Lesnes Abbey and woods

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.

April 2020, the month of coronavirus lockdown. My breathing exercises in spring views of East London, UK

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.

Canary Wharf

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.

Hiking in the UK

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.

Cozy spots for the last days of winter in London

Black Sheep coffee in Canary Wharf; one of my favourite spots for a good cup of coffee and chat and laptop working on the wharf.

The Williams Ale & Cider House; just cozy in Central East City in the heart of Spitalfields. A hidden gem for after-work chilled out drinks, a date, a catch up, surrounded by ancient looking stone walls and arches.

Boundary London rooftop bar; Nordic chic designer warm in the winter, quiet, great service, friendly vibes, hidden away on one of the rooftops in the heart of Shoreditch. Will come back in the summer.

Good vibes, always.

Masters degree as a mature student, a review

I’m writing this blog to help you understand what to expect from studying a masters degree later in life. Did I find it useful? I met some really interesting people that I hope to keep in my life in the future. Would I recommend it? Only if you’re super bored with your life and work but expect no easy ride. If you want a break from life, you’ll be better off spending that money travelling and taking up surfing lessons.

I have to admit I was super excited to have secured a place in one of the top universities in the world. As a senior management professional, I knew others that had tried but didn’t get in. The only thing I hadn’t realised was the amount of work it required.

On a weekly basis, I’d have four to five classes to attend in lectures, read 100 plus pages for each to discuss in small group tutorials as well as hold in-class presentations twice per term and write 2,000 – 3,000 word assignments per module/class twice a term.

Another thing I was not prepared for was academic writing. The way arguments are framed, in perspective of other arguments and how limited your own poetic license is. This is predominantly a British education system approach to teaching which hints to post colonial education, drawing out what has been laid out before.

At the university I went to, I also realised each module had its own parameters for good framing and presentation, largely set out by the lead tutor. Irrespective of how many additional classes I took for example on how to write a book review, how to write a critique etc the central student learning and development was misaligned to the individual module requirements. That left me frustrated and as a paying student, annoyed at the power game academia has over the students, and leaving its huge weaknesses unacknowledged.

This last point was a point of discussion throughout my studies. Academics thinking they got it all worked out whilst they lack real-life experience in the field of their expertise. More dangerously, they advise and often participate in political life based on what they read by someone who written something fifty years ago. Academia is a dangerous ground to walk on when seeing right through its weaknesses yet having to abide by its rules.

That transcribed to loving some classes, those mainly taught by open-minded people who not only loved their craft but they loved teaching and interacting with their student debates too. In too many cases, the majority of the academics failed to do that. They focused too much on point scoring, coming across like some sort of activists despite being solely research based, and pushing arrogance in their game.

Lastly but not least, consider and ask what practical skills a masters will provide you with. I got stuck into a situation where the theory was central to most discussions but excluded current affairs unless it was Trump or neoliberalism bashing or glorifying Marxism.

This is how anachronistic academia can be, and yet it is expected we build a future through it.

In all truth, it’s not more than another subscription service, that will get you more views and remove the ads.

It’s good for visibility, but it can also make you feel invisible at the same time.

Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

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.

The only brother in a gym in Peckham, London

Written by an anonymous friend, November 2018

I have lived in Peckham from 1994 and have seen various gyms pop up in the area. However, a lot of these gyms did not really fit what I wanted. Recently, I saw an advertisement for a gym of FB and it looked like it hit all the right buttons, more cardio then weights type.

I will now tell you my experience of the gym, as it was interesting to me as I don’t really train at gyms in general.

I was going shopping one morning down Peckham Rye and saw that the F45 Training gym that I saw on FB was advertising their opening, so decided to pop in. I was greeted by a female trainer that was very friendly and was looking to sign me up straight away. The sells pitch was good for a trail membership. Now the gym is purely class based (only downside), meaning you can’t show up and do your own training thing. No big deal for me as I do my own thing with my homeboy and by myself. Goal was to do 1 or 2 hard workouts a week with this gym as it was close to home (main reason for joining.) So back to sales pitch, I would say they had all the right looks to draw people in, attractive trainers, sweet looking new equipment etc.. Now the kicker was the price 189 a month.. Damn am I still in Peckham. Commercial price for commercial gym, I guess.

So knowing it might kill my pocket, I joined as close to home, my type of training and good equipment, sleds, sledge hammers etc..

So I thought the price being what it was that most of the clients would be white as most Peckham people I know ain’t paying that price (Laughing). So attending the classes I noticed firstly more woman than men (no biggy). So I have been to a few classes since joining in August, however, every time I go, I notice that I am the only brother (meaning Dark Skin Black Man) in the class. And first few times only black person period.

Noticed some sistas showing up, but still no brothers. Only brotha I saw was a trainer. So here I am in the middle of Peckham (known to be a so called Black Area) and I am the only brother a the gym, in this day and age gotta make you smile. But this fits in with the Costa and other cafe’s popping up in the area, vape shop etc.. (Gentrification). Luckily I am not bothered about being the only brotha, but now the pressures on to represent (Laughing). So at times it does feel strange, as the only brotha, but I keep my focus, as it is about the work.

Now my theory on why I am the only brotha I have seen is that most guys in general are into the weight training side of exercise more than cardio, so hence less men in general. And most Black guys I know prefer to weight train rather than cardio. So it will be interesting to see if the membership and look of the gym changes over time.

side note- On FB a Sista was looking at the advertisement and said that there were no Black People in the promotional video(interesting). I had a laugh and put in the comment section, that there are a few of us in there including myself. She replied, how come you not in the video, but there is no way I would be in the video as I am not one of there devoted members, I am in and out, so I assume the peeps in the video would be devoted members.

Until next time, Keep on Keeping.

Bath and Wiltshire

So I decided to pull this guide together after having visited Bath and the wider Wiltshire a number of times over the last two years, visiting friends who moved there from London, for a change of lifestyle.

Wiltshire is a true representation of rolling English countryside, opening up to create the setting for the landscape of fields further afield in Devon and Cornwall, and to the end of the land of the British Isle. Scenic drives, quaint old cotsworld like villages dot the landscape, however note these are increasingly interrupted by new housing developments.

The area is knows for its afluent resident demographics. Housing is as expensive as it is in London, and Bath is a catwalk of contemporary design options, found in inoffensive gorgeously lit boutique shops. There are a lot of options to choose from, and an equal amount of cafes and foodie options to satisfy the pickiest of the souls out there.

Some of my favourite moments are both in Bath and the surrounding Somersetian countryside. When I get there, on a Friday, we head for the Star, the only – I believe – authentic pub, a mix of old and new, music or not, regulars and all embraced in a coffin shaped building. The walk there is equally cool, strolling past residential windows of yellow brick roman dwellings, sitting on the rustic raised walkway above the passing traffic passing below.

On days out, more recently I discovered Corsham. The walk through the tiny village, or the walk of the green space outside the stately home, are true to form of cutiness. The home itself and the gardens are architectural highlights so pick based on the season, trusting both will be a very rewarding experience.

Castle Combe is another little wonder to check out. I loved the walk from the car park to the village itself, hanging branches of tall trees canopying over the road. Prettily decorated door fronts, stone buildings, stone brick bridges, and water streams would have you thinking you are visiting Smurf land. It is not too far off that, hoping no offense caused by this description.

My earlier experience of Wiltshire was visiting Avebury stone circle. If you haven’t, this is a piece of british ancient history that equals Stonehedge. Avebury stone circle is the largest, with a village in the middle of it, supported by numerous super natural stories. I think my dream home is also in that village. Walk around the circle, but also do go for a walk through the village. I am sure you will get lost.

Box is known for the train tunnell and Thomas the tank. There is an underground town down there built out of sight to evacuate local residents on occassion of need.

Devizes has an eerie story of its own. The Black Swan is known to harbour ghosts of past times, and I did stay in room no 4 where numerous signtings and disturbances are known to take place. I must say I did not enjoy neither slept much and things happenned that I can not explain. The landlord soon sold the pub and moved on, like many others. However can’t fault the pub food and the atmosphere – warm, cozy and lively.

Devizes is also known for another trouble – that of its locks. If you own a riverboat, you will know the ladder of locks one has to wait through to get one side to another. A friend that did it told me that it took them around 9 hours to do Caen Hill. Not a feat for the lighthearted boat dwellers.

There is a lot more to see in this wonderful area however I will leave you with these pointers to begin with. I am sure you will be soon returning for more.