Monday, 28 October 2013

Look away now if you're already over-saturated with Storm UK 2013 pictures. At the risk of being predictable, I headed out this afternoon to see what - if any damage - the neighbourhood had suffered. It was that surprisingly bright blue sky sort of day that often seems to come after turbulent weather, with sudden bursts of sunshine. First up was this little tree, which I hope can be popped back in.

Having been in England for the mighty storm of '87, I was ready for a lot of uprooted trees and toppled fences in our local park, but I was also interested to see how the ancient oaks had survived...

And the on-the scene report? There was surprisingly little damage and almost no one else in the park, which I put down to it being a) half-term, so many folks have undoubtedly taken their kids and skipped town and b) it being a Monday afternoon, so just about everyone else is at work.

The broken-over trees I did see were all along one side of the park, which made me think maybe there had been a concerted squall, but even so, there weren't many and I was pleased to see my old tree friends still standing as if nothing had happened. There's one tree in particular that has a fence around it to discourage folks from disturbing it and a little sign to tell you that it's a 'veteran tree'. That is, very old. In this case, they reckon it was planted about 1770.

Here's another fallen-over tree, just to paint the whole picture. However, more interesting still has to have been the sky, which was almost painfully beautiful. I walked to the brow of the hill so I could get the whole vista to take my picture (see below).

The biggest change this storm seems to have wrought in north London anyway, is bringing winter behind it. There is now a definite bite of chill in the air and it's starting to get dark even at 5pm. Time to plan some get aways...!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Went straight from one place of work in Shoreditch, in east London, to meet a friend for dins. London is a vast city that was, except for the actual City bit, villages and hunting grounds and such like which got swallowed up, but because of this, each bit has its own distinctive look. For instance, above we have the Bishopsgate area, where one of the original gates into the City of London was (but not since the 1700s). Off down the side streets there are still many lovely old buildings, most now getting loved up by the hipster money pouring into the area, but this main drag is plainly banking/insurance/big business, new-bucks glass things (note the Gherkin [that's pickle to you North Americans] at the back).

But enough of this! And so to Covent Garden in central London...
Which is different again: low rise, more old-money built and hoards of tourists any time of year. And then, after eating and drinking and catching up, on my walk back to the tube, what should I see getting delivered to the piazza?
Yes, those are Christmas trees.

Monday, 21 October 2013

This weekend I had the rare and very precious treat of an old friend come to visit. She was one of my original American flatmates from when I first came to London back in the late 1970s. In those days, the four of us were all going to become writers. We used to joke (as I now know probably every young person in London with dreams jokes) that one day there would be a blue plaque on our building to show where we had first met and started out. So it was extraordinary to see her again, all these years later, back in London. Still her, still me, but so very much had happened between that year and this.

I took her for a 'oncer'. That is, we walked out from where I live and to the local park to admire the view over London, then down along where the old railway line ran and into Highgate Wood. Through Highgate Wood to Queen's Wood and here we paused. We had been talking about that gut feeling you get when you know something is wrong or right, though you can't explain why. We'd been talking about things that can't - yet? - be explained and how, though neither of us is New Age-y or would describe ourselves as religious or spiritual, we both have had experiences that defy logic and so we remain open minded. She had said, though, that she believed she was less attuned to 'vibes' then most.

So there we were in Queen's Wood, standing still, and I turned to her and before I said a word, she said, "I definitely feel a vibe here!" Indeed. I told her she wasn't the first and that some people said there had been a plague pit there and how, without even knowing any history, everyone I've ever spoken to has said they felt "something" when they were in Queen's Wood. So, that is my first picture, above: the wood looking all beautiful and peaceful in the end-of-day autumn light, but still...

We walked on, down along the path that goes past the cricket grounds and then back up along the road to the park where we began, making a giant loop and when we were nearly back we saw the full moon rising. This picture is very grainy and sadly doesn't capture the event very well, but is better than nothing - just! And while we covered all that ground, we managed to cover a lot of years as well, catching up.

The old song is corny but true: 
Make new friends, but keep the old. 
One is silver and the other gold.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A pea-souper this morning, along with a strange pink light this photograph doesn't do justice to. It was taken from one of the back windows of my flat and beyond those trees, the view is usually streets of houses and semi-urban sprawl, so this gives you an idea of how thick the mist is. As ever when it's this dense, there's a pleasant cocooned feel and a surprising quiet not expected in a city of over 8 million.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Went this week to the Lee Valley Regional Park for our walk. The map we printed off said "moderate to challenging". So off we went. First, a pond so covered in algae that it looked like mottled glass and was just begging me to try walking on it, but I resisted. On then, past many fields planted with over-wintering root vegetables: turnips - or possibly swedes (that's rutabagas to my USA contingent), all on completely level ground. To our left, a high, wire fence on the other side of which was the old Royal Gunpowder Mills, though from where we were there was nothing to see aside from woods, a creek and occasional overgrown fields.
After a time we came to clearer water, which is part of the old river Lee (or, confusingly, Lea) and met a number of birds, including, though we didn't know it at the time, a bittern (sorry, no pic). Bitterns are one of the most threatened bird species in the UK, mostly due to their ever-decreasing habitat – they like reeds along water edges – so we count ourselves lucky to have seen it. Soon after we also found ourselves on a paved path and passing or meeting quite a number of other people out for walks. It was all getting a little too populated for us and so, along with the fact that our parking lot closed at a particular time, we decided to go cross country, losing out the top half of the walk and getting away from the over-groomed 'country park' feel near the water.

We passed a farm I remember from when my son was small – the sort of 'working' farm that is open to visitors all year round, so city kids can see cows being milked and baby lambs up close – and carried on until we came out on to a road. Although our walking map helpfully had an exclamation mark on it at this point and, in the key, said "be very careful of traffic on this stretch", it was still alarming to find ourselves on a twisty bit of road with cars going very fast indeed and no pavement or verge at all to walk on. We asked ourselves repeatedly if we could possibly be following instructions correctly because it really did seem far too dangerous to walk along but, being the sort of people who feel they have to finish once they've started, we carried on and eventually found the next waymarker and escaped on a small path that led away and up from the road.

The operative word here is up. By the time we made it to the top, I was ready for a little rest! Too bad the wood we had arrived in was a bit muddy for sitting down in, but at least now I understood why the walk had been described as "moderate to challenging"!
We eventually came out on a high point from where we could just see in the distance the city of London, though behind us it felt and looked like country. It is one of the remarkable things about this little island: that you can be surrounded by concrete, crowds, noise and cars, but be away from it all in a very short time indeed.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Commonwealth House (aka One New Oxford Street) was built in the Moderne style in 1939. It fills the triangle at the junction of High Holborn and New Oxford Streets in London (note to location managers: check this place out for a background shot on your next Poirot shoot). I found a promotional film from 1961 that features this building (it's at if you're feeling geeky) and it looks exactly the same outside and, inside, featured all that burnished oak on doors and windowsills they were so fond of back then. Actually, a lot of that is still inside now.
It has some great details that, fortunately, haven't been overly messed with, like the metal window frames and neon lights in that lovely round font above the side entrance (below).
I ask myself why I like this style so much. I think maybe it reminds me of what was around when I was a kid and what was popular then. No, I'm not THAT old! But it takes a while for a style or fashion to completely wash away. Think of the glass skyscratchers that are being built now - they started doing that at least 40 years ago. Anyway, the styling of this building makes me think of old Bogart and Raymond Chandler-scripted movies from the 1940s. Comfort watching. A bit like hot, buttered cinnamon toast on a rainy afternoon. What do you mean, you've never had cinnamon toast? I will post my to-die for method one day soon. You will eat it while watching an old black and white movie, and you will be happy.
One of the very cool things about this building is that, as well as being a triangle outside, is has a matching triangular courtyard down the middle. So you can stand on one side and look across and see folks on the other side – and you can walk all the way around. Why is something like this so pleasing? Is one of life's mysteries.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Back to the Ashridge Estate once more, this time to show a 12-year-old boy the 'Harry Potter Tree' and, of course, take advantage of the glorious day. 
The first time we came up here, a couple of months ago, we saw two deer and counted ourselves lucky, having never seen wild deer in the UK before. This time, they were everywhere – we even saw stags with their fabulous antlers – sometimes astonishingly close, especially considering there were people out walking their dogs and, at one point, trail bikes roaring by. The 12-year-old counted 20 in all and if you look closely, you can see some in the picture above. #nevertireofwatchingthemleap
In an effort to capture the beautiful sunlight stripling through the trees and lighting the tree trunks, I took a photograph. It doesn't quite show what we could see, but I'm just as pleased with it for looking almost like a painting.
Can't leave without one last picture of fungi. I want to say, "It's so pretty" or "It reminds me of an old-fashioned ladies' dress covered in ruffles", but you don't need me to describe it since you can see for yourself!
Thank you, weekend! You were fabulous.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Wanted to fill in the blanks from Saturday's walk in Broxbourne Woods... We came upon this great idea: woodland grazing. Is how the woods would once have been managed and, also, feeds the cows, so they are trying it again and it looks as if it's working. An added plus is that it looks nice too.
Then there were the woods. Some obviously planted, some showing signs of old coppicing. We had an old (30 years?) Ordinance Survey map and a smartphone compass which I didn't trust because the message across the screen read 'No Service'. Does the compass work when there's no connection? Don't know (answers gratefully received!).

And so, after several hours walking, it was time to return. Let's go back a different way! Just to make it more interesting! Great idea... until, after some time,  we couldn't be sure if we were actually heading in the right direction. It's a strange thing, but even so close to London, even in a contained wood – yes, if we'd picked any direction and walked long enough, we would have got to a road – when the light starts to fade and you're tired, it can start to feel that it could be a good long time before you get where you want to be. So, not scared, not upset, but just a little... lost!

But, obviously, we found our way eventually and made it to the evening rendezvous with a very old friend - one of the three other women I first came to London with back in the year––  Oh, is that the time? Must run or I'll be late for work!