Some say London is paved in gold. That is not quite true. There are ways one can experience it and they are, in truth, golden. They are the walks, in a safe city, at all times of the day or night, revealing architectural marvels, historical corners, oral histories retold, under the bridge communities, housing estates, street art and corporate communes wrapped around a few blocks from each other. They may not always live in harmony with each other, but they certainly demand each others existence to enrich their own. This is not gentrification, or poetics of urban spaces but a slow crawl of inverted commas on concepts undefined, yet golden for their moment in time.
2021 first and now
New year new start. Can’t help but look back a little, and yet remain grateful for today.
Today I’ve gone back to Bethnal Green where I lived at for thirteen years.
Bethnal Green is a strange yet warming place. If you were to look it up online, it looks quite grim. 2 up 2 down level terraced rows of workhouse housing, surrounded by loads of high rise social housing estates built in 1800s to the 80s dotted on every corner, with a through road high street.
I must admit, I had some of the funniest and most learning times growing up here in my 20s and that’s purely down to a local and transient mix of people and pre war and post war architecture.
Imagine in one day hanging out in a 1900s pub, a high rise tower block built in the 1970s, trekking on cobbled streets and through grafitti glad Victorian alleys. It’s pointless going into any detail on this as this is my story.
But perhaps sharing these pics from today, will give the platform from which to imagine a constant of stories intertwined.
From the housing flats, to the terraced houses, the odd patches of greenery, the mix of bengali, cockney, underground arty, and now poshy touristy and transient peeps, this is the Bethnal Green in 2022. Many will pass through and many more still remain. Yet, new year’s memories to come may remain similar to past.
A wise Professor asked me why I thought there were so few criminal cases of corruption in the UK. My first thought was that, “It’s because there is no Corruption Squad”. I looked into it some more and discovered that it was not quite as simple as that. I had to rope in some experts […]Corruption in the UK; the police are not looking into it
Andrew Baldwin’s open air metalworks automaton exhibits are warmly welcomed at a time when everything is in lockdown in London.
The playful sculptures, moving parts and colourful lighting tell fantasy stories, a parallel universe within deep winter’s energy of colourful skies.
Located in Trinity Buoy Wharf, earthbound figures matrix into a melting pot of sensations made in fairy tales.
Winter wonderland materialised.
Noticing the small changes in the way the air’s scent carries cooking smells, perfumes and sound vibrations…
The light moisture chilling the edges off living things…
The light mist flowing through the land, thickening and lightening as it absorbs the wind.
Wood burning in the city, logs burning in the fireplace, smoke climbing up from canal boat chimneys into the gaps of the urban air channels.
The yellowy orange with blues of the sunsets and the sunrises. A sun blessed season eclipsing into the vibrancy of the next. Nature signalling for a final celebration before it returns next year in spring.
The cozyness of the orange, greys, dark purples, bronze and blacks decorating cozy corners energised by alchemy, alcohol and warmth.
This gem of a scenery is tucked away a few kms east of Woolwich, in Erith.
Lesnes Abbey is a site of ruins from 12th century, in the Borough of Bexley. At one point a few centuries later on the building was used as a monastery.
The site offers a lot for a day packed with a variety of fun activities. It’s free to visit. Walking amongst the ruins of the rooms from where the abbey once stood, there is plenty of hide and seek games to be had and reimagining the spaces from past times.
Uphill from the abbey, the path swings to an outlook with the most extraordinary views over the City of London. Bear in mind, this is a very long cycle even from the Eastend, and over 1 hour drive or trip on public transport from central London, yet the proximity apparent in the views tell a different story.
Lesnes Abbey and woods are on the Green Chain Walk route from Oxleas Wood to Thamesmead Riverside. We took a different route on the Woolwich Ferry and cycling east on the Thames Path, through Crossness Nature Reserve.
Lesnes Woods up on the hill are a true sanctuary of old tall trees, ferns and squirrels playfully enjoying the abundance of the nature reserve. There’s a fossil park, a cool tree trunk sculpture of a Green Man, and a plethora of secluded walks through the dense woodland rich in flora and fauna.
At the top of the woods a heath is a welcome flat walk through fern surrounded paths. On the way back, try a different way down. If you get to the clearing with the abbey for a view, you’re onto another special lookout over the ruins.
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.
For outdoorsy adventurers, hiking is a much-loved choice of activity taken close to one’s place of habitat or place of visit.
The subtle differences between hiking in different parts of the world are on the type the equipment, the style of the hike like the intensity of the walk, and the distance covered. This reveals a lot about the flora and fauna, the weather conditions expected in general and the end objective for the hike.
This article presents a short oversight of hiking in the south of the United Kingdom, and towards the end of the winter. The overall equipment relevant message is to wear comfortable waterproof boots, bring a change of cotton t-shirts, carry 1-2 litres of water, prepare lunch snacks and carry cash for group saver fares, the pub lunch option and pub celebration at the end.
I have hiked in India, the Pacific North West in the US, in Scotland, in Bali, in Italy, in the Arctic part of Norway, in Morocco, on the north coast of Trinidad and in Tobago and in Fuerteventura and every single hike was different on many aspects.
In the south of the UK, hikes tend to be longer, often including a couple of very steep climbs up hills and the same dissent. The most recent hike took me up and down Pitch Hill in Surrey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, twice climbed it on the same day, a near-vertical and rather muddy aspect, and over a distance of 30km round trip on foot.
Walking sticks were encouraged whereas in other parts of the world they are prohibited as it can attract lightning strikes in tundra conditions. UK’s well known cloudy skies, even in winter, require sunblock as there is still plenty of exposure doing outdoor sports to cause skin damage.
20 min stops every two hours are also encouraged to take in the views from higher viewpoints. In contrast, stopping for this long or any period of time longer to a couple of minutes, in the middle of the winter, in the northernmost part of Norway, will cause your body temperature to drop really quickly and dramatically and make the focus of the latter part of your hike an effort to warm up instead of watching the path or scenery. This can make the body feel very uncomfortable, and rather demoralising, in severe sub minus C conditions.
The photos in this post are from my hike in Surrey this week.
It looks mud messy but it was a great all round exercise. I could not recommend anything else more satisfactory to do outdoors this time of the year. Hiking engages people in community spirited discussions, recharges the body with a full-on exercise uptake, and in the UK, it is rewarded with log fires in the pub, local bitter brews, and new memories and vistas to take away.