Tag Archives: Hipstamatic

Seven Wonders of London: Part I – Neasden?!

Neasden in North West London is probably not somewhere on a sightseer’s wish list. Carved up by major roads and train lines, I hope any inhabitants would forgive me for labelling it a rather bleak and grubby suburb of the metropolis…

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Wandering around in the cold and drizzle in Neasden cannot be many people’s idea of a fun Saturday. The sights I came across seemed appropriately drab or even depressing, such as these soot covered wreaths marking someone’s death on the side of a road…

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And how often do you see a Ford Sierra anymore? – this 1985 model had seen better days but was a blast from the past for someone who grew up in the eighties and nineties…

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The Hindu Temple
However, hidden in Neasden is a jewel.

Nestled on a very ordinary looking road, is an extraordinary building, ranked as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of London by Time Out magazine: the Neasden Hindu Temple, or more properly, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir…

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It is the largest Hindu temple outside of India…

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Built in 1995 using traditional methods, it consists of nearly 3,000 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, all carved exquisitely in India and then shipped back to London…

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The temple is impressive from the outside, but is awesomely intricate and ornate on the inside. As a profoundly holy place I was obviously not able to take photos of the interior. Instead, I padded around in my socks on the deep carpets and on the marble floors as many people prayed and contemplated in silence around me (in another part of the temple people chanted following the microphoned voice of a cross-legged leader). Numerous Hindu shrines adorned with large, porcelainesque, statues of Hindu deities and holy figures including Lord Swaminarayan himself – a 18th-19th century holy man whose followers believe was an incarnation of God.

I find something truly special in the fact that such a remarkable place of spirituality exists in what might otherwise, rather rudely but accurately, be labelled as a dull part of London.

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The Elixir of Long Life

What should one drink on a hot and sticky Saturday night?

How about Chartreuse and tonic…

I used one part Chartreuse to nine parts tonic with lots of ice. For some reason I fancied it in a large wine bowl glass.

If you were to get the ratios the wrong way around -nine parts Chartreuse to one part tonic – then, at 55%, you could be in a little bit of trouble…

As far as liqueurs go, I am not sure that many can match the history of Chartreuse. The Chartreuse monks in France held an ancient manuscript with the wonder-drug known as the ‘Elixir of Long Life’. The complicated instructions from a long-dead apothecary were translated in 1737 and Chartreuse was born.

Apparently the monks risked the wrath of the most powerful man on earth when they refused to give the secret recipe to Napoleon following a direct order. They continue to distil Chartreuse to this day.

Photos taken on iPhone 4 with Hipstamatic

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!

No ordinary walk in the park – Richmond

Richmond Park is big. In fact, at 2360 acres, it is very big…

  • It is the largest green space inside the M25.
  • It is nearly seven times bigger than Hyde Park, and nearly three times bigger than Central Park, New York.
  • It is even bigger than some countries… nearly five times the size of Monaco, and almost twenty times the size of the Vatican City State.

If you haven’t been, I recommend it – particularly if you live in London. It is the only one of the Royal Parks where you feel you are approaching being in a truly wild space. Here is a brief Hipsta-tour to whet your appetite…

The fauna

The park is home to about 600 wild deer (Fallow and Red). Their stock dates back a very long time before they were walled in by Charles I. The park was named by Henry VIII and used as a hunting ground, although its royal connections go back much further to when it was called the Manor of Sheen owned by Edward I.

In the park, Fallow Deer (above) and the larger Red Deer (below) have become, inevitably, less cautious of humans than their cousins in wilder parts of the country, but they are still wild animals and it made my blood boil to see people trying to feed them crisps and pet them (more on feeding and petting animals below). I’d like to see someone try and feed crisps to a rutting Red Deer stag in October!

The Green Woodpecker below is about to slam its pick-axe of a beak into the grassy mound beneath its feet. The mounds are the homes to the almost entirely subterranean Yellow Meadow Ant. It is very possible that you have never seen one of these ants even though they are incredibly common (unless, like me, you like digging little holes into anthills to watch them at work), but you will have almost certainly seen the grassy mounds that can have been the homes to ants for literally hundreds of years.

The Egyptian Goose (below) is so called because of the distinctive eye markings that resemble the ancient Egyptian eye make up.

I’m definitely not going to win any photographic awards for the shot below, but then you try photographing the fastest creature on earth! If you are thinking that the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on earth, I would argue you are only partially correct. The Peregrine only reaches the top speed due to a lot of help from gravity. Nothing can touch the Swift going flat out. The Swifts below are acrobatically catching their insect prey on the move.

To me, the Swift is one of the ultimate flying creatures. Not only is it the fastest, it is simply made to exist in the air. When a Swift chick is ready to fledge, it will wobble towards the nest hole on its tiny feet (its Latin name, Apus apus, means ‘without feet’) and then take off into the sky. Its first flight (if successful) will last for four years without a break! The little bird will not touch ground again until it is ready to rear young. It will eat and sleep in the sky and never perch.

The Song Thrush (below, perched in a Beech tree) declined in number by over 50% from 1970 to 1995 due to the loss of its natural habitat. Watching the males sing their love songs from tree-tops in early spring before the females have even migrated back to the UK is a truly moving wildlife experience.

A lesson in life and death

Baby animals are cute. But, they are also wild animals and watching children rush up to cygnets like the one below (ugly duckling?) when the adult swans are there protecting them makes me wonder if the children’s parents have any common sense whatsoever!

Or… feeding a baby Canada Goose bread whilst its mother hisses out of shot…

Just as Spring brings goslings, so too comes the new growth of plants, such as this fern…

Whilst we celebrate new life in Spring, Richmond Park is an excellent example of the importance of death and decay. Everywhere you look, there is dead and rotting wood that is left deliberately and attracts some of the rarest insects (including the mighty Stag Beetle) and fungi.

Nature is not always pretty and cute. We should never kid ourselves that threat, predation, and death don’t occur in parkland. The young rabbit below had perhaps fallen prey to a Buzzard which was then scared away from its food by cyclists or dog walkers. It may be nicer to take pictures of baby birds than dead bunnies, but both are part of the wonderfully wild life and death that exists at Richmond Park.


A hidden Purl…

I took these dusky Hipsta-shots in the hidden gem of a cocktail bar, called Purl. Imagine Victorian themed molecular mixology and you are getting close. You need to book a table and then order some rather ‘different’ cocktails such as a Martini with a twist of lemon “detonated” over your glass with a popped balloon, or heavily (and very literally!) smoke infused rums and gins.

But my favourite (see bottom right) was the rather pricey ‘Cigar Box’ with the exquisite Blue Label, sherry aged sugar and salted and bitter chocolate on the side. Most of the cocktails were very reasonably priced and even the Cigar Box was worth every penny – I highly recommend!

Into the face of the Sun: Hipsta-Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor started working for Sir Christopher Wren (of St Paul’s Cathedral fame) earning two shillings a day on 1685. As a fully fledged architect, Hawksmoor was responsible for designing six post-Fire of London churches that remain some of the finest examples of architecture in London today.

Despite all the leakage, silhouetting, and spots of weird light you get (or perhaps because of them?) I can’t get enough of taking photos facing into the sun.

St Alfege, Greenwich

This is the third church built on the same spot to mark the place where an early Archbishop of Canterbury, St Alfege, was killed by Viking raiders in 1012.

St Mary Woolnoth, City of London

The church where anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce worshipped, is captured in T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Wasteland’, where his description of City workers holds true today 90 years later (I used to walk past this church every day to work):

“And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours”

St Anne’s, Limehouse

To keep the time on the clock correct a signal would be sent from Greenwich (using flags or lights) and then a weight would be dropped to keep the clock in sync with Greenwich.

St George in the East, Wapping

Despite suffering a direct hit from a bomb in the Blitz, the church and its famous ‘pepper pot’ towers stayed standing.

Christ Church, Spitalfields

Spitalfields and this church has always been the invisible border for me where The City meets trendy Shoreditch.

St George’s, Bloomsbury

The most westerly, and last of our trip, of the Hawksmoor Six.

Thanks for joining me on this whistle-stop tour.

Cast in order of appearance

St Alfege, Greenwich

St Mary Woolnoth, City

St Anne’s, Limehouse

St George in the East, Wapping

Christ Church, Spitalfields

St George’s, Bloomsbury

First six photos taken with iPhone using Hipstamatic (John S lens and Alfred Infrared film). Final six photos taken with Canon EOS 550D.

Wharf in the rain… with Hipstamatic

OK, I realise that photo-blogging London in the rain in black and white can become a little tired, but… hey, my life at the moment is all about London in the rain. I could use Hipstamatic’s many colour combinations, but Canary Wharf is grey at the best of times. In the rain, it is grey on grey so I may as well use monochrome to make it look like I’m in control of the colour!

I nipped out during my lunch break and braved the pathetic drizzle to capture a very wet Wharf.

The eyesore

This carbuncle below is a big deal for me at the moment. It is being erected at lighting pace and is blocking my view from my office window (yes, ‘poor you’ I hear you all chorus). I am obviously not a structural engineer or an architect, but I believe that it is actually a hollow and temporary shell protecting the concrete core/lift shaft being constructed inside for a new glass and steel tower.

The cable car?

Below is a ground level view of the ‘O2’ (or “the dome” in non-sponsor-speak) which is also visible from my office. Less visible are the tiny pylon things to the left of the dome. That is the ‘Emirates Air Line’ (or “cable car” in non-sponsor speak) which is the first urban cable car in any UK city.

The wharf in the foreground is one of many interconnected waterways at Canary Wharf and you can see the mouth into the Thames. My gym is at water-level of a connecting piece of water and I have seen a wild Common Seal playing with a metal pipe there. No, I am not lying.

Canary Wharf?

To many people, the building below IS Canary Wharf (the famous flashing pyramid roof is not visible from this ground-level perspective). It is the original and tallest building in the Wharf (only recently knocked off its overall UK top-spot by the Shard) and is more correctly named ‘1 Canada Square’. I like the tiny eagle you can see soaring around the building just to the right of the tower.

Oh alright! It’s not an eagle, but a Herring Gull in the photo. I was just trying to spice things up a bit having raised expectations with the seal. We do get Peregrine Falcons at the Wharf though and I have interrupted important meetings on the 30th floor of my building to “corr!” and “wow!” at the fastest creature on earth plummeting down off our roof after some poor unsuspecting pigeon. 

Metal and glass

Canary Wharf is all about metal and glass. There is a lot of metal and lot of glass including most of the sculpture and artwork (as below outside one of the office towers).

The new Wharf

Ever since the experiment began in the ’90s to build a new business district in London in one of the traditionally poorest and most run-down areas of the country (let alone the capital), there has continued to be a huge amount of development down here. Just as I started this post with a building site, so I finish with one. This poor sod below was sweeping the muddy puddles off the new concrete that has been laid for one of the largest construction projects the in the country: Crossrail.

Many people attack Canary Wharf for being soulless. I wouldn’t want to live there, but I genuinely enjoy working there (despite it not having the history of the ‘City of London’) and I wouldn’t want to bet that this young and thrusting concrete, metal and glass upstart doesn’t actually have a soul of sorts after all.