Saturday, November 28, 2009

hidden London

Many of you said you liked the photo in my previous post of the Regents Canal in Islington, North London.

London's canals are quite special - you can take a few steps down from a busy London street, and find yourself in this world:

People work here

and live here

a lot of cyclists use the tow paths on their daily commute
whizzing past the water and the graffiti....

The Regents Canal in North East London was completed in 1820, to join up with the Grand Junction canal which goes through North West London and Paddington. Together they are the London section of the Grand Union canal - so its possible to travel from the midlands right through London and out to the West, entirely by narrow-boat.

One of the most famous bits of canal is Camden Lock which must be one of the busiest too, especially at the weekends when the Markets are open.

I more often find myself in Islington towards the end of the day - waiting to meet a friend for a date at Sadlers Wells theatre and marvelling at the reflections and the late sunshine on the water.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Theme Thursday is usually a nicely low-maintenance post for me, I tend to trawl through my photo-archive and theres generally something there which I can argue is relevant.

But this one had me stumped for a while.

Until the magic hour occurred to me - the hour before dusk when the light is transforming, enchanting and golden - or sometimes silver - and the shadows are long.... Along with the hour after dawn - often the best times for photography.

So - here are some photos taken late in the day - late sunshine and shadows:

Havre des pas in Jersey, Channel Islands

le Hocq in Jersey, Channel Islands

in Ipswich, Suffolk

Royal Victoria Docks, East London

the Regents Canal, North-East London

Sunday, November 15, 2009


war memorial, Charlton South London

I've been thinking about my (maternal) grandfather - "little grandad", as opposed to the other one who was "big".

He was in the trenches in the first world war and that gives me a sense of connection to those awful events, months, years - because he was there and because he was also part of my life.

Somewhere in my family there is a great photo I remember of him, aged probably in his 40s, with a couple of mates in the sunshine, baggy trousers, vest and braces, cigarette... but I couldn't find it in my scrapbooks and stache of old photographs. The search has taken more time than I'd planned to spend (time, tears, smiles) so I now don't have the time I'd planned to spend scanning in pictures.... sorry.

His name was Harry, he was an east-ender - too young to fight in WW1 but he lied about his age in order to go to war and he and his brother and best friend Tom were there in the mud and blood and thunder, in the first gas attack at Ypres and other horrors and lucky to ever come safely home.

Little grandad couldn't fight in WW2 because the shattered ear drums he came home with in 1918 left him very deaf - so he stayed in London and served as a first-aid officer. I remember him patching up my childhood scrapes and scratches and wish it was still possible to buy kaolin poultice, I know the smell would transport me right back there to his gentle firm hands on my little legs.

He dug for victory during the war and one of my strongest childhood memories is his long, long, narrow immaculate garden in north east London - fruit, veg, greenhouse, the smell of tomato plants also transports me back to him. And chrysanthemums, dahlias, old fashioned pinks and aquilegia.

I so loved staying with nan and grandad, I remember a huge soft puffy heavy old eiderdown and the hard heavy towel-wrapped stone hot waterbottle. He was strict in a way which made me know I was safe and loved. He loved war films and westerns and his hearing aid whistled constantly.

Heres a photo after all, quickly photographed - one of my favourite family photos ever, July 1920.

My daughter was quite profoundly struck by the death, recently, of the last surviving participant in the 1914-18 war - she is troubled by the fact that there is no longer anyone with us who was actually there, who could tell us.

I very much wish she could have known little grandad. If I could spend time with and get to know better one of my grandparents, it would be him.

This morning I finished reading Avilion - a very long-awaited sequel to Robert Holdstock's (wonderful) Mythago Wood, which I was going to write about but there are quite enough of my words here already.

But one of the images in the book is that of a battlefield of tartan, and at the end of the book is this poem written by the author:

The Field of Tartan
(written for my grandfather. Who walked across this field on the Somme: July 1916).

I walked for my life, across a field of tartan

The Scots went first. They had it worst.
The First, the Twenty-First.
They sowed the seeds, the soft touch
Of fabric-woven earth, over which we walked.
They had been mown down to a man.

They made a field of tartan.

Before they went, they sang,
The songs were haunted.
We joked about their skirts; they took it in good part,
there was a sense of peace,
That touch of Spartan in each heart.

(He walks for his life, across a field of tartan)

No mud when the top was crossed,
When the iron wind blasted and counter-crossed,
Seeking the marrowbone, the head, the heart,

Taking us down into that field of tartan.

It was so strange, so savage.
Astonishing to find no earth, just fallen flesh
To briefly meet a dying gaze,
A last remembered highland day.
To walk over limbs clad in scarlet tartan.
And we slipped and slid upon the patterned cloth, but made the other line.
There was killing, then.
No charms, just arms, the sinking down, the frightened frown,
Flesh suddenly shaped into dirt, life dearth,
Blood silt,
Nothing to hearten us
Except our unwanted luck at walking over hand-weaved kilt.
Not sinking into earth.
Walking across a field of tartan.

Robert Holdstock, March 2008 (revised September 2008)
published in Avilion, London: Gollancz 2009, p.339-340

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Well none of these is the photo I was looking for. But these I found whilst looking. And they are much better pictures than the one I was searching for.

Such is life.

South London

Central London

Grand Central Station, New York

New York Public Library


a Theme Thursday post

Sunday, November 08, 2009


The perils (joys? inconveniences? surprises? bizarreness... ) of living with a GCSE (grade 10/11) art student.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I had such plans for this post! and so drastically ran out of time!

but here are some photos of the 2 castles on Jersey, Channel Islands.

Elizabeth Castle is just off the coast by the main town in the island. At low tide there is a causeway and the Castle can be reached on foot

to the right of this photo the "duck" - the amphibious craft which ferries to and fro - can be seen,

though there are local stories of people and vehicles being cut off by the tide and once, while M. had a summer job driving bread van, one of his colleagues hoped to make it home quickly and was caught out, leaving all manner of baked goods bobbing about on the waves for the sea gulls delight.

Elizabeth castle was used heavily by the Germans, during their occupation of the island in the 2nd world war. Hence the chimneys and not very castle-like roofs, though the castle was first built in the sixteenth century and Sir Walter Raleigh lived there for a while.

I've not been out to the island for quite a few years, hence no closer photos. I'll try and put that right next time I go.

In the meantime there are some good pics here and here and here.

Gorey Castle wasn't modified by the Germans to the same extent and its a much more medieval-looking castle - its older, built in the fourteenth century, originally known as Mont Orgeuil.

it even has stocks (not fourteenth century!)

and the seagulls are ubiquitous - looking out for baked goods no doubt.