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.

February update

Sunday 28 February 2021 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

It has been a few weeks since I last scribbled typed some notes on how things are going and what Eleanor and I have, or in this case, haven’t been up to. February continued to be cold, and Covid continued to keep us in the UK in some form of lockdown; however, the forecast for both is improving. The Covid news continues to get better and better; vaccinations have been moving along at a great pace in the UK, Eleanor has had her first, and mine is in a couple of weeks, and the lockdown is having the desired effect with the number of infections and critically ill trending down. Daffodils and crocuses are appearing in the park, a sure sign spring is not too far off.

I have been trying to think back on the things that have happened in the last few weeks, and can really only think; not a lot. There is news of a sort, not BREAKING news, but news nonetheless.

I have changed my mind on selling the flat and am now going to rent it out instead.

  • I had a rental agency visit to view the flat and can expect to get quite a lot more per than I thought. The market here is very good at the moment, or bad I guess if you want to rent. The price of gentrification being paid for by those who can least afford it. I justify to myself by knowing that I only have one flat and the rent I will get still won’t cover my mortgage; though it will be closer.
  • We have been taking time to have a good and honest look at the possible costs of relocating to NZ; it was not something we properly did before Eleanor got her visa and it is a LOT more expensive to live there than we thought. Auckland is less affordable than London, I knew it was going to be expensive, just not by how much.
  • Booking a room in managed isolation is very difficult, and you cannot fly to New Zealand unless you have a room booked first. The managed isolation folk only release rooms up to three months in the future and they are booked out immediately, we have yet to work out the timing of when to get on the site to book. In saying that there are only taking bookings to the end of May which is too early for us.
  • What this does mean is my plan to try and find some work before we left has been completely thwarted. We are going to have to travel to NZ first and then look for a job once we are there. I am starting to see jobs asking for applications for NZ residents only now. A change from a few weeks ago.
  • The cost of living plus not having a job, means we can realistic commit to six months in Auckland before having to think about coming back, where we can at least live rent free.

With the possibility of having to come back to the UK between three and six months meant it made no sense to sell the flat. If we get work in NZ then we can think about selling the flat at a later stage, but at least I have the choice then. With this in mind I am going to ask if I can take a career break before I resign, which means the potential of a job when we return.

We walked to Bexhill one afternoon and then caught the train back to St Leonards. It was my first time in a train since November, when we last did the six minute journey from Bexhill. I am planning on taking the train to London for my vaccination. I can then take photos out of train windows again.

There was an amazing snow moon one night, I have never heard of these before. The moon was huge and sitting low on the horizon so Eleanor and I took a quick walk down to the seafront. It was the first time we have been outside in the evening for ages. With nothing open there were few people out, it was cold but nice to be outside for a change.  Though I have walked a little over the past few weeks I have struggled with motivation and am rarely getting out for a pre-work walk anymore. We always do a short walk at the weekend, but I really need to extend the range else I am just going to spread and it will all become so much harder.

I will chuck in a couple of sunset photos to fill the rest of the page. The two orange images were taken on different nights out of the bedroom window and the other was taken from beach.

Hopefully March will be more interesting.

Some fairly pathetic snow, but snow nonetheless

Tuesday February 09 2021 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

An email brought unexpected good news late on Wednesday night. Eleanor has been granted an indefinite partner visa for New Zealand, Yay, Yay and Yay again! While we (mainly me) expected this to be the case we were taken aback by how quick the application was processed. We didn’t expect to hear anything until at least May or June. This means we can now start to plan a move to Auckland, where most of my family are, for at least the short term.

This is very exciting, but also a little terrifying at the same. There is a lot of thinking and planning to do and I definitely need to get through the emotion of it and start thinking practically else nothing much will happen. I will do a separate post on this at some point. I think.

I took Friday off work as it was forecasted to be the only nice day of the weekend, it is also a non-working day for Eleanor so we could hang out and talk free from the constraints of work. We walked along the seafront under a weak winter sun to Hastings and started to formulate a plan and think about some of the things we need to do, which seems to be an awful lot. The big question for me is whether I keep the flat and rent it while we are gone, or sell it now as the market appears to be good and I will make some money. I have a real estate agent coming to value it on Wednesday, much as I should be led on this by my heart; I am going to be led by the pound.

[edit] I am writing this on Saturday and the estate agent has advised me my flat is worth a little more than I expected, so at this point in time I am going to sell, more on that decision soon, once it is made. [/edit]

Sunday

I have been following the weather forecast all week as there has been a promise of snow for some time, and today is the day, with falls expected to start around 3 or 4 AM. I was excitedly up and out of bed at 7, pulling up the blinds to check outside; then making coffee and going back to bed. Rain. Bloody St Leonards.

However, the snow did come soon after we got up, then continuing to snow lightly all day, though not enough for it to stick around. Still, we wanted to get out for a walk and feel the snow so we didn’t linger in bed too long and were outside by 9. Not bad for me on a Saturday.

When we left home the snow was barely falling and it wasn’t too cold, though it got colder and the snow fall got slightly heavier while we were out. There were hints the snow would start to settle later in he day by the time we got home 90 minutes later. We walked down to the seafront via the lovely St Leonards Gardens, which are just along the road from my flat. The snow was falling a little heavier now, but the ground is so wet and warm that none of it is settling.

I am about to send a letter to mum with some photos of the grandkids and one of El and I. As we don’t have any recent photos of us I decided to try and take some using the self timer on the camera. It took a couple of goes to get it right.

Rather than walk the seemingly traditional way towards Hastings we chose to walk in the opposite direction towards West St Leonards. As is often the case I was surprised at the number of people out, we even saw two people taking their daily dip; one of them wasn’t even wearing a wetsuit. Hardy folk on the coast.

The wind started to pick up and the snow was coming down a lot more heavily and it started to get cold so we looped back up the hill to home and watched the snow falling, but barely settling for the rest of the day. This was as good as it got, and the first time I have not hated these view blocking trees in my neighbours garden.

Monday

A small amount of snow fell overnight and with yesterdays colder afternoon followed by a much colder night a small amount had settled on the ground on Monday morning. I took a photo out of the bedroom window, over my neighbours and down the coast towards Bexhill and Eastbourne.

I was out the door soon after, and back to the park, yet again disappointed at the lack of snow on the ground. I took a couple of photos as this really was going to be as much snow as we will get this winter.

There was a little more snow on the seafront promenade and I was surprised to find about a dozen people on the beach and in the sea.

Tuesday

To my surprise there was a little bit more snow overnight, and a little bit more on the ground inthe morning. Today I avoided the park and went straight to Milk and Hustle, our friendly neighbourhood coffee shop for a takeaway flat white. Since we have been living here a number of places have opened selling coffee, but Milk and Hustle are by far the best, and they are really nice people too. Like all good coffee shops, a flat white is the same price here as it is in central London.

On non-rainy days my routine is to get a coffee and walk along the sea front a short way while drinking the coffee, then back up the hill for breakfast and (sadly) work. On rainy days my routine is to stay in bed longer. I often take a photo on my phone and post it to twitter, but this morning I brought the camera for the last of the snow photos for the winter.

The Black Arches

January 30 2021 – Hastings.

The first month of 2021 has come to its natural conclusion, though it seemed like an extension of the last month of 2020, which in itself felt like an extension of November, which felt like…, well you know what I mean. The only real difference between the days of the last three months was how short the day was and whether it was or wasn’t raining. The days have very much blurred into one big long dreary period of not doing much at all.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago Gareth Rees, a local author, tweeted a picture of some small caves on the East Hill in Hastings, so I asked him a question regarding the location of the Black Arches, which are also on East Hill. I had read about the Black Arches in one of his books and have had a couple of attempts at finding them, neither successful. I wrote about one of those attempts here.

Gareth replied with some very good instructions and as the Arches are best found in winter when the scrub on the hillside is well down I decided to attempt to find them today. It was cold and windy with a very fine freezing drizzle, a perfect day for some local exploration.

With eyesight much better than mine the Black Arches can apparently be seen from West Hill, their location near the top of East Hill means they look like a church built into the cliff face. This photo has been taken off the internet and shows the ‘church’ quite clearly, on a sunny day when the council cleared scrub from the hillside, obviously some time ago. They do look very much like church doors.

There are virtually no references regarding the Black Arches on the internet and the single item I found links to a deleted page on a local news website. All there is is a small reference to note that the Black Arches were a deliberate prank, probably created by a local hoaxer, John Coussens’, in the 18th century to fool people into thinking there was a church on the opposing hill. It seems like a lot of work for a prank, maybe he, or someone was robbing those that made the journey over the valley?

I have been intrigued by local mysteries and was hoping today was going to be the day I found the scene of one of them.

Eleanor and I set off late morning under a thick grey sky and into the face of a windblown icy cold drizzle. Eleanor wasn’t joining me on the walk and I left her at the bulk foods shop in St Leonards as I carried on to Hastings, I had a book to collect from one of the local independent book shops and some fresh cod to get for dinner tomorrow. The fish shop is very close to the bottom of the steps up East Hill.

As this was a photo mission I had packed the big camera, which in hindsight was wise as it is weather sealed and while it wasn’t properly raining the air was very wet and I was pretty thoroughly soaked by the time I got home.

East Hill has a few memorial benches, the instructions from Gareth had me look for a path after the final bench, this one is by the side of the steps on the way up (or down) the hill. I was intrigued enough by the ‘9 TOES’ reference to take a photo.

There are hardly any people about, on a non-rainy winter day the Hastings seafront will still be busy, particularly in these Covid times when people are allowed to travel for exercise. I am sure some take the travel to extremes and drive the fifty miles from London down to the coast. On my way up the hill and on the top I didn’t see anybody.

I stopped at the top of the stairs to take a photo over the roofs of the old town and towards the houses that crowd the West Hill slope.

I also took a few photos from the top of East Hill, it looked like there was only one lone person on West Hill as well, I wonder if they had a camera and took a photo of me? I love the look of the old town and came very close to buying a flat there, though suspect it would be quite noisy at night. Unlike my flat which is dead quiet, or it is now that we have moved back into the big bedroom.

As per instructions, just passed the last bench on the hill, there was a small path heading down the cliff edge, so far so good.

I came across the back of a large rock and got quite excited thinking I had found what I was looking for, but no, when I made it around to the front it was just a large rock, with a mystery carving and Wolf in yellow spray paint.

I scrambled down a path through some brambles and dead fern, almost going over once on a slippery patch, tearing my leg through my trousers on a stubborn bit of bramble. Fortunately only raising a tiny scratch when I got home to inspect it. There was nothing there. Turning back I took another path and BOOM, there it was, the Black Arches. Found!

Yes, I know they are not very exciting. Still, it is quite amazing that anyone would go to the effort to carve those three arches into a rock face, then paint the inside black, just to fool the good people of Hastings. I appreciated his effort, less so the efforts of the graffiti folks.

I had a look for detail, trying to find the oldest legible carving, and the best I found was 1847. This face is very much straight into the prevailing wind so I imagine carvings get blunted quite quickly.

I was very happy to have finally found the Black Arches.

I walked back up to the top and then back down the steps towards Hastings, stopping to take a photo over the very quiet fishing beach. Not really a day for tourists.

Walking back through the old town I heard The Only Ones absolutely fabulous ‘Another girl, another planet’ blasting out of this pub, I stopped and listened for a moment, taking a quick photo before carrying on. 

There had been a bunch of photos pasted on this hoarding at the end of George St, but they have all come down apart from one, I had not had a chance to see the rest unfortunately. I should have taken the opportunity when we walked near here last weekend.  

I chose to extend the walk a little and head up and over West Hill again. I really like Croft Rd, one of my favourite streets in Hastings old town. I particularly like these gates and doors in the walls opening on to staircases that head up to the gardens of the houses above. I am guessing they are not regularly used anymore.  From West Hill, I walked back to the sea front and home, to warmth and dry clothes.  It was a small adventure, and very enjoyable.

Raising the ceiling, after removing the old one.

January 10 2021 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

2021 and the new decade started off pretty much as the previous year and decade finished, with Brexit shitness added on for flavouring. The UK has now left the EU and the transition period is over. Bring on the unicorn filled sunlit uplands of ‘sovrinty’ and blue passports. As I write this post the Brexit failures are being masked by the appalling UK Covid statistics; over 1500 dead today alone. The UK (and the USA) is not in a good place right now, and while we have the great news of vaccinations on the horizon, the grim statistics will be with us for a few more weeks yet.

Eleanor had a medical appointment in Walthamstow last week so I used the opportunity of her not being at the flat to get some very messy work done. While she was away she received an email from NZ Immigration, the first communication we have had from them since they acknowledged receipt of our partner visa request. The email was a request for a lot more information regarding our relationship, fortunately it has all been fairly straightforward to collect. We both hope this is an indication that we have a case worker now working on our case. Our fingers remain firmly crossed.

A few months ago a crack appeared in the Victorian lath plaster in the master bedroom,  and it has been getting longer and wider, with an ever increasing sag,  ever since. In December it got to the ‘I now need to be concerned’ stage, so I arranged to get plasterers in to replace the wall/ceiling, before it collapsed by itself.

The bedroom is in the roof space so there is more ceiling than wall.

Even though we are in lockdown 3 (the crappy sequel) in the UK the rules allow for contractors to continue working as long as safe practices are maintained. I had a long conversation with the plastering company and decided to go ahead with the work. There is every chance the rules could change any time, and if the ceiling did collapse, it could be months before I could get someone in, and the room would not be habitable as there is only roof tiles between it and winter weather. It was also a good opportunity to get insulation put in as the bedroom is the coldest room in the house.

A couple of weeks ago we moved our bed and the dresser and set ourselves up in the spare room, it is quite cosy in there and seeing as we are really only in the bedroom at night we have decided to see how it goes and make the room swap permanent, making the master bedroom the spare room and Eleanor’s work space. I moved all the rest of the furniture out over the weekend.

The guys started on Tuesday morning, there was five of them at various stages during the day and they used hammers to break the old plaster down. I was working in the room below and it was a hell of a racket. I cannot believe the amount of dust that covered the house. 

The work went on all day and at the end of it, and with a significant amount of moaning, they carried about two tons of rubbish down the four flights of stairs.

I ate dinner huddled in the lounge surrounded by bedroom furniture and a washing hung all over the place as I attempted to clean up some of the dust. It was bad.

The guys were back Wednesday, less of them than previously and they stuffed a pile of insulation into the wall space before lining with plaster board and then laying plaster over the top. It took all day, but was significantly less noisy.

I was certainly glad when it was all over, and it is looking pretty good.

On Saturday I drove up to Walthamstow to pick up Eleanor and we spent the rest of the weekend cleaning and putting the house back together; setting up the old master bedroom as an office and spare bedroom and keeping our bed in the smaller, cosier room. Everything in hear was covered in dust, each book, CD and picture were taken down and cleaned before being put back.

I think it makes sense this way, it is a big room and though it has the best view in the house it did seem a shame for it just to a bedroom. The plaster is almost dry and I will soon think about what colour to paint it, though will wait for spring when we can have the windows open again and not let the wind and rain in.

I snuck a picture of Eleanor working in the new space.

We will see what happens when spring and summer come around and we miss those mornings with coffee in bed looking out over the sea.