a lot of bands, but it is well set up for them, with a couple of bars, a huge outdoor space with loads of seating and a gig room that would hold a couple of hundred; it seemed really well air-conditioned as well which I appreciated. The one downside for day time bands was the glass fire exit doors letting in too much background light which made it hard to take photos of the musicians on a very dimly lit stage. I had a lot of trouble getting images of the next band. Shooting was hard for all the bands with my ancient beast of a camera, the light was very dim and mostly a horrible red or even more horrible blue.

Haress (prounced hairs) were second on, and the band I was most looking forward to seeing, and they didn’t disappoint; not that any of the bands did. Another of the Hey Colossus guitarists plays guitar in Haress.

Haress play a very quiet gentle gothic country, slow mournful tunes, that build slowly to a gentle peak, I play their records a lot while I work. They all play their instruments while seated, which sort of reflects the vibe of their music. There was even a sing-along with handed out lyric sheets for one of their songs.

I thought they were great and my photos didn’t do them justice, I would have loved to have been on the other side of the stage but someone else was taking pictures there and it seems a bit weird having the only two people taking photos standing in the same place.

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Thee Alcoholics were the third band of the day and the third band of the day without a bass player. Definitely the heaviest band so far (it gets heavier), a grungey-noise rock four piece with an ex-Hey Colossus drummer on guitar and vocals. There was a guest vocal by an ex-Hey Colossus vocalist/current Hey Colossus guitarist on a song that which was very reminiscent of the older sludgier Hey Colossus sound. I liked them.

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Fourth up were Nottingham punks Blind Eye, the only proper punk band on the bill. They play a fast melodic hardcore and had the crowd buzzing; there were even a small number of people slam dancing through their short and furious set. From where I was standing it was impossible to get a decent photo of the guitarist, he was mostly in the dark, one of the only musicians I didn’t get a photo of.

The venue was at ground level with the locked glass fire door on Rivington Street, opposite a restaurant and bar. It was very early evening when Blind Eye took the stage and I was amused by all the fancily dressed young folk peering in through the glass of the doors, wondering/bemused at the thunderous racket going on inside.

Four bands in, and the first band with a bass player and also the first without current or ex Hey Colossus member.

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Not owning of their records meant I was not that familiar with Gum Takes Tooth, only really giving them an online listen in the days before the gig. I liked what I heard and was keen to see them, they were the real outliers on the day; no bass, no drums and no guitars, as well as being the only band on the day yet to release anything on Wrong Speed, apparently something coming in 2023.

The played a set that sounded very techno to my electronic-ignorant ears, and they got a very good response from full venue, I enjoyed their set a lot.

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Headliners for the event were Hey Colossus, a last minute addition after another band had to pull out. I always like seeing Hey Colossus, and I guess with so many members at the venue it made sense that they played. It was a cracking set as well, with a couple of new tracks being aired as well as songs from the last three records. I enjoyed it immensely, especially the epic closer, the 16 minute Trembling Rose. Paul, the vocalist is such a fun photographic subject.

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This was the first time I’ve been to a multi-band event where every band was excellent, it was impossible to pick a favourite. They were all different enough that direct comparisons would be impossible.Big thanks to the bands, the fans, the bar team, Joe, Chris, Baba Yagas Hut and anyone else who was involved in organising the day.

Roll on the next event in mid-2023.

Big thanks to the bands, the fans, the bar team, Joe, Chris, Baba Yagas Hut and anyone else who was involved in organising the day.

Roll on the next event in mid-2023.

Enablers with Van Coeur @ The Piper

Friday 02 September 2022 –  St Leonards.

This is only the third UK gig I’ve attended this year and it’s also the third with a direct or indirect relationship with Wrong Speed Records, the label that headline act Enablers released their new album ‘Some Gift on. The record came out today, which provided little time to cement any tracks in my head before the gig started. Not that this was to be a sing-along show anyway.

I’m gonna take a little bit of credit/responsibility for the gig happening at The Piper. The label did a call-out on Twitter for a venue in the south of England who would be up for show on the Enablers UK and Europe tour, and I suggested St Leonards. Somehow it happened, and I was very happy with that. The more tours that come through St Leonards the better, though of course small town SE England isn’t an overly attractive place to tour. Hasting/St Leonards may not be small geographically, but it’s small in other ways…

Arriving at The Piper at 8:30 (doors at 8:00) I wasn’t surprised to find the upstairs venue still closed. There a few people gathered in the bar below, and most of those were just Friday night drinkers, though there was the odd bloke (mostly blokes) on their own who looked like gig attendees. I think I was the only person in attendance in a band t-shirt (NZ band Die! Die! Die!), this is highly unusual behaviour, obscure band t-shirts are almost compulsory at obscure band gigs. Obviously the t-shirt shouldn’t be from the band/s you’re seeing, that would be very uncool indeed. Maybe things have changed? As Eleanor will attest I’ve been trying to wean myself off of obscure band t-shirts as I approach 60; with limited success. I’m wearing one (Southern Death Cult) as I head back to Walthamstow on a Saturday morning train.

A couple of very loud drunk/wasted guys came into the bar so I climbed the stairs to the venue and joined three other people waiting for the support band, Van Couer, to take the stage. It was a bit of a wait, I assume they were waiting for more people to arrive. Just before the band took to the low stage the two drunk/wasted loud blokes arrived in the room and looked around for somewhere to sit. Finding nothing they liked they dragged a small bench into the middle of the venue and plonked themselves down right in front. I’ve never seen anyone do that before, I quietly admired their confidence.

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Van Coeur are a three piece from Brighton; comprised of two guitarists and a drummer; all contributing to the vocals, their music is a very slow almost folky post-rock; think Slint, mixed with Low and Haress and slow it down some more. They reminded me a bit of Deathcrash, who we saw in a church in Islington last year. They are a very quiet group; as they played their opening track (You have the benefit of all my doubts) I heard the fizz of an illicit can of lager being cracked open by someone sat further along the bench I was on.

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I hadn’t heard of them prior to the gig being announced and only started listening to them yesterday. I really like them, and am listening to them on the train as I write. I don’t know the names of many of the songs they played, one stood out in particular though and I hope to stumble across it again as I listen (I didn’t (sad face emoji) ).

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Enablers are a Texan four piece, and like Van Coeur before them they had no bass player, just two six-string guitars, drums and vocals. I don’t know much of their music; they are touring the UK and Europe to promote the new LP. The audience only got to hear the songs that made up most of their set for the first time just before the show started. I would describe them as a post-punk/post-rock band backing a poet/story teller, the lyrics are mostly spoken rather than sung. They are delivered with passion and style, this isn’t a book reading.

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This was the second show on their current tour and the set was crisp and enthusiastically delivered and I thoroughly enjoyed their set, as did the small appreciative crowd. I think my favourite track was called ‘Willard to Kurtz’, a clear reference to the film ‘Apocalypse Now’. It’s very much my favourite from the record.

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Pete Simonelli is an engaging front man, difficult to photograph as no part of his body was ever still, I took a lot of photos that were plain rubbish. The light was significantly more photographer friendly than it was for Gnod a few weeks back which meant I managed to get a couple of quite crisp images. I moved closer to the centre of the stage and shot these photos between the head and shoulders of the two Van Coeur guitarists.

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it was great show and there are now another couple of LPs to add to my wish list.

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There was a small piece of exciting news this week. New Zealand (I think, though he lives in Canada) author, Matthew Goody, has written a book, ‘Needles and Plastic’, documenting the 1981-1988 period of New Zealand music label Flying Nun; their most fertile and influential period. I have more records and CDs on Flying Nun than any other record label. I’ve been waiting for the release announcement for some time as Matt has used some of my photos from the period, which will be the first time any of my photos have appeared in a book. The book comes out in November and I’m quite excited by this.

I never link to products for sale, but will make this a rare exception.

In NZ the book can be ordered from here 

and from here for the US and UK/Europe.

Trellick Tower.

Sunday 21 August 2022 – London.

I went out with the camera again today. That’s twice in two days, which is not something I’ve done in a very long time, and I enjoyed it very much. It’s good preparation for the holiday we are taking in three weeks where I imagine/hope I will be taking lots of photos. Eleanor and I have two weeks off work and will spend seven of those nights in Europe, taking in Ghent and Amsterdam, and celebrating my 60th birthday in Brussels in the middle. As someone who was, and remains, staunchly anti-Brexit, there was not a small amount of ‘fuck you’ when I decided I’d celebrate an important milestone in Brussels, the administrative heart of the dreaded European Union.

I haven’t done a photo walk with Steve for quite some time, nor have we caught up in the six months since I got back from New Zealand. The brutalist Alexandra Rd Estate is convenient for both of us and looked like a great spot for some photography, so we agreed to meet at nearby South Hampstead Station and wander about taking some photos and chatting on what has gone in over the last year.

Unfortunately when we arrived at Alexandra Estate we came across signs warning that photography was not allowed.

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As this is a residential community we agreed to respect the wishes of the people that live there and just walk through. I did take one photo from the footpath as we left. A bit of a shame, it’s a very cool looking place; but they are people’s homes and not movie sets and it was important that we comply with their very reasonable request. It does look to be an amazing place.

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Steve suggested we walk to Trellick Tower, another brutalist icon, about 30 minutes away. I readily agreed, I don’t know this part of London, so an opportunity to walk around was also welcome, with the bonus of a piece of classic brutalist architecture thrown in for good measure.

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Construction commenced on the grade 2 listed Trellick Tower in 1968 and was completed in 1972, it had been commissioned by the Greater London Council and designed in the Brutalist style by architect Ernő Goldfinger. The tower was planned to replace outdated social accommodation, and designed as a follow up to Goldfinger’s earlier Balfron Tower in East London (a photo walk for another day). The building celebrated its 50 years recently and there were lots of signs talking about it. It’s still predominately social housing, though there are a number of privately owned flats, which are eagerly sought after as you would imagine. It is quite a unique building with an interesting and occasionally troubled history.

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 Trellick Tower was the inspiration for J G Ballard’s disturbing dystopian novel ‘High Rise’, and has frequently be seen in film and music video.

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There are plans to build new towers nearby which threaten the area, including the large graffiti wall. I know there is a need for more housing in London, but potentially ruining what is a historically important building and area is not the way to go about it, and it’s not as if what gets built will complement what is there already.

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I was quite taken with the graffiti all around the base of the building, some of it is new and commemorates the buildings 50 years, but equally a lot feels quite old. It is part of the building and community’s fabric, something that some outsiders are not always willing to accept. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste but tags and graffiti are part of urban living, particularly in long established inner-city working class areas. Yes, graffiti is not appropriate in the beautifully preserved Georgian and Edwardian parts of the city, and it’s not something you see there much either, but it has its place. Here was one of those places.

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Though the gate on the steps down into the grassed area and onto the basketball court, both surrounded by graffitied walls was open, we didn’t stay there long, nor stray too far from the steps. It’s private property after all, though there were no signs saying we couldn’t be there.

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We walked around the outside of the building and I took a few photos from different angles. Perhaps if we were with photographers more experienced in working in private/public spaces I would’ve been more inclined to explore further. I just don’t know the protocols, so am cautious in my approach to these sorts of the places. The separate access tower with the walkways across is so visually appealing. It’s such a shame that more residential buildings are not built with such an aesthetic view, particularly those that are built for social housing; possibly even more important for social housing.

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After Trellick we walked along the Grand Union Canal to Paddington Station where we stopped for a refreshing ale before going our separate ways, me; I went back home. I’m quite keen to explore the area around the Westway at some stage as well. The Westway is the raised section of the A4 motorway exiting London to the west, made famous by bands like the Clash and the Ruts. 

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I guess this boat met its Nemesis in the Grand Union.

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It was another good day out, I should do more of this!

Walthamstow Forest

Saturday 20 August 2022 – Walthamstow.

The thrum hum of cars moving along the A406 was broken by a solitary helicopter passing overhead. I’d taken my headphones off as I entered the forest at Beacontree Ave, planning to use the underpass to get to the other side of the motorway. I expected to hear some birdsong, but other than an occasional and seemingly half-hearted tweet the birds were quiet; either that or they were non-existent. I was on my way to the supermarket; the long way.

I haven’t walked here for over a year, in fact I haven’t been near this distant corner of Epping Forest since we returned to London, and Walthamstow Forest is only a 15 minute walk from home. The cloudy light filtered through the yellowing leaves was excellent and it felt like a good day to be wandering aimlessly (in the general direction of South Woodford Waitrose) and taking photos.

I was a little surprised at how many leaves had yellowed and were falling from their tree, it seems too early in the year, it could be the fault of the drought we are experiencing, or the early start to summer, the trees may well be thirsty and are not being satisfied. It’s far too early to be autumnal and temperature wise it is still in the high-mid 20s.

I walked here once during lockdown to take photos of a couple of pieces by street artist, Phlegm, and they have taken a bit of a battering from the weather.

Once in Walthamstow Forest proper I put the headphones back on again as the traffic noise was so constant and so irritating and with so little forest sound I may as well listen to music. I’ve a very good playlist for this kind of day. I don’t usually listen to music in the forest, perhaps some primeval defence mechanism requires me to be listening out for danger, though the only probable danger in London’s edgeland is accidently coming across some low-level drug deal.

I bumbled around in circles in this small section of wood, I wasn’t in any great rush and the forest has changed shaped inside its borders so for a while I had no idea of what direction was what. A reasonable summary of my life at the moment; bumbling, aimless, directionless and a bit, but not badly, lost.

Other than the traffic the forest was very quiet, I barely saw another person until I starting trying to find the path that would take me towards the tunnels under Waterworks Roundabout, which will get me back on the streets and on to the supermarket.

The shedding and browning trees, grasses and ferns made the forest a lot more interesting than the summer normally is; summer is my least favourite time in the forest, it is just too green. I like the variety of colour and textures that autumn and winter brings.

I found a neat little grove of silver birches, one of my favourite trees for photography, especially in a dense green forest. I took a slow walk round and though the trees; though the forest floor was densely overgrown with brambles, making walking in shorts a very irritating, if not painful process. Worth it though as the last of these three is my favourite image of the day.

I came across about twenty of these small, brightly coloured plastic balls near the silver birch. They were scattered over a small area, and I had no idea of why they were there.

This part of the forest was subjected to a lot of mis-aimed or dumped German bombs and V1 and V2 rockets during the Second World War, leaving a number of bomb craters here and there. It is good that these reminders of man’s recklessness and greed are there for all to see, perhaps a lesson is to be learned.

I had used a tunnel crossing below the A406 to enter the forest and it felt almost symbolic to use a tunnel to cross back into the real world of houses, people and cars. Reality in other words, this moment of idyll was over.

Scorched Royal Parks

Sunday 7 August 2022 – London.

‘Imagine your favourite city as a wasteland’ opens the final chapter; ‘Coda’ of ‘Shadowlands’, Matthew Green’s excellent book about disappeared UK villages and towns. I finished the book this afternoon (Friday 12 August) accompanied by a glass of red wine after a busy week of work, a decent way to unwind.

Looking back at the photos I took on Sunday, it is quite easy to imagine London as a wasteland. The green spaces are bone dry and there have been a number of grass and scrub fires around the fringes of the city already. It’s been over a month since there was any substantial rain and we are a small number of days away from a drought being declared in large parts of England and a hosepipe ban in London. The use of hoses is already prohibited in St Leonards, where we are now which is a shame as the car is in desperate need of a wash.

After a sustained period of no rain a few days ago and a drought now predicted to last at least until the end of October, the UK recorded the highest day time temperature; in excess of 40 degrees. It’s hard to believe that some among us deny there is any sort of climate emergency.

After Eleanor and I walked through Kensington Gardens a few weeks back we arranged with some friends to come back for a picnic lunch and take an afternoon stroll through the park. At the time we were not expect this ongoing heat-wave, nor expecting to see the parks looking so dry.

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We found some shade from one of the many wonderful of trees in Kensington Gardens and unloaded the bubbles and food we had carried with us from home. It was a very enjoyable lunch.

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The walk was not as long as we would have liked, it was too hot to be out for long. We stuck to the shady paths were we could, but that was not always possible.

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I had brought the camera along, though I wasn’t really feeling it that much, which has been reflected further as I write this very short post. I’m going through a very demotivated period at the moment, possibly due to my pending 60th. 

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There were the occasional, heavily watered oasies,

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and some of those bloody parakeets.

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We walked through Hyde Park, then onto Green Park to get the tube home. Hyde Park was almost desert like in places. 

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I’ve not seen the parks as dry as they are now, and with no end in sight, I hope they get a chance to recover. Much as I hate the royal family the royal parks are a wonderful part of London.

Docklands

Sunday 24 July 2022 – London.

Empty boulevards, blown desert dry by a Saharan-like wind, sand dusted cars and relentless heat from a clear blue sky. A young woman walking in the opposite direction scurries past on the far side of the weed-edged footpath. She’s wearing a mask and black sun glasses under her hijab and though I can’t see her eyes I can tell she looked at me like I was mad. “Mad dogs and Englishmen”, as the old saying goes. I suspect few people walk these streets at any time, let alone on a windy day under a strong mid-day sun. This is not really a walking place at the best of times.

I pass through a wind-tunnel created by poorly thought through blocks of flats, my hat is blown off twice in a hundred yards. Emerging onto one of the older streets, I catch, then pass a young couple taking photos of each other on a shared mobile phone; they laugh. I guess they are visitors too, the area seems devoid of residents. I see windows wide open, washing drying on balconies and bikes changed to fences, so there must be people here, somewhere. It feels lifeless, soulless and other words ending in ‘ess, it’s not the place for me.

Surprisingly I’m in Docklands, east London, not the back streets of Dubai, or some other desert state where the non-billionaire classes are moved out to the fringes. I’m walking from Canning Town Station to Trinity Buoy Wharf and man has it changed since I was last here.

There was an article in the Guardian by Ollie Wainwright (my new favourite feature writer) a few weeks ago exposing a (so far) failed Chinese funded office development in Docklands and it sounded just like the sort of thing I should see for myself. This is a bit of London I’ve visited on occasion, but never properly explored, so the article was a good prompt to get out for a photo walk. Sadly these days, I need reminders to get out and do the things I enjoy.

I’m going to say I was a bit shocked, maybe even a little upset by what I discovered while I was out as it’s all a bit of an urban planning disaster. I guess the area was never going to be beautiful, not without major surgery. Carved up by the River Lea, empty docks, crossed with A roads and with City Airport in the middle of it, this was designed to be a commercial and industrial zone; which it was until time ran out for the docks that supported London for decades. Now it is a bit of a wasteland, and with an urgent, if not desperate need for more housing in London then logic says build houses; which is what is happening, just not very well.

This was highlighted as I crossed the pedestrian bridge from Canning Town tube station on to the small isthmus formed by a tight loop in the River Lea/Bow Creek just before it flows into the Thames. I walked straight into a new housing estate that seems to be called City Island (City Isthmus doesn’t have the same ring to it). In some ways it is an island I guess, river on three of the four sides and a flyover crossing the fourth which makes it feel disconnected from the its neighbours.

It wasn’t an unpleasant looking area, The National Ballet is homed here and the apartments are not unattractive; but it was so empty of life and the buildings had created an artificial canyon which the wind howled through, I had to put my hat in my bag as there was no point in attempting to wear it on my head.

Once through the estate and under the Lea Crossing Flyover there were some familiar old Docklands buildings, though I’m not sure how long they will last as more flats are, or were being built.

I walked around Trinity Buoy Wharf, it was good knowing that this tiny bit of land was largely untouched, and the café is still open. There was a large group of artists sketching and drawing in notebooks, this place still attracts the art community at least. I wonder what they think of the changes?

To get to the rest of Docklands I had to leave this small area and use the Lea Crossing bridge, it was pretty unpleasant. It feels like these new micro-communities are being dropped into little bits of old London, then deliberately kept disconnected from neighbouring communities by the major roads that proliferate away form the centre. These roads are unpleasant to walk alongside and in some cases difficult to cross. You almost have to have a car to get any enjoyment from living in some of the places, and that joy is to be found in getting out. Though to be fair the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) system runs through here and it is a great piece of public transport investment.

I walked past the Excel Centre, I should have stopped for coffee and some lunch, but thought I would find something further along my walk. Though there was nothing on in the conference centre the place was fairly busy, the buzziest place I passed as I walked.

I crossed the Royal Victoria Dock using the quite fabulous footbridge (I regret not taking a photo), though the steps didn’t do my knee any favours. I took some photos from the top, the view is pretty immense from up here.

I’ve always wanted to visit the Millennium Mills building, but was never able to get tickets to the rare tours to the site, sadly those days are past and this huge, ugly/beautiful building will be converted into expensive flats to go along side all the other flats that no-one who lives now here can actually afford. I sense another residential desert coming. The building is magnificent, especially now as it slowly decays.

My next stop was Thames Barrier Park, for it’s view of the barrier built to save parts of London when the floods come. Like Millennium Mills I’ve long wanted to come here, but haven’t managed to in the past. Getting there was the tricky part, there was another road to cross and a long line of barrier fencing preventing crossing.

I made it over eventually, passing under the DLR and yet another place I should have stopped for coffee at but didn’t. I never did get that coffee.

Thames Barrier Park is really nice, a lovely green and shaded oasis in the sea of apartments, it was quiet and cooler than the heat attracting/reflecting streets. There were quite a few people here enjoying the peace, you can see that the council look after the park well. Other than Trinity Buoy wharf it was the only place I visited today that seemed to be loved by the community that lived nearby.

After almost ten years of construction the Thames Barrier was completed in 1982, it’s a retractable barrier designed to close, blocking the river to protect the centre of London from flooding due to tidal surges on the river. I am assuming the water that doesn’t go up river is then forced into the streets of working class outer London, but at least the banks in the city centre will be safe. It’s a remarkable piece of engineering and looks amazing. I will try and come back one day when it is closed as I’ve no idea what it would look like then.

Athena by Nasser Azam is on a roundabout at the entrance to City Airport, at 12 metres it is the tallest bronze sculpture in the UK, I’m ambivalent about it, but it is huge!

After saying farewell to Athena I approached Connaught Bridge and was horrified to see there was no footpath on the side of the road. I quickly discovered, to my relief, that I could walk underneath, but this was not immediately obvious as a newly visiting pedestrian, for a brief moment I saw myself backtracking all the way back to the Excel centre to get to the other side of the dock.

Given my antipathy to cars and roads I actually quite like being underneath these vast concrete constructions. There is something simple and practical and almost beautiful in the design and build of a flyover; clean lines, gentle curves and huge amounts of pale and austere concrete. From beneath they are cathedral-like, some have tables and chairs, almost like an altar, created by the homeless, street drinkers, graffiti artists and other street dwellers who congregate in these drone filled shelters.

Arriving in Royal Albert Dock I was surprised at how big it was, the runway of City Airport runs down one side with a long concreted promenade down the other. Like Royal Victoria Dock, there are small scale leisure activities on or in the water at one end. I’m not convinced that an airport runway provides the cleanest air for boating activities, but a least there are some activities for the young from the surrounding suburbs.

This area, between the railway and the dock was I guess an empty, fenced off wasteland for a number of years. Under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty there was a drive to open up a new commercial zone in Docklands and there was some logic to this, the airport is here, the huge Excel Convention centre next door, there are hotels and bars and restaurants nearby. The supporting infrastructure was largely in place and business would generate loads of new jobs, though possibly not for those pesky working class folk who lived in the 50s and 60s housing estates that surround the area and whose work ended when the docks were closed.

Sensing opportunity Newham Council joined the bandwagon and they now part occupy the first building I come to in this new utopian, ‘third business centre’ of London. It’s pretty bleak, what grass has been left in the sea of concrete is a sun scorched yellow brown, weeds grow through the pavers and for some reason this section of walkway is taped off. There is no-one around so I cross the tape and walk along the side of the building, looking in the windows as I go, some of the offices look occupied, most appear to be fitted out with workstations that no human has yet worked at.

Finally I arrive at Advanced Business Parks’ (ABP) failed venture to build something of lasting value, and the reason I left home this morning with my camera in my bag. Touted in 2013 as a new start for this bit of Docklands, the massive investment (tax break?) by ABP was to lead the way for Chinese and pan-Asian business investment in London, a new 24 hour business precinct giving opportunities to overseas companies to use the best British workers to service their needs in local time.

200 yards multiplied by two of empty low rise office space. The boulevard of dreams, not turned into the boulevard of reality when it all came crashing down; starting in 2018 and ending when Covid struck in 2020. At least the road leading to the locked road gates sees some use.

The site is open to pedestrians so there was no fence hopping to get in. I saw a couple of people walking along the side of the dock, but there was no one walking between the buildings other than my refection in the clean office windows. The site is obviously being secured and looked after, there were no smashed windows, no graffiti and no sign of anyone squatting.

The only life being a few forlorn trees; though most of the trees were dead.

Mandarin Street is the single main thoroughfare between the four buildings; in two rows of two blocks. One of the buildings seems to house a small local gallery; though it was closed when I was there. Most were just empty. It was weird walking around where there was even less signs of life than in City Island.

I wonder what will happen to this place and it’s big wide promenade, looking over an empty expanse of dock to an airport. Plenty of real-estate companies though.

Hungry, hot and a bit dehydrated I caught the DLR and then the Overground ending the afternoon in a bar in Shoreditch drinking a couple of beers and eating a burger with Aiden. Three hours of walking in the sun pretty much did for me so a seat, some food, cold beer and relaxing chat with my son was a pleasing way to end an interesting and not entirely uplifting day. it was nice to see there is still some street art to be found in Shoreditch.

I read the other day that London is a city containing a million smaller cities. Today I visited more than one of those smaller cities and next time I’m here they will be changed, or gone completely.

Sir John Soane’s House

Saturday 2 July 2022 – London.

As I have alluded to on a couple of occasions recently, life has been very busy. Work has been hectic for most of the past month as a work-mate was on leave; I’m not sure how he coped when I had seven months off. Alongside this I’ve been trying to get the possessions we sent back from New Zealand (things we sent to NZ in the first place) from the shipping company without paying hundreds of pounds in unnecessary tax due to being poorly advised. Thankfully, I managed to achieve an acceptable tax result and expect to see the stuff that was pick up in January delivered shortly, six months after it was collected from us in Auckland.

Last week I finally had confirmation that scaffold will be going up on the rear wall of the block my flat is in so a significant amount of maintenance can be done. As a member of the residents association for the block I started work on this project two years ago and it has been a constant thorn in my side, creating a large amount of unnecessary stress. Hopefully the four months of actual work will pass smoothly and the scaffold will be down on time, and my view to the sea will no longer be compromised by bits of steel pole. I haven’t been at the flat enough this summer.

Running alongside this Eleanor has sold her house. She has accepted an offer on her house at least, fingers crossed all goes according to plan. It was a great reward for the amount of cleaning, tidying and decluttering we have done in the past month. The housing market is hot in London and she was very happy with what the purchaser offered, and it sold immediately. Phew,  now the constant tidying can stop and I can hang my towel on the banister again.

I probably should have mentioned in a prior post; but my youngest son, Aiden, has come to the UK from New Zealand for a few months. Though since he’s been here he’s barely stayed with us; there are festivals to attend and friends to see, and to be fair, if it was me, I would  be doing the same. His timing wasn’t great with the house sale going on, though he stayed for a couple of days soon after arriving and repaired and painted a couple of walls in the conservatory which was much appreciated. Then he buggered off to do fun things and I’ve barely seen him since; till yesterday.

Eleanor is at the flat for the weekend, we spent a couple of days there together this week and I came back to London last night. I met Aiden at Eleanor’s when I got home and we went to the Bell,  the pub at the end of the road for a burger and a beer for dinner.

Today Aiden wanted to do the tourist thing and visit the Tower of London, something I was very up for as it is a favourite tourist attraction of mine, so we left home mid-morning with that intent. We took the tube to The Barbican so I could share with him the last remains of the Roman wall that surrounded the city and was built about 1800 years ago. I’m still amazed that things this old still exist; we live in such a throw-away society; built-in obsolescence is the norm now. Use it and bin it. One of the things I appreciate the most about living away from New Zealand is the sheer volume of fabulous history that you can see and touch and it is seemingly everywhere.

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I took Aiden past St Pauls Cathedral. He was amazed at the size and detail of the building, we all are, and there’s nothing like this in downtown Auckland.

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I’ve never seen this worn and damaged statue, it’s a little disturbing; like his face is melting under the pollution and vile fug atmosphere of the UK in 2022. I digress…

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We crossed the Thames on the bendy bridge and walked along the Southbank, past the new old Shakespeare’s Globe, the new old The Golden Hinde, (the ship Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world) and the new newer Borough Market. I should have seen the warning signs as we walked the Southbank, particularly when we got to Borough Market, but I was too busy telling Aiden about London and talking about the things we walked past; there are a LOT of tourists about. There are few things in life I enjoy more than walking the streets of the centre of London with someone unfamiliar with the city and showing the bits I love; and there are a lot of bits I love.

I took Aiden past the even newer Shard, waved in the general direction of where I lived not far from the Shard for most of 2013 and half of 2014, now mostly obscured by other buildings. Then back to the side of the Thames at City Hall, the ultra modern precinct next to Tower Bridge and over the river from the Tower of London. Our destination for the morning.

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Walking the cobbled way between the outer wall of the Tower and the river we (I) realised that visiting the Tower on a warm and sunny July weekend and the first summer since the pandemic ‘ended’ was a stupid idea. There were a lot of people about and when we discovered it was going to cost £32.90 each to visit we agreed a mid-week in autumn would be a better time.

I was tempted to get tickets to the Superbloom event in the dried up moat outside the walls of the tower, but that was too busy. I took a couple of photos instead. Maybe this is something Eleanor and I can do together? it looks quite spectacular.

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Aiden and I agreed that the next best thing to going to the Tower was to go and have a beer. Though it was a bit of a walk away, and on the other side of St Pauls Cathedral, almost where we had come from, I chose Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for a drink.

We took a slightly meandering walk to the pub. I tend to avoid the busier streets, not so much because they are busy with people and cars, which they are, but because the back streets are far more interesting, especially those streets in the older parts of the City of London. There are numerous narrow roads and lanes and not quite hidden alley-ways linking even quieter lanes all over, and very few are travelled much outside of working hours. There are plenty of Wren designed churches as well. I must do a Wren photo walk one day.

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One of London’s older pubs, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was first opened in 1538, then completely rebuilt in 1667 after the great fire that devastated London in 1666. It is a very old pub and a great spot to take a visitor, especially from New Zealand where an old building is anything over 100 years old. we sat in one of the cellar bars and got listen to a very loud American telling his friend about all the drugs you can buy in California. We only stayed for one.

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While we were having our pint Aiden got a message from some friends about a gathering in Lincoln Inn Fields, which is a five minute walk from the Cheese. Rather than take the main roads we took the alley in which the pub entrance sits and walked past the statue of Hodge the Cat. Hodge was owned (are cats ever owned?) by Dr Samuel Johnson, whose house is nearby. It’s the small things in London that are the best.

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Aiden’s friends had yet to arrive when we got to Lincoln Inn Fields so we took the opportunity to visit the free Sir John Soane’s Museum. A place I’ve thought about visiting for ages but never have, and I’m definitely going back again. Born in 1753 Sir John Soane was one of England’s premier regency architects and a wealthy man. Between 1782 and 1823 Soane bought three houses on Lincoln Inn Fields, demolishing and then rebuilding all three, he lived in one and used the other two to house his ever growing and extraordinary collections. In 1833, four years before his death, he had a private act passed in parliament turning his houses and collections over to the people of Britain, to be kept as they were at the time of his death.

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The collections are completely bonkers, vast and varied and very interesting; the highlight for me being the sarcophagus of the Egyptian King Seti who lived between 1303 and 1200 BC. It was incredible to see something like this, in what was once a private collection. We were free to take photos, though no flash was allowed, so a few long exposures were taken, meaning a lot of images were consigned to the bin.

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Most of the rooms are filled to the ceiling with interesting things to look at, in places the space between exhibits is quite narrow, care needs to be taken as you walk around and limited numbers are allowed in the building at any one time to minimise risk. It’s (supposedly) exactly as it was when Sir John passed away in 1837. Our bags were put into clear plastic bags that we had to carry in front us as we perused the collection; I was grateful for this as I’m a little clumsy, and I could imagine me toppling some valuable art work.

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The collection contains a number of original pieces Soane’s discovered on his travels, there is a Greek urn from around 4bc (I recall); hopefully acquired legally and morally! There are also a number of plaster casts made from original Greek and Roman sculpture. I learned that casts was a huge thing in the early to mid 1800s when we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum last week.

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I really enjoyed the museum and will hopefully be heading back there with Eleanor sometime in the not too distant future.

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Aiden and I walked back to Kings Cross Station. We stopped for a beer on the way, or intended to but the prices were mad so we left before buying anything and had a can when we got home.

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Victoria and Albert Museum

Saturday 25 June 2022 – London.

The past couple of months have seen things too busy for much fun, work has been full on and there’s been little relief at the weekend either. I feel like we’ve barely had time to stay at my place in St Leonards since we got back from New Zealand at the end of February, and that didn’t change this weekend either; for a good reason. Eleanor has decided to sell her house and today is open home day, the Walthamstow market is so hot that we really only expect to have one of these and the house should be sold by mid week. The last month seems to have been spent decluttering, tidying, cleaning, and in Eleanor’s case, styling the house, firstly for the official photos and then for today. It will be nice to have it over and done with, and the hope is that it sells well and we don’t need to keep it immaculate all the time, we need to live here too.

The weather was nice so we decided to go to the other side of London, westward to Paddington Station and then walk to the Victoria and Albert Museum through Kensington Gardens, one of the Royal Parks. We haven’t been to the V&A in years, and other than the airport I don’t recall travelling west of my office since well before lockdown.

After many years of delay and many billions over budget the new cross-rail Elizabeth Line opened recently, a brand new underground line traversing London from east to west, and vice-versa. We took the new line from Liverpool Street to Paddington. The trains are bigger, slightly quieter and very well air-conditioned and they only stop a couple of times crossing London which is the big difference for me; not that we will use it much, but good to know it is there and the time to Paddington and Heathrow Airport is reduced which is an absolute bonus. After almost thirty hours on a plane, the 90 minutes on the tube home is just a major drag.

The new stations are great though, I really like the design and the tunnels connecting the platforms are so much bigger than the crammed spaces on other lines. I managed to quickly grab a photo with no passengers in it. The signpost in the shape of a cross was, in it’s way, an apt image to start the day, though I didn’t realise at the time that there would be a lot of symbolism to come.

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We stopped for coffee in Paddington before walking to Kensington Gardens, arriving near the Italian Gardens. As I said earlier we haven’t been to this part of London for ages, and I don’t think we been to the Italian Gardens together before; they were nice, if slightly busy. I had completely forgotten how busy London gets in tourist season, and it’s coming to the peak season now, more so now that the pandemic is ‘over’ and London is again a destination for both British and overseas tourists.

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We walked through the park towards the V&A, stopping to take a few photos on the way, the Royal Parks are letting some areas of their parks return to some form of managed wildness, with long grasses and wild flowers. It was really quite nice and it felt like we were anywhere but the middle of a city. It is very dry, but I like the colours more.

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I was surprised to come across a Henry Moore sculpture, ‘The Arch’ which was first erected in 1980, then taken away in the 90s as it started to crumble, before being re-erected in 2012. I’m not really a fan of sculpture, but loved this, especially with the heron sitting atop.

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Eleanor and I have been to the V&A a few times, mainly for exhibitions, and every time we vow to come back and spend more time, and more time wandering the halls on our own; we have different interests and want to spend time looking at the things we like as well as sharing the experience.

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My travels in Asia left me with a fascination for Buddhist and Hindu carvings and statuary and this engendered a bit of an interest in iconography and European religious art as well. The V&A has plenty of both, though it’s not something Eleanor enjoys as much as me.

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We walked through one of the Buddhist art sections before stopping for a can of wine in the square in the centre of the museum. The wine wasn’t too bad.

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After that brief rest we continued on through a European religious art section, I love this stuff. I’m much more interested in the wood and stone carvings and the beautiful stained glass than I am in painted work. This 16th century Dutch St Peter is just beautiful, hard to believe it’s been in existence for over 500 years.

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I know a number of these works were stolen and should be returned to the country of origin, and I feel privileged to be able to see them, and further privileged that I could see similar when I travelled. I can’t wait to travel again.

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Our next stop was the completely bonkers ‘Cast Courts’. When the museum was built in the 1870s this room was created with an extra high ceiling of 25 metres to cater for the height of the two piece of Trajans Column which were made from a cast commissioned by Napoléon in 1864. The rooms are rammed with seemingly random pieces of art, all plaster casts made from moulds taken from the original artefacts, mainly during the 19th century, filling museums and stately homes with perfect copies of original art works. I love these rooms, they just seem so mad, and exactly what museums should be about;  fun, enlightening, inspiring and educational. I guess that means the Tories will try and ban them.

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Passing through one final Asian art section as we headed towards the front door. I found this early 20th century ‘Emaciated Buddha’ bronze carving from Thailand, which I’ve never seen the like of before. I have seen plenty of Buddha statues before but not from the period when he fasted for six years. It was my favourite object from the day.

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The day started with a cross, so it should end with one as well.

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We caught the tube back to Walthamstow as the open home day was wrapping up mid-afternoon. The agent said it had gone well, that there would be offers coming early next week, and good ones at that.

It was a good day.

Hey Colossus with Kulk @ Studio 9294

Friday 24 June 2022 – Hey Colossus with Kulk @ Studio 9294, Hackney Wick, London.

Hey Colossus have been a favourite band for a few years and I’ve been looking forward to seeing them again since they made a surprise appearance at The Piper in St Leonards way back in November 2019. A gig that turned out to be almost the last I attended pre-lockdown. This London show was originally scheduled as an album release party in 2020, was then postponed to 2021 and then further postponed to now. Life was not normal for most of 2020 and 2021 so it was an eager and expectant crowd that turned up to Studio 9294 in Hackney Wick to see them.

Noise/sludge/doom duo Kulk, I’m not entirely sure how to describe them, were the support act. They were OK, I mostly enjoyed their set, but they weren’t really my cup of tea, a bit too metal for my tastes. 

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Taking photos in the available light was a struggle, the band were mostly in darkness with very strong strip lighting behind them. I took a few photos with some difficulty and then gave up,  these are the best of an average to poor bunch.

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After some last minute monitor cable faffing Hey Colossus were welcomed to the stage by a loud and robust cheer from the audience. As a six piece they managed to survive reasonably intact over the pandemic period with only the drummer and one of the guitarists changing since I last saw them. They have been recording and performing for 16 years and lines-up changes are quite normal for them, the replacement guitarist has been a band member before. The main thing was they survived the pandemic, managed to rehearse even though they live all over the place, and it seems they have written some new songs as well.

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Their 13th LP, a double, “Dances/Curses” came out in November 2020 to critical acclaim and a number of represses, and was released on bass player, Joe’s new label Wrong Speed Records . I have two copies, not for any weird ‘playing one and keeping one mint’ reason, but because one got lost in the post for two months so I ordered another. They’re a small band, albeit with lots of members, and I didn’t want to the Royal Mail’s balls-up to be at their cost. I could afford it, though obviously I didn’t expect the first copy to turn up, which it did about two days after the second copy. Oh well. Wrong Speed have released quite a few recordings during and since lockdown, all have been by obscure artists, across a variety of genres and most have been excellent. I have a few…

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The ten song set was, as you would expect, mostly made up of tracks from the new record, though they played a couple off the previous LP ‘Four Bibles’ which I appreciated as it is a great collection of songs. There was also a new song in the set, which seems to have been called B & G, possibly describing a two chord main riff, who knows?

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The set closed with the 16 minutes track Trembling Rose from the new LP, a favourite of mine and by the enthusiastic reception from the crowd, it was a favourite of most others as well.

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We really enjoyed the gig. Though like the Gnod gig I went to in May it was quite loud and a bit muddy it was difficult to hear individual instruments where we were standing. Ear plugs would have been good so I’ve ordered some for future gigs. My ears are getting old.

It was fab just getting out of the house of evening and doing something, and Hackney Wick isn’t a bad place to do it.

The River Lea

Sometime around late May 2022 – River Lea, London.

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

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

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

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

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

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Though the next scene wasn’t as good.

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

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

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And others; even less.

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

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

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

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

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