Well here we go again, only this time things are a bit different.
In London, there are noticeably less people out after dark, but shopping malls and cafes are still serving take outs and grocery essentials.
This means the earlier photos from the lockdown in spring bear a significant difference to the way urban landscapes look now.
For example, there are a fair amount of labourers and cleaning staff going out and about their business as usual. Spaces look less derelict and more like Sundays before London got crowded millennium onwards.
In urban green spaces, people don’t consider being in fairly crowded conditions, a threat from covid anymore. Benches are open and cyclists have equal access to parks.
The level of interaction with larger crowds is a personal preference.
On a recent cycle with Simon around trendy Hackney Wick and guardian reader pretentious Hackney on Victoria Park, the crowds were heavily dense in many public play areas and entrances.
Away from the long queues outside to pick up coffees and take outs in places where some think it’s important to be at, our was certaintly picking a fish and chips from a good old reliable affordable local chippy just east of Victoria Park to the Wick.
No queues, no wait, no hassle. After a five minute walk, we were enjoying dinner on a bench in the park.
In my next blog I will write about meaningful ways to spend preparing for Christmas holidays and Christmas day itself.
Many get carried away with meaningless cultural traditions, missing the point. Culture can be as oppressive as American culture’s cultural non existence, when it adds no experiental reflection or mindful rest.
In a time of self reflection I couldn’t be luckier having met four days after landing back from a two month trip away early August 2019. And here we are still are today.
Back in the park, we sat watching the lowering sun introducing the mist, the temperature drop, the sensation of colours struggling to define themselves in this new reality.
I suppose this time, it is also the first time of the year’s season under covid for our urban neighbourhoods too. Well I say, we can only pay homage to this another new reality for the family albums to come.
Really, what’s there to complain about? And why not to?
I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.
It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.
Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.
Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.
Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.
Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.
Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.
As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.
This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.
The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.
Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.
Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.
The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.
Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.
The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.
Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.
This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.
Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.
Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.
Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.
The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.
On Sunday, London hosted the annual marathon event, with thousands of participants running the 26 something miles.
The weather was a sizzling 24C with clear skies posing a number of health risks even for the most experienced athletes.
I stood by in Canary Wharf, planning initially to stay only for a few minutes, which turned into hours, after seeing, and being mesmerised by the Kenyan athletes. Their energy is unfathomable, unaffected by the elements, running solidly on their feet, unstoppable towards their own personal target to a medal. Following closely a number of vehicles with cameras indicated the presence of someone important and there you had it, Sir Mo Farah powering through. I was saddened to hear nearing the end of his run that he was seeking a bottle of water, only to be ignored by bystanders wanting to take the best shots as up close as possible. The inhumane treatment of fame, in full display.
Wheelchairs, the visually impaired, following through continued the display of incredible strength of spirit.
Not too long after, people aiming for the 3 hour finish mark, powered through. Pouring sweat and having sustained a considerable amount of sun exposure, gradually more and more were slowing down, even stopping to a walking pace. That was the point, the energy of the crowds and their value, really shined through. At the point where really experienced runners were stopping crowds gathered to encourage on, shouting names of people they didn’t know, edging them to continue on. Strangers, flooding their energy to strangers. The effect was magic happening before our eyes. The runners’ faces lightening up, pace quickening, invaluable seconds saved.
The human endurance has layers unexplored by the majority of us. It doesn’t entertain fear or weakness as concepts. It merely facilitates strength. The psychological status is about completing the task with ease, and resourcing a little more energy for overachieving, unravelling that extra bit of energy as it replenishes itself from the invisible source of confidence.
The fear, and doubt gradually appeared in the lesser trained athletes. You didn’t need to have a discussion. Their feelings stood in front of their faces, attached like a bubble of energy, with rights restricted to the owner exclusively.The take over of these feelings, may as well had been rolled out in a banner. External conditions had made their internal challenge furthermore complex.
This in itself is a very intense experience. It places the human spirit and our conditioning, in the heart of the matter. Challenging mental energy and channelling as well.
Every year I forget… Until I stand by again to watch. And every year I read another layer, of someone running past, a different story, equally important as the very first one, let it be that of the Kenyans or Mo Farah for that matter.
The invaluable value of encouragement. One step at a time, through the stages of being and feeling.
Everything has to do with the mind, and with the limits we have put in and the fact we can overcome them to break them. And what I have done is doping of the mind.
Until the next marathon, exploring the well of our course.
We are still in January and naturally been spending a fair amount of time indoors.
Whether it is in our nature to be looking ahead or instilled by the tradition of looking out at vistas, the landscape is our place of contemplation, connection and restoration.
We have in modern times moved away from trying to beautify it. In the 80’s and 90’s work by photographers like Martin Parr and Willie Doherty showed us our reality of urbanisation with landscapes littered by rubber tires and eye blinding beach accessories offending the natural flow of a beachy landscape.
In our sense of voyerism, I have been fighting my own struggle of being in a city whereas I feel being in nature is my call.
To balance this feeling I recorded the landscape as it changes with the weather from my office window. It doesn’t talk about the environment our damage to it or any of that. It is what you see, and with little description, I invite you to be part of that experience.