Archive for the ‘london’ Category

Et tu Brutalist?

I had a great London wander today – theme: Brutalist Architecture. First outing for my Brutalist London Map which I got from the Twentieth Century Society via Blue Crow Media (beautifully designed, for a mere 8 quid).

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I had a pre-outing last weekend to Trellick Tower on Golborne Road. The architect Erno Goldfinger shares a birthday with me (and John Martyn) so I have a bit of a soft spot for him. My niece lives there so I got to capture some of the interiors…

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Trellick Tower

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Entrance hall windows (rear)

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I headed East this morning to Blackwall on the Docklands Light Railway. First stop Robin Hood Gardens in E14. Although the 20th Century Society is fighting to get it listed and indeed saved, personally I found it terrible architecture and even worse housing. As I walked around the estate two separate people asked me whether I was there for the consultation – the second was an architect type. He told me there was a big session taking place today regarding the redevelopment of the whole area so it looks like it’s a gonner (no tears).

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Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar, London E14

Fortunately within 5 minutes walk is Balfron Tower, the 1967 precursor by Goldfinger to Trellick Tower (1972).

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Balfron Tower, London E14

Trellick was definitely an improvement, partly because it has a far better site. The nautical touch of Trellick’s tower is evident in a smaller block adjacent to Balfron called Glenkerry House.

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Glenkerry House

I sailed off North West from there across E14 and E3 to E2 where two further Brutalist sites beckoned. Leaving views of Canary Wharf Tower and the Docklands behind me, under blue skies in bright winter sun I walked along canals (Limehouse Cut and the Regent’s Canal at Mile End), through back streets, past Victorian churches and factories, until I got to the estates behind Roman Road. And there waited two beauties by Denys Lasdun, architect of the National Theatre, one of the most well known Brutalist buildings in the city.

First the exquisite Trevelyan House, gleaming white against the azure sky.

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Trevelyan House

It is characterised by the central staircase/lift shaft connecting its two halves. A couple of roads away is a sister block, Sulkin House.

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Sulkin House

So that’s the first flânage from my Brutalist London Map. I bought a pear from the fruit stall behind Sulkin exchanging badinage with the West Ham supporting stall holder and his dad, thanks to my Spurs scarf (from Savile Rogue). Then an Italian coffee from two lovely Italian girls on the Roman Road. Lunch at Pellicci’s on Bethnal Green Road, Est. 1900, served by the grandson of the founder, proper Cockney, all the staff super-welcoming, sat with a chatty second-generation Irish couple from Walthamstow. Final stop – Flashback Records down the street where I picked up a copy of Lola by The Kinks, boys from my manor.

Headed back to my manor after 5 hours walking with a spring in my step as the sun set on a brutally beautiful day.

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The photos are all here.

Songlines #13: Half the World Away

The Question:

What song or piece of music means the most to you?

Ciara Linder is a teacher – born in London, grew up in Northern Ireland, now living back in London. Her choice reflects this axis in her life.

The Song: Half the World Away – Aurora

Here is her older brother’s Songlines – a very different take on the London Irish experience.

 

 

The previous Songlines:

Songlines #12: Call to Prayer / Adhan

Bowie: Blackstar Rising

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Just beautiful

I heard about the passing of David Bowie about 15 minutes ago as the sad and unexpected news broke on Radio 5 Live. It had echoes of the news at a similar time on the same station almost exactly 3 years ago when the beautifully resonant song ‘Where Are We Now?’ was suddenly unleashed upon the world as a present on Bowie’s birthday – 8th January 2013. But this was the dark twin. It was only on Friday that the world was enjoying a similar event – the birthday release of Blackstar, Bowie’s last album, as surprising and novel as anything he has ever done. As a jazz lover it was a delicious prospect. Despite listening to it across this weekend sadly there hasn’t even been time to start to absorb it.

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I don’t normally feel such deaths in a truly personal way (with the single exception of John Martyn) but this one is very resonant in a different way. The passing of this great son of London without doubt makes the world a lesser place and I’ll spend today absorbing it. It is not totally dark in that it feels like he lived a beautiful life.

The love of music; the persistence getting his break; the innovation, success, boundry-pushing; the re-inventions; right up to the surprise re-emergence in 2013; the happy marriage; the prioritisation of children/fatherhood; the tranquil oasis in his third great city London > Berlin > New York, a suitably great metropolis to be the backdrop for his final ascendance.

While I absorb the sad&sudden news here are some Bowie bits from Simple Pleasures part IV over the last few years:

4 for 66 (Happy Birthday David Bowie) [9 January 2013]

Heddonism [11 April, 2012]

100 Greatest Songs [12 January, 2008]

 

Yeats Mates

irish harp on euro coin

So I’m sitting at breakfast as usual, late Saturday morning, a West Coast Irish sense of urgency (think mañana but less pressing), listening to Robert Elms on Radio London. After a bit of a dull gardening item an Irish poetry enthusiast with a Dublin accent pops up to talk about his guided walk to mark today’s [Saturday 13th] 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats. He says “it’s probably too late for your listeners” – red rag to a British bulldog, I was going to get to Wolburn Buildings for the start of the walk regardless of the sub-90 minute lead-time. Niall McDevitt was the name of the poetical Irish gent punting his walk on the wireless and it was the said poet who wandered up Woburn Walk, location of WB’s bachelor pad, at the appointed hour of one, in red trousers, perfect to lead a walk through a busy Saturday afternoon London, the biz in hi-viz.

As he started the walk-talk an Indian lady appeared at WB’s balcony – an artist who uses his old love-nest as a studio. She gamely waved a large photo of Yeats to the assembled motley crew. Niall explained that WB moved in as a 30-something virgin, determined to pop the ol’ cherry and in need of a bit of space from his artist father and painter brother Jack over in the family home in Chiswick or thereabouts in West London. His married mistress found the place, in a small, quiet passage opposite Euston and within walking distance of the Brain of London which was the British Museum Reading Room, the internet of its day. The affair only lasted a year but WB stayed there for 24 years (1895-1919) until he eventually married. For the Irish Shakespeare that was a long time in prime years to stay in a foreign metropolis. Perhaps we dare think of him as London-Irish in some small way?

The Euston location was convenient for his Monday evening At Homes where the likes of Ezra Pound and Maud Gonne pulled by for cultural and literary chat. It was also convenient for jumping on the train to Liverpool to catch the ferry round to the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.

From Wolburn Walk we headed across Bloomsbury to the bust of Tagore in Gordon Square to review Yeats’s Indian connections. (The Nobel-prize-winning Indian poet Tagore while in London lived in the Vale of Health just below where I was born).

Then along the greenery into UCL (founded by one of my distant forebears) and the building of Faber & Faber where TS Eliot was based. Niall put forward the proposition that Yeats’s Second Coming was the great poem of the 20th Century and not The Wasteland. I let it pass – he’s obviously wrong.

Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold

At Museum Street opposite that Brain of London we stopped for an interlude at the Occult Book Shop where the proprietor, a 2nd generation bookseller who has just inducted the 3rd generation, gave us a fascinating talk about Magic and the Golden Dawn, an occult order which Yeats joined in a serious way. On the wall were pictures of various key personages including the Hackney Jew who set up the shop and an oil portrait of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, one of the primary influences on Yeats life (alongside a Fenian whose name escapes me, Sean O’Something). Irish Nationalism and Magic – his Big Two Things.

From there into Covent Garden where we strangely enough went right past my hairdresser where I had a 3pm appointment – what’s the chances of the line from Woburn Walk happening to pass that spot? Near the Freemasons’ HQ in Great Queen Street we stopped to talk a bit of Blake. In the old Masonic children’s hospital opposite was the place where Blake did his engraving apprenticeship for 7 years. Niall’s core territory is bounded by Shakespeare (who spent a lot of time in London in Southwark) and Blake (who grew up in London in Marshall Street – opposite my first job at Solus Productions at No. 35) and Rimbaud (who spent a little time in London in Camden Town) and Yeats (who spent a lot of time in London in Euston, Primrose Hill and Chiswick).

I peeled off when we got to the other side of Lincoln’s Inn as hair cutting called. They were heading in the direction of temples where Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawners worshipped. That kind of shit freaks me out a bit any way so probably just as well. Rewind. As we were starting off in Wolburn Buildings Niall mentioned the fact that Yeats was big into the after-life and would appreciate our celebration, indeed might well be with us if his hopes for the after-life proved well founded. At that moment one of the walkers’ mobile rang, he fumbled it and dropped a small case he was carrying, from which spilled a number of harmonicas. As in mouth organs. Or blues harps. So harps, the symbol of Irish poetry, fall out on the streets of London. Nuff said.

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yeats walk with niall mcdevitt

Where the harps fell

WB's bachelor pad, Wolburn Buildings

WB’s bachelor pad, Wolburn Buildings

The Morning After The Morning After The Night Before

There are good victories and there are bad victories. Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the day my fellow citizens danced in the fountains of Trafalgar Square to celebrate the fall of Hitler and the Nazis and the triumph of Democracy.

8th May 1945

8th May 1945

Yesterday was also the day I woke up from not much sleep, having listened most of the night to the results of the General Election as they came in, to the prospect of a majority Tory government and 5 more years of a very different austerity to what faced the victorious nation in the aftermath of the war. Instead of bold visions of the future like the National Health Service this is a prospect of the NHS being sold off to rapacious corporations who actually don’t perform any better than the incumbents and cream off cash for shareholders at the expense of the service-users. The last 18 months has seen not only an obvious deterioration of the NHS, in particular A&E, but also a blossoming unfairness. We’re not all it it together and never have been. The Conservatives aren’t capable of doing One Nation, it’s not in their nature.

Last week Richard Rogers, the architect of 124 Horseferry Road, Channel 4’s HQ just round the corner from the Houses of Parliament, came in to his building to talk to us, the staff of C4, about his work and life and the building we work in. He was interviewed by Channel 4 News’ Cathy Newman in our cinema and among the most interesting revelations was that he hadn’t intentionally created the Channel 4 penis. It’s long been an urban myth that when you look down on the two revolving doors and the see-through entrance canopy it was deliberately designed to look like a todger.

The entrance to 124 Horseferry Road

The entrance to 124 Horseferry Road

Rogers was genuinely surprised at the revelation so the urban myth was officially put to bed. At the amusement no doubt of the lowly member of Richard Rogers’ draughting team who probably snuck it in.

Rogers also spoke about how, when he comes home to his self-designed Georgian conversion in Chelsea, most of the buildings he walks by at night have next to no lights on since they are not homes but investments of the rich and foreign, they are laundered cash and expressions of no faith in their own nations. They are emblems of the last 5 years of Tory-driven government, empty, an insult to the sufferers of the nationwide housing crisis, dark, undermining of this great city, my native London. For the first time in my life it is deteriorating before my eyes – as I discussed here in Blitzed Again.

So I woke up from the kind of sleep you’d get in an Underground tunnel at night with German bombs falling above, shell-shocked by the unexpected result of a majority Tory government in the face of weeks of polls and punditry to the contrary. Not only that but the excellent Labour candidate in my constituency (and I’m not a Labour supporter) also failed to get elected in spite of a truly exemplary campaign – well organised, committed, personal and with heart. Sarah Sackman is a talented local candidate, young and with energy, not cynical but engaged and hopeful. Instead we got 5 more years of a tired party hack who can’t even be relied on to protect the Grade 2 listed library at the cultural heart of our community. After writing this I’m off on a march to call for the saving of easyCouncil Barnet’s library service – another aspect of public life the last Cameron regime failed hopelessly to safeguard right across the country.

I actually voted for Sarah but it was the result of a vote-swop facilitated by Swap My Vote www.swapmyvote.uk through which I had my Liberal vote cast in the West Country where a slim LibDem majority was being defended. In return I voted for Labour on behalf of a total stranger who I met through the site and exchanged a few messages through Facebook to get a sense of his bona fides. His vote, which would have had no impact where he lives, got to contribute to a very tight Conservative-Labour race here. It was an uplifting contact through new technology and for me was the only silver lining of the horrendousness of this drawn-out election. Apart from the unelection of the horrendous George Galloway of course (if only Scotland would take that son of theirs back). It represents the upside of the internet age in that this clever application of web technology means that if we don’t get given Electoral Reform (4M UKIP votes gave them 1 seat, 1M Green votes gave them 1 seat, while 1.4M SNP votes yielded 56 seats) we the people can take it for ourselves. Those numbers should leave a lot of frustrated and disempowered and angry people in their wake. I have never voted tactically before in the whole of my adult life but I just couldn’t face 5 more years of being all in it together with the complacent, hypocritical, greedy and out of touch.

Swap My Vote was set up in typical internet start-up MVP style by a Channel 4 colleague, Tom de Grunwald, and a PhD scientist, James Allen. It is a ray of light in the looming darkness.

So I got up with effort and went off to work. I felt the need to talk to people so on my way in to the Richard Rogers penis-less edifice (will this lot of Tories sell off this bit of the family silver?) I went to a meeting at the media cliché that is the Groucho Club in Dean Street, Soho where I had the privilege of watching Nick Clegg’s dignified and masterful resignation speech, truly historic, with the historian Simon Schama. I recently saw him deliver his own masterful speech at Names Not Numbers in Aldeburgh where he spoke without notes for over an hour in a fluent and inspirational way which was the quintessence of what a university lecturer/professor should be. We also watched Ed Miliband’s resignation speech, an interesting contrast, not because it was poor or unfelt, but because it lacked the same insight and historical scope.

From there I walked towards the office in the company of a Cambridge mathematician I had also befriended at Names Not Numbers. We picked over the ashes together. We took our leave at the new 4th plinth, Gift Horse, a sculptural statement by German-American artist Hans Haacke about austerity in contrast to City excess.

I walked across the square to look again at the fountain captured in the VE Day photo which opens this, enjoying the joining across seven decades through photography:

1945 meets 2015

1945 meets 2015

The VE Day 70 display boards, courtesy of the Mayor of London who re-entered the House of Commons yesterday as a potential rival to Cameron, Dougal to Cameron’s Ermintrude, afforded an opportunity to link then and now:

VE Day 70 Nelson's column Trafalgar Square 1945 2015

I then headed straight down Whitehall an hour ahead of the wreath-laying commemoration for this special VE Day at the Cenotaph. I didn’t have the heart to glimpse over at 10 Downing Street.

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Hello! sponsored by the UK

Hello! sponsored by the UK

A veteran of the VE Day celebrations 1945

A veteran of the VE Day celebrations 1945

There are bad victories and there are good victories. I did my best to drown the bad in the good, like empty cans in a fountain.

Blitzed Again

11th September 1940

11th September 1940

I’m a Londoner born&bred. A total Londonphile. I’d have a London passport if I could. And my hobby is being a flaneur with a camera, wandering around the city aimlessly taking photos.

Today I’m taking a staycation and headed off for Paddington. I’m now sat on the bank of the Grand Union Canal a bit beyond Little Venice in the Spring sunshine.

When I went on a similar (un)mission on Saturday it struck me for the first time that London really is in danger. I headed to Borough as a starting point. I really couldn’t find any real people to photograph – just sheepish tourists in queues at a market with no proper stalls selling largely non-local food. I remember enjoying eating in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral not that many years ago – I couldn’t even find where that was. There were just wall-to-wall visitors chowing down legs crossed, penned in. I couldn’t find anything worth eating.

I retreated onto London Bridge and headed over into the weekend City. It was punctuated with cranes. Building sites everywhere. Fox, a shop established in 1868, with its silver Art Deco frontage was empty.

I bussed out to The Angel to the canal. Rammed with French speakers (and I’m happy London is now the 5th or 6th biggest French city) adding, in the lack of variety, to the feel of a city being smoothed over and having the edges knocked off. I managed to get some good shots with the camera I just bought the Enfants Terribles but it was an unusual struggle.

On my way out today I picked up a copy of Time Out. The cover was Save London. So it’s obviously not just me feeling this vibe. This is the first time in my life London feels under real threat on a Blitz scale. Property developers who don’t care; dirty money playing Monopoly; Euroblandness; buy-to-let neglect; chain everything death by consumerism; a wash of global sameness from the Internet age and Capitalism eating itself.

The city I love is in real peril. Better a Dornier than a Subway.

Brave New London (complete with crane)

Brave New London (complete with crane)

The Factory Factor

Intensity - with glasses

Intensity – with glasses

Early on in my career I directed a shoot in a plastics factory in the depths of South London. It was that morning, as I watched the mundane, repetitive jobs people had to do, that I recognised how privileged my work was, above all in its variety and creative fulfilment. Now it’s the end of a long day, thirteen hours without a break, quite intense activity,  which I look back over with that same perspective – that was a really satisfying one.

The first bit at home on rising was just tying up some loose ends of the week, a bit adminy. Then the rest of the day rolled out along the Northern Line.

First stop Borough – a meeting involving a Countdown personality to develop a project focused on words and language. The project seemed to go up a gear or three during the conversation and I’m really excited about it.

Next stop Angel – another creative development meeting for a series about the future, which again made significant headway through a lively and illuminating conversation with the presenter and two producers.

Back to East Finchley for some tough wrangling on a Music education project, really difficult to pull off but really satisfying in its objectives.

Then to round off the week the main person I’m hoping to interview for the Business chapter of my book came back with a positive response.

Popped back to Islington in the evening for some R&R in the form of Nick Lowe at the Union Chapel, which culminated in a rousing rendition of  (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?

Jesus of Cool

Intensity – before glasses

 

Vive La France en Angleterre

On Sunday I went to a charming French bistro in Brick Lane (No. 45), Chez Elles, run by two charming French women who have been in Londres for 18 months. The Normandy cider is cloudy and strong – it frappes l’endroit. Round the corner is Princelet Street where a former wave of French immigrants settled in the 17th century, the Huguenots. The other end of Brick Lane has two bagel shops, one now just making up the numbers, the other the real thing. Round another corner (Hanbury St) is the clothes factory where my grandfather used to work and take me as a boy (now All Saints). Round yet another corner is the market where my step-dad had a shop (Wentworth Street, where the bagel places (Mossy Marks’s and Kossoff’s) are now gone or a shadow of its former self respectively). Such are the waves of the human tide… As Sartre said: “You’ve got to be philosophical about it.”

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London is now the 6th biggest French city with a population of 400,000+

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Blue and Brassy

Edison plaque

American overstatement

On a hunt for NFL gear in NYC this morning for one of the Enfants Terribles, I walked past Macy’s and noticed this brass plaque. The exact wording it turns out is crucial. You leave with the impression that this is where the first movie was projected – “Here the motion picture began” is what misleads. But the truth is actually precisely (and narrowly) what it says below: it’s where Edison first projected a movie. It was put up by “The American Motion Picture Industry” where truth is not always at a premium.

Movies were first publicly projected 8 months earlier in Chicago at the Model Variety Theater. And they were first projected to a paying audience 5 months before in Paris at the Grand Café. In fact they’d already been publicly projected in New York before this date. I haven’t done much research but I dare say there are some other European claims to challenge these dates.

Edison had already charged members of the public to watch movies prior to this date but on peephole machines, not projected. On the date marked by this bold and brassy plaque the film was part of a vaudeville show and was simply three of his peephole films spliced together. So over-stated, over-charged and over here.

Meanwhile back at home in London, I was thinking the other day about blue plaques because a newspaper story has been doing the rounds about how English Heritage, who now administer the blue plaque scheme, established in 1866 and believed to be the oldest of its kind in the world, are about to kill the blue plaque. The scheme was set up under the auspices of the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of the Arts, of which at one time I was a Fellow). The baton then passed to the London County Council and in due course to the Greater London Council. In 1986, English Heritage took up the responsibility. So the press stories recently suggested that the scheme was about to end but I suspect this was actually cack-handed PR on the part of English Heritage, crying wolf in the face of tight times and cuts. They have subsequently said they are just pausing the scheme to deal with a back-log and slow things down in these cash-starved times. What they have done in the process is drawn attention to the cost of what should at heart be a simple operation with expenditure limited to making a robust piece of blue ceramic, but no doubt there is some immense bureaucracy accreted around a simple idea designed to make a plain link between notable characters from the past and the buildings in which they lived, worked and died. As English Heritage summarises the 147 year old scheme with which it has been entrusted: “It is a uniquely successful means of connecting people and place.” I suspect if EH did pull the plug, we the public could do it for ourselves at a fraction of the cost and bring back a long tradition of public subscription in our country with the help of some open, sharing digital technology.

Any way, enough kvetching as they say around here (I’m writing this at 3rd Avenue and 24th Street), I’d like to draw attention to my favourite blue plaque. It’s high up on the wall of 22 Frith Street in London, above the Bar Italia, directly opposite Ronnie Scott’s jazz club – and it’s a model of British understatement:

British understatement

British understatement

So basically “Here Television began”.

If you go to Bletchley Park, or certainly this was the case about five to ten years ago, you could see the concrete base of the hut where the world’s first programmable computer was created by Alan Turing. The hut was knocked down some years ago. The spot is (or was) not specifically marked. I remember standing there and thinking if this was in the USA there would be something pretty significant to mark this stupendous happening. “Here Computing began.” Or at least “Here programmable Computing began.”

It was minus 13 the night I arrived here. As an Englishman in New York I might have said: “It’s a bit nippy”. But there’s a time for sang froid and a time for being big, bold and brassy…

The Northern Line Game

‘The Northern Line Game’ was one of three street games I played with my friends in my 20s. ‘Secret & Obvious’ involved sitting at a cafe table with Stuart and first saying what was obvious about any selected passer-by and then revealing a secret of theirs (perhaps derived from clues in their appearance, perhaps belying how they project themselves). ‘The Name Game’ involved sitting on some steps with Katherine, usually in The City, and guessing the names of passers-by i.e. formulating rather fanciful handles inspired by their appearance. ‘The Northern Line Game’ was also played with Katherine, a fellow Northern Line native with a similar sensibility, now moved on from the shadow of Edgware Castle to Aspen, Colorado. You get on the black line in town and travel out to the suburbs, guessing exactly where each person will get off. The distinction between say a Hendon Central and a Colindale is a fine one but she was masterful in her judgments. Here’s a first stab at mapping out who is where on the Northern line these days. If you can help refine or improve the station names please feel free to add your thoughts below and I’ll amend the map. Also if you can help with the southern stretch which is out of my range…

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