Monthly Archives: July 2012

Now, apocalypse

Using the app Picfx on my iPhone, I have been playing around with some of my photos with the aim of capturing a sense of apocalypse. Enjoy…

“The sky was no longer blue. North-eastward it was inky black” – H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

“The horror! The horror!” – Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness.

“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire.” – The Revelation of St. John the Divine, 15.2

“And starward drifts the stricken world,
Lone in unalterable gloom
Dead, with a universe for tomb” – George Sterling, The thirst of Satan: Poems of Fantasy and Terror.

“…So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky” – John Dryden, The Major Works.

“Her fetters burst, and just releas’d from prison. A virgin phoenix from her ashes risen.” – Lord Byron

“Do days exist without calendars? Does time pass when there are no human hands left to wind the clocks?” – Howard Koch, War of the Worlds: The Invasion from Mars

Hipsta-playtime: clone wall

What’s this?

It may look like some kind of scientific image, graph paper or some faded tweed pattern, but it is actually a collage of over one million photographs. To be a little more precise, it is 1,048,576 collaged versions of two Hipstamatic photos (one of me and one of my partner) taken on my iPhone and then stuck together using another cool little app called, Diptic.

If you don’t believe me, then let’s work backwards together:

262,144 (precisely one quarter of the image above)… I know, it looks a bit samey, but bear with me.

65,536 – notice how you get some real texture at this level.

16,384 – some serious texture now. You can almost make out the component parts and maybe even some colour distinction.

4,096 – Golly gee! Is that a face I can see?

1,024 – OK, so loads of some dude’s head and then some funny green and blue image.

256 – Like an inverse jigsaw puzzle, the fewer the pieces, the clearer the picture.

64  – and so the detail starts to become clear.

16 (Aaah! Too much detail!)

4  – Lily and me, Me and LilyNote: this took about 15-20 minutes from picking up my iPhone to pressing ‘publish’ on this post. Photo apps are cool!

Homage to Martin Parr


I took this photo of the German sausage sellers at the Kent Beer Festival. It is not a particularly good technical shot – the lady is slightly blurred as she moves to keep the sausages turning – but I quite like it.

I like the colours, I like the half-posed but still human feel, and most of all, I like the fact that it reminds me (albeit only a pale imitation) of the work of a contemporary photographic legend, Martin Parr.

I only post my own photos on this blog-site for a couple of obvious reasons, so I can’t display a wonderful gallery of Martin’s long and brilliant career, but I can advise you to look at some of his work: such as here where he shows his prowess as the capturer of socially insightful, voyeuristic, but masterfully realistic images.

You could take my word for it, or you could read the words and look at the photos on Martin’s own blog.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Taking up the challenge of posting a photo that means ‘inside’ to me, I have gone for ‘inside’ a pint of beer (taken two days ago, so not strictly ‘this week’) – surely one of my favourite views!


Your questions answered:

  • The writing at the bottom of the glass says: “CAMRA – Campaign for Real Ale”
  • This photo was taken at the Kent CAMRA beer festival at Merton farm
  • I was lucky to be allowed to attend the festival despite not sporting a beard and not wearing sandals
  • According to CAMRA, Real Ale is defined as: “it has not been filtered or pasteurised and so the yeast is still present in the container from which the beer is served.” Where lager is generally yellowish, cold, fizzy, refreshing stuff, real ale is generally much darker, drunk at around room temperature and is lovely satisfying stuff
  • No. My fingers do not normally look like those of ET. It is simply the glass distorting the image

Secret London: Part IV – Subterranean rivers

Fleet Street was once the home to most of Britain’s newspapers and remains a major central London thoroughfare. This, you probably know.

What you may not know is that Fleet Street takes its name from a river that passes beneath it. The river Fleet is one of London’s many subterranean rivers that flow – often entirely underground – to feed the Thames.

The Fleet rises in North London from the hills of Hampstead and Highgate and has been dammed to form the famous Hampstead swimming ponds. The stream then disappears out of sight until it reaches the Thames.

Well… almost out of sight…

Imagine the funny looks I got taking close-up pictures of drain covers in Clerkenwell. The running water you can make out through the drain grill on Ray Street just north of Smithfield Market is actually the River Fleet running about 20 feet beneath the road. That is London’s largest underground river.

The Fleet once coursed through London above ground alongside other London rivers that have disappeared underground, such as the Tyburn, the Westbourne, the Stamford Brook, the Counter’s Creek and the Walbrook. Chelsea’s stadium, Stamford Bridge, is named after an old bridge that used to cross the Stamford Brook before it was diverted underground. The wealthy area of Knightsbridge is named after a bridge that used to cross the river Westbourne.

But now, these rivers are largely rain-water sewers that nobody can see. They even enter the Thames largely unnoticed.

The Fleet enters the Thames directly underneath Blackfriars Bridge. I visited on Sunday at high-tide and so couldn’t see a thing, but I am reliably informed that directly beneath the ladder shown below is a an opening which can be seen at low tide.

To make up for my bad timing, I cycled along to Vauxhall Bridge to show you another river-mouth that is partly exposed even at high tide.

Flowing under the MI6 building is the South London subterranean river Effra:

London was once awash with streams and rivers carving up the city. Much of the far east of London was just a large boggy marsh. In the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, Londoners have increasingly banished much of the water that shaped London underground. I think that is a bit of shame.

Just what the doctor ordered

With a couple of hours to kill in the rain yesterday morning I had a look around the Wellcome gallery. I learned some important lessons…

Got a headache?

Pre-historic society obviously thought that trepanning, or drilling/scraping a hole in someone’s skull, was a wonder-cure. At one burial site in France, nearly one third of the skulls had been trepanned. But it wasn’t just the ancients who used it – it was a common treatment right up until the 19th Century. Apparently it was a known cure for migraines. I’m imagining the conversation now:

Patient:  Doc! I’ve got a really bad headache.
Doctor:   Not to worry, I’ve got just the thing to sort that out.
Patient:  Phew!
Doctor:  Now just lie down here while I get my drill.
Patient:  Your WHAT! Why do you need a drill?
Doctor:  I’m gonna drill a three inch hole your head.
Patient:  Like hell you are! Is your name Dr Shipman?
Doctor:  Calm yourself, most patients survive.
Patient:  Oh super! Well can you at least put me to sleep?
Doctor:  No can do, anaesthesia won’t be used until the late Victorian era I’m afraid.
Patient:  Well what about infection? – I’m going to have a gaping hole in my head.
Doctor:   Antibiotics won’t be invented until the 20th Century, but don’t worry, I have wiped the drill on my butcher’s apron since using it on my last patient.
Patient:  You know what! My headache is suddenly feeling a lot better.

Painful arousal

OK. Now we are on to a very sensitive topic… literally! The nasty looking devices above are penis rings. They were designed to stop young men from becoming aroused, especially at night.

Imagine the scene: Billy is asleep and dreaming of Eliza from down the lane…  he watches as she lifts her skirts slightly to avoid getting them wet in a puddle and can see a flash of pale ankle exposed. Billy has never seen a girl’s ankle before. He smiles in his sleep and then… “OH MY GOD! WHAT THE F%$£!” He looks down at his bed clothes and they are wet with blood.

If you ever needed an example of Victorian puritanical sadism, surely these devices are proof positive.

Who needs doctors anyway?

Have a look at the picture of the picture above. In case not clear, it shows a seated woman with blood pouring out of her nose and into a bowl. Another bowl full of blood is also on the floor. A doctor stands next to her doing nothing and with his arms folded. The same woman is also depicted standing up looking better and holding a clear glass while staring at an image of Christ on the cross. The moral of the story? If you have a nose bleed, don’t bother with a doctor, just pray to Jesus and it will get better.

As a cynical atheist, I would interpret it slightly differently: If you have a nosebleed, don’t bother calling a doctor or praying. Just sit with your head slightly back and wait for the blood to coagulate. I would posit, that unless she had some kind of blood irregularity, it would have been rather more ‘miraculous’ if the blood had continued to flow than if it had stopped. But… interesting painting nonetheless.

To conclude..

If you find yourself living at almost any point up until the 20th Century, I would advise trying to avoid seeing anyone from the medical profession. The Hippocratic Oath, that doctors swear by, states: “avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.” Do no harm!

Finally I am reminded of a ‘profound’ poem:

A doctor fell into a well,
and broke his collar bone.
A doctor should attend the sick,
and leave the well alone. 


Secret London: Part III – East End Pub Crawl

Who fancies a ship at the rubber?

If you’re wondering what on earth that means, you were clearly not born within the sound of the Bow Bells (neither was I by the way – I am a ‘Mockney’). For those of you who understand Cockney Rhyming Slang, you will know I just asked if you would like a pint of ale (“Ship full sail” or just “ship”) at the Pub (“rub-a-dub” or just “rubber”).

London has some great pubs and your best chance of meeting authentic Cockneys (other than in Essex where many of them seem to have escaped to) is in one of the old school boozers in the East End. Here are three examples I visited last night:

The Black Lion, Plaistow

If you want authentic, you won’t get much better than The Black Lion. My drinking buddy, above, is posing against one of London’s oldest and best preserved coaching taverns in London.

The pub is nearly 600 years old and boasts many claims to fame in its long history, including that the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin, used to stable his horse, Black Bess, in what is now the function room just a few years before he was finally caught in Yorkshire and hanged in 1739.

The clientèle seem to be genuine locals in the main. The bar staff come from a limited pedigree as well with only a few landlords running the pub across the span of the last 100 years. In fact, from 1929 until 1997 (a staggering 68 years) a lady called Milly Morris worked as a bar maid and was happy to recount the many  stories she had accumulated over the years including during the war where she would continue serving pints as bombs dropped destroying her neighbourhood around them.

The pub is rare in that it still houses its own boxing club and gym, “the West Ham Boys”, which produced Olympic Gold medallist, Terry Spinks, and has also been used as a training gym for Barry McGuigan and Nigel Benn.

The Gun, Docklands

Whilst a relative youngster compared to the Black Lion – a mere 250 years old – the Gun can boast some pretty impressive history of its own. Most significantly, Britain’s greatest Admiral, Lord Nelson, used to frequent the pub and use the upstairs rooms to get up to mischief with his mistress.

The pub was also an important meeting place for smugglers and it still has a secret staircase complete with spy-hole to make sure the Cold Chill weren’t coming (sorry – I mean the Old Bill or Police – I just can’t help my mockney ways).

Much of the interior of The Gun was destroyed by fire in 2001. Since then, the pub has gone upmarket and is largely used as a drinking hole for the suits from Canary Wharf (including me – you can see The Gun from my office). The beer garden overlooks the Thames with the view dominated by the O2, as you can see below with me enjoying a Pig’s Ear (you surely don’t need me to translate that?)

The Isle of Dogs may have been partly gentrified by the money from Canary Wharf, but the Borough of  Tower Hamlets still has some the highest levels of poverty in the country. You do not have to travel far from the steeples of Mammon to see signs of both poverty as well as relics from the area’s past as a major industrial dock.

The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel

On 9th March 1966, a man walked into The Blind Beggar and approached another man sitting at the bar. The seated man sneered “Look who’s here” but was then shot in the head just above his right eye by the man who had entered the pub. The murderer calmly walked out again in full view of everyone else in the pub.

The dead man was George Cornell, a member of the notorious Richardson’s gang. The murderer was Ronnie Kray, half of the even more notorious Kray Twins. Despite a large number of eye witnesses, including Cornell’s friend Albie Woods sitting right next to him, not a single person would testify against the most feared man in London. Nevertheless, Ronnie Kray was eventually found guilty of the murder and spent the rest of his life in prison (he died in 1995). His brother, Reggie, would later join him after murdering Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie (brutally stabbing him in the face and chest after his gun jammed) in Stoke Newington.

The Blind Beggar is named after Henry de Montford, the son of one of the most powerful men in England, Simon de Montford. Legend has it that Henry was blinded in battle in 1265. Despite being nursed back to health by a baroness who would become his wife, the high-born Henry fell on hard times and became a beggar at the Bethnal Green crossroads.

Despite its dark history and its chandeliers, unfortunately The Blind Beggar today shares neither the authenticity of The Black Lion, nor the sophistication of The Gun. However, all three pubs are fantastic extant reminders of London’s rich and often dark history that can be found just while having a pint.

A Sunday Cycle: Lee Valley Park

Those of you who know me, know what I do, and know who I do it for, may be aware that the last couple of weeks have a been a little busy for me. In fact they were the craziest two weeks of my professional career so far. Last weekend was a complete write-off and so I wasn’t able to post any updates.

As I worked late into the night (after night), I would occasionally think back to the weekend before my world seemed to tip upside down and to a day cycling in the Lea Valley.

The river Lea (or Lee), ‘London’s second river’ apparently springs up in the midst of what is now the heavily concreted suburbia of Luton. I always imagine the source of rivers to be in some hilly meadow somewhere. But this inauspicious and urbanised birthplace is perhaps apt. The Lea has been carefully shaped and guided by man with much of its course straightened and navigable all the way down to its tidal end where it spills through the beautiful but largely decaying industrial desert of London’s east end at Bow Creek and into the Thames. I took the photo below on a winter walk where I didn’t come across another human being for over two miles despite being close to the Thames.

But this industrial winter view was far removed from the summer scenes nearly twenty miles north just outside the M25. The Lee Valley (just get used to my contrary spelling of ‘Lea’) punctures London like a green and blue spear. Have a look at a map at the string of reservoirs, canals and tributaries that act as wild refuge – almost like a path – down through the concrete jungle and towards the Thames.

Once you get outside of London, the Lee Valley opens up even more into a blissful mix of  of arrow-straight canals surrounded by pools, ponds, lakes, and streams.

You can see my partner, below, waiting almost patiently while I faffed around stopping every other minute taking photos and delaying our journey towards a Sunday pub lunch in a beer garden by the river.

Lunch was further delayed by some rather amusingly cute calves…

Further distractions came from the wild flowers growing along the waterside, such as this wild iris, Yellow Flag…

and Common Mallow…

and wild Chamomile…

and Common Poppy…

As last weekend was spent stuck in a largely empty office tower working in the stuffy heat with no air conditioning, I would occasionally cast my mind back to the weekend before of pure country air trundling past meadows and waterways…

I should have perhaps paid more heed to the grey clouds’ warning of an almighty oncoming storm and the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times!”