Exhibition Drive

Friday 15 October 2021 – Auckland.

Wednesday 13.

Another week or so has passed and in the main I haven’t done anything that I feel like writing about. However, I feel like writing something and with story writing inspiration at an all time low I’m writing this; as they say it is better to write something than nothing.

Auckland is in lockdown level 3.1, the not as strict sequel to lockdown level 3.0. We can meet people outside, though only one household at a time. There are 55 new cases as I write this (on the day I posted this it has leapt up to 94 (sad face) ) and given the New Zealand government’s desire to keep infections low until vaccinations are much higher, I’m not expecting any respite soon. Conversations have started (mainly in my head) about when we just decide to give up and go back to London. Even the thousands of cases a day, the petrol crisis, the energy crisis, the reduction of food on shelves and more Tory governance seems better than not being able to do anything. I was expecting to be on my way back from a quick visit to Australia as it was my granddaughter’s 5th birthday on Saturday, but sadly, due to Covid-19 I’ve not been able to go. To cap it all off one of my favourite bands played a gig in St Leonards on Saturday night and it made me a little sad to not have been there.

At least under lockdown level 3.1 – the not as strict sequel we can see people, so we caught the bus out to Henderson on Sunday afternoon and had a lovely catch-up with my mum, the first time we have seen her in over seven weeks. So much for coming to Auckland to spend time with family! I also caught up with a friend for a coffee yesterday and am planning (weather depending) on meeting another for a beer in a park tomorrow. Seeing people brings some relief from the feeling of being away from it all.

Friday 15.

Well the good news is I got to have beer (4 cans) in a park with my mate Jeff, and it was very enjoyable. It was the first drink I’ve had with a friend other than my bestie, Eleanor, since we arrived in Auckland 76 days ago, and the first drink I’ve had outside where we are living. I am looking forward to more.

After a failed attempt on Wednesday morning to get to Titirangi and walk Exhibition Drive to take yet more photos of trees I was successful this morning. Admittedly I failed on Wednesday by choice as the rain, while brief, was horizontal. Today was warm and sunny, the complete opposite. Too nice in fact.

It is a two stage journey from the city to Titirangi village with direct buses no longer running outside of rush hour. The train to the nice old Glen Eden station was mostly empty. One advantage of lockdown is pubic transport is almost a joy.

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Titirangi Village has changed since I was last there a couple of years ago, this building didn’t exist then, there was a small and smelly public toilet on this spot. I don’t particularly like it, the new building I mean, public toilets are handy; even smelly ones.

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I still like the old Lopdell House Gallery and the new extension tacked on the side. I was on the board of directors for a small community gallery that had a floor in Lopdell House for a year or so before I went travelling.  I wonder if it’s still there and if it will reopen once ‘normal’ life resumes.

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I bought a coffee and slice and walked the kilometre to the start of Exhibition Drive, eating and drinking my purchases on the way. Exhibition Drive is 3km long and is pretty much dead-flat, it runs along the side of a ridge out towards the Waitakere dams near Laingholm. The road was built to support a pipeline that takes water from the dams to a partially pump-house at the start of the path. I wonder what they’re doing with the building as it was complete when I last walked here.

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There are a few small gated tunnels along the way, and a couple of bits of pipe related machinery too. I have crawled through a couple of these tunnels in the past, before ‘political correctness went mad’ and things were secured. This is a terribly blurry photo, but the best of a bad bunch of blurry tunnel photos!

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I’ve run this path dozens of times over the years when I was less of a slug than I am now. As a closed road it’s a nice place to run and there were a few runners, walkers and cyclists out today. It’s tree lined with some great views to the south and west over the Waitakere Ranges and the Manukau Harbour.

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I took the big camera as the main purpose of this trip was to take photos, though it was a bit too bright for photography and I took less than I hoped and a few of those weren’t that great so won’t see the light of day. I nipped off the path into the bush a couple of times though there aren’t many places where you can as the road was carved out of the hillside. I’m glad I did as this is one of my favourite images from the day.

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At some stage after I left for the UK in December 2011 the Beveridge Track was opened, linking the far end of Exhibition Drive with the Arataki Visitors Centre on top of the ridge on Scenic Drive. I walked most of the way up to Arataki, only turning back when the path levelled out at the top of the climb and the number of other walkers starting getting high enough for me to be uncomfortable taking photos. I like to take photos with no-one around, plus a lot of people were not wearing masks and with a narrow path enclosed by trees this was almost like being inside. I will admit to not wearing mine when there was no-one else around, I’m sick of them.

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When I turned round for the walk back to Titirangi I swapped the wide angle 16-23mm lens for the 70-200mm to get a different perspective. It is my favourite lens, but heavy and not that great up close, so not ideal for use in the bush. In the right hands it does allow for a good photo to be taken though.

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I arrived back in Titirangi 2 ½ hours after leaving, a little tired from the walk, but happy for being in the bush again, even if it was just the fringe. It was nice to be among the trees, especially lots of New Zealand natives, and it is always so much more peaceful walking without cars constantly whizzing past. 

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P.S. I had some writing inspiration and have started a new short story AND completed some research into the novel, this time typing it onto the computer rather than writing into a notebook I seem to have left in London.

Another lockdown day (warning: contains whinging)

Tuesday 14 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.

The weather forecast for today, and for the next three days is pretty dismal, rain intermingled with showers and high wind. It wasn’t raining when I got up so I chose to get out early and hopefully miss the worst of the weather coming later. It is now 6pm and it still hasn’t rained, I got hot and sweaty power walking in a coat for nothing, slightly better than getting soaked I guess.

I try to find myself a walking mission to do each day, one that gets me at least two hours out of the flat exercising, so far so good, and I am losing some excess flab which is a bonus. Yesterday I walked to Vermont St in Ponsonby to look at a house that is available for short term rent. It is more than we would like to pay, but it is available and we (I) have finally accepted the reality of property being ludicrously expensive, especially if we want to live somewhere nice and close to the city. I liked the look of it and I had a good walk as well as picking up groceries on the way back. I didn’t take a camera so there are no pictures from that outing, but it was a good one.

Over lunch Eleanor and I got in touch with the real estate agent who had the Ponsonby property about a second listing she had. This new one is a newish two bedroom apartment just outside the city centre and most important it’s available for a short-term let. After a couple of chats with the agent it was sounding positive so my mission today was to do a walk-by and see if I like the location and the look of the building. In lockdown level 4 we cannot view the inside, which has added to the hassle of finding somewhere to live. I just assume all city apartments are going to be noisy, and rule most out just by their location when they could be amazing.

Eleanor had a video meeting at 10:30 so I was out the door before it kicked off, wrapped as previously mentioned for the pending heavy rain and wind. I took the big camera as I wanted to take a few photos in downtown Auckland while there were so few people about. With heavy rain due and with the city in lockdown it should be almost deserted, just how I like it.

If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know my views on the centre of Auckland City and that I pretty much hate the place, which I find quite depressing as I love the broader city; especially the parks, hills and beaches and even some of the suburbs. I have long thought the centre to be insipid, uninspiring, suffering from a lack of vision and leadership, poor planning and a vast amount of developer greed. My view has not changed after today’s walk. It is verging on criminal what has happened to this city over the past 40 years. Sitting on the edge of a lovely harbour, with a long main street that rises up a valley with a park on either side it should be the crown jewels of New Zealand urban landscape and design. It is just a mess, hideous and soul-less. Yes, I know it is lockdown and the centre is devoid of life but it looks and feels just as shit when it is full (mainly of cars and trucks) every other time I have visited.

The Skyworld Entertainment Centre was opened in 2000, just 21 years ago, as THE centre for entertainment in Auckland, with its giant Imax screen and futuristic layout and lighting and the much loved rocket lift it was modern and innovative and looked amazing. I think it is closed now, leaking and falling apart, too expensive to run. An apt symbol of the decay and thoughtlessness let run riot in the city centre. Mismatched and poorly designed buildings, made on the cheap and barely meeting the extremely low building standards of the time, yet construction continues at pace and the skyline is littered with cranes.

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I walk past the back of the derelict St James Theatre, between it and the library. The library forecourt is a small homeless village, though I am assuming (hoping) the library is still functioning. As I was taking this photo a guy out walking stopped and we talked about the state of development across Auckland, he was as unhappy as I was. I went to the cinema at the St James in the 70s, it was the fancy theatre in a block of three, the other two are long gone now, one just a hole in the ground. At some stage in the last 20 years the St James became a music venue, holding 2000-3000 people at a guess. I went to some fantastic gigs there and it was the best mid-size venue in Auckland. The land was sold for flats, there was a mysterious fire sometime over 10 years ago and the place is being left to rot while developers and authorities argue its future. Auckland really doesn’t need another 34 story residential building over a revitalised cultural centre. Auckland needs more housing absolutely, but this is not the solution. And yes I am bitter about what has happened over 40 years to what was my home town.

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There are few people on the street, and about half seem to be homeless or street drinkers, some unenthusiastically attempting to beg from the very few pedestrians taking exercise or escaping their tiny box-like studio apartment. I didn’t feel unsafe in the slightest, but it was grim and there was an air of unhappiness and resignation. Walking down Queen St was not pleasant, there are a number of deserted shops in the mid section of the street; these do not look like Covid closed places, these look like the premises of someone who has given up and moved their business to someone newer and less dispirited. Queen St should be Auckland’s premier street, this is where we invite tourists into the country, cruise liners dock not far from where the street used to end by the harbour. It used to the place to go when I was young, but no more.

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The bottom end of Queen St is much more upmarket, perhaps this is as far as the cruise liner day trippers want to walk; as far up the street as the Dior and other fancy overseas shops go. Perish the thought that overseas tourists are shown anything from New Zealand, other than some plastic tat, tea-towels and placemats in an overprices souvenir shop. I guess they ‘Buy New Zealand’ on one of the other, less urban day stops.

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I cross over to what used to be lower Queen St, and past the being redeveloped Britomart train station. Across the square is the Downtown Mall, perhaps it has another name now? This is also being redeveloped, and the posh foreign shops are moving here. There is a sign on the hoardings round the building site for Commercial Bay – ‘Auckland’s most exciting fashion, hospitality and business precinct…’

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This completely sums up why Auckland City Centre is in such a terrible state. Rather than fix the problems we have; fix the issues with rent that means businesses cannot afford to be on Queen St; fix the issue that means so many are homeless, begging, sniffing glue and drinking in the city centre and encourage the arts and culture back, we just give greedy developers permissions to build a new centre, slightly away from the last. In 20 years this will happen again and this new ‘precinct’ will be as run down and rubbish as the one it is trying to replace.

I move on to walk past this apartment we are interested, ironically less than a kilometre from here, a place I so obviously dislike. The apartment is on the fringe of the centre, opposite Victoria Park; walking distance to cafes and restaurants, but with none in the immediate vicinity (I think) that will create a lot of night time noise. It is less than a 15 minute walk to Eleanor’s office as well, one of the reasons we chose it. I liked it, being near and having a view of a park will be nicer than having a view into someone else’s living space.

I meandered my way back up town, avoiding getting any further depressed by Queen St. I liked this piece of street art hidden away by the side of a bike-path off Upper Queen St.  One thing that has improved since I have been away has been the increase in safe cycling in the city centre. More needs to be done to remove cars, but cycling looks to be much safe than when I used to occasionally cycle to work.

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The path lead me to a side entrance of Symonds St Cemetery, which has long been a late night goth hangout. I took a couple of pictures as I pass, though the need for a loo stop was building and the public toilets all seem to be closed in lockdown so I was forced to carry on home. I will come back and take some photos here another day.

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Once back at the Air BnB I rang the agent to advise that we liked the look of the flat and was given a number to call for the previous tenant who lived there for a few months while working in Auckland. He advised the flat was pretty quiet with the door to the deck closed and that it did look as nice as the photos suggested, just what I wanted to hear. The flat comes fully furnished and even includes bedding, towels and everything we would need to move in and start living normally. This will save us some hassle and a lot of money.

The upshot of all this is, we now have somewhere to live to the end of Feb, and we move next Saturday, the 25 Sep. There is a clause in the contract that allows us 48 hours from when Auckland goes to Level 3 to view that flat and withdraw at no cost if for whatever reason we don’t like it. I will post some photos once we have settled in.

10 more sleeps here, if I can stand it that long. I dislike the neighbours here so much it almost hurts.

YAY !!

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.

Maungawhau Mt Eden

Monday 06 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.

It’s Thursday, and three days later, as I write this and I’m bored (“I’m the chairman of the bored”, as Iggy once sung). I’m bored and frustrated and sick of lockdown and sick of being in a small flat with occasionally noisy neighbours. I feel like I cannot do anything or go anywhere; though obviously I can walk, but I am a bit bored with that too. Eleanor is working from home and I imagine she is getting bored with me moping around the place while she is trying to focus on work. I don’t envy her putting up with me. The heavy rain and wind yesterday did little to help my trapped feeling, though I did get out for a decent and spirit cleansing walk to the Domain and down into Newmarket this morning. I will write about that in the next couple of days, editing photos and writing these posts gives me something to do.

Back to Monday…

We moved from my sisters to an Air B n B we arranged back in April in Mt Eden on Saturday, so there are new streets to roam. We roamed a little at the weekend, though mainly to buy food and supplies for the flat. We are here for three weeks and I have concerns on the length of time we have left. I/we liked the flat, though it is not great as a work from home base, and the neighbours can be noisy. I am not a fan of noisy. 

As Eleanor settled into her working day I got out of her way and went for a longer roam taking in the cone of Maungawhau / Mt Eden and the posh supermarket on Dominion Road. It was a nice walk and I am really glad I took some water with me (I often forget) as it got quite warm during the two hours I was out.

Since I left New Zealand 10 years ago the use of the Maori word for things, particularly places, has proliferated, with signs all over Auckland in both te reo Maori (te reo = the language) and English. This is a good thing and I will try to use both the Maori and English names where I can. 

At 196 metres Maungawhau is the tallest of the 14 volcanic cones in Tamaki Makarau / Auckland, there are two cones on the hill and it is thought they last erupted around 28,000 years ago. The mountain was heavily used by Maori pre-colonisation and you can clearly see some of the defensive terracing and food storage pits, similar to those found at the Iron Age Loughton Camp in Epping Forest near where we lived in London.

A lot of the mountain was damaged during quarrying and the construction of a reservoir as well as the roads built to service those and take visitors to the top. There is a great 360 degree view of Auckland from the peak.

Maungawhau is a ten minute walk from the flat and I took the big camera with me for the walk. As well as being useful for taking photos, having a few extra kilos in a pack on a walk contributes a little to losing a few extra kilos of body. Something I need to do.

I took a few photos…

The central part of Auckland city, you can just see the building that houses the flat we are in, it is about a centimetre to the left of the base of the yellow crane at the bottom left of the photo.

We have taken a few walks around the area and have decided that we quite like the city fringe and are looking here for somewhere to live more long term. It would allow Eleanor to walk to work, and offers a range of walks as well as loads of cafes and restaurants; assuming they re-open. It is a bit more interesting than a purely residential area, and will be much less manic than the centre.

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The view over the west, where I used to live in Green Bay and over to my beloved Waitakere ranges, along with a vary tasty looking localised shower!

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I took a few photos of trees, as you would expect.

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I walked up to the trig on the peak, there were a few people on the top, most were masked up, which was good to see. The crater is about 50 metres deep and people are not allowed to enter it as it a site sacred to Maori.

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There is now a boardwalk around the crater and I walked round to the far side which has the view towards the city centre. I passed a couple of the ancient Maori food pits on the way. Like the ones at Loughton Camp, these do not look much, just grassed over holes in the ground, but they are an important connection to the history and heritage of Aotearoa / New Zealand.

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Auckland City.

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I took a small side path to a lower area of the hill, which was flat and I am guessing is a roof over the reservoir. There were these entrance hatches into the ground, something that always fascinates me. I am wondering if there is some sort of (not so) secret bunker under here and the authorities just tell everyone it is full of our drinking water so we keep away. I would love to look under one of those hatches, apparently they are monitored. Keeping the secrets.

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I love how this pohutakawa tree is growing sideways, I am guessing it was blown down in a storm and has just carried on the fight for survival.

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I found another side path to wander down that took me to Mt Eden village. I liked the handmade nature of the sign where the path ended and the road began, a change from all the plastic signs stuck all over the place.

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I walked for another hour, a loop down to Dominion Rd where I grabbed a few things for dinner before walking back home. I was a bit frustrated at the supermarket, with its large car park full of cars, yet there was nowhere for a person on foot to sit and rest, even the curbs were too low for comfortable sitting. It is just not good enough for a huge profitable corporate to not provide any facilities for pedestrians, just loads of space for bloody cars. No wonder so few people walk in this city.

Future London past

Sunday 11 July 2021 – London.

Tapping Lido on the shoulder, I raised my fist in the air, signalling to those behind to stop and be silent. We drop to a crouch, eyes searching all around. What instinct made me do this? There is no sound, no unfamiliar noise, nothing to signal apparent and immediate danger. I am the clan tracker and the silence is what worries me; the complete absence of sound. We are in dense undergrowth, deep in a massive forest and not far from a large river, yet there is no bird call. Nothing. I count down 60 seconds in my head. I signal and we rise as one and carefully resume our journey along this narrow, deeply overgrown path, Lido is slashing our way through the tangle of vine and bramble as quietly as possible. Our hunt for food is too critical, we can’t return with nothing.

I hear a bird call, I raise my fist again and we stop, silent once more. The call is repeated, this time it is closely followed by a response. My experienced ears tell me these are not natural and confirm my previous instinct, we are being tracked. The time for slow careful progress is over, those behind me draw bows and, unsheathing my own machete, I move forward to join Lido and we both start to hack our way forward. There’s a ruin ahead, not far I think, if we can make it we will be better able to fight off any challenges with the stone at our backs. We may get to see the day out.

We are way out of our tribal zone of Walthamstow, I pray those following are from Camden where we have occasional and friendly trade, yet fear they are Pimlicans, bitter enemies. Since the great levelling in the 2030s when the Thames flooded and the city reverted to primal swamp and dense jungle, the tribal zones have been at war, fighting for food and drinkable water in this miserable poisonous swamp.

We hear more calling from behind and to one side; they must know we’re heading for the relative safety of the ruin and are trying to get ahead of us. We slash faster, those with bows have them raised with arrows loaded and strings tightened. The top of the collapsed dome of St Paul’s Cathedral appears through the forest, not far. A few more minutes and we will have a fighting chance….

This is future London. Welcome.

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We have been doing quite a bit of packing and tidying over the past couple of days, so after discovering my big camera was actually still working I thought I would take it for a walk around the finance part of the City, then visit one of my favourite hidden spots; the ruins of St Dunstans-in-the-East. Modern architecture of London’s scale doesn’t exist in Auckland, and neither do old and ruined churches.

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Today is the final of Euro 2020, postponed from last year due to the pandemic. The final of this European wide football tournament is here in London, at Wembley Stadium, tonight. England are playing Italy, but it’s a pandemic so surely there won’t be loads of pissed-up England fans in the City at 10:30am, 9 half hours before kick-off?

Wrong. They were already standing on the tables at the pub outside Liverpool St Station flailing their plastic pint glasses in the air. The cry of ‘INGER……LAND’ being spat out of frothy lipped red faces. Mask on, I hurried past.

I crossed the road, away from the station and the building crowd, and dived down one of the many side streets and into the financial district. It’s Sunday, it should be quieter here. Other than the short walk to St Dunstans, I had no plan and just let the flow of the buildings guide me, avoiding people where possible, stopping to take photos where appropriate.  I took a few.

The City has changed in the few short years since I was regularly walking past, a number of the towers that were being built have been completed. I guess it has been easier to block roads or to get permission to make noise over extended hours when they are less people around to raise a complaint.

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I liked these chairs and table, particularly that three were tucked in and one was left out; a lone smoker or bored security guard taking a rest?  There were plenty of them about on this Sunday morning.

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I did a fair bit of looking up on my walk, always intrigued by the compressed view as the towers lean in on each other, distorted by the wide-angle lens.

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I took a lot more photos looking up than I did looking along. Today, ground level was less interesting.

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I was trying to find some good examples of age contrast in the buildings and this was the best I could find that didn’t have people blocking the view. St Olave’s Church tower from 1450, through some post war low rise blocks to the least loved building in London, 20 Fenchurch St; ‘The Walkie Talkie’ completed in 2014, built 564 years after the church. I won’t see this in Auckland and I will miss it. I must try and make use of the architecture that is there though, less moaning, more pro-activiity.

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After wandering randomly through a collection of small streets and narrow alleys, I found my destination –  the ruins of St Dunstans-in-the-East. Its overgrown and moss stained walls the inspiration for that short piece of fiction above.

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I came here in January 2018 (it seems like yesterday) and very much wanted to get back before we leave for New Zealand in 18 days. I was hoping I would have it to myself. That was a rather desperate hope and wasn’t to be, though it was quiet enough for me to take photos without anyone sticking themselves in them.

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Its not a big site, but is fantastic and I love it,  a little oasis of peace, at least at the weekend. It’s a lot more overgrown that it was when I was here in winter; it had the feel I was after and I am reasonably pleased with the photos I managed to get in the short time I was there.

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Leaving St Dunstans, I walked down towards the Thames and upon arriving found a lot of people wandering about, heading towards the various bars for the game. It was a lot busier than I wanted it to be so I moved back up into the quieter streets of the city to take a few more images before heading back to the station. Some final (or almost final, who knows I may get out again!) images before we leave. There is something quite special about the City of London on a Sunday.

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The station was rammed, loads of drunk idiots singing and shouting, a train load arrived from Essex as I was walking through. I hurried off onto a quiet platform away from them, mask firmly on. I want to stay clear of potential Covid spreaders. 18 days of Covidiot avoidance to go. I took a home test a couple of days later just in case. Negative, thankfully.

Apart from the really drunk football ‘fans’, that was fun. I am so pleased my camera isn’t dead (this time). Much as it is heavy and the lenses are scratched and the sensor needs cleaning, I love its bulk and feel, the way it works and the quality of the images I can get.

The day before, Saturday, Eleanor and I went for a walk around Walthamstow, up to a strangely almost deserted Hollow Pond. On the way we discovered Phlegm painting a piece on a wall in St Peters-in-the-Forest churchyard as part of the E17 Art Trail. I was very happy with that, a final Phlegm before we go.

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I also took a photo of this small warehouse converted into a house, just because.

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I am going to write another short story soon, and hopefully the two weeks in isolation will give me the time and space to do it.  Lido and future London will definitely be in it.

 

Not forgotten (nor forgiven)

Thursday 08 July 2021 – London.

Time seems to be disappearing at pace at the moment, but it also seems to be dragging unbelievably slowly, the days seemingly taking longer than the weeks. I am struggling with motivation, especially at work. It is difficult, though in real world terms I am of course lucky to have so little to contend with.

This week saw the UK government announce that, even though it is projected there could be up to/at least 100,000 covid-19 infections a day later in the month, it is time to remove all restrictions and let life return to ‘normal’ on 19 July. This in turn caused the NZ government to announce they may ban all flights from the UK to protect the country. We are due to fly on 29 July so you can imagine how this has made me feel. Fingers crossed that neither of these things come to pass, but infections have now passed 30,000 a day and are growing. We are both double vaccinated so theoretically and statistically we should be fine, but I don’t want a positive test to scupper the trip we have been looking forward to for months, nor do we want to get ill.

Now we are back in London I was planning on going to the office two or three days a week. My workspace here is so much smaller than that in the flat and the office is big and air-conditioned and more comfortable than working from home. I have been in a few times and there are very few people on my floor, but with infections rising and mask wearing getting less prevalent on the Tube I am going to wind that back and only go in when needed. Today was one of those days. I had arranged to meet Steve for an after work photo-walk followed by some food and a couple of pints.

In preparation for this, last night I got my big camera out of the camera bag and after charging the battery discovered it was completely dead. No response at all when I turned it on, bugger, this is not what I want just when I am about to finish work, have no job lined up and am three weeks off from embarking on our 6 month minimum trip back to New Zealand. I tried a bunch of things but just could not get it to go, so charged the battery in the little camera and packed that instead. At least it is light.

I was meeting Steve at Embankment station and I took a few photos on the way. Making the most of the opportunity of working in a fairly old part of London; there is no history this historical in Auckland.

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Neither Steve or I were really feeling the photo-walk idea, we have both done this part of London too many times and work has been sucking the life out of both of us lately, interest was low.  We crossed the Thames and agreed to take a slow walk towards the pub he had booked a table at. It was a bit of aimless amble, the graffiti walls of Leake Street Tunnel was the first stop. I was pleased to see that there are now more bars and cafes opened up in the main tunnel offshoots. I always felt these were wasted opportunities.

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We walked round the side of Waterloo Station and found some classic English 60s tower block action.

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Back to the embankment. I had completely forgotten about the Covid Memorial wall, and it is long and frightening and wonderful and immensely sad. There are thousands and thousands of names and memories to those who have succumbed to this hideous virus. Walking past it, looking at the names and reading the messages very much puts into perspective my complaints about my desk at home being too small.

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If only the bastards in this place on the Thames bank directly opposite showed some real humility and came over here and read these all too human stories, then took stock of what their negligence has done, hung their heads in shame and resigned.

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There were not may photos on or by the wall which made this one so poignant. 18 years old, so sad.

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Crossing the river via Vauxhall Bridge took us past Tate Britain and through the grounds of UAL, a space I really like, it is always peaceful here when I pass through and the buildings are lovely, and just a little faded.

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We arrived exactly on time for our table booking at The Cask, a beer pub in Pimlico we have been to before; though memories of that evening are vague as they have some very strong beer. We didn’t make the same ‘mistake’ this time, eating a very good burger and chips as well as drinking substantially less. They have the best pub toilets I have ever seen and I am actually very jealous of those tiles.

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4 days later…. Using the mystic powers of the internet I have fixed my big camera. This has made me very happy.

The South Woodford Interchange

Sunday 04 July 2021 – Walthamstow.

South Woodford high street smells of KFC. It is a rather unique smell, and totally different to the fried stuff smell that emanates from other chicken shops. Not that there were other chicken shops on South Woodford high street. It may be the next suburb over but South Woodford is not Walthamstow where fried chicken shops seem to breed like rabbits, or maybe chickens. I think both sets of residents would be happy with that difference. They might be neighbours but they are worlds apart.

Perhaps the smell of deep fried dead things only existed for that brief moment I walked up the high street and South Woodford normally just smells of burnt diesel and petrol like every other Range Rover filled suburb on London’s Essex fringe. Who knows? I probably won’t be back there in the next three weeks to find out, nor do I know anyone to ask; we may be neighbours etc.

We moved back to London the Friday before last, to Eleanor’s house in Walthamstow, which is currently occupied by one of her sons and his girlfriend. Yesterday a tenant moved into my flat in St Leonards. While these are eminently practical things as we fly to New Zealand in four weeks and we have a lot of organising of stuff to do, one (or maybe two) more weeks by the sea on our own would have been nice. I am finding it stressful sharing a house and with so much to organise, but we have done a huge amount in the last week and things will ease. I hope.

This weekend I have spent time packing stuff away and throwing stuff out (though not books and records!) and was as organised as I was going to be by lunch time. As we were low on bread and milk I volunteered to go and buy some so I could get out of the house for a bit, stretch my legs, clear my mind and maybe take some photos.

Once out of the house and on the way to nowhere in particular I remembered that I wanted to take some photographs of the overpass where the A406 (the dreaded North Circular) joins the M11 and a road that goes somewhere, though I have no idea where. A minor league spaghetti junction that we pass whenever we drive to and from the flat. It was not too far from one of the many supermarkets I can walk to so it seemed like a worthwhile objective.

I took these two photos on the way.

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The overpasses were not quite where I thought they were, or I wasn’t where I thought I was and I found myself walking under a rail bridge in South Woodford where I found a closed car park. Only very small cars would fit in those spaces.

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Out the other side I walked back over the bridge and from the top I could see beyond the houses to the motorway and where I wanted to go, it wasn’t far off. I had just misjudged how deep the bend in the motorway was.

I found an underpass under the A406 and stopped to take a photo, planning on going through it on my way back; though naturally I went another way back and completely forgot about the underpass until I was almost at the supermarket. Lesson learnt; always do something at the time, never plan to do it on the way back or later. Admittedly, this is a lesson I should have learned a long time ago and still fail miserably to on every occasion.

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Back on track I soon found what I was looking for; this wonder of concrete, steel and tar seal. It is not the biggest or most complex intersection, but it is the one I have, and I need to make use of what is local to me, especially now I no longer have a car to hand. I kinda wish I had the big camera with a couple of lenses rather than the little camera with the 20MM lens. [4 days later I discovered that the big camera is now dead, and now I need to make camera related decision again, something I wasn’t expecting, or wanting to do].

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I like how some attempt had been made to green the place, though only half the trees seem to have survived.

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Access to the other side was blocked by a fenced off construction storage area so I couldn’t easily get to the other end, though I had seen enough and was satisfied. One more mission to be taken off this list.

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I really need to do more urban landscape photography as I quite enjoyed myself.

On the way to the supermarket I stopped on a bridge over the A406 and remembered that I had meant to walk under it.

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A short walk by the Lea.

Friday 11 June 2021 – London.

As I walked the tar-sealed path between the River Lea and the football fields of Hackney Marshes, shaded by oak and ash and poplar and willow, the most English of trees, my mind wandered off to the time I clambered down a rock and boulder strewn path in the Borneo jungle. On my own. The benefit of hindsight suggests it was not the smartest thing I have done, there was real potential for something to go terribly wrong. Obviously my walk this morning from Walthamstow to Stratford was not remotely the same, though it was the first time I have walked this particular path and it was the closest I have been to a walk in the forest for a long time. I am missing even the mildest of adventure.

I came up to London on the train after work yesterday and can’t believe how much hotter than St Leonards London is, it must be two or three degrees warmer, and with no cooling breeze. It was not a pleasant night and I had little sleep.

My second Covid-19 vaccination was this morning, and it was a process that went very smoothly. As I am sure I said after the last one, but well done to the NHS for making this easy and stress free. In three weeks I will be safer than I am now. Not that I feel particularly unsafe, we take care when we go out and will continue to do so, vaccination or not. England is a long way from being Covid free and we don’t want to even think about what would happen if we got sick before we leave for New Zealand.

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There was four hours until the train back home. As I needed to return some trousers I bought from the mall last time I was here I decided to walk to Stratford and get some exercise in. From the pharmacy where I was vaccinated the walk is almost entirely though parkland which made the decision an easy one.

There is a fantastic Roa mural just by the pharmacy on St James Street.

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I pass Walthamstow Wetlands on the way to the marshes (and the overbuilding of flats on Blackhorse Rd on the far side of the wetlands).

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We have walked the Wetlands and the marshes on numerous occasions over the past few years, and I’ve never seen the marshes so overgrown. I think the council is letting the grasses and wild flowers run rampant which I am mostly in favour of; there were a lot of bees and other insects buzzing about today.

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There has been some changes where the path passes under the railway line and a lot of scrub has been cleared, perhaps some of the scrubby trees were interfering with the trains? I am guessing the bike ran out of electricity and has been dumped here, it adds to the edgeland feel of marshes; even though they are not on the edge of anything at all.

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The River Lea splits into two near Lea Bridge Rd, into the natural River Lea and the man-made, Lea Navigation. We normally walk the Navigation, so today I chose to walk the river instead, it was slightly longer and I am guessing less busy than the main tow path. Soon after passing under Lea Bridge Road I came across a Phlegm painting I haven’t seen before, something which very much vindicated the path chosen.

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Crossing a short bridge the path follows the river for a couple of miles, thankfully mostly in the shade as it was warm and sunny and I had not thought to put sun screen on.

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It was a nice walk, quiet, but not deserted. I imagine tomorrow it will be busy, the Lea has become a destination for younger folk to party and dip in the cooling water on a hot day, like tomorrow will be. Polluted or not.

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IMG_0722I like the Lea, it is shallow, but wide, not fast flowing; it looks nice, like a proper small river. The tree lined banks place it anywhere in England, so it was easy to take myself out of the city. Looking at the pictures I took as sit here writing I can almost see myself in a jungle somewhere wild; but maybe not those trees can only be English!

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Past the marshes the path crosses under the A21 before entering (or not in my immediate vicinity) the Olympic Park area; a great legacy of the 2012 games.

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Eventually I found a way into the park near the velodrome, which just happens to be my favourite building in the park.

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The walk through the park to the big shopping mall is really pretty, lots of long grass and wild flowers everywhere, lovely. I really like how wildflowers have become a thing again in the past few years and local authorities are letting them flourish rather than mowing them lawn flat.

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I had intended to look for a shirt and some walking shoes while I was at the shops, but I was too hot and sticky to be trying on clothes, and I am sure the shop staff were appreciative of that decision. Once the trousers were returned (too small) I walked out the other end of the mall and caught the Jubilee Line to Southwark. Too many people.

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With 90 minutes to kill before the train back to St Leonards I decided to drop the pace I had set earlier and take a slow walk towards the station. The streets around the Thames were far busier than last time I was here and there are significantly more tourists. With road-work constricted footpaths it was a bit uncomfortable at times. I ducked into Temple to walk in peace.

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I love the Temple area, I often came here on a Sunday as it is virtually deserted with the office workers at home and there are few bars and cafes inside to attract the casual visitor. There were people about not many, and lots of scaffold which was a shame. Temple is the home of the London legal profession and most (all?) of the offices here are filled with legal chambers, some of them very old. It is a beautiful and under-rated section of old London.

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Back on The Strand I popped into Somerset House, another favourite London spot. Eleanor and I love the Herndandez and Wells cafe here; it made the best egg dishes in London and the coffee was always good. However, its gone and has been replaced by the Watch House, fortunately the coffee was equally as good and the sandwich I had for lunch was very nice. I didn’t notice eggs on the menu though, maybe when we get back?

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Lunch filled enough time that I only needed a gentle stroll to Charing Cross Station to get me there a few minutes before the train departed. I had planned on doing some writing on the train, but the journey was so bouncy I gave up and just enjoyed listening to music and reading a novel. A couple of weeks ago I dug out the Kobo ereader I bought ten years ago for my travels, I haven’t used it for a good five years, possibly more, and was surprised that after a quick charge it still worked as it had before. The genius of simplicity. This book reader does one thing, and it does it very well. For the book nerds I am reading Adam Hall’s 1968 novel ‘The Striker Portfolio’, the third in his very successful Quiller series, and I am enjoying it.

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Eleanor had been in Brighton meeting her son Joe for lunch, so I met her back at the station after I going home for a shower and a brief lie down. We popped into a pub for a glass of wine before grabbing some fish and chips and walking back up the hill to eat in front of the first game of the much delayed Euro 2020 football tournament. I was hoping for Turkey to beat Italy, but it was not too be.

I enjoyed my walk and am very keen to see as much as I can of old London as I can before we go to much newer New Zealand in 7 weeks time.

7 WEEKS!!! Where did the time go?

Walthamstow Forest.

Tuesday 6 April 2021 – Walthamstow.

Life has been getting on top of me in a small way over the past few weeks. It has been busy at work, and, along with organising things for New Zealand, plus day to day living in this semi-lockdown world we are still living in the UK, meant things were piling up in my head. I needed a break. To maximise use of Easter’s four days I took the week after off work, giving me a full 10 day break. By the time I returned to work I was feeling significantly better and I manged to achieve a few of the things that need to be done at home. Going back to work was, for a change, quite easy.

We’ve been spending Easter at Eleanor’s place in Walthamstow. There has been a lot of work done over the weekend with de-cluttering and moving things around to create more storage space. I have a lot more records than when we left for St Leonards 11 months ago, and they aren’t coming to Auckland with us, at least not yet. It was a good start, but there is still a way to go, but at least we now have a better understanding of the amount of storage available to us, and how much stuff we need to get rid of; records and books excluded, of course.

It’s Tuesday and Eleanor is working, so I took the camera for a walk. Primarily to find a new Phlegm piece near the forest, it was good to get back into even a small section of forest for the first time in months.

There are a couple of newish Phlegm pieces just off Beacontree Ave On and near one of the underpasses that takes you from the city to the forest; below the A406, the dreaded North Circular.

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Walthamstow Forest is not spectacular; it is a small section of forest that is connected by other small sections of forest all the way through to Epping Forest. I find it very cool that you can walk, or ride, from Walthamstow all the way to Epping without having to touch the road; except where you have to cross them.  This would give you about a five forest hour walk and the start is only 30 minutes or so from the centre of London (by train and then foot), amazing.  I wasn’t doing anything like that today, just a short walk; though perhaps I will when we move back here before we fly away. I definitely want to spend some time in the forest before we go.

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I didn’t take many photos, conditions for photography weren’t great and it isn’t exactly the most exciting section of the forest either, nor the most interesting time of year. To be truthful I really wasn’t feeling it, I rarely am when my head is full. It was very enjoyable being outside with the camera though, and that in itself was enough to perk spirits.

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I had a quick experiment with Intentional Camera Movement to create a couple of impressionist painter style photos. I have not done this for quite some time, though it was an area of photography I enjoyed playing with in the past. Silver birch trees are particualr favourites of mine for this style of photography.

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I wanted to see if there was anything interesting painted on the walls of the passages that pass under the motorway and the main roads around the ‘Waterworks’ Roundabout. I also needed to be back on the other side of the A406 for the walk home, so looped back this way rather than going back the way I came. It looks like the council have cleaned them up, only one of the underpasses I looked at, or used, was tagged. It was a bit weird walking through a clean underpass. I suspect that won’t last.

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The Black Arches

January 30 2021 – Hastings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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