25 December 2012

The 12 Days of Christmas

By the 6th January there will be a lot of birds flapping about, making a lot of bird poo when they are scared by the noisy pipes and drums.
The Lords, the dancing ladies and the milkmaids will be slipping over in the stuff as they try to get to the fruit and the jewellery.
It won't be a pretty sight.
Top: Highgate, Waterloo, Highbury+Islington, Charterhouse
Middle: Hoxton, Camden, Pimlico, Stroud Green
Bottom: Victoria, Clerkenwell, Wapping, Notting Hill

20 December 2012

Pipes and books and interesting things

Whilst doing a stall at Old Spitalfields Market a couple of months back a man stopped to chat about my wares and we stood for ages chatting about all things Thames foreshore-y and mudlark-y.
Turns out that John is one of the 50 or so people with an official licence to use a metal detector and do more than pick at the surface (like me). He has found all sorts of interesting things over the years. In addition to this he also provides a service helping people find their lost property for just the price of the reward offered, i.e. no result, no fee. See here for more info.
John also makes and sells an interesting and useful product – he hollows out books to create secret compartments for hiding keys, money, jewellery and the like. Aptly named Hollow Books.
John and I will both be trading at Spitalfields on Saturday 22nd. More info here.

Below are some Thames foreshore images by yours truly:

18 December 2012

Spare a thought for the reindeer

They are in training at the moment for the busiest day of their year.
Some come out to do a few extra jobs pre-Christmas, but most just take it easy and rely on the modelling and promo they do at other times of the year.
See here:
Top: Wimbledon, Crouch End, Regent St, Chelsea
Middle: Chelsea, Holloway, East Finchley, Lambeth
Bottom: Kings Cross, More London, Covent Garden, Hampstead

12 December 2012

More London Christmas Market

Another bit of blatant self promo here, but hey!
We Make London's Christmas Market takes place over 4 days this week – from Thursday 13th until Sunday 16th inclusive, 11am–5.30pm/4pm Sunday (why an early finish on Sunday?).
Situated at More London, on the South Bank between London Bridge and Tower bridge (outside Boris' offices and The Scoop), there will be 36 stalls selling unique handmade products, plus food, drink, music and entertainment to keep us all warm.
Here are some off some of my photos of the immediate area.

7 December 2012

The Belsizes

Located in a triangle bordered by Chalk Farm, Hampstead and Swiss Cottage tube stations is the area known as Belsize Park and, seeing as I am going there on Sunday, I thought it was due a mention here.
Checking through my photographic archive I noticed I haven't made that many forays into this area, though I have walked up and down Rosslyn Hill and Haverstock Hill many times and admired the robot-faced air raid shelter entrance, John Cooper's wonderful cubist (restored) 1935 floor mosaic at the Wharrie Cabmen's Shelter, a weathered milestone (4 miles to what?) and many old pubs hinting at the road's even older history. I have a few pics of some of the old shops in Englands Lane, but none of the charming village area along Belsize Lane. I really must get out more!
The word 'belsize' comes from the french 'bel assis' meaning well-situated – the area being perfect for direct access into central London. There are 12 roads in the area bearing this name including a grove, a terrace, a mews and an avenue. And of course, there's Belsize Park tube station too.
Ooh... I just found some excellent info about the area. Here's a link to it so that I can stop typing!

5 December 2012

car2go launches in London

After successful outings in mainland Europe and the US, London has just become the 17th city to be served by car2go.
Yesterday I went along to Boxpark next to Shoreditch station to the launch of this brilliant carsharing service. They call it 'the future of urban mobility' and I agree; I think it's brilliant.
It's a much simpler system than other carsharing schemes available at the moment – with car2go you register as a user (see below) and to get your card which will then activate any available car you see on the street or locate using the smartphone app. You can then drive the car around as necessary and just leave it parked anywhere legal within a car2go zone/borough. There are only three boroughs in London at the moment but I am sure that very quickly these little blue and white cars will be as common as the Boris bikes.
The environmentally friendly hybrid cars save on costs by switching themselves off when the car is at a standstill at traffic lights etc, and are therefore economical to hire. Prices start from 35p a minute up to £59 for a whole day and this includes fuel, insurance, tax, parking and the Congestion Zone charge.
I can see lots of opportunities for my own personal use, such as when I get off the Gatwick Express late at night after the tubes have finished and a black cab home to Holloway costs almost £30. How nice it would be to just sling my bag in the back of one of these little darlings and drive myself home for less than half the price!
Special offer: the registration fee is free if you sign up before the year end and this includes 30 minutes of free driving. Just turn up in person at one of the shops with your driving licence...  
See the website for even more information.
A selection of images; some are mine, and some were supplied on a cute little promo USB stick along with an even tinier toy Smartcar in a box. Nice touch.

28 November 2012

We Make London Christmas Fair at Battersea Arts Centre this Saturday

BAC, Lavender Hill, Battersea, is the venue for the next We Make London's Christmas Fair.
On Saturday 1st December this lovely building will be full to bursting with diverse talent and unusual gifts – the perfect place for south London fans of the unique and individual to purchase directly from the designer-makers themselves. So much better than ordering mass-produced items on line, don't you think? Find me in the Dressing Room.
WML's book, Inspired:London, featuring 162 talented people will be available to buy on the day... another crafty idea for a Christmas present.
Please see The We Make London site for more info.
The Battersea area, still has a lot old architectural details; ghost signs, pub signs weather vanes and stink pipes. Some are shown below. I have missed out the obvious Battersea feature becasue I have written about it before. See more of my Battersea pics on Flickr.

20 November 2012

Keeping it local

This weekend the lights go on in Holloway.
On Sunday 25th November The Nag's Head Christmas Extravaganza one day event will see the northbound section of the Holloway Road between Camden Road and Seven Sisters Road closed to traffic and taken over by rides, stall, reindeer, music, dancing, mulled wine and other festive stuff. Just like last year.
I will be there selling my pipes again, so do come and say hello.

On the subject of the Holloway Road, I recently got a copy of the Born and Bred book which showcases some of the people who live and work along this section of the A1.
Goula from Michael's, my favourite local fruiterer and greengrocer, is featured. I have been patronising her family's wonderful shop for over 23 years and it never disappoints. The goods are always excellent quality as the family source the best seasonal produce, as well as top quality named brand pastas, sauces and coffees which they manage to sell cheaper than at the nearby Morrissons and Waitrose. They also have lovely artisan breads, fresh herbs, cheeses, nuts and tinned foods. And everything is beautifully displayed on lovely wooden shelves with hand-written signs.
Whilst chatting in the shop to Goula's daughter the other weekend, and complimenting her on all of the above, I was amazed how few people came in during that period. It appears people the general public is more attracted to bogofs* and £1 bowls of limp carrots. These idiots don't know what they are missing out on.
So I urge you – support your local shops!!! 
You will miss them when they are gone and we end up with streets where everything looks and tastes the same.
Michael's don't have a website but I found a favourable review of the shop here
*buy one get one free
Fruit and veg pics from all over London:
Top: Balls Pond Road, Vauxhall, Hackney
Middle: Belgravia, Mayfair, Highgate, Hackney 
Bottom: Bankside, Acton, Crouch End, Barbican

16 November 2012

Tim Key – Masterslut

Last night I went to see Tim Key at The Arts Theatre.
Funny, clever, poetic, weird, wet, rude, aggressive, coy, clean.
Go see him for yourself.
Top: Caledonian Road, City, Covent Garden, Smithfield
Middle: Finsbury Park, Fleet Street, Spitalfields, Hornsey Road
Bottom: Bloomsbury, Gloucester Road, Greenwich, West London (I can't remember right now!)

15 November 2012

Puerile fun

My sister recently posted on Facebook that she was going to give up innuendo for a week.
It's only made me worse... I seem to be noticing more double-entendres than usual. So I had a bright idea and put together this collection of images. Oo-er missus. Titter ye not.
Weather vanes, shadows, pub, shop and information signs, plus a street on Trafalgar Square.

You might recall a collection of suggestive images I put together a while back titled 'Are you feeling frisky?', a section of which was printed in The Guardian...!

7 November 2012

Hand-painted signs of Kratie and Holloway

Many you will already be aware of Sam Roberts and his excellent work compiling an archive of UK ghostsigns for HAT.
Sam and I met years before this project through our mutual interest in these old signs, and we have since become good friends.
Two years ago he and his wife moved to Cambodia to work for a voluntary services organisation and I wondered how he would manage to keep his own Ghostsigns site and the HAT project alive from so far away. But the internet is a wonderful invention and it has enabled Sam to seek out new signs and information from all around the globe. His regular bulletins about things signy and hand-lettery are a great source of inspiration.
Earlier this year, as if he wasn't busy enough, he started on a new project...
Sam had noticed as he wandered around Kratie, his local area of Cambodia, that there were a lot of old hand-painted signs and many of them were slowly being replaced by modern versions. So he took out his camera and started snapping as many as he could find. Another archive.
He wanted to put them all together in a book and so he approached me for advice about design and layout I ended up putting the whole thing together for him! It was a lot of hard work for both of us but we are very pleased with the end result.
It's now available on Amazon as a book or in Kindle format... buy buy buy it here!!

My hand-painted signs of Holloway:
An earlier post about some of these Holloway signs here

6 November 2012

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Last night I was invited to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night at a fireworks party on the roof of One New Change, opposite St Paul's. The event was billed as The Carling Winterzest Bonfire Ball; a title which turned out to be rather misleading...
I took along my friend Malcolm as my +1. He has written on his own blog about his distaste for this building, but I thought he could easily be won over by a beer, fireworks and fabulous views of the city. We had a good, fun evening, and laughed a lot, but that's just because we usually do. But it wasn't a ball. And certainly not a Bonfire Ball.
Let me explain...
The drinks: I am an ale, red wine or Guinness drinker and I hardly ever touch bottled lagers unless I am abroad. But hey, there were crate loads of Zest, Carling's new winter lager to be quaffed. This turned out to be an pissy orange flavoured liquid served ice cold. But it was free!
The bonfire: Ooh it was cold on that roof, what with it being a clear night. there was a bitter chill in the air and those beers were making us colder. Good job I wore gloves. But where was the bonfire to warm our bones? Turns out they'd made a pretend bonfire – a small collection of 'wood', LED lights and red net material, the type used for underskirts, had been fashioned into the shape of a bonfire. A girl with LED hula hoops gyrated around it. There were only two outdoor heaters and, of course, anyone near them wasn't about to move. I never did see any of the sparklers they promised us on the way in. But the fake autumnal trees with their red leaves were pretty. So that's good.
The food: Admittedly, food wasn't mentioned on the invite, but when a few small plates of strangely sweet sausage on bread things were brought out, they were quickly pounced upon. I doubt there was enough for one per person. Why bother? A man was offering hot chestnuts. I prefer my nuts to be nutty, so I declined.
The fireworks: The view was, as expected, really good, especially as the night was so clear. Fireworks displays could be seen off to the south in places such as Crystal Palace, and Deptford. But it was a bit disappointing. Not like being underneath an actual display. We couldn't hear the bangs and whizzes.
The music: I am a bit confused here... at 8.30pm a DJ started playing some tunes. Then another fella joined him. They played songs we knew. We danced about and had fun. Yes, Malcolm moved in time to music! Alert Paris society!
Then another fella played trumpet over Dizzie's 'Bonkers'. It was good. But was this really Rudimental who was listed to play there? Perhaps it was just a couple of them. I dunno. Answers on a postcard please.
So, to conclude, if you like weak lager with a hint of fruit in it, then Zest is the one for you!
Rather than include pics of fireworks, St Pauls, or alcohol, I am here again posting my set collection of fire insurance markers which are still apparent on a few old frontages around London. In the days before the London Fire Brigade was created, insurance companies had their own fire crews and if a building went up in flames only the company with the badge on that building would douse the fire. Harsh! But a clever marketing ploy. 
More info here.

31 October 2012

We Make London's Christmas Fair at Chelsea Old Town Hall

The King's Road is so named because it was Charles II's private road between his palaces in London and Kew. Subsequently large expensive houses sprang up either side and the whole area around became a magnet for the wealthy and upper classes.
In the 1960s the road had a revival and was really the place to be seen. Rock stars, models, actors and actresses lived and socialised there. It became a hothouse for new design talent, with one-off boutiques selling all kinds of trendy and avant garde creations – Mary Quant and Dame Vivienne Westwood both opened their first shops there. River Island started out in King's Road as the Chelsea Girl brand.
In addition to this there were plenty of antique dealers, most of them renting space in the wonderful Art Nouveau Grade II Antiquarious building. It was the oldest antiques emporium in London. But two years ago the antique dealers were 'evicted' in favour of an American clothing chain.
So, sadly, these days the King's Road is just like any other homogenous high street or retail park selling over-priced mass-produced fashion. I have written about this kind of thing before. And it saddens me.
But all is not lost. One just has to look harder....
There are still plenty of designer-makers out there creating wonderfully individual and handmade things, and on this Sunday 4th November you will be able to find many of them at the first of We Make London's Christmas Fairs at Chelsea Old Town Hall from 11am until 5pm. £2 entrance fee, but well worth it, if only to be inspired into making something for yourself.
Also available on the day will be Inspired:London, WML's lovely book showcasing 162 London-based designer makers. The book will not be available on general sale until mid-November but pre-launch copies will be available on the day at a reduced price of £10.99. (Be sure to check out page 33!)
Hope to see you there.
Here are some images from in and around the Town Hall and Kings Road:

30 October 2012

Dandylion Market in Kentish Town this Saturday

If you are in or around Kentish Town this Saturday 3rd November why not pop in to The Oxford Arms and tick a few boxes... have a drink and a chat, eat some of the pub's lovely grub, and check out some of the great things available at Lesley's Dandylion market, which will be on there 12.30–5.30pm.
It's a good place to start your Christmas shopping, as this market, which happens on the first Saturday of each month, showcases some great designer-maker talent, plus some vintage clothes, accessories and antique bric-a-brac too.
See here for more info. I notice that one woman will be offering jewellery made out of old clay pipes – wow, now that's different!
I was going to do a collection of lions for this post,; some dandy, some not so, but I think I will save them for another day. Instead, I have put together a collection of details I have noticed along and adjacent to Kentish Town Road... notice all the pub names, many of which do not exist any more.

Ambassador update

Earlier this year you may recall I did a stint as a London Ambassador in Trafalgar Square. Read it it here. I wrote about how although I enjoyed the week I thought money had been ill-spent and many things were badly organised.
Since then I have received a few subsidiary items in the post including two thank you letters; one from from Boris's office and the other from Mr Cameron thanking me for being a Games Maker! D'uh!

This morning I took delivery of a lumpy and partially torn white bubble-wrap envelope. Ripping the package further open I found some more branded Ambassadorial items designed to further my experience – a baton in a box, a CD I haven't bothered to look at yet, and another silly little badge to add to my 'collection' – this one is 'gold'. Ooh the excitement.
There was also a sealed white hardback envelope in there too, but it was empty. I'd rather expected a third thank you letter to be in there, but no.
What an absolute waste of even more money.
Let's do the sums...
A pair of cargo pants, a fleece, 2 T-shirts, a storm jacket, a baseball cap, a trilby, a water bottle, a backpack, name tag and lanyard doobrey, 4 lapel badges, cardboard display thing to attach them to, various bits of stationery and printed ephemera, a baton, a CD, and probably more that I have forgotten about.
Now, multiply that lot by 70,00 Ambassadors. Oh, and add the postage and packing and man hours involved putting it all together.
Money well spent? I think not.

Update 2: I just remembered that they also gave us a Visa debit card pre-loaded with £25 (intended as £5 a day for food) and an Oystercard with about £53 on it (equiv to a zone 1-6 on week Travelcard). Assuming all Ambassadors recieved the same as I did, those two items alone, never mind the cost of the bits of plastic and the admin to implement them costs just short of £55,000. 

Boris's office isn't exactly setting a good example here. What happened to the Olympics themes of sustainability and legacy? It's more of a case of "do as we say, not do as we do". 

27 October 2012

Dalston department stores

Once a salubrious and busy Edwardian high street Kingsland Road has seen some huge changes over the pst century.
The original railway station terminus, in its day one of the largest in London, was left to crumble, as was the surrounding area, which by 2000 had become unloved and dirty. Only Ridley Road market and a few architectural reliefs, pub signs and faded advertising signs here and there show a hint of the area's once grand past. 
The dilapidated properties and cheap rents soon get snapped up by the young and creative and in the last decade Daltson Junction has had a makeover. The extension of LRT's Overground Line means Dalston now has a big new station and, with its superb links to all London, this means more and more people are not only moving to the area, but are going there for its new one-off boutiques, bars and nightlife.
The latest addition is The Dalston Department Store, a pop-up shop open for this weekend in Richmond Road. Packed full of stuff to wear and those ubiquitous cup cakes, it's this isn't really what I'd call a department store – I  mean, where are the kitchenwares, the suitcases, the books and the children's toys? 
I bet nearby Dudley's sold a much better variety in their day. I recently saw an old picture of Dudley's and on it read, 'Z. Dudley Drapery House of Cheapness'! Does anyone know what is planned for this building? I understand that a plan to turn it into flats was on the cards...

25 October 2012

Could you be a Spitalfields reporter?

Old Spitalfields Market has launched a competition to find a team of five writers with a love of the area and a clever way with words to spice up the market's blog with articles about the local residents, shops, events and news. In return for the hard work they are offering up a multitude of exclusive invitations and goodies.
Each #SpitalfieldsReporter will be chosen to specialise in one the following areas: vintage, food, fashion, beauty and East End local. Applications can be in many forms from a written article, photos, a piece to camera etc. Closing date for entries is midday on November 5th. More info here.
The winning fashion writer will be able to come and interview me at the market most weekends...! 

19 October 2012

The Revenger's Tragedy at Hoxton Hall

Last week I went to see The Revenger's Tragedy. The play is being billed as a Halloween Horror Event as it covers all things bloody, macabre, offensive and illegal, including incest, rape, murder, as well as the usual mistaken identities.
I really enjoyed the play, even though the Elizabethan language is really hard to follow.
The story has been somewhat condensed to make for a shorter play and I wonder if it's been hacked at(!) a little too harshly as, during the interval, chatting to other members of the audience, we were all a bit confused who was related to whom and who had done what to whom, and when.
The short and cleverly choreographed second act tied it all together, though I was still confused about the identities of some of the characters on stage, who I thought were dead or banished. The bloodlusty revengeful denouement was way too short for me... I'd wanted and expected more gore, and hoped to leave feeling joyfully disgusted. But it just brought a smile to my face.
The acting is really good and, despite my unfulfilled expectations on the blood and guts front, I urge you to go and see it and also experience the wonderful two tier gallery of this Grade II listed building, one of only four buildings of this type left in the Central London area.
Here's Hoxton Street... once a vibrant street with a bustling market and many pubs and theatres.

15 October 2012

The Princess and the Spacehopper

I was recently asked by an online shopping site about my worst ever Christmas present. 
Nothing immediately came to mind until I remembered one year when we set spending limits and so we gave a lot useful, silly or edible things from the pound stores. 
One of my presents from that source was a framed picture of Prince Charles's first wife. Aaaargh! Cries of 'hang it on the wall Jane; it will look lovely here... or here..." were met with "get that woman out of my house!".
I don't think I even kept the frame!
My best present? Has to be when my sister and I each got Spacehopper. I have fond memories of us bounding up and down the garden.    

12 October 2012

Update on the Holloway Pie & Eel Shop

As you know from an earlier post, I have been watching the reveal of this old sign for years.
A month or so ago the decorators arrived and started painting the woodwork black. But the lettering was left untouched.... what was happening?
Then, earlier this week, a friend told me that he'd noticed it had been completely blacked over (aargh!).

So I went to check for myself and I am glad to report that after speaking to the decorator in the picture above, the sign is safely hidden under boards. The shop itself is being tiled with off-white brick tiles and will be opening as a licensed pie shop. Brilliant!
I hope to be one of the first customers...

11 October 2012

Spitalfields' Fruit & Wool Exchange loses the battle

I am disgusted to report that the three-times overturned plans to develop this site have now been quashed, as the renovation of this historical site is imminent.
With all the empty office space in the vicinity, both in old dilapidated buildings in need of care and renovation, and in modern glass boxes, this is, to my mind, very hard to understand.
As per my comments in an earlier post, I really believe all this new-build is a way off off-setting funds and somehow avoiding tax etc. There can be no other sensible explanation.
See the wonderfully informative Spitalfields Life for a more in-depth report about this building and its future.

25 September 2012

Chas Baker of Seven Sisters Road, North London

One of my birthday presents this year was a sweet little book called the A-B-C Guide To London
It's a modern reprint of a handbook put together in 1905 listing all sorts of places in London at that time, including some informative maps great illustrations.
The book was actually a piece of very clever marketing material made by a company called Chas Baker & Co Stores Ltd. Almost every other page has a reference to the nearest branch. And at the back there are pages of ads showing the kind of clothes and accessories one could buy at their emporiums.
The company's head office was at 271-274 High Holborn, with other large shops at Ludgate Hill, Tottenham Court Road, Edgware Road, an a North London branch at 5, 6 & 7 Seven Sisters [Holloway, N7]. Illustrations of the shops are included in the book.
Most of the Holloway building is still there as you can see in my comparison photos, below. The street level and first floor now look nothing like they used to a century ago, but the upper floors are still basically the same. I am a bit confused how the 1905 drawing shows only three windows with pointy bits above them on the third floor, yet today you can see that there are matching ones to the right, but not on the part of the building that used to be the shop! Artistic licence or a matching extension?
I feel the urge to go and take photos of the other four locations now...

21 September 2012

Art At the Mills, Open House Weekend & The Brunel Museum

This weekend three things come together in one place.
Art at the Mills is putting on an arts and crafts market at The Brunel Museum this Sat 22nd and Sun 23rd September coinciding with Open House Weekend.
The museum is jam-packed with info about the great IKB and his fantastic achievements. This weekend, in addition to the regular exhibits more events will available including an apothecary with cocktails, sculpture and sound installations, plus the tunnel will be floodlit.
After your visit enjoy a pint in the nearby The Mayflower pub – the "oldest pub on the River Thames"... check out the deck at the back that overhangs the river.
The whole area of Rotherhithe is steeped in history and interesting facts and I am sure I read somewhere that Rotherhithe Street is the longest continuous road in London.
I will have a stall at the market on Sunday, so I hope to see you there.

18 September 2012

City of Glass

I recently posted about The Developing City; an excellent exhibition about the changing architecture in the City of London.
It was split into three sections; the past, present and future. The earlier panels were full of great info and wonderful photos of the City in past centuries. It was interesting to see and mentally compare the changes over time. I was especially intrigued by Cheapside, which has always been a shopping street. However, in the past it was lined with one-off shops selling all kinds of things, but of late it's become just another bland road plate glass shops selling coffee, clothes and phones. The church of St Mary-Le-Bow now looks squashed, out of place and off-scale compared to the buildings either side of it.
London, you see, is being over-run by plate glass.
Old buildings are being torn down and replaced with HUGE glass monstrosities that, despite their shapes and silly 'friendly' names, all end up looking the same. They are, in my view, just glass towers squidged and skewed into strange shapes; vertical glasshouses with no detailing or interesting features except they can reflect a grey London sky or a better better building.
Our wonderful City is going to end up looking all new and shiny and bland like Dubai; the Dubaiification of London will soon be complete.
In a few instances listed London façades have been retained; their insides have been gutted and replaced with modern offices, walkways and glass atriums. Or extensions have been added that resemble lean-tos or green houses. Perhaps the powers that be are considering growing tomatoes and runner beans in these places if one day all the computers crash? I am now also gutted, but for a different reason – that although I do like the renovated space inside Unilever House, I didn't see it prior to its re-fit.
Back to the exhib... The 'present' section showed a collection of 80 images that they called 'the best new buildings and public spaces built in the City since 1985'. Looking at these images I could only make out a few structures that were not predominately glass, including The Millennium Bridge and terracotta-clad building in Bishops Square, Spitalfields. The plans for the immediate future show the horrible intensity of tall glass buildings that will be going up during the next decade.
The last part of the exhibition showed some visions of the future that makes it look like the Thames will become some kind of water garden for Teletubbies. Another similar idea for Smithfield had to be seen to be believed.
I cannot be alone with my concerns. One only has to see the queues on Open House Weekend for all the old and preserved buildings such as The Livery Halls, churches and old banking rooms, to understand that a lot of us appreciate intricate mosaics, and hand-carved stone and wood.
Looking forward, I do not see a logical reason to build (any more of) these biggest/tallest/pointiest 'iconic' structures (for iconic, read 'bullying'). They can't simply be show-off statement pieces – there must be more to it.
It can't be that London has a dearth of office space because you only have to look up to the empty top floors around, for instance, Oxford Street and Piccadilly, or wander the streets behind Broadgate).  So, I conclude that there must a financial gain to be made constructing big glass show-off towers.
I rather suspect that a huge tax dodge, or similar, can be achieved by off-setting building costs against profits. Or something. After all these big shiny things aren't cheap you know.
Or perhaps, in addition to growing those vegetables, these megabucks businesses are just trying to keep window cleaners in employment?
The pics in the montage above come from my 'Ugly Beautiful' folder on Flickr. Here's a similar, but shorter post from three years ago on the same subject.

A happy coincidence: 
I wrote most of the above yesterday, intending to rewrite bits of it today. Last night, I sat down to watch the 4th in the series of 'The Shock of The New', a series of programmes made in 1980 by the erudite and much-missed Robert Hughes
This episode, entitled 'Trouble in Utopia', was about modern architecture. Robert put forward his views about the idealist attempts to turn major cities, that have endured centuries of history including World wars, into minimalist Utopias, devoid of life or stimulation. He pointed out that the "inhuman" and "absurd" towers of glass just didn't work; that "nothing dates quicker than people's visions of the future". He showed that by the 80s areas of Brasilia, built in the early 60s, were already falling to pieces. Chandigarh too, Le Corbusier's personal vision of Utopia in India, commissioned by Nehru to reflect the nation's modern, progressive outlook, was also a shadow of its former self
He also pointed out that none of the modern buildings of the 80s displayed any kind of ornamentation comparable to Chicago's Sullivan building, an early example of high-rise steel construction. (They still don't... they are just plain unadorned plate glass.)
He (wrongly) concluded the episode by predicting the death of the Utopian style of architecture, saying it just doesn't work. I'd love to have heard what he thinks of London now, and the plans for its future.
See the programme here.
In conclusion, I think many architects such as, for example, Le Corbusier and Renzo Piano, may occasionally have some brilliant ideas, but are unable to see further than their own noses. These bullying, narrow-minded, control freaks are being allowed (commissioned by sychophants?) to alter our cities too drastically, and too quickly. 
Stop, stop stop. Or at least, just slow down.
There! I've said it!

14 September 2012

The Athletes' Parade

As an London Ambassador I got a ticket to The Mall on Monday for the Athletes' Parade.
I was a rebel and wore civvies, but there were plenty of other people there looking colourful in their volunteering outfits so, conversely, I actually looked quite conspicuous! 
See some of these pics and more at larger size here.

12 September 2012

Cally Festival, Sunday 16th September

Another bit of self promotion, but also a good excuse to put some pics on here of a neglected, and now misunderstood and much-maligned, area of north London.
Starting at Kings Cross, Caledonian Road runs due north for over a mile (I must check that!) all the way to Holloway. In the past the street was well-used by cattle-drovers taking their stock to market in the area that is now Caledonian Park. The park/market area was originally just a stop-over for the herds on their way to Smithfield Market. And in later years there was a thriving antiques and bric-a-brac market there. Only the clocktower, and the shells of former pubs are left these days to hint at the history.
The Cally is a real mix – on the east side there's the Thornhill and Barnsbury Estates with their carefully-designed terraces and managed squares and gardens, including a road once lived in by a recent PM, then on the western side council estates were erected thus creating a real mix of cultures; a "them and us" situation – almost a Regent Street 'divide' of the north. A recent BBC programme about the road only glanced upon the diverse history and, in my view, spent too much time talking about the current dodgy landlords and prostitutes at the KX end.
I travel up and down the Cally almost every week spotting old bits of history here and there and some of my observations are shown below.
But to the point... this Sunday the whole area is coming together for the Cally Festival – a pop-up street celebration of the area's diverse offerings, which will include art, craft, music, dance and more.
The stretch of the road between Offord and Bridgeman Roads will be closed to traffic for the day and, judging by last year, it should be good... I hope to see you there... come and find me at my Amelia Parker stall.

7 September 2012

'Williams Homemade Pie & Eel Shop' sign is finally revealed again on Holloway Road

I have had my eye on this particular shop sign for years...
Though it's not Edwardian, gold leaf or 3D it's still hand-painted and well worth preserving as a reminder of a more recent age when pie and eel shops could be found all over London. Only a few of these establishments are still open these days.
A while back I reported that many old shop signs along the Holloway Road are being preserved as shopkeepers/owners are being encouraged to keep hold of any signage they might find when renovating. Sadly a couple of signs in the area that did make brief appearances (see here and here) did not stay visible for long and I hope they not have just been painted over, or filled in as happened to a relief sign in Finsbury Park.
A few years ago a clever protective etched perspex/glass sign (above left) was put across the 'Williams Homemade Pie & Eel Shop' sign such that during the day the modern sign was visible with lights and in the evening the old lettering could still be seen when the shop was closed. Very clever and similar to the sign at No. 109.
Last year all of this was covered up completely when two subsequent companies moved in and just pasted their company names straight over the top.
Then some of it became visible (above middle), and finally, last week (above right) I noticed that Miss Desire had finally peeled off her layers and revealed the red underneath. As you can see the clear protective plate has now also been removed.
I will keep an eye on it and see what transpires.

This parade in which Williams sits has always been of interest to me. It's one of the oldest stretches in Holloway Road and I used to be fascinated and amused how it colourful and multi-cultural these buildings had become over time.
Then in 2009 (middle pic above) the scaffolding went up and some idiot saw fit to sand blast the No.211-3. As you can see from the right hand image the bricks are now looking way too new, having had their outer coatings removed by heavy-handed cleaning, and dodgy patches of un-matched pointing can be seen between the courses. I think the faded colours looked OK as they were. This clean up job makes it look like a pastiche of buildings further up the street where the unpainted bricks on other buildings of this kind have taken on a nice dirty grey/brown over the years.
No.215 has also been tarted up and given a coat of magnolia paint. It looks marginally better than next door but I do miss that crazy Columbian blue and red, though for some reason the yellow at the top has been retained.
See here for comparisons of the old and new:

5 September 2012

The Mayor's Thames Festival 2012

It's that time of year again... 
This weekend September 8th and 9th will be chock full of wonderful events all happening on, in and around the River Thames. For the full programme listing see here.
I will be there again selling "probably the most Thames-related products.."(!). Find me in the We Make London zone between The Oxo Tower and Gabriel's Wharf.
It's great doing a stall at such a vibrant event but it means I miss out on seeing the wonderful night carnival and what I think is the best firework display of the whole year – it's always blinking good and bright and noisy!
This year the carnival (starting at dusk from the north side of Blackfriars Bridge) will be led by a six metre Lady Godiva puppet wearing a Zandra Rhodes dress (eh? not naked?!). 
Godiva will be arriving in London after a journey from Coventry via Rugby animated by a team of five puppeteers.  
For those of you who had planned to stay in and watch the Paralympic closing ceremony, I suggest you record it or catch up with it on replay... much better to come down to the Thames for some great live entertainment. 

31 August 2012

Architecture in the City

I have just been made aware of what looks to be a wonderful exhibition in the City of London.
Maps, models, photos and more... ooh!
This is only running until 9th September so be sure to check it out if you are in the Cannon Street area as it's open at weekends too.
Here's Ian Visits' review.
And here are some of my pictures which illustrate the ever-changing architectural landscape of that immediate area:

29 August 2012

Paralympics, August, London 2012.

I put a collection of relevant Paralympic pics together a while ago here.
But this post is not about anything London or sporty it's about logo design.
I have already written here about my disdain for that awful London 2012 logo with its lower case L for London and that redundant square in the middle, but enough of that... this is about the Paralympic logo; the Agitos.
For a few years now I have been collecting snaps of what I call lazy logo designs. And the Agitos fits into this mould...
It appears that there is a simple formula to creating a logo and anyone can do it – all you need to do is write the name of the company and then add a shape, reminiscent of the Nike swoosh, over, under or around the name using the negative space created by two overlapping ellipses. Genius! If you can't fathom the overlapping ellipse thing simply re-draw the shape as best you can, just like in the Agitos version.
Look around you; these things are everywhere.
Below is a screengrab of just a few of the ones I have on file.
The Agitos logo, takes this process further and just repeats the elliptical element, without words, to give, I assume, an impression of movement, agitos being the Latin for 'I move'. See how they've managed to squeeze it in beautifully with the other elements to form the Paralympic Games 2012 logo. Nice! Not.
I may have to give up my day job.

26 August 2012

Handmade or manmade?

I need a new pair of trainers.
I used to have a really great pair of comfy leather Nikes a few years back, so last week I went into their Neal Street, Covent Garden shop.
I was dispponted to see that almost all of the wonderfully colourful stock was made from some kind of plastic mesh. I explained to the assistant that the shoe he was showing me would be no good in the rain and, anyway, I didn't like the fact that the materials were man-made.
So he picked up slightly different shoe and told me that the material was machine-made.
You just can't make this stuff up!

23 August 2012

Nudity and royalty

Shock horror, Prince Harry's been photographed naked playing cards!
Turns out he's nude under those clothes just like the rest of us. 
Playing strip poker, in Vegas, sounds like a fairly normal thing to do, better than betting and losing his crown jewels.  
Throughout history male members of the royal family have been rogering around and siring illegitimate children hither and thither. It's a perk of the job! I consider that Harry's being fairly tame in comparison.
If you haven't seen a naked man before, here's are some to be found in London. Shocking!

18 August 2012

My Ambassadorial week

At 5pm yesterday afternoon I finished my volunteering stint as a London Ambassador – five days from noon until 5pm in Trafalgar Square.
The word 'ambassador' is a strange choice being, as we were, walking information points handing out maps of London. I think the top three questions I was asked were; 'How do I get to Piccadilly Circus?', 'Where is Covent Garden?' and 'Is the Olympic Park open?' (no to the last one... it'll be open during the Paralympics, then closed until March 2013).
I had a good time as a London Ambassador. I am glad I stuck it it out and gritted my teeth through the useless training modules because I met and helped some lovely people in the end. And made a few new friends.
London is lovely at the moment The sun is shining and it's reasonably quiet. The streets are emptier than normal, the tube is pleasant to use, ditto the buses and the public spaces. Londoners seem to have taken heed of Boris's advice to change their working patterns vis-a-vis the Olympics and are either working remotely from home, or have gone away on holiday. It's lovely! The evening streets are not so full of after-work drinkers. Everyone is smiling and happy after such a great sporting event and visitors are getting a really good impression of our fair city. I wish it was like this all year round!  
So, how was my ambassadorial week?
Let's start with those bloody uniforms. As suspected, they were horrible to wear. Hats were supposed to be worn but when you are encased in pink and purple plastic sweating in glorious sunshine, putting a lid on the top is not a good idea. When the sun hid behind a cloud I was cold and shivery; the material being non breathable did not allow the air to dry my body. Yeuch!
I noted that the The London Transport staff at our pods, there to help people find their bus stops or plan their tube journeys, were just wearing loose pink branded sleeveless things over their normal clothes. Why oh why the powers that be couldn't have designed something similar for the Ambassadors is beyond me. The waste of money regarding our uniforms and the materials used to make them disgusts me on many levels. Will people really want to buy any of this on ebay as they suggest? 
I hated having to wear closed-in shoes. What a really silly stipulation. Surely it's better to be able to wear whatever one finds comfortable? I am sure the public only really noticed the branded tops and jackets and wouldn't have given a flying whatsit if we were sporting green sling-backs or light blue pixie boots. 
Branded umbrellas would have been useful – after all, this is England, known for the rain! In pink and purple, they would have been really visible and in the hot sun they would have been great as parasols. In contrast to the clothes, this would have been an item I would have actually wanted to keep and use again. And pens... where were the pens?  I can't recall any event I have ever been to that didn't have branded pens or pencils!
There were way too many Ambassadors. We were like a sea of bright pink dots littering the square. I was disheartened by how many had scant knowledge of London, let alone the immediate vicinity. One of the managers admitted that he didn't know the Trafalgar Square area, and in the previous week he'd been in another location he didn't know very well. This turned out the be Oxford Circus. Oh dear. 
On the plus side, some of the younger Ambassadors were knowledgeable, really keen to help and really good fun to hang out with. Others, mainly the older ones, were, how can I put it... jobsworths or competitive serial stewards, trying to be all know-all and do everything by the book. These badge collectors seemed to think Boris ought to be coming round and patting us on the back one by one. Their 'me me me' attitude was rather tedious for the core of us who felt we had volunteered to help people, not to show off or be congratulated.  
Keeping in pairs, one of the instructions we were given at the outset, was a daft idea. Perhaps they thought if we stayed in pairs we wouldn't get lost?! But if you pair up with someone you will talk to them and thus become less approachable, so I chose to stand or wander alone. A few of us made solo sorties into St Martin's Lane, Charing Cross Road, Whitehall and The Strand... ooh, so brave! But I noticed that many Ambassadors huddled in groups of four or more in the square just chatting to one another, only stopping if a brave tourist came and broke up the party. I couldn't understand why they had volunteered if they were content to be so non-proactive. 
So what's the Legacy for the Ambassadors? The feedback from people I chatted to was that having us there was really useful, and many were surprised that this service wasn't there 365 days a year. I think it would be a good idea to have this kind of personal info available all year round, especially for busy periods such as around Christmas and New Year at some major locations, such as Trafalgar Square, but with just 6-10 people manning it at any time. Surely  would be Boris should ask all the Ambassadors if they could volunteer for just a few days in a year – I am sure the uptake would be huge.
I'd do it. 
I'd also design the minimal uniform... just a tabard thing and an umbrella. Job done.

15 August 2012

Happy birthday to me!

Today I become a golden girl. I am not sure how this came around so quickly, but I do remember thinking when London won the Olympic bid all those years ago that'd I'd be 50 when it all kicked off, but that it was too far off in the future to really be true!
But hey, here we are. The milestone has been reached.
During the day I will be in Trafalgar Square doing my Ambassador stint. Then as soon as I have peeled off the purple polyester, the plan is to go to Gaby's for food and then nip round the corner to St Martin's Place for a few quiet beers, chosen because it's not on a street.
Looking forward, drinks proper will be at The Shaftesbury Tavern on Hornsey Road on Saturday 18th from 5pm until late.
Do come along and join me on either day – the more the merrier! Contact me for further details.
It's just occurred to me that being a Leo I am now a golden lion, so perhaps I really ought to be having my celebration drinks in a pub of that name!
Oh, and in Chinese astrology I am a tiger. Another big cat.
But I prefer dogs.
And here's another thought re roman numerals: it's L being fifty!

12 August 2012

It's closing time

Today is the last day of the London 2012 Olympics and tonight we get to watch the Closing Ceremony.
I'll leave it at that and just show a collection of images of places in London that have closed without any ceremonies at all. Some have since been demolished, and some have completely changed their identity, whilst others are still waiting to hear about their future.
You may well recognise some of them:

6 August 2012

Meddling in gold

Gold. Olympic gold. Gold medals. Golden Girl Jessica Ennis. Fastest this. Highest that.
Athletes have medalled and then podiummed*. But when does the medalling actually take place? Is at the moment of winning, or on the actual podium when one podiums and gets to meddle with the medal?
Jessica Ennis is indeed a fabulous all-rounder; a true athlete. Give that girl a bowl of Golden Nuggets or Golden Grahams with a Golden Syrup chaser.
It should be noted that Olympic medals aren't even gold – there are usually mostly brass, ditto these golden things in London. Hurrah for yellow metals, gilding and electroplating.
Here's a thought... and I am putting my pedant's hat on here, but Usain Bolt may not actually be the fastest man in the World... he is just the fastest man over a specific distance of 100 metres who can be bothered to put the time and effort in, and has the confidence and self belief to perform in front of an audience. There could be someone with the potential to go faster watching Usain on TV from the comfort of a sofa who, many years ago, didn't take advantage of his PE teacher's advice and encouragement.
Another thing; why do the religious athletes believe their god will help them win? Does this god of theirs have favourites? Why would a god engineer a situation to make the others lose or fail? Answers on a postcard please.
And re hurdles, it occurs to me that there must be an optimum leg length in order to get the stride right between the jumps and this must affect the speed and how the athletes can run. They do say, after all, that 'all' you need to do is find the right sport for your body shape and size and you'll do well.
Back to gold... if it's so precious, how come there are vaults full of the stuff everywhere and it's available to buy in every high street?
Oh gawd, now I've got that bloody Spandau Ballet song on my brain... ooh quick... think some other golden songs ... like this or, better still, this.

*I am assuming that this new word ought to be spelled with two 'm's as in gummed, otherwise it would rhyme with consumed.

4 August 2012

Walk The Tube

This follows on nicely from my last post... walking is London is cheaper and, in many cases, quicker and more efficient than going on the Underground.
Many people, including Londoners, are not aware that many places are closer than the tube map indicates. Two good examples are Leicester Square to Covent Garden and Queensway to Bayswater.
PruHealth, has put together a really clever infographic based on the London tube map intended to get us all walking a bit more.
See here for more.

3 August 2012

London for less – cheap days out

People are always telling me London is expensive. Well, just like any other city, it isn't if you know where to go and can manage avoid the usual tourist attractions and recommended restaurants.
Laura, a student friend came to stay with me for a few days recently and we managed to pack so much into her short stay here...
Evening one: a filling meal in Wagamama followed by a showcase gig (five bands for the price of one!) at the o2 Academy Islington for £8. Add in a couple of beers =£25 each.
Day two: showing her the around the local delights and shops in the Holloway area with Turkish pancakes for lunch (I first met her in Turkey at a pancake stall!). Then a bus to Camden and the markets, a walk up Chalk Farm Road, yummy ice cream, up to Primrose Hill for the view, then back to Camden Road via the canal enjoying sneaky peeks of the animals in London Zoo. Another bus back and a couple of pints in my local pub. The day came to about £20 each (excluding some very good charity shop purchases).
Day three: she wanted to revisit the Natural History Museum, so, because I know she too loves all the architectural details etc in London, we got the tube to Gloucester Road so I could show here the two station entrances and some nearby buildings. From there it's just short walk to the major museums. We got snap happy taking photos of the their exteriors along Exhibition Road and then went into the NHM where we spent hours looking at different kinds of rocks and crystals and strange birds and weird fish, and got 'trapped' in the lovely wildlife garden which had, despite signs to the contrary, no direct exit.
At the main entrance to the V+A we admired the fabulous overhead 'scuplture' made using white traffic cones. This is part of the Heatherwick exhbition which is on my list of things to go and see. Laura tried one of the wobbly Spun chairs which are littered around the museum. It looked fun but I declined (I didn't want to kick off a recent back injury again!).
Laura is interested in the old oxblood tube stations designed by Leslie Green so I'd decided to walk back along the Piccadilly Line and show her some of the closed stations. Whilst admiring Brompton Road station I suggested we went into Brompton Oratory. This gorgeous Catholic church is overlooked by many visitors to London (who follow the usual pattern and go to St Pauls, Westminster Abbey etc) and it's really worth a visit. We were so lucky as, just as we walked in, the Relic Of The Cross service started. So we took a pew and tried to look like we knew what we were doing. The sound of the choir was wonderful. We didn't really understand what was going on up front and I don't think it's possible to be an asthmatic Catholic with all that aromatic smoke being waved about! But what an absolute treat for both of us. A free show!
Then a wander around the little back streets in and around Montpelier and Trevor Squares and into Harrods to show her the magnificently OTT food and perfume halls, ending with that ridiculous Diana and Dodi memorial (no link, sorry!). . . from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Into Hyde Park where we found a tree I'd never spotted before... it's like a big round leafy tent, supported in a few places by struts having collapsed on itself. We admired the flowerbeds, sneered at the Queen Mother Gates and walked through the pedestrian subway into Mayfair. It started raining but you can't get wetter than wet so we walked on and into Shepherd Market, then out onto Piccadilly passing Down Street station and some big, sad, dirty and empty buildings, and then cut into Old Bond Street and Cork St for a bit of window shopping. It was a contrast to cross over Regent Street into Soho, as by now it was gone 8.30pm on a Friday and the streets were full of so many people drinking on the pavements etc. Evidence that Nash's borderline is still working. We found a good cheap 'eat as much you like' Thai+Chinese buffet and after that, having had our fill of food and culture, got a bus back to Holloway. Total spend about £18 each.
The next day I was busy at Spitalfields so Laura purchased a One Day Travelcard for Zones 1&2 and after helping me to set up she left to go sightseeing. She was back at 4pm with photos of Shoreditch, the City, Whitehall, South Bank and more! Blimey she would put the Japanese to shame!
And then she went and caught her train to Leeds.
I have lots of ideas for her next visit...

23 July 2012

Purple and pink, polyester and plastic

I wrote a while back that I'd applied to be a London Ambassador during the Olympics. I'd originally understood this to mean something more akin to showing small groups of people around areas of London and thought I'd be under-qualified for it. But it turns out all it's just standing around in a nasty uniform being prepared to answer people's questions.
Whilst I am more than happy to do my bit the whole 'training' process has been tiresome and badly-managed. But I bit my tongue and bided my time.
And then the uniform arrived. Oh dear... 
It's certainly not what I'd call 'sustainable'... in fact it will be definitely be more of a legacy as almost every part of it is man-made. Here we are in an age of recycling and ecology and just looking at these clothes is bringing me out in a sweat. I can't even sleep in poly-cotton sheets, so this is going to be rather a trial for me.
The pink and purple tops are made from 100% polyester with a small irritating collar. When the Ambassadors were first on the streets they were sporting simple cotton T-shirts with white lettering on them. Why couldn't we have had those, or something similar? The matching cheap, thin, easily-creased fleece is lined in silver grey polyester, as is the '100% Nylon' rainproof hooded jacket.
We have been instructed that a hat must be worn during our tours of duty but the baseball cap looks very silly on me and I run the risk of being asked if you can get fries with that. So I will instead be sporting the straw trilby, which actually isn't bad, however, that too has polyester stiffening inside it. I wore it for 10 minutes so that my friends could laugh at me, and my hair was damp when I took it off.
Then there's the stiff black trousers containing 67% polyester. I assume the skirts are made using the same material. Luckily they now say we can wear our own plain black trousers (phew!) but why they couldn't have thought of that before they wasted all so much money making and distributing thousands of the things is beyond me. After all, who hasn't got a pair of black trousers or a black skirt?!
Plain black walking-style shoes or trainers finish off the ensemble. No open toes or sandals. No shorts.
Whoever designed this should be shot. I mean, polyester and dark trousers in July and August?! D'uh! Actually, that's a point... er... 'designed'?
All of this must be carted about in a matching pink and purple rucksack that isn't waterproof. So plastic everywhere else, but not for the bag!
Then there's the issue of where these things were manufactured. There appears to have been a great opportunity missed to produce things here in the UK. I can find no 'Made In' labels in the top, trilby, fleece or jacket, but cap and the bag say they were made in China.
And the branding, which looks ironed-on, varies from item to item. The typeface under the logos is that hideous new Olympics font (ech spit!*), but 'TEAM LONDON Ambassador', which is in Futura Regular on most items, is in Helvetica/Arial on the bag, and then a strangely squished version of Futura Light has been used on the cap with the letters A and M in a smaller size. What's that all about?!.
Bizarrely you can still apply to be an Ambassador as the relevant page is still live. I think this speaks volumes.
But hey...
Please do come and find me in Trafalgar Square between noon and 5.30pm every day 13–17th August. It's my birthday on the 15th and I will be needing a few drinks after perspiration and weight loss.
*I use 'font' here, as there only appears to be one weight of this revolting "typeface". I still cannot fathom why the 'o' is a complete circle and does not follow the same angular rules as the other letters. Perhaps, once the Games start, we might see it dancing about and becoming part of the Rings...? Oh I dunno.