St Magnus House

Saturday 07 January 2023 – London.

London, London, London. I do love you so. Sometimes I question that love as it’s very one-sided, and, though today wasn’t the best outing, it also wasn’t a day to be questioning how I feel about this magnificent, crowded, dirty, occasionally smelly and deeply frustrating city I have chosen to (mostly) live in. I wonder if you can have a truly bad day here; other than something untoward happening, which I guess is always a possibility, however unlikely it seems. Of course, if I lived in Paris, Rome, New York or Berlin or any other major city I’m sure I’d feel the same way there as well. Much as I love the wilderness. if I’m honest with myself cities are my real habitat. I should just embrace that more. You can be alone in a crowded place if you want to be, and today I was after a little solitude.

It’s cloudy and grey and cold and windy and rain is threatened, there’s also a train strike affecting all the mainline services into London, though thankfully not the tube. It sounded like a perfect day for a random street walk photo mission into a Saturday deserted city. I had a loose plan, walk about a bit and then take some photos of St Magnus House on Lower Thames St then cross London Bridge and take some photos of Colechurch House on the direct opposite side of the River Thames. Both brutalist buildings. The owners of Colechurch House appear to have big plans for a renovation which I suspect will lead to the destruction of what is already there so it would be nice to capture a little bit of its brutal loveliness.

I have been wanting to take photos of Colechurch House for a couple of years. It is directly opposite the always busy London Bridge Station which is where I leave the train when I go to St Leonards and it’s always busy with far too many people hanging and basically getting in the way of my image taking. I was hoping that with a train strike today it would be quiet. I was going to be disappointed.

Popping out from the tube into the ‘London fresh’ air at Liverpool St Station I was pleased to see it was pretty quiet on the streets with only a handful of people on the ever crowded footpath. I usually come to this part of the city on a Sunday morning; this is the business area so there is little need for anyone to be on the streets, the shops are closed and other than a few stumbling zombies heading home from the Shoreditch clubs the whole area is quiet. I crossed the road and went straight into the back streets and the private Devonshire Square.

I took a couple of photos here, nothing worth sharing and carried on walking through, with no real plan other than ending up by the Thames near London Bridge. I was happy to be aimless and let my camera lead me around.

On the far side of Devonshire Square to Liverpool St is the Middlesex Street Estate, built between 1965 and 1970, with the 23 story Petticoat Tower as the centrepiece, it is named after the much older and world famous Petticoat Lane Market which crowds Middlesex Street during the week then explodes into many of the nearby streets every Sunday. The estate was an unexpected brutalist bonus.

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The walk took an unplanned turn for the negative once I left the estate and discovered to my horror there were loads of people about, not thousands but enough to put me off, there didn’t seem to be any reason for the volume of strollers, maybe everyone else thought that a random stroll around London on a train-strike day was a good idea?

I crossed Whitechapel and plunged into the back streets, usually the best bit of any city. I have no idea of the names of the streets I actually walked down as I looped back and forth towards the river. I took a turning here and popped through an alley there though found very little that piqued my photographic interest.

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I ended up much nearer Tower Bridge than expected and walked down the riverside towards London Bridge, capturing this reflection of The Shard on the way.

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St Magnus House, it appears, was built in 1984 though has the look of classic late 60s brutalism, though missing some of the flourishes. It’s a tough building to photograph as it rubs up closely with its neighbours.

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There is a dance school in the building and a number of young dancers were eating lunch and practising on the balcony between the building and the river, prowling around taking photos felt a somewhat inappropriate so I took a couple of images from other sides of the building and then left, hoping for better luck on the other side of the Thames.

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For a strike impacted city and train station there were loads of people milling on the streets outside Colechurch House. The roof bar was unexpectedly open, it’s late morning,  and there were two bouncers minding the door on the walkway outside; a graffitied  area I wanted to take photos of. I left without getting the camera out of my bag, crossed back over the river and walked up to Chancery Lane where I caught the tube home.

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it was great getting out for the first time in a while and I really enjoyed the walk, but was ultimately disappointed that I didn’t get to take many photos; however, as I said at the start it’s hard to have a really bad day walking in London.

Hollow Pond in the snow.

Monday 12 December 2022 – Leytonstone.

The temperature has taken a turn for the cooler in the past couple of days, though I was still surprised last night when Eleanor called out from the kitchen to tell me it was snowing. I jumped out of a slump on the couch and stood watching a decent fall out the window for a few minutes. I love fresh snow fall and was a little disappointed that it was coming down in the dark of a late December Sunday afternoon, never the best time to be going out to take photos. I was even more surprised, pleasantly so, to see the snow was still coming down when we went to bed a few hours later and there was already a good layer on the ground. I got the camera and some clothes ready for the morning; just in case.

Which as it turned out was very wise. I was awake early (as usual) and a quick peer out the window showed the snow had stopped falling but there was a good solid four inches on the ground in the garden. The most I’ve seen since coming to the UK ten years ago. I had to be patient as it was still dark and there wasn’t sufficient light and it’s Monday so I’m going to be a little late for work; oh well.

I waited till there was enough light to take photos and headed out the door, given how much snow there was on the ground it was surprisingly warm. Or rather it wasn’t that cold and by the time I got home I had my beanie off and my jacket mostly undone, the gloves didn’t even make it on to my hands.

I took a photo of the front of the house before I left.

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I’m not writing much these days, nor am I doing much photography, or much of anything else either if I’m brutally honest with myself. Due to this lack of writing I have failed to mention that we have moved house. Eleanor sold her house of 26 years in Walthamstow and has bought slightly further east, in nearby Leytonstone. We moved in early November. The ‘new’ house is 150 years old, doesn’t appear to have any 90 degree angles inside it and is very charming and we are quite happy now we have fully moved in and unboxed our stuff. Though I must confess to not yet putting my records into any sort of order; and I hope they all made it to the new house.

The walk from the new house to Hollow Pond is about 10 minutes, significantly less than the old house. Once I get back on my bike, which I promise I will do in the new year, I can easily ride from Hollow Pond to Epping Forest, though there will be a few shorter rides to be made to get my legs and lungs back into shape. Unsurprisingly the streets were quiet for a Monday morning, it was slippery. Suburban London looks lovely on the first morning following a night of snow.

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I was surprised to find there was hardly anyone at Hollow Pond, I expected it to be busy with people experiencing the snow or like me and taking photos, I guess many have to go to work and perhaps schools were open, I don’t know. Maybe folk just don’t like the snow as much as I do. I like it on day one anyway, London snow on day two and onwards is more a grey icy slush than a pristine cold white blanket.

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I took a few photos as I gingerly walked around the outside of the lake; it is beautiful.

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I’ve tried to take photos of this tree on numerous occasions in the past, it’s my favourite dead tree, though I’ve rarely been successful enough with the images to share them here. I liked both of the ones I took today.

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This is a Monday, a work day, and while I was happy to be a little late to the ‘office’, I didn’t want to linger too long, though I could easily have wandered for much longer and tried to get a few more photos in the trees. I did take a lot of photos though and was very happy with my work and with getting out of the house.

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I’m hoping for more snow as the winter progresses, though I guess I ‘m happy there was at least one good fall that I managed to experience.

A brief moment of solitude.

Saturday 26 November 2022 – Epping Forest.

There was a moment this morning when I had no idea where I was; I mean I knew within a few hundred metres where I was, I was in Epping Forest somewhere roughly around Loughton Camp. What I didn’t know was where I was in that bit of forest, or to be perfectly honest, where Loughton Camp was. This bit of forest has changed since I was last here and I was discomforted by this, normally I know exactly where I am and which direction is home. What was worse was I knew I should walk towards the sun, it had been behind me on the way in, but it felt wrong, and it was an effort to ignore the wrongness and keep walking into the low-cloud covered sun. I ended up back at the broken chair I’d photographed 30 minutes before. I never did find Loughton Camp. Next time I will take the path straight to it.

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It’s been so long since I was last in Epping Forest proper that I had to do a blog search to find the date; 23 May 2020, over two and half years ago. This would have been inconceivable a few years back when I was going there almost weekly. Admittedly I’ve walked in the forest fringe, in Walthamstow Forest and Wanstead Park since returning from New Zealand in February, but today was the first venture into the main forest. Once back under the tree canopy I realised how much I had missed it. One of the prices I pay for trying to live in two different places.

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This trip was made specifically to take photos so took a couple of lenses and the tripod, which for a change I made extensive use of. I chose Loughton Camp as the first section of the forest to visit after my absence as it is reasonably easy to get to from the new house in Leytonstone; Loughton Station is only two stops up the Central Line from home, and it’s a only ten minute walk to the forest from the station.

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I took a lot of photos in what was really only a sort visit; a couple of hours spent wandering and snapping. It was extremely enjoyable, for a change I hit autumn just about dead on.

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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!

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.

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.