Friday, November 16

In the docks

Last Sunday was such a beautiful day that I decided to take the bike down to the Royal Docks in east London for a bit of exploring. In fact the original idea was to head down the south bank of the Thames towards Erith, but I revised my plans as I approached south London's famous new 'transport link' (tourist attraction), the cable car.

Been meaning to try this out ever since it opened, but had been waiting for the right combination of lack of queues and good weather. Sunday delivered both, plus I was on my bike - surprisingly the ideal scenario for a trip on the cable car. It's free to take a bike on, and to get it in the cabin they have to fold up one of the benches, it's a bit of a faff. The benefit is that you don't have to share your cabin with anyone else, which is bloody great!

The trip was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures, I can be a bit of a scaredy cat at heights if I let my panic take hold. Best to just look out to the distance and take lots of photographs!

Looking east along the south of the Thames

Big tent with pointy yellow poles

The mouth of the River Lea, looking towards west London (Olympic site on the right)

Over on the other side of the river there's not a great deal to see - a load of apartments, the Excel Centre, a dash of regeneration but still plenty of urban dereliction. And you know how I love a bit of urban dereliction.

Cranes in the Royal Victoria Dock

Millennium Mills

Victoria Docks Footbridge - showing its age at close quarters
I circled the docks a couple of times, checked out the various bridges, and then headed to the river to inspect Thames Barrier Park and take a look at our famous flood barrier from the other side of the Thames. Like the bridge, the park is quite lovely but needing some TLC - they are both about the same age, built at the arse-end of the Docklands regeneration era and now a little neglected.

Thames Barrier Park with the barrier in the background
From the Victoria Docks I headed west and then peeled off the main drag to the wonderful little oasis of Trinity Buoy Wharf  which is well worth a visit if you are out that way. The road leading to the end of the peninsula is littered with street art and signs telling the history of the wharf, a lot of which is still derelict and overgrown, but full of atmosphere and wildlife. At the end you find a whole host of peculiar things - container city (where people live and work in old shipping containers), an old lighthouse where you can listen to Longplayer (a piece of music intended to run for 1,000 years, so don't worry you can nip back if you miss it the first time, or you can even listen live via the website), the Faraday Effect (a tiny museum about Michael Faraday) and various other arty and quirky things.

The Alunatime clock particularly appealed to my inner geek - it's related to the proposal to build a lunar clock in Greenwich, in my opinion much better looking than the main proposal. It has three rings of lights which change with the tide and phases of the moon. On the outer ring you can see the current phase of the moon, whether it's waxing or waning; the middle circle (I think) shows the current position of the moon, and the inner circle shows the level of the tide, which you can check by looking over the wall at the river.

Most of these attractions are open regularly, but they also host open days when you can visit some of the other studios and homes - worth signing up to the mailing list on the website if you want to find out when the next one is. Sometimes they run a ferry from the dome on the other side of the river, which sounds like fun to me!

Also worth knowing that Fatboy's Diner (shouldn't that be Fatbuoy's Diner?!) is open on Sundays if you want a mid bike-ride snack of pastrami on rye or a chilli burger with fries and a shake.

Friday, November 2

Heygate estate street art

Every day my cycle route to work takes me through the near-derelict Heygate Estate near Elephant & Castle; over the years as more and more of the blocks became empty, life was gradually drained out of the huge blocks and nature started to take over, much as I imagine the city deteriorating in the years after the Day of the Triffids.

In some respects I am glad - some bastard once dropped a massive traffic bollard off the overhead walkway onto me as I cycled home, missing me by inches and shaking me up badly. But Southwark Council's proposed redevelopment and regeneration of the estate has been a long, drawn-out and contentious process that as well as decanting a whole community, has seen bullying tactics employed against local community groups who have put forward credible proposals for interim uses of this huge site.

Despite, or maybe because of, its urban grittiness, I love this part of the ride. There are mature trees along the length of the road (in fact the estate still supports hundreds of trees) and in spring, the grass verges that flank the estate walkways on both sides of the road erupt into a huge sea of daffodils. Every time I see them, I think about the people who must have laboured to plant so many bulbs, and wonder if they know what pleasure the flowers are still giving, so many years later.

A couple of months ago the blocks and garages on one side of the road were transformed by several huge pieces of street art, which have been making me smile ever since. Today I cycled up there specially and took some photographs so that I could share them.

The first photograph, taken from the other side of the road, gives an idea of the setting, and the art basically has a crazy bespectacled man chasing a load of animals along the disused garages and around the corner.

Here's his face - his arms with their scary talons reach out for the wayward animals along the ramps that  link the upper walkways to the ground level. He always reminds me of the crazy teacher in Gerald Scarfe's video for Pink Floyd's song Another Brick in the Wall video.

In front of him, perpetually out of reach, is a kind of Wacky Races scene, with a bunch of crazy animals in a crazy bus. One of these creatures is at the back, taunting him by roasting a smiling sausage on the flaming exhaust of the bus. At the front of the bus, another worried-looking sausage is being dangled in front of the eyes of the bus-cum-monster, presumably to keep it moving at top speed.

Up close there are some lovely details and the colours are superb.

In front of the crazy bus is a huge goggle-eyed blue dog whose tail stretches all the way along the connecting walkway and whose body is probably forty or fifty metres long. It's a massive piece of work.

I particularly like the fact that the garage doors have been made into his teeth, and that one of them is gold.

There are more (better) photographs here, along with the names of the artists who are apparently Malarky, Mighty Mo, Gold Peg and Sweet Toof.

Thursday, November 1

Durham weekend

A couple of weeks ago myself and Gareth took the train up to Durham for the weekend, to watch The Sixteen perform their choral pilgrimage at the cathedral, but also to spend a couple of days exploring a city that was new to both of us. The concert was beautiful and haunting, the cathedral the perfect place to hear such pure choral music. I almost forgot to breathe a few times, I was so captivated.

We stayed in an apartment that, while very comfortable, was furnished like it used to be the show flat (TEN, yes TEN big vases full of twigs in a TWO bedroom apartment. There were six in the living room alone!) and spent the weekend walking the bridges, cobbled streets and riverside footpaths of the city and its surrounds.

And boy there are plenty of all those things. The sun shone on us all weekend, unlike the south east from which we had reports of endless rain, and we trod the wooded, muddy footpaths for miles each day, taking many photos and stopping now and again for a sandwich or coffee.

Kingsgate Bridge, Arup's modernist masterpiece, stepping through the tree canopy 

Viewed from the riverbank, a very different prospect
It's a beautiful bridge with classic details

Gareth experienced his first full-on northern Friday night out, which to the uninitiated means hordes of single-sex groups roaming from pub to pub with no coats on, some with barely any clothes. Unbelievably high stiletto heels were much in evidence, which the cobbles were playing havoc with, even before the drink started to have the inevitable effect on balance. I grew up witnessing such shenanigans and found myself at pains to fit in, so never attempted to do so. It was the start of a happy  lifetime of being a non-conformist!