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.

Street art – Southbank and Leake St

Monday 05 August 2013 – Waterloo.

The weekend just gone saw the Urban Culture Festival at the Southbank Centre, I had other plans so was unable to turn up on the Saturday and Sunday, though I did go for a quick peek on Friday afternoon, though nothing was happening then. Among other activities there was some street art going on so I arranged to meet fellow appreciator Darryl there today.

I got there a bit early and went to have a look at the skate park to see if there was anything happening, but it was dead. I did find a new painting though.

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Darryl and I started off at the Southbank Centre and a big new work by Stik. Part of the programme at the weekend was Stik giving a street art class, so after he had finished his painting a bunch of people coloured in the figures. It was pretty cool !

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There was some tape art by Ben Murphy.

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Around the back of the centre there was work by a few artists, sadly there was a whole load of work going on there when we arrived and it was really hard to get shots on most of the work and impossible for the large Dr Zadok and Spore mural as it was completely fenced off, with a large truck in front to add to the blockage. We did get to full see this 3Dom piece.

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But the mural by Captain Kris, Spzero76 and Si Mitchell was hard to photograph in its entirety with the Spzero76 section marred by a large open door.

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Dan Kitchener.

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Just like in the Dan Kitchener mural it started to rain as we headed over towards the Leake St tunnel by Waterloo station, thankfully it stopped as we got out onto the road side, though it hammered down later on and I was stuck at Southbank for 30 minutes as I waited for it stop enough to run for a bus.

Leake St tunnel was totally different to last time I was there, and the Lost Souls Crew of Captain Kris, Spzero76 and Si Mitchell had been busy there as well.

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Dr Zadok and Spore had a mural at the end of the tunnel.

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And I also liked these pieces by some artists unknown to me, I am assuming handles.

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It was good to catch up with Darryl and see some new work and we arranged to meet up again tomorrow to see a couple of new works up in Shoreditch – before they were gone…

Life is about using the whole box of crayons.

Friday June 21 2013 – London.

To save having to repeat myself I should just refer you, dear reader, back to the opening paragraph of my last week wrap-up post which discusses the complete lack of progress on the job front… Oh well, good things come with time.

On Monday I signed myself up to Twitter, not that I can ever see myself tweeting, there is no way I can say anything in just one hundred and sixty characters! I signed up because it seems to be the best way to find out about things I am interested in, in the most expedient way. Hopefully from now on I will not miss so many good gigs and interesting exhibitions, plus of course football results when the season starts.

On Monday night El and I went to see Siouxsie Sioux and band perform at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Yoko Ono curated Meltdown Festival. I had only heard about the gig quite late so by the time I got tickets we were in the third row from the back. There were so many great acts playing as part of the festival, I would have really liked to have seen Patti Smith and the Stooges – especially supported by Savages, a young English band who I really like.

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What can I say about the gig ? I guess “Wow” sums it up pretty well. The sound and lights were amazing, Siouxsie looked amazing in a skin tight white vinyl body suit and her voice had not changed in thirty years, she sounded fantastic. The band was not the Banshees, but still good.

The bulk of the set was the album Kalaidoscope played from start to finish, with the opener ‘Happy house’ sending shivers up my spine – it sounded that good. It was a surprise as I really expected a greatest hits show, but it is a great album, so no complaints. There were a couple of encores, with a bunch of classics ‘Israel’, ‘Spellbound’ and ‘Arabian nights’ being the highlights. They did of course do the big hit ‘Prudence’, but meh, a Beatles track is never going to be a favourite of mine, though the rest of the crowd loved it ! Siouxsie did a few songs off a solo album I have never heard and none of them really got me going – average rock songs I thought. It was great show – hour and half long, awesome venue and she still has the voice and the moves. Siouxsie was supported by another old punk hero, Viv Albertine from The Slits, who performed some songs from her first album in twenty five years. She was pretty good too.

As the gig was just up the Southbank from my place we walked home. its not bad walk..

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On Tuesday I walked back up to the Southbank again as I noticed some of the graffiti had changed at the skate park and I really liked this new one and thought I should photograph it before it was painted over.

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I walked back home via the streets rather than the river side and found this little Space Invader under one of the arches for the train tracks to Blackfriars station.

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I also found a wonderful photography exhibition from members of the Arena group at the Menier Gallery in Southwark. I was there for a good hour, which is pretty remarkable for me in a gallery. There was a good range of styles on display from a number of very good photographers. I loved it and would have liked to have shared it with El but it finished later in the week sadly.

In the evening I went over to Dartford to visit my uncle and to pick up my tri-pod -I must do some night photography sometime soon, no excuses now!

On Wednesday I had arranged to meet a friend for lunch in Shephards Bush so took the train over to Westbourne Grove and had walked over to SheBu and looked for some of the small patches of street art in the area – it is the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea so I was not expecting too much. There is an old Banksy at the far end of Portobello Rd though.

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I caught up with my cousin for a beer in Soho in the late afternoon which was great, I have been very slack with catching up with family and for that I do apologise !!

I have been thinking about getting a pushbike for a while now and on Friday I decided to start having a serious look around, I found a couple of bike shops on the internet that were reasonably local and went for a walk to see if I could find something. Sadly one place no longer existed and the second did not have anything I wanted – basically a single speed with raised mountain bike style bars. I am not in a particular rush but it would mean I could roam a bit further without having to use public transport – plus I want to be able to ride to work if I can, when I get the elusive job!

I found out on Twitter (only time it has been useful so far! ) that it was world skate day today so I waited to late in the afternoon and then grabbed my big camera and zoom lens for a change and went out to have a look see. There were a lot of skaters there and a couple of them were pretty good. I watched from the wings for a while, snapped a few photos and then started the walk back home.

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It was great to be out with the big camera and long lens and I took quite few other photos around and from South bank. It was all good fun.

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The skyline of London is slowly changing, especially over the ‘city’. The tall building in the middle is known as the cheese grater. It is designed like this so that it does not sit in the sightline of St Pauls – the council allows that no building should spoil some designated clear sights of St Pauls, which I think is pretty cool, especially when I get shots like the one below.

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Outside the Tate Modern some buskers were bubble blowing massive bubbles to the delight of a lot of children – and one or two adults as well.

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Further along the Thames at Bankside I found these young buskers playing cellos which sounded amazing in the tunnel of the arches.

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It was a pretty good week, I didn’t achieve much on the work front but I saw some good stuff, heard some great music and spent some time with some great people!

Southbank Skate park

On Monday I finally did something I never thought I would do and signed up to Twitter. It seems a lot of activities that I am interested in like gigs and exhibitions are now promoted on Twitter first. Today I saw a tweet about go skateboarding day being held today and thought I should head back along to Southbank to see what was happening.

For a change I took the big camera with the big lens as I hardly ever use it and it seemed like the best option for shooting skaters. The skate park at Southbank is covered and a little dim for flash free photography, so a reasonably tough shoot. There were a couple of quite good skaters there, along with a couple of photographers and some guys shooting video so I kind of stayed out of the way.

As I mentioned on this post there is a proposal to move the skate park and re-use the location for retail outlets and frankly this sucks….

More here http://www.longlivesouthbank.com/

Here is what I got.

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Long live Southbank!

Monday 17 June 2013 – London

Even when I wasn’t living nearby I walked Southbank fairly often, nowadays it is my main walking route when ever I go across the Thames and into London City or the West End. One of the places I always stop to look at is the skate park in the under croft of the SouthBank Centre. The skate park has been here for over forty years and has often been described as the heart of skateboarding in London.

I am no skater, but I like the are as it is a small anarchic section of the otherwise clean and tidy tourist dominated Southbank, plus of course I like the fact that the graffiti changes all the time and that skaters of all ages and races use the park at the weekends – though it was very quiet on a weekday morning…

The owners of the Southbank Centre recently announced plans to redevelop the area into a retail park as part of a larger upgrade to the centre. The skaters would be moved on to a new purpose built area further up the river.  The last thing the Southbank needs is less fun and more coffee shops….

I dispair when “progress” means destroying a cultural icon for the sake of more retail outlets.

More here http://www.longlivesouthbank.com/

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I love it when I find some Phlegm!

Sunday 02 June 2013

It was another gorgeous English summer day so after breakfast we decided to walk along the Southbank, cross the Thames and visit Temple. Temple is an old part of London on the north bank of the Thames, and is one of the legal centres for the city. It is always busy during the day so I was keen to visit at the weekend and have a look around.

At the weekend, especially in summer, the Southbank is very busy, the council provide a lot of activities during the summer period – entertainers, art and a small beach full of sand to relax and play on. So, pretty much a time to avoid it really! But mornings are never too hectic and even at 10:00 there were not a lot of people around as we walked down from London Bridge. Blackfriars Bridge.

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While I was running on Thursday I had spotted a new work by Belgian artist ROA on the wall of the Southbank Centre. I was really pleased to see this as the building is notoriously ugly and is screaming for something to be painted on it, and this year seems to be the year ! This year they are celebrating “Neighbourhood” on the Southbank so there are gardens set up and a bit of art has made an appearance, the first thing we saw was this mural which looks very new.

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Just around the corner was this more alive installation of wheelbarrows filled with vegetable and herbs, very cool.

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I found the ROA piece high up on a wall.

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And WAHOO – just below it was a new piece by my favourite artist Phlegm! Very unexpected and very exciting too.

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Round the corner we found a pop-up cafe and museum with a Beano theme. I used to love the Beano comic when I was child and had to have a photo as Denis the Menace.

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We crossed over the Thames and found ourselves outside Somerset House, which had an exhibition on by the late New York fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. The exhibition space in the East Wing of Somerset House is really good and a great place to see photography. Blumenfeld shot a lot of images for Vogue, Harpers, etc in the 40s and 50s and was quite innovative in his day.

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To our dismay we found that the gardens and area around Temple is closed at the weekend, which was a real shame as it was the main objective for the day. We sort of wandered aimlessly for a while, up past St Clements church – the official church of the RAF.

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We decided to walk right through the city to the East End and have lunch in Spitalfields, we passed Fleet St along the way. Fleet St was the traditional home of UK newspapers for centuries before technology and computerisation caught up with it and the old printing presses were shut down and new printing sites were set up further east in Wapping. It was a hugely contentious time, with a number of violent demonstrations.

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We had a nice lunch in a Vietnamese place in Spitalfields and then carried on wandering around for a little bit longer, my feet were starting to ache after a couple of three or four hour days of walking in flat soled shoes. This guy was beatboxing in Brick Lane and was phenomenal, not usually my cup of tea, but there are exceptions to most rules and he was definitely one of those.

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I was trying to not look for street art, but when you are up in the east end, it just kind of jumps out at you ! I really liked this new work by Chinese artist Dal-East.

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And this older piece by Broken Fingaz that I have not seen before, both in Pedley St, just off Brick Lane.

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We concluded our walk by strolling back to Liverpool St where El got a train back to Walthamstow and I got a bus back to London Bridge. It was a really good weekend, finished with home-made pizza while watching a pretty dreadful England draw with Brazil in a football friendly. I still love the view from my balcony 🙂

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