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18 December 2013

An advent calendar and an alternative Christmas recommendation

I have been quoted on this online advent calender recommending the Museum Mile – see 22nd December.
But I can't see anything there right now. Perhaps it will only appear on the 22nd*.
And I also make an appearance on the Time Out site recommending Peter and his fascinating and informative walks. See number 17 here.
Oxford Street, 12.30pm Christmas Day 2011 (at 10am is was less 'busy')

*If nothing appears, I wrote: 
"The area around The British Museum is littered with small and interesting specialist museums, known as Museum Mile. Find out all about Charles Dickens, medicine, anatomy, architecture, natural history, London history, art and much more. The area also boasts plenty of independent cafés, restaurants, quirky old pubs, book, comic and shops, all linked by some lovely tree-filled squares."

15 December 2013

The O2, confectionery and tube signage

I went to the O2 on Thursday to take some things in preparation for my stall at Handmade Christmas. I am still there today.
Amelia, not Amilia!
I hadn't entered the venue since October 2000 when it was called the Millennium Dome and packed full of fantastic and interesting things that, for some reason, the press panned. I loved it on the day I went there and I wish I'd gone back again for a 2nd and 3rd visit to be able to see all the zones I hadn't managed to get into on that exhausting but enjoyable day. 
Anyway, it's now called the O2 because a phone company owns it and it has been refitted as a live events arena and exhibition space. But, of course, you knew that.
So I was surprised that on entering the building this week that my immediate reaction was favourable. I liked the way they'd used the space. But I didn't really study what was on offer in the shops to my left and right cos I was in a hurry to dump off my stuff. Let's just say it was better than Westfield Stratford.
On the way back I carefully scanned to shops because with all that exertion I was in need of a Picnic, my chocolate bar of choice.
But, I'd walked past what turned out to be the only convenience store and, with just one exception (a South American place I didn't recognise), I could only see big brand chain restaurants all the way along the street from the market area to the exit that leads to Greenwich North tube station. No shops selling useful everyday stuff; just sit down food places and bars. (Yesterday, I was amazed to see there a long queue outside the Harvester. Go figure!)
I asked a security man near the exit where I might buy a bottle of water, some fags, a choc bar, some safety pins and a key ring (I didn't really need all of that, but I was making a point!). He obviously didn't know about the shop inside because he suggested I go to the nearby Tesco's outside the venue. Aaargh!
I gave up and went into the tube station where I found a WHS. Hurrah, I thought; this is the kind of shop I was looking for, and much closer than Tesco's. But I found that a Picnic, usually 69p everywhere else (and I should know, cos I eat enough of the things) was 89p. Eighty-nine pence!!! That's 20p over RRP; a mark up of approx 30 per cent. Who is to blame here? WHS, the O2 or LRT? (I have since discoverd that the convenience store also sells them at this price, though if you buy two it's cheaper.)
I got onto the tube and had to change from Jubilee Line to Northern Line at London Bridge but, having not made this connection in this direction before, I got in a tizzy because I couldn't work out which way to turn. Getting off the train I couldn't see the directional on the wall in front of me because it was blocked by all the other 'customers' so I joined the flow of up a flight of stairs.
At the top of the landing is a backlit BLUE sign that reads "Northern Line". But it's in Piccadilly blue not Northern black. Along the connecting tunnel the signs are on-brand with black lines, so it's not like LRT hadn't half-thought about this. Then, at the end of the tunnel there is a T-junction... Is there a sign ahead to say whether to turn left or right? Nah! But there are lots of people stopping and bumping into each other with other regular commuters who know where they are going, tutting and harrumphing. I chose to turn right and it was correct.
Ah the joys of underground travel. I now fully understand when out-of-towners say hate the tube and find it confusing.
That'll enough!!
I am off back to the O2 now... hope to see you there later.. Find my stall at 292 by turning right as you enter the market – I am on the end of the third row to the right ahead of you. Wrap up warm cos it's an inside/outside space and bring lots of cash!!!

10 December 2013

Stumped in North London

I have been noticing a lot of cut-down trees around here since the storm earlier this year.
It would be a really nice idea if they could be carved into nice sculptural pieces as per this one just off Essex Rd*

Above are some of the tree stumps in N7 and N19 – note the one bottom left which not only has been painted, but sports some strange drilled holes. I checked on Google Streetview and it seems these holes were there before, so perhaps someone was already trying to kill the tree and the storm finished it off...?
The pic bottom right is a large pre-storm stump at a bus stop in Holloway Road. The bin men must have just been there 5 minutes earlier because there's usually a load of rubbish bags leaning against it.

Finally, here are two trees that help me to understand where the term "Mother Nature" comes from; the one on the left is in N19 and the other in Russell Square. 

* I happened to recognise TWRJ in the street a few weeks ago. I introduced myself and we walked and talked – what a nice bloke.

5 December 2013

Southwark Cathedral

Last week I made reference to a sculpture that was installed in this beautiful Cathedral.
Now I am plugging Southwark Cathedral itself.

Some of my Southwark photos

Located next to The River Thames and adjacent to London Bridge, the cathedral gardens have always been one of my favourite places to meet friends rather than, say, the hustle and bustle of Borough Market or London Bridge Station.
This Saturday 7th December, there will be a Christmas market in the gardens organised and curated by The Friends of Southwark Cathedral.
More here.
Hope to see you there...!

4 December 2013

A non-skating reindeer

In Primrose Street, just off Bishopsgate, at the foot of the steps that lead up to Exchange Square, there is a very big reindeer made out of Christmas lights.
He is rather impressive.
But his feet are protected by squares of barriers covered with banners advertising 'Skate In The City' at Broadgate Square.
Poor reindeer – looks like Santa gave him the worst ice skates ever – they are even concrete-lined.

2 December 2013

The Barbican

Is anyone else still getting lost in the Barbican? Or is it just me?
I find it hard to get in and out of the complex (ha ha!), or from one side of the lake terrace to the other side without going ever so slightly mad. Where are the signs?! In many cases you have to up and over rather than down and across, and this is just not made clear. The only thing to "help" are those 50mm colour coded lines on the pavement that you are intended to follow. It's like a human game of Super Mario. 
(The general area – info re pics at the bottom) 
Even inside the arts centre itself I can go missing for hours trying to find the toilets, an event space or a cinema. 
But it's always worth the frustration in the end. 
There's always a lot going on at the Barbican, especially this month, so it's worth unearthing your compass and other orienteering paraphernalia to make the assault on the building – be sure to plan ahead and consult the latest OS maps or Google Satelitte
It's a fabulous environment to see a theatre production, or a film, and there are usually interesting exhibitions on the various levels. It's also a lovely place to meet friends for a drink, or make use of the wonderful spaces that are perfect for just sitting, reading, working or relaxing. 
Also, on at the Barbican at the moment – the foyers are being turned into a pop-up designer-makers market selling all sorts of gorgeous hand-made products. Wednesday–Sunday every week until 22nd December. More information here.

The bottom row of photos includes CLE,1969, a pre-1966 telephone code. This is one of two still visible on shops in Goswell Road (CLE was the old code for Clerkenwell). The third photo in that row shows a section of the Blitz-flattened (now Barbican) site in 1942 (taken from a building in Little Moorfields by Police Constables Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs – more of their photos from this period can be found at The London Metropolitan Archives.)

27 November 2013

Diggin' Design at The Garden Museum

The Garden Museum's Winter Fayre 'Diggin' Design' takes place this year on Sunday 1st December.
The lovely converted church of St Mary's, Lambeth, home to The Garden Museum, is situated between Lambeth Bridge and Lambeth Palace, close to some architecturally interesting, but now defunct, buildings such as the old fire Brigade HQ and The Doulton factory (shown above 2nd middle and 3rd bottom respectively). It's well worth a visit, even if you aren't a gardener yourself as the café there is just lovely, as is the knot garden.

You've guessed it... now comes the self promotion...
After the success of the Garden Museum's summer event, shown in some of the images above, yours truly will be there again on Sunday touting her Amelia Parker wares. The range has expanded... there are now colourful beaded necklaces and elasticated unisex bracelets, plus leather wallets in three sizes, many of which have touch screen windows for smart phones.
Christmas cards and the new range of Clay Pipe Pete and textural pattern greeting cards will also be for sale from the stall. If you are interested but cannot make it to Diggin' Design please see the website for other dates.
(promo ends!)

25 November 2013

The Economist Plaza and Nic Fiddian Green's large horses

I was just looking for info on Southwark Cathedral for a future post and found a piece about Nic Fiddian Green's 'Christ Rests In Peace' that was installed there during lent earlier this year.
This reminded me that in July I walked up the steps on the east side of St James's Street, SW1, to take a closer look at Nic's fabulous large bronze horse head in the middle of Economist Plaza. It was beautiful, as per his other, even bigger, horse head in the middle of the Marble Arch roundabout.
I sat and admired the bronze for quite a while and took some snaps with my phone, wishing I had my proper camera with me. Nic appears to be fixated with horses, but hey, he does them so well.
The Grade II listed plaza isn't square but sort of L-shaped; it has a mix of old Georgian bow-backed buildings and glass office blocks, yet they sit together well and this makes it a lovely place to just sit and look at the latest art which has been installed there.
Also worth seeing in the other corner of the plaza that day was 'Eclipse', a water-powered piece by Angela Conner which I found mesmerising.
Here are my photos:

14 November 2013

Philanthropy: The City Story at The Charterhouse

There is an interesting exhibition on at the Charterhouse at the moment that has been put on by the City of London's Corporation charity City Bridge Trust. It's full of information about entrepreneurial people who, by donating their time and money to those less fortunate than themselves, have helped to make London what is today.
Learn about banker George Peabody, City merchant Thomas Gresham, Dame Alice Owen, banker (Good) Henry Hoare and many others including, of course, Thomas Sutton (1532-1611), who was the wealthiest commoner in England in his day and left a large chunk of his wealth to Charterhouse in his will. His gorgeous tomb, embellished with wonderful carvings and statuary can be seen in the chapel which is also open to the public during the exhibition.
Admission is free.
Open Wed–Sun every week – last day 30th November.
There are guided tours of the Charterhouse at 3pm (exc Wednesdays).
Above are some images of the Charterhouse and the general area including one of Doulton's beautifully-tiled pubs and two nearby trademen's shops – a bookbinder and another selling artist materials. The last two images, bottom right, show buildings that have, sadly, been demolished for Crossrail.   

11 November 2013

Old pub buildings

Some my earliest posts on Jane's London were about old pubs. I was, and still am, fascinated by pubs that have the old name still visible somewhere, yet now have a new name (why?!) or have converted into residential or a completely different business use.
The Gentle Author wrote recently about what he calls 'dead pubs' (see here and here) and this has provoked me to revisit my file of what I call 'ghost pubs' (see explanation at the foot of this post*).
So here are some more... I have been careful not to repeat the ones that I collected for Time Out in 2008, or those mentioned on Spitalfields Life.
This collection is restricted to pubs that were, at the time I took the photo, something other than a pub, yet the original name was still there.
(Some of these may have changed use again since the photos were taken):
Top row:
The Alexandra Coffee Tavern, Hornsey Road – was a locksmiths, now empty
The Rising Sun, Wapping High Street / Garnet Street – wine bar – check out the clay pipe smoker
The Crown, Borough High Street – London Institute of Technology and Research
The Old King Lud, Ludgate Circus – bank and café 
Middle row:
The York, Kennington Road – dental surgery
The Black Horse – St Pancras Way – flats
The Knights of St Johns Tavern, St John's Wood – florist
The Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall – "coffee" shop
Bottom row:
The Blomfontein, Gt Chapel St, Soho – café restaurant
The Unicorn, Hoxton High Street – pizzas
The Round House, Wardour Street – club/disco
Jack Straws Castle, Hampstead – fitness club

All of these photos can be found here.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

*There is a difference of opinion about the use of the word 'ghost' in this way. 
'Ghost signs' are seen my many as being restricted just to faded brick ads, but I believe any old name, sign, advertisement etc, that is still visible but but no longer relevant is a ghost from the past – I include old shop fascias, signs, reliefs and ads. But I do not includes those signs that have been tarted up or re-painted as in the case of a few in Covent Garden, WC2.

7 November 2013

A garden across the River Thames

Earlier this year I watched a programme on TV about a fanciful idea to construct a parkland walk across the Thames between the bridges of Waterloo and Blackfriars.
Joanna Lumley takes credit for the idea and in the programme she was seen in meetings with Thomas Heatherwick (he of the Routemaster and the Olympic Cauldron). They mused over scale models and stood on the river discussing how lovely it could be. But it would cost £60million.
Last Friday 1st November, the plans were officially announced – it transpires they underestimated the cost as the figure now quoted is £150million which, to quote Lord Davies, Chairman of this scheme, is "a lot of money".

Well, it's all very lovely, and Ms Lumley says, "thrilling", but haven't we got got better things to be to be spending this sort of money on? I thought we were in a slump, scrabbling around to pay for road maintainence, health care, transport etc. And where is this obscene amount of dosh going to come from? I suspect from foreign investors, or the huge percentage of rich Malaysians, Russians and other rich businessmen who hail from the Far East and live here a few months of the year.
We have until December 20th to find out if this will come to fruition.
If it does go ahead I expect we will see a lot of similar 'iconic' structures popping up all over the world, just like what happened with the Millennium Wheel / London Eye – like this and this, each one aiming to be the biggest, highest, longest etc.

5 November 2013

Voting now open for Ghostsigns calendar

As above... voting is now open for Sam's 2014 Ghostsigns Calendar.
There are some great images to choose from from all around the world.
Be sure to cast your vote by Friday 22nd November.
There are still a few days left to submit your own photos.

Here are some of my shots of London ghostsigns featuring old ads for Gillette razors:

Update on Battersea Power Station

I read in The Times that work had started on the "regeneration" of Battersea Power Station and the land that surrounds it.

The phone snapshot above is from that article (dated 27th October 2013) and illustrates that, with the help of some well-respected UK architects, the Malaysian owners are spending billions to turn the area into yet another sea of boxy apartments and shopping malls full of [I suspect] designer brands for rich people. Oh and they need spaces to put on lavish events – see the clipping, right, also from the same article. Need I say more?
As you can see the old Art Deco building is going to be swamped by the modern buildings. The four reconstructed chimneys, one of which I hear will have a viewing platform or something on the top (how much will that view cost?!) will probably be the only part of the building visible from the South.

Here's a link to a post I wrote  almost 3 years ago to the day about on here about my concerns for this site (and my suggested solution!).
I just recalled the film Sympathy For The Devil where in some scenes the old derelict site can be seen full of scrap car merchants etc. And, I may be going mad but I pretty sure the site was also used as a location in a Bob Hoskins film; either Mona Lisa or Long Good Friday, both excellent films, and worth revisiting for a bit of late-70s/early-80s old London-spotting.

More about Battersea Power Station here:
BBC report
Battersea Power Station's official site

4 November 2013

Up and down the City Road, in and out of The Underground Cookery School

One evening last week I spent a very good evening with a group of other bloggers at The Underground Cookery School.
The School offers a relaxed environment where, led by trained chefs, people can learn new culinary skills. Classes are tailored to suit all skill levels.
There's canapés and prosecco on arrival and a lovely meal at the end, washed down with plenty of wine, so it's also a great idea for private parties, birthdays, hen nights, team-building events, etc.  
On the night I was there we were split into three sub-groups  to learn how to make the three courses we would be eating there later that evening – we made the pasta for Ravioli with Pumkpin, prepared and cooked the meat for the Pheasant Casserole and carefully mixed the ingredients for the Pear Soufflés.
It's made me want a pasta machine of my own. But ooh they are expensive. How much pasta do I need to make to recoup the cost?
The Underground Cookery School is in City Road very close to The Eagle, featured in the famous rhyme (see bottom left). Below are pics I have taken in the vicinity of the school. although some of these features have since changed or been removed.

30 October 2013

You are invited to "A Forage on the Foreshore"

People are often asking if they can join me on my clay pipe collection forays along the Thames foreshores.
The thing is, I don't tend to make plans; I either just wander down some steps if I happen to be by the river or, I have some free time I check the tide tables to see whether it's worth the trip because the tide does not come in and out at the same time every day and often my half-baked plans are scuppered.

But, having just checked the tide tables, I actually do have a plan...
Please join me for "a Forage on the Foreshore" in Wapping on Saturday 9th November.
Low tide will be at 11.48am so I will be there by 10.15am, which will allow at least three hours on the foreshore followed by lunch and beers at one of the nearby pubs.
If you would like to come along, please email me at the above address so that I can send you the meet-up details and reserve a table.
Dogs welcome.

I plan to end the day by walking back in to the centre of town to watch the fireworks at the end of The Lord Mayor's celebrations from Blackfriars Bridge. I hope you can join me for that too.

The next forage will be in Rotherhithe on Sunday 5th January. 
Here are some of my Wapping pictures:

29 October 2013

The Cheapside Hoard

Last week I went to see the Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London and was totally amazed by the craftsmanship of these wonderful pieces that had been hidden under ground for centuries.
I don't need to write much more about the Hoard's history etc here because you can find an excellent in-depth review on the London Historian's blog.
My theory is that, seeing as his stock was so large and valuable, the owner of the jewellery shop that was originally located at the site, kept kept everything of value in an underground space on a regular basis. But, how come the gold didn't melt in the Great Fire of London? Was the collection boxed and locked or just wrapped up? If boxed, where is the box? Perhaps the jeweller intended to return after the fire but he, and possibly his family too, died, and having told no one about his hiding place the jewels stayed buried.
The Cheapside Hoard is amazingly good so it's disappointing to report that the layout of the exhibition does not back it up.
On entering through vault-style turnstile gates, the initial information board talks about when the Hoard was discovered, so you move into the first main room but find it is full of things from the Elizabethan period with scant explanation to why there are there. It took me ages to realise that these items were not from the hoard but were museum pieces included to help place the Hoard in context with what was happening in that period. A big heading somewhere reading "Jewels and jewellery-making in the Elizabethan period" would have been helpful. I was not the only person there who was confused like this. I heard lots of "what's this?/Who is he/she?/Where?/Why?". There was lots of milling back and forth re-reading things.
Many of the information cards are nowhere near the artefacts they refer to; one lady and I effectively made up a new dance step as we kept moving circling each other trying to find things. Items are mentioned in the text yet not visible in the cabinets. And conversely, there are artefacts with no explanation at all. It's all very confusing. In one cabinet there are street names referred to. I had no idea where these streets were and how they related to Cheapside, and I am a Londoner... so how's a man from Sweden going to know where they are? The inclusion of a map showing the location of the shop would have been extremely useful.
So it was such a palpable relief to enter the next room and be confronted with a cabinet full of beautiful long chain necklaces that WERE from the Hoard. Phew!
At the end of the exhibition, just before a really dodgy 5-min film about why the Hoard might have buried, are two information boards that, to my mind, would have been better placed near the entrance, because I said "A-ha!" out loud.
It's always wise to get someone who hasn't worked on a job to check it before it goes live, whether it's a book, a presentation or an exhibition. It's often hard to notice the mistakes when you are in the thick of it. So, if anyone out there would like any help with their next event then please do contact me because I have a keen eye for detail and a questioning mind so I make a good test dummy.
But hey.... go go go.... it's on until 27th April 2014.
Jewellers etc in London. 
At least three of the shops featured here have since closed for good. 
I wonder if there's anything sparkly buried underneath them?

25 October 2013

Blood Wedding at The Courtyard Theatre

There are three weeks left to catch this interesting adaption of Frederico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding – a simple tale about love, honour and revenge... and, of course there is a wedding and blood.
This wonderful production is on at The Courtyard Theatre in Pitfield Street, Hoxton until 16th November. More info and booking here.
Some of my photos of interesting bits and pieces shot on the streets that surround the theatre, which is itself shown top right in this collection.

22 October 2013

World Hunger and St Pancras International Station

I popped into St Pancras Station on Sunday 13th because I had heard that an orchestra would be there who make music using the unused parts of vegetables as part of World Food Day (16th October). Watch this video which explains this cause far better than I can attempt to do so here. It includes footage taken at the station.
Whilst there I also picked up some information from Action Against Hunger. It's appalling to think I am living in a country that throws away a lot of unused  food, yet there are people in the world who are barely surviving. A lot of these people are living in countries who grow and export foodstuffs to countries such as the UK. Need I say more?
Whilst the first floor of St Pancras is a buzzing with people milling about going here and there, drinking, eating, shopping or just waiting for trains, the upper level is rather quiet. And it's a shame. The "longest champagne bar in Europe" had only two tables full that Sunday afternoon, and I was the only person admiring Martin Jennings' affectionate statue of Sir John Betjeman. Though there were a few people looking at that hideous oversized statue of the kissing couple. I popped in to the Things British shop to check on my product display. Tom has written about the shop on his very inforamative site here.
Seems to me that the lack of people on the first floor is down to access from the Euston Road and KX. Many people new to St Pancras Station do not appreciate that it's actually quicker and much nicer to go up the short flight of steps at the front right which takes you to the original entrance close to the old ticket hall which is now part of the gorgeous hotel (see my pics of the interior below). From the first floor you get the best views of the whole station and it's wonderful unsupported roof before taking the stairs or escalator down to the platforms.
Contrast this with the maze as you enter from street level and then collide with tube travellers and get coralled into a shopping mall. Ugh!

20 October 2013

Bloomsbury Festival – last day today

Today is the last day of the excellent (8th) Bloomsbury Festival.
Yesterday afternoon I went to the festival in Russell Square (London's largest). There is so much to see and do in the square as the event includes some fabulous information and educational tents where you can learn about mathematics, the body, drawing, dancing, science, ecology, recycling andplenty more. Plus the usual live music performances, craft stalls, a book tent and of course, a beer tent.
You have until 5.30pm to get there... take a brolly just incase. It's not muddy, there are paths plus extra temporary plastic paths joining the tents which are carpeted inside... the organisers seem to have thought of everything, though I hope those carpets get cleaned and reused to keep inline with the ethos of the event.
Here are some of the pics I took yesterday which include a rather interesting 'female' tree. Is it just me who notices these things?

18 October 2013

Jane's London is in the short-list for the Avis A-List Awards

If you like what I do here then please vote by clicking on this link.
My chosen post is the rant I had about The Shard... all the other bloggers seem to be writing in a more positive vein... oops!
Anyway... please spread the word and vote for who you think deserves it.... you might even win a prize for yourself.
Here is a larger image of one of my aerial shots of The Isle Of Dogs (as featured in my last post). It was taken from a plane in May 2010, not from that pointy thing in Southwark:

15 October 2013

Dangerous dogs

Dangerous dogs and what to do about them is in the news again lately.
"They" are discussing the problem of mauled babies, aggressive curs, dogs bred for fighting etc. Microchipping and owner registration come high on the list of solutions.
Dog-related pics taken in, around and above London
Today's dogs don't want to be aggressive, but some have been specifically bred to be so. It seems to me that the problem of aggressive dogs comes down to ownership in the first instance.  
I have just come back from another holiday in Turkey where there are many lovely street dogs of all shapes and sizes. In all the years I have been going there I have never seen any aggressive behaviour from them. Most pet dogs are also allowed to go out on their own to mix with the other dogs. It's really lovely to see such calm friendly, relaxed animals, hanging out with their mates, or running off somewhere doggily important, coming home later for their dinner. Mostly they fall asleep under chairs or in the middle of the road! 
They have managed over the years to 'train' themselves to get what they want from humans (food and companionship) without the need for leashes or lessons. If another dog they don't like comes near, there is a raising of hackles, a bit of a staring competition and some low growling, then one backs down and wanders off.
The only mildly-aggressive behavior I have seen concerning Turkish dogs is when owners have their dog on a lead and another dog wanders over to say hello and have a friendly sniff... the owner of the leashed dog starts pulling their dog back thus sending out messages that the owner is scared and needs protecting from this invader. It's a vicious circle. The leashed dog usually barks and strains at the lead whilst the free dog stands looking confused, then wanders off to find some dog better to play with.
I watched this exact situation happen last week when a man with a beautiful big, soppy 6-month old dog sat down for coffee at a seafront café but he "had to leave" because she was "badly behaved" and was "never any good near other dogs". A good example of how an aggressive animal can be created. I tried to talk to the man to explain that his tugging on the lead was sending out the wrong messages to the dog, but he didn't want to hear me, preferring to wallow in the perverse idea that he had a difficult animal to contend with and was some kind of super hero having to deal with her. I found it so sad. Especially for the dog, who was just a big puppy and was missing out on doing dog stuff.
I have also not noticed any dog faeces on the pavements in Turkey. Nor in the roads or on the beaches. This is probably because dogs much prefer to leave their messages in special corners where other dogs will find them. Sort of canine letterboxes. The dogs who only get taken out on a lead once or twice a day have been holding onto their payload for hours and must be busting by the time it's walkies. Having had no other dogs around to learn from, they often drop it at the first sniff of fresh air which, unfortunately, might be in the middle of a pavement (don't get me started about those cruel and insensitive owners who then drag their dog along whilst the poor animal is performing an act of nature).
I like dogs.

7 October 2013

Nice things and confusing things in the V&A

I love the Victoria and Albert Museum SO MUCH! If I lived nearby I go there at least two or three times a week.
Not only is the building beautiful, but it's jam-packed full of gorgeous stuff.
Last time I went there I restricted myself to just two rooms.
The inside/outside space on Level 0 near the main entrance to the right contains many fascinating things including the carved timber framed frontage from St Paul Pindar's House that used to sit in Bishopsgate and some other hand carved doorway furniture all festooned with gravity-defying tits. I have written about this kind of thing before, here.
But the thing that held my attention for the longest time in that area was the table/desk contraptions at which two scribes were sitting. How on earth did these men squeeze themselves into these things? Did the table section hinge or flap? And why when there is so much detail on the rest of these carvings is this not made clear? It's hard to explain this without you seeing the carvings in the stoney flesh. Answers please.
Then to one of the Cast Rooms (the other was closed for renovation). These two rooms are awe-inspiring. Big things – Trajan columns, statues, cathedral and baptistry doors, all covered in exquisite little details and stories. The time and effort taken to carve the originals is one thing, but the time and effort taken to make the moulds for these casts is another.
Last year I spent a pleasant afternoon chatting with a friend on the bench in front of the very large and very beautiful Ardabil Carpet in the Jameel Gallery. The lights faded on and off every half hour. It was mesmerising.
It's possible to see a lot of the exhibits online using this wonderful map, but it's just not the same as being there and soaking in the atmosphere.

3 October 2013

More pub colours

Continuing to be inspired by Mr Paul Bommer, here is another set of images, this time the pubs feature things with colours rather than animals.
This time my apologies for colours extend to lemon and navy. It's called artistic licence.
In 2009 I produced a Christmas card featuring a collection of 12 images each with a tenuous theme to the season. If you are interested, there are still some left to purchase. I say this now because I got an email in the middle of last month letting me know when the Regent Street Christmas lights were being switched on. Apparently you can't start planning too early.
Lots more of my pub photos here.

30 September 2013

Parkland Walk – railway to pathway

More images from my recent Parkland Walk stroll.
I remember discovering Parkland Walk by accident when I moved to the Holloway area in 1988 and walndered up the hill to Crouch End. I investigated further and it was like uncovering something that no-one else knew about. My neighbours seemed to be oblivious to it when I questioned them for more info.  It reminded me of when I used to go on bike rides when I was a 10 and think that I was the only person who was aware of all those little alleys that join up the roads in Hornchurch, or the empty wartime (hospital?) buildings near the swimming pool. (Any info re this most welcome.)
Whenever I went to Parkland Walk with my sister in the early 90s we felt it was our own secret place, especially if we accessed from the little path at the top of Hillrise Rd that ran around the edge of an unloved old sports club.
Back then the trail was a bit unkept as it had been neglected for decades and we'd hardly see anyone along the whole length of the path except a few kids practicing their skateboarding skills in the half pipe at the youth centre near Crouch Hill.
A team of intrepid volunteers has managed over the years to tidy up the tangled undergrowth, remove the dead wood and really make Parkland Walk a pleasant place to pass a few hours – as they say, 'a piece of countryside in the heart of London'. Shame on me for not joining in.
There are well-maintained paths, not only along the old track, but also the little ones that lead you up and down into the trees and shrubs. Attractive stairways have been made from old railway sleepers, and information boards explain the flora and fauna. I was impressed to read about acid grassland having never even heard of it before that day (see centre images). This type of grass lives on low-nutrient acidic soils, so it's well-named!
Elements of the old Stroud Green station platforms and buildings at Stapleton Hall Rd are still in place. I looked down from the northern platform and imagined how the scene below would have looked in Edwardian times. And on the bridge at Mount View Rd I wondered why Thames Water don't let people access the lovely grass that covers the reservoir? It must be lovely on there.
The old Crouch Hill Station still retains its long platforms – there s a lovely old photo on an information board showing how it looked 100 years ago.
Enough info from me... you'll find much more here.
Please scroll down to see my previous posts about this lovely stretch of greenery.

26 September 2013

Parkland Walk graffiti

Continuing on from my post the other week, this one is not about nature so much as the colourful graffiti, mainly to be found in the stretch between Crouch Hill and Crouch End Hill.
For many years now kids who practiced their skateboarding skills on the half pipe at the adventure playground (now removed) would also practice their graffiti skills on the arches under the road and along the sides of the old railway tracks.
As I walked along I stopped here and there and took a few snaps of the patchwork of graffiti styles crashing into each other. The mix of nature and paint actually works quite well, especially contrasted by the vibrant grassy greens and the dark arches.
As I approached Crouch Hill Road Bridge I could see some hooded artists in action. I commented to them, in a jolly way, that the aerosol smell was quite heady. They half looked at me but ignored me. These men, for they were over 30, not kids, obviously didn't like me invading their play space.
I walked on and overheard them bitching about me and my type (something like): "who do these people think they are?", "how would they like to be photographed when they are working", "it's theft man".
I stood staring at them about 15 metres away hoping one of them might have the balls to come and speak to me but no.
What I would have said was, "you paint all over public property, yet, as a fellow member of the public, I can't take pictures of you doing that?"... "if you don't want people to see your work then don't do it public places at 5pm on a Sunday afternoon".
Nothing they were doing appeared to be very accomplished or new. I wanted to ask these untalented idiots "don't you have a wall on your own house you could practice on?!"
As you can see from the photos, I don't think Parkland Walk will be taking over from Shoreditch as the graffiti centre of London any time soon...

23 September 2013

Find green spaces with Parklife London

I have posting a lot recently about green things in London; living walls, paths and walks etc and I have just found a site that specifically helps Londonders find and get involved with all the lovely green spaces in the capital.
Parklife London covers all 12 inner London boroughs with interactive links on an easy to view map. The site includes events, community projects and voluntary opportunities.
Rather good eh?!
Above are some non-natural green things I have spotted in London. Find them and more here.

20 September 2013

An urban forest at the Seven Dials

Tomorrow, for one day only the junction of Earlham, Shelton, Monmouth roads, more commonly known as The Seven Dials, will be transformed into an urban forest.
As part of International Car Free Day the Seven Dials and immediate area will be closed to traffic and sixty 5 metre trees will be placed around the monument creating a leafy quiet area to sit and think about greener modes of transport such as walking and cycling.
In amongst the trees there will be lots to do and see including an Air Quality Bubble Map, an interactive cycling experience pod, and help with your bike and bike related injuries. Drinks will be available from the Orchard Juice Bar.
After the event Camden Council will be replanting all the trees at various permanent locations throughout Camden.
All a stone's through from the Seven Dials

17 September 2013

Review of this year's Thames' Festival – a washout in many respects

This year The Mayor's Thames Festival took place over 10 days, rather than one glorious fun-packed weekend as in the past. The rationale was to spread out the events along the river to include places further up- and down-stream.
But I think this backfired. The event (I can't really use the word 'festival') was, to my mind a wash out, and not just because of the weather.
I can understand that many attractions at the Thames Festival have, in the past  had little to do with the River, but they get people out and animated and interested in places and things they might never have noticed or engaged with before. 
Happier times pre-2013

This year there was no fireworks and no parade. I believe that cutting these two key events may be the main reason for the poor turnout. To make it worse, if you visited the event site for information one of the first things you would have seen, high up on the home page, was that there would be no fireworks or parade, and the admission that funds were tight. 
How very stupid!  The home page should be bigging up the good things not enhancing the negatives!! Why advertise what you don't have? Who is really going to scroll down further after reading that?! 
There is a quote on the site from Adrian Evans, the Festival Director, and he says, 
"By shedding the restriction of a weekend and broadening its geographical horizons, combined with a fantastic and wide-ranging programme of events, the festival will inspire people to re-connect with London’s greatest natural asset in new and surprising ways".
Inspire? how? Surprising?  Well yes. Surprising in the sense that there was nothing to see.
Because to remove practically everything that had been attracting people year on year was a really REALLY silly move. 
Huge leaps in marketing and promo in the past 4 years meant that the festival had become something to mark in your diary. The parade and fireworks were spectacular and kept people at the other attractions long into the final day. A win-win for all. 
This year there were walks and talks about the Thames. A great idea, but most of these were pre-book events. But there was barely anything that you could just show up and take part in as in previous years, such as the feast on Southwark Bridge, or the fire garden outside the Tate, nor were there any dancers or colourful characters walking about. 
I was in London for both weekends this year trading at the We Make London Markets, first at Bernie Spain's Gardens and then More London Riverside. Only a handful of visitors to my stall at either location had any notion that there was a festival on at all. 
Compared to previous years (I have going for 15 years now; 12 as a visitor and 3 as a trader) the event was a shadow of its former self. There were no signage or banners along the Southbank so people who wandered into the zone had no idea that the market and the music stage at Bernie Spain's Gardens were for the event and not just  an every-weekend occurrence. Festival? Where? Last year there were site-specific information points and tents where you could pickup colourful information-packed programmes. 
It was meant to be more about the river this year. I understand that there were a few boaty things happening in and around St Katharine Docks, but as regards the Central London stretch of river I saw nothing happening on the river over the first weekend and I was there from 10am until 10pm both days. 
On the evening of Saturday 14th at approx 8pm night, after a very quiet day at the Scoop with no music or entertainment at all, all day, we were suddenly blasted by a honking cacophony coming from some boats circling about in the Pool of London. Billed as a Ships' Opera, his deafening art-fart went on for much too long. It certainly wasn't singing. 
On Sunday 15th there was some lovely proper singing from choirs in the Scoop. There were lots of people enjoying the music. But they evaporated when the singing stopped. I am pretty sure the crowd was made up of the choirs' friends and family. By 5pm on Sunday afternoon there was barely anyone around at all and the market packed up at 6pm. The festival finished with a whimper rather than a bang.  
I noticed some some volunteers canvassing feedback about the event on badly designed A4 sheets. Half of the questions were about age, ethnic group, where you came from, why you were there etc. One question asked how much you expected to spend during the day and what proportion of that you would have spent had you not come to the festival. What a dippy question. I wrote 57%. 
Another asked "How did you hear about the event?" and followed that with "would you come again?". I would be interested to see the feedback on that last question alone. Because if I was a tourist visiting London and it was my first time at the Thames Festival I certainly wouldn't be going home and telling my friends what a must-see event it was!
So, I urge you... if you went there this year and you were as disappointed as I was, then please please write to the organisers and let them know what you think... because if we all sit tight and say nothing it won't be improved upon for next year.

16 September 2013

No Junk Mail

Our front doors and gardens are a mess these days – our gardens are littered with ugly plastic bins and containers meant for household rubbish and recyclable items.
A lot of paper in the recycling bins consists of take-away menus which seem to stick to the bottom of the bins hanging on for dear life.  
Many of us have added stickers to our letterboxes stating "No Junk Mail". To illustrate my point, the photos below were all taken in the space of a 5 minute walk in Barnsbury, Islington.
What these homeowners are basically saying is, "that leaflet in your hand that you are being paid to deliver to my home... is it really a quality item that I need to see, or is it rubbish? Please decide for me. And make the right decision!".
I read a while ago that a London man kept all of his junk food leaflets in a pile by the door and in just 12 months it had reached a metre high.
A pedantic friend had a 'No Junk Mail' sign on his door and, if a flyer landed inside the house, he would write on it that he didn't want it and post it back to the company in an unstamped envelope. Ooh that's harsh!

11 September 2013

Mudlarking along the Thames

One evening last week I joined a group of wellie-clad history geeks and fellow London Historians for a short walk along the Thames at low tide led by a Thames Discovery Programme guide.
As you are probably aware I am a frequent visitor to stretches of the Thames' foreshores but I wanted to learn some more snippets of historical info to pass on to customers who visit my stall and website.
Walking into the sunset from Cannon Street Station to The Millennium Bridge taking care not to trip over the vertical markers placed by proper mudlarkers (these are posts placed into the mud to alert people that there is soft ground caused by their excavations) we learned about what's left of the Walbrook River, Roman settlements, barge loading platforms, slipways, iron pipes and Mother-of-Pearl buttons.
Why not go for a wander there yourself? The Thames foreshores can be accessed at many points by steps and staircases, but please do remember that the tide is not at the same time every day – check the tide tables.
Please note that you can pick up things (except in some restricted areas) but you are not allowed to dig or disturb the surface at all. Only about 50 licensed mudlarkers have permits to do that and even they are limited to a metre's depth.
If you find anything you think is of archaeological interest then you should contact the Museum of London who keep a mapped archive. They have a sort of clinic where you can pop in glean info about your finds.
Finally, if you do go down to the foreshore, be sure to plan your exit route because the tide comes in really fast!

9 September 2013

Blackberry picking on the Parkland Walk

It's blackberry season and all along the Parkland Walk people are out collecting bowls of the lovely sweet fruit from the many bushes that line the old railway track. I didn't have a bowl with me on the day I was there so I just grazed as I walked along.
It's really lush along there at the moment as the trees and bushes are all in full leaf. The paths and woodland areas are well maintained by a sterling group of volunteers (see above link) and are accessed at many points from the adjoining roads by stairs made form old railway sleepers. There are also information points along the way explaining the various flora and fauna to be found there.
Parkland Walk is frequented by joggers, dog walkers and people just out for a stroll enjoying the greenery. And, just like London's canal paths (well, apart from the Camden stretch of the Regent's Canal), this walk makes you feel as you have left the concrete city when really it is only just a few metres above or below you.
The pictures below are all from the stretch between Finsbury Park and Crouch Hill. More posts and pictures about this thin stretch of nature to follow.

6 September 2013

Walking along the New River Path

I often take a lunch break in the lovely park along the New River in the Islington section between The Marquess Tavern and St Paul's Road, (see pics below).
The river isn't new. It isn't even a river. It was a channel dug in the early 1600s to bring clean water into the City from natural springs in Hertfordshire, and then channeled into homes through pipes made of elm.

Note that the 'river' in the parks at Islington is merely cosmetic, using the old watercourse as sites for two long narrow ponds. Today the water from Herts joins the ring main at Clissold Park, Stoke Newington.
This year is the New River's 400th anniversary and to commemorate this Islington Council have organised a series of events (23–29 September) which include three free lunchtime guided walks led by the wonderfully informative Peter Bertoud, a fully qualified Westminster Guide.
Spaces for his New River walking tours are limited so if you do not manage to secure a space don't panic because the whole 45km route can be walked at your own leisure all the way from its source in New Gauge, Herts, to The New River Head near Sadlers Wells. The paths are well-maintained and there are information boards along the way.
Ooh look... I just found this interesting commemorative edition Canonbury newsletter which has even more information about the area.
And The Dugdale Centre within Enfield Museum has a free exhibition about the New River that is on until 5th January 2014. (Thinks... a walk north along the river to Enfield one day soon would be nice.)

Peter has lots more interesting tours.

5 September 2013

Dinosaurs and devils and angels and dragons

The latest fabulously entertaining video adventure from The Lost Valley of London is about dinosaurs. It's packed full of information.
Watch it here.
I haven't any pictures of dinosaurs myself but I do have plenty of pics of mythical and mythological creatures in and around London – yeah yeah dinosaurs are/were real, but they are/were pretty weird.
Top: Nat History Museum, West Hampstead, City of London, St Giles
Middle: Bermondsey, W1, Blackfriars, Highgate
Bottom: Soho, Paddington, Kensington, Vauxhall

3 September 2013

The Mayor's Thames Festival – bigger, longer, and hopefully better than ever!!

It doesn't seem a year since last year's Thames Festival...
In past years this has been a jam-packed weekend, but this year the event is being stretched out over 10 days, from 6th until 15th September, which means it will be less of a crush and a rush to see all the good things that are on offer.
See here for information and a full programme of events.
I will be checking out some of the weekday events at a leisurely pace and at the weekends I will be selling my Thames-related wares alongside the other designer-makers of We Make London at Bernie Spain's Gardens on 7th & 8th and at More London on 14th & 15th. I was going to say that I wish it was the other way around because last year the fireworks were set off right in front of my stall at BSgdns and, being as there weren't so many people around (the Paralympic closing ceremony was also happening that night), I had the most amazing view of the display, but I have just discovered that for the first time in more than a decade there will be no night carnival or fireworks this year... boo hoo :-(
Instead I will be enjoying the singing at the Scoop on the afternoon Sunday 15th when a 600-voice kids choir will be in full song. I love all that! ;-)
Lots to see and do – I hope to see you there!!!