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 The tower was planned to replace outdated social accommodation, and designed as a follow up to Goldfinger’s earlier Balfron Tower in East London (a photo walk for another day).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!

London Brutal Day Out

Saturday 23 April 2022 – London.

I’ve been looking forward to this ‘Brutal Day Out’ walk since it was muted a couple of weeks back. Someone I follow on Instagram was keen to organise a Southbank brutalist architecture photo walk if there was sufficient interest, which there was, from about 20 people, though only nine turned up on the day; which I guess wasn’t at all bad. It was a great group, everyone got on, there was a load of chat and quite a few photos were taken; I mean I alone took 126, which is a huge number for me. I very much enjoyed myself, and though I mostly prefer photography as a solo activity, going out with a group of like minded individuals for a change was a heck of a lot of fun.

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As the meet-up point was outside Blackfriars Station I caught the tube to St Paul’s and walked the few hundred yards from there, sneaking a bit of practise in on the way. This is a very cliché shot of the cathedral, but it’s also a great angle and a photo had to be taken. I guess it’s why it’s a bit of a cliché shot.

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I lugged the big camera bag around with me today, and used all three of the lenses I packed, but mostly I used the 50mm. I’ll travel lighter if there is another walk, which I think there will be. I will also go back to the National Theatre and take some more photos inside, and try and get there when there are less theatre audience members milling. Apparently taking photos inside can be tricky as security are known to stop people, though I was pretty lucky today it seems.

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The walk started at Baynard House at Blackfriars, a place I haven’t previously visited. I think it’s mostly empty now, but it used to be occupied by BT. The building was completed in 1979 and BT have occupied it ever since. It was an interesting place to walk around, and I took quite a few photos, we were here a lot longer than expected due to the group’s interest. I liked it, partly because there was no-one else about and I knew our next stop on the South Bank would be busy. Herding photographers is like herding cats and our organisers spent a bit of time trying to get us to move along. We all like to get the ‘special’ shot, preferably with no other photographer in it.

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I particularly liked the steps out the front of the building.

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The ‘Seven Ages of Man’ by sculpture Richard Kindersley is a seven metre tall aluminium totem pole, and weirdly I cannot work out when it was either made or erected here. It is definitely strange, and rather creepy. I liked it a lot, though only took photos of the bottom of the seven heads and the text inscription.

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The underpass that links the two halves of the building had a well polished metal mirror that was screaming for a photo.

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We crossed the Thames on Blackfriars Bridge and took a few photos around the River Court apartment building, of which I can find very little about on the internet. I know the building was here on the South Bank in 1986 as I occasionally visited it when I was a courier in this part of London. The other side of the building overlooks the Thames and the view from the flats must be spectacular.

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I have taken photos of the IBM Building, The National Theatre, The Hayward Gallery and Festival Hall quite a few times before, along with the Barbican Centre they are the most well known examples of brutalist architecture in London.

The IBM Building and its neighbour the National Theatre were both designed by the architect Denys Lasdun in the early 1980s. I love the National Theatre building, less so the IBM Building, though am warming to it; it is definitely on the uglier side of ‘brutal’ architecture. I love the stairs on the side next to the about to be/maybe/possibly not demolished ITV tower, I can’t believe I haven’t walked down this side before. They look like the prow of a giant concrete ship.

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I’ve never tried to take photos inside the National Theatre (NT) before, and was surprised I was allowed to take so many as I’ve heard tell that security clamp down on it. They did know I was there as I told them I was taking photos when they searched my bag, maybe they thought I was official? I arrived just as a show was being called so there were a lot of people milling about for a while which hindered progress. I was under a bit of time pressure to meet up with the rest of the group, so didn’t stay as long as I should’ve. I enjoyed it in there, it’s great inside; all harsh lines and clean concrete with interesting light lines. I will go back one day soon.

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We stopped for a lunch break on the steps at the side of the Hayward Gallery, us and 10,000 other people it seemed. Most of whom were being fed from the food market behind Festival Hall, including me; very nice samosas.  A part of me wished I’d stayed inside the NT and taken a few more photos, but I was hungry and it was good to eat and chat. It took a couple of photos around the Gallery, though it was my least inspired location, maybe the lunch break broke the roll I thought I was on.

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After the Hayward we milled about the Festival Hall area for a bit, including a return to the roof garden for the first time in a few years. The scene of an almost fight a few years back with some very drunk poshos. We all got told to leave by security.

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The group agreed it would be an absolute waste if we didn’t walk to Tate Modern and take photos of the magnificent curved staircase in the Blavatnik building. I have taken (everyone has taken) photos of this staircase before, but it is a modern work of art, and it’s verging on mandatory to take a photo of them if you’re in the vicinity of Tate Modern.

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And that was it. A few hours out with likeminded strangers, taking photos of huge lumps of concrete was a lot of fun and I hope there is another walk soon.

A two hour walk to the supermarket

Thursday 09 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.

If you read the previous post then you will know how I was feeling this morning when I wrote it, not overly positive. However, the weather is reasonable; there is some sun forecast, so I chose to beat some of the blues and get out for a decent walk and pick up some bits to cook for dinner. Walking was a good idea and I felt much lighter by the time I returned. I had a route in mind that passed the only known piece of brutalist architecture in Auckland, the University of Auckland Medical School, so I packed the big camera just in case.

We are currently looking for somewhere to live for a few months after we leave the ‘modern loft style apartment’ in a couple of weeks. I find looking for accommodation stressful enough as it is, but it is a lot harder in lockdown as we cannot go and see anything.

We found a flat we both liked, which is not a simple thing, and registered with the rental agency. It is in a new build block in Grafton, far enough from the city to be away from the noise, yet close enough to be able to walk to work. It has two bedrooms and we would both have a space we could occupy during the day where I wouldn’t get in the way of Eleanor working, assuming work from home continues to be a thing.

I took a walk by the building again this morning and still liked the look of it. Which turned out to be a bad idea as we were advised late Friday that we didn’t get it as someone was willing to rent it for a year; something we are going to be up against a lot I suspect. Oh well, back to the drawing board at the weekend.

The flat was on the way to the Med School building, the first destination for today, and it turned out to be a major disappointment. It was definitely brutalist, or had been before some sort of modernisation took place. The external fabric of the old part of the building is that classic brutalist concrete, though it doesn’t have many of the harsh angles and features you see on London’s Southbank or Barbican, or maybe they are now covered by the new cladding and extensions? There was some great pipe work though. Along with loads of pre-cast concrete, having some of the usual interior bits as part of the exterior is a classic component of brutalist architecture.

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It was still nice being able to walk around and not have loads of people getting in the way of photos; one of the only benefits of lockdown I guess. It is a shame the building has been extended and re-clad in places, hiding some of its true and brutal nature. I knew I was going to be disappointed by the architecture of Auckland city, and so far I have not been disappointed in my disappointment. To be fair we didn’t return to Auckland for its buildings though.

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It was really nice to find some silver birches at the back of the building, they are lovely trees, though they are considered weeds by many in the UK as they grow so prolifically. Hopefully they will remain scarce and environmentally controlled in New Zealand.

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My onward trip to the supermarket took me through Auckland Domain and past Auckland Museum. The domain is a large park with small formal gardens and the lovely glass winter gardens; reminiscent of the Victorian buildings in London’s Kew Gardens. Alongside the formality of ‘proper’ gardens there are rugby and football fields, which double as summer cricket pitches. It is Auckland’s oldest park and a wonderful inner city green space.

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One of the choices we need to make is where to live, and one of the key components of that decision making is green space and places to walk. Auckland is blessed with lots of green space in and close to the city centre, as well as a harbour within an easy walk from downtown. This makes choosing to live near the city a lot more logical, and also means we can get away without needing a car for a longer period. All we need to do is find the somewhere that will have us on a short term, and one we can afford.

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The supermarket in Newmarket is inside a shopping mall, and it was a strange experience walking though a mall when all the shops, apart from the supermarkets, are closed and there are so few people around. A part of me wishes going to the supermarket was always this pleasant.

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The streets were very quiet as well, also very much to my liking.

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The walk perked me up a bit, a good two hours of strolling and taking photos was good for my soul and I am pleased that I did it today, and pretty much every other day too.

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.