#55: Watford Junction – 18/06/2019

Watford Junction is the most northerly terminus on the Overground, and I travel here with some trepidation as I’m not sure if my Oyster card will be accepted. But I needn’t have worried as all is well on that front. The forecast for the day is threatening with torrential thunderstorms, so I am keen to make an early start to avoid getting soaked later in the day. I don’t mind a good electrical storm, as the spectacle can be quite amazing, n’or do I mind the thunderclaps, especially when they are right overhead; it’s torrential rain that makes the experience unpleasant.

On a personal note, I have to laugh…my mother who is almost 95 and relies on two good hearing aids declares she doesn’t like the thunderclaps at night, but I remind her she won’t hear them anyway as she’ll not have her hearing aids in when she’s tucked up in bed.

This is my first of two visits to Watford (Metropolitan Line still to come) and it has been an interesting one because of the number of friendly people I’ve met. And what a welcome change it’s made to have those willing to stop and chat and tell me a little about themselves and what they do. More of them later.

The Station

Watford Junction is a transport hub serving several National Rail lines through Hertfordshire, up the West Coast to Scotland, into London Euston and down to Croydon south of London. A busy station with connecting bus routes to many local destinations as well as the Harry Potter Studio Tour nearby.

And as with all public transport hubs these days, cycling is positively encouraged with easy forecourt bike spaces and a separate secure bike store nearby.

The station is about 1 Kilometre from the town centre but before getting there, I take a detour around nearby back streets and through some colourful underpasses. This one in particular caught my eye and is the subject of today’s ‘Picture of the day’ but as I was composing the shot, a lady waited to pass behind. I encouraged her to walk through and asked if she’d mind my including her in the shot – as long as I didn’t show her face was her response.

Wandering up Church Road, a road containing a mix of modern houses and workmen’s cottages, there’s a sense of a hidden history as I spot this sign embedded in a couple of cottages; but no amount of research has yet revealed its history.

Further along there’s a remnant of lighting of years gone by. This old gas lamp perched on top of a street corner plinth housing a letter box may or may not be in its original position. Nevertheless, and although somewhat dilapidated, it seems to have some local significance given it’s prominent position.

Concrete, concrete and even more concrete

This might be a slightly misleading title and an unfair reflection on the town which has done  much to beautify itself with floral displays. But the ever presence of concrete in construction remains and office blocks of the 1960’s now look tired and drab.

And for new builds, there’s no escaping the tonnes of concrete being used to create the central lift shafts; their towering height clearly visible from afar.

The exterior wall of this car park created an interesting effect, as it seemed the longer I looked at it, the greater the distortion it seemed to create. Am I the only one to see grey dots all over it? This shot, taken with a flash, does just enough to capture some of the reflective number plates of the cars therein and gives the image a sense of purpose to an otherwise geometrically interesting mural.

The Civic Centre

At the top end of the pedestrianised shopping area is a collection of civic and educational establishments. Although the main ring road cuts through the area, the town has creatively re-purposed an underpass into a large walkway and cycle way to provide direct access to the area.

I spot an unusual sign which takes my fancy. This one in the civic car park; a nuance on the usual ‘have you paid and displayed?’ and a second directing cyclists coming up some steps to dismount – curious as I wonder if it’s for the attention of those adventurous cyclists making their way up the steps?

The People in Watford

I walk through the underpass, and I come to a decorative pond and floral display. The ‘W’ display clearly symbolising Watford and sits proudly in the large fishpond being watered. The gardener is a very happy chappy and he explains that the water fountains are switched off as the water has  recently been treated. He also explains that he uses the pond water to water the ‘W’ feature as the natural nutrients in the pond helps feed the flowers in the display.

A slight detour into New Watford Market where I’m drawn to a colourful display of saris.

Back onto the High Street and the floral display of three tiered bedding plants is quite striking. They are regularly positioned either side of the pedestrianised walkway, and their vibrancy adds to the local colour. Near St Mary’s Church, I stop and chat with Laura, who’s responsible for repositioning these displays using a power assisted fork-lift. She explains that the displays have been delivered by Amethyst Horticulture from Kent but placed in slightly the wrong place, and having been watered overnight, they are now significantly heavier and need some effort to move. She invites me to try moving one which I do with some effort.

Further down the road I meet John, a local Information Guide and we chat about our shared passion in photography. He is a former US professor in augmented reality, who has now settled in the UK and enjoys his role helping locals and visitors alike.

Orphan Asylum

When I first got off at the station, I noticed an intriguing spire to the east and on returning towards the station, I followed the railway line passing through a tunnel to get to the other side. And as I do, I find myself in a quiet leafy tree lined crescent where I can see the spire which forms the top of a clock tower.

Heading towards the tower, I pass the headquarters for J W Weatherspoon, and Hilton Worldwide, and enter the immaculately cared for grounds of this re-purposed grand and splendid Victorian building. My first thought is that it may have been a former hospital or asylum, and when I pass the street name, the clue to its past is staring me in the face – Orphanage Road. A quick search reveals this to be the former London Orphan Asylum. The link explains in detail how one man’s resolve to improve the lives of London’s orphans ended up with this magnificent example of Victorian architecture.

Picture of the Day

This underpass, one of many in the area, is the most colourful and cried out to have its picture taken. This is one of a sequence where I tried different settings, and what makes this one work best for me is the use of flash to highlight the colour of the tiles balanced with the rectangular light effect created using the light coming through the far side of the underpass as it hits the walls on either side.

I’ve referenced above the lady walking through: she was kind enough to agree to my taking her picture provided I didn’t get her face, as having someone walk through helps to explain the underpass’s function. The irony of the sequence is that the one shot I would like to have used has the lady turning around looking at me…Ah well! But I think this one works in a different way in that it accentuates the colour scheme as created by its original designer.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/160; Focal Length – 18mm; Film Speed – ISO3200

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#54: Stratford – 13/06/2019

Back from two weeks holiday and it seems I’ve forgotten what to do. Well, one of the key ingredients of this photo journal is my ability to take pictures – so I can only claim my holiday brain caused me not to charge my camera battery, so at less than 50% capacity, it didn’t take long to exhaust.

But to my rescue came the rain. Yes: whatever happened to ‘flaming June’. I went out of the house relying on good ‘ol BBC’s forecast that there was only a 25% chance of rain. Well it seems I was in that part of London where the 25% had been converted to 100%. So today was a bit of a soaking, but to be honest, it still turned out to be an interesting one.

The Station

I’ve written about the station before, so I won’t repeat myself. The Overground platforms, Nos 1 and 2 are on the most northerly end of the station, and serve trains to Richmond and Clapham Junction. The end of Platform 1 is overshadowed by a large cage like building creating an almost tunnel effect.

Whilst exploring the platform, I look for a different angle to capture, and as I do, I bemuse a couple of station staff as I crouch down below some fixed seats to capture this locked toolbox.

The overground platforms are oddly adjacent to platform nos 11 and 12, and having commuted through Stratford for over 30 years, and looked at these platforms from a passing train I’d never ventured there until now. There’s a large platform expanse, which seems slightly out of place, but there have been occasions when I’ve seen the area crowded as commuters wait for a delayed train taking them home east. But I wonder how many will have stopped to look at Jonathan Edwards – yes the Olympic triple jumper? You see there’s a rather tired perspex case up against the wall that does nothing to inspire the casual viewer to look beyond the faded, discoloured casing. But peer inside, and there’s a sculpture by Ptolemy Elrington who creates art from recycled material.

This one of Jonathan Edwards holding up the union flag depicting the scene when he won the Olympics in 2000 was commissioned as part of the 2012 Olympic preparations and the statue toured the country before finding its resting place here. I think more should be done to promote this forgotten piece of work.

There are some unusual building facades that probably puzzle passers by. No doubt the external facade is purposely designed to hide their ugliness, and if so,  the architects seem to have achieved this quite well. These two masking a car park and an energy centre are now part of the accepted landscape of the area.

Stratford City Bus Station

This is a hub for local London buses and National Express airport coaches located by the south entrance to Westfield Shopping Centre and is bubbling with transient passengers. Although I don’t count the number of buses pulling in whilst I’m here, I would guess though there’s a bus arriving/leaving every two minutes or so. But unless you have a need to use the bus station, or walk past it destined elsewhere, you wouldn’t know it’s here.

London Buses is a conglomeration of 20 separate bus companies who provide the city with it’s distinct red livery and managed under the TfL banner. And for this privilege, they can carry the iconic London Transport roundel…

East Village

Built as the athlete’s village for the 2012 London Olympics, the housing complex of mid rise self-contained secure tower blocks dominates the east side of the Olympic Park and Westfield shopping centre. And 5 years on, development has and continues to expand, and you can get a sense of the surrounding environment in my ‘picture of the day’ below. Now an established residential area of architecturally attractive buildings, I still believe the area lacks character and soul as it’s devoid of personality. And if you’d like to know what an apartment costing more than £750,000 looks like in its naked state, here’s one I made earlier – and it’s exactly the same as any other development…

The village is adjacent to an area called Chobham Manor which gives its name to the local academy, and I’ve noticed a trend with modern academies – they no longer look like schools. I guess that’s a consequence of the market forces driving their financial models? This one looking more like a collection of office blocks with a little effort to camouflage their walls with some educational messages…

…and it seems any unused space is also open game for businesses to utilise, as exemplified by this nearby re-purposed prison van.

The Lee Valley Velopark

Tucked just inside the main A12 trunk road that cuts a swathe through east London, is the Velopark; built for the main cycling events at the 2012 London Olympics and now part of its ongoing legacy. There aren’t many people about on this windy rainy day, and as I walk around the Velodrome admiring the attractive cedar canopy, there’s one lone tri-cyclist on the road circuit cranking his way around the track. I’ve visited the Velodrome before but hadn’t realised it’s free to enter, so in I pop following in the wake of a coach load of school kids who had come to enjoy the spectacle.

The Velodrome runs Experience Sessions where you can be coached in the use of a fixed wheel bike and the basic skills required to safely ride the velodrome track. From my observations it’s not as easy as it looks, and some degree of nerve is needed to balance the right speed with the angle of the curves. At the London Velodrome the steepest curves are banked at 42°, but standing on top of it (safely  behind the barrier I hasten to add), it looks much steeper. Those practicing today were being guided by the professionals at a modest pace on the lower level.

The Marshes

Leaving the Velodrome, I have it in mind to head for the New Spitalfields Market now on the other side of the A12, but as I make my way there, the heavens open and within minutes I’m a little like a drowned rat. Not perturbed, I walk past the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, over the main road and take refuge under a bus shelter by one of the fields that makes up the infamous Hackney Marshes sports ground. But on a midweek wet day, there’s not a soul in sight on any of the 88 full sized football pitches.

I think the rain begins to ease (oh how wrong am I!) and walk up to the New Spitalfields Market, on the expectation I’d see how today’s fruit and veg distribution works in London. But alas the signs into the market make it quite clear this is private land and no photography without permission. Given the rain soaking conditions, I feel disinclined to follow through and search out the person whose permission I’d need. I satisfy myself, somewhat dejectedly, with a photo of their sign behind railings.

Drenched by now, I decide to head to Leyton underground as the lesser walk rather than returning directly to Stratford as I can’t see a bus coming. In the pouring rain, it’s much further than I thought, but I do pass a couple of things that catch my eye. One of which is my first introduction to London’s Quietways: a different sort of cycle route for those looking for a quieter ride. This one on the edge of Orient Way showing what I assume to be the number of cyclists that have passed today (328), and the number that have passed so far this year (85105). I couldn’t see, though, how this measurement was taken and if indeed it reflected this particular spot or the whole Quietway in its entirety. Perhaps someone reading this may have the answer – please drop me a line and if you do and I’ll update this blog.

The second thing is this distance measurement emblazoned on a brick wall. There’s nothing to indicate what it signifies, but I hazard a guess it’s nothing more than a reference to how far the nearest Asda store is, as the wall is on the route from the main road to Asda’s car park. Nevertheless catching the wet pedestrian within the measurement is slightly entertaining.

Hackney Wick

By the time I’m back in Stratford, it’s bright and sunny, so I decide to visit Hackney Wick out of curiosity. It’s a part of London I have walked through before en route to ‘Here East’, the former Olympic Media Centre which sits directly opposite on the other side of the River Lee. I was there exploring its suitability for an office move when at GDS, but the move to here was trumped by another location in Aldgate where GDS is now based. Hackney Wick has a long industrial heritage, but through the 20th Century, its association is more with poverty and deprivation. Walking around you can understand why, but there’s a 21st Century resurgence with the area now being popularised with millennial business ventures happy to work out of urban/industrial premises surrounded by graffiti and wall art.

The area, which sits by the river Lee, is also popular with river dwellers, and the recently modernised station helps to breathe new life into the area. An interesting way to end the day and I think a revisit here would be worthwhile in the future so that I can truly capture its essence. If anyone is up to joining me, drop me a line.

Picture of the Day

The precise location of this shot is at the northerly end of Champion’s Walk, part of the original Athlete’s Village built for the 2012 Olympics; and what struck me was the unspoilt, manicured cleanliness of the area. This shot, taken from ground level to accentuate the trimmed bright green hedges accentuates the symmetry of the surrounding high rise tower blocks with the street lights on one side, and balanced by the angle of the building on the other. The shot narrows in on the pedestrian highlighted in white at the centre of the picture with a snatch of colour from an orange bag (possibly a Sainsbury’s carrier bag), and just in view, the red ‘don’t walk’ sign on the hidden traffic lights (zoom in and you’ll see it).

The shot also helps to remind me of the excitement and the crowds that would have been prevalent in the summer of 2012 as the country (and world) welcomed the sporting elite and others to London. Maybe I’ve captured more than I’d imagined?

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ/8; Shutter Speed – 1/160; Focal Length – 35mm; Film Speed – ISO250

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#53: Brixton – 28/05/2019

Brixton is a vibrant collection of people from different cultures and nationalities. Whilst predominantly associated with the Carribean culture, as I walk around and dig into the corners, there are surprisingly many other cultures present too. Don’t just take my word for it, go and have a look for yourselves.

The Station

This is the southerly end of the Victoria line and my visit today completes my exploration of this line. Nothing unusual or spectacular about the station, but I sense an air of expectation as the visitors alight and make their way to the surface. At platform level, the walls are adorned with tiled murals bringing some colourful relief to the otherwise drab creamy facade.

But as I make my way to the surface, I look behind as I exit into the daylight and enjoy the recently revealed mural created by Aliza Nisenbaum and commissioned by the ‘Art on the Underground’ movement. The mural will remain on view until September 2019, so get along soon to enjoy it.

The artist has included a self portrait within an image of a small circular mirror found at the end of the platform (top right hand corner), and bizarrely just before I exited the station, I had done something similar whilst trying to capture some movement at platform level. Spooky or what?

Markets, Markets and Markets

Within a short walk from the station, my senses are bombarded by all things Caribbean as I wander through Electric Avenue, Pope Street and Brixton’s collection of Markets. The link explains how Electric Avenue established itself as a part of London culture and gained notoriety within Britain’s social history and subsequently immortalised by Eddy Grant in his song in the 1980’s.

I can’t begin to do justice to the sights, the smells and the colours on display throughout Brixton Market and Brixton Village Market, so go and have a look and lose yourselves in the maze of shops and stalls. You’ll see some curious foods on display and wonder what on earth they are. Even the invitation to try some coconut milk as the cure all for all ills from a street vendor added to the sensory experience.

Pop Brixton

This venue is made up of local independent traders, priding themselves on having a strong charitable commitment and a close community spirit which was evident in abundance when I chatted with the gardener caring for the Pop Farm. I shared my own experiences of cultivating a veg patch with him and we exchanged our own gardening secrets too.

It’s also the home of the local radio station, Reprezent, and hoping to speak to those working I made my way up to their studio, but alas I was asked to leave as it seemed I wandered into a private area – oops.

I’m also in awe of two young gents, Raj and Sandeep, who have opened a Pizza store called Share a Slice. Not unusual or uncommon you might think, but when I stopped to take some pics and they invited me in to chat, I learnt of their passion for making pizzas, having spent time in Napoli learning their craft.

But most importantly they shared their desire to help the homeless as they have undertaken to match the number of pizzas they sell during the week and donate them to the homeless. Today, being a Tuesday, is their ‘closed day’ for doing just that and they were busy weighing out the dough for the pizzas they were about to bake and deliver to their linked charities later in the day. A truly moving story, and if their pizzas are anything like their passion and enthusiasm, then they’d be well worth tasting.

Social History

The following is an eclectic mix of places I walked past that I felt drawn to; and there’s a story behind each, thus making up a part of Brixton’s colourful history. So here goes…

Southwyck House – looking vastly like a prison with a concrete zigzag to delineate the frontage with its co-joining staircase looking like a caged pen to keep the inmates in. A housing complex built in the 1970’s in anticipation of a motorway flyover which was never built. One commentator records that it is known locally as ‘Barrier Block’ as indeed that was its design purpose. Hideous to think that this social housing was considered acceptable enough to be built. The architectural design whilst creating some features, does nothing to uplift the feeling of isolation and incarceration the building exudes.

Walton Lodge: Sanitary Steam Laundry – across the road from Southwyck House, this building’s name describes clearly what went on here. For 119 years up to 2014, it provided the home for a thriving business until its location and other competition factors conspired against its continued success. Now converted into fashionable commercial and residential properties befitting the Brixton of the 21st Century.

A memorial at Windrush Square – the memorial is to those service men and women from Africa and the Caribbean who served alongside the forces of the British Commonwealth and her allies during the two World Wars. The popularised ‘Windrush’ name comes from the arrival of the Empire Windrush from Jamaica on 22 June 1948; the ship docking at Tilbury from the Caribbean carrying 492 immigrants and, for many, symbolises the beginnings of modern British multicultural society. The open square now overlooks the Black Cultural Archives, the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain.

St Matthew’s Brixton – built in the early part of the 19th Century, this grand Doric style building has over the last 40 years fallen on hard times. Its grandeur, once celebrating the wedding of former Prime Minister John Major to his wife Norma, has had many an internal change with much of its space now being used as community and office space. I was taken aback when I walked inside expecting to see an ornate and decorated church, but I found what I can only best describe as a ‘reverse Tardis’…a small church inside a monolith of a building.

Universal Pentecostal Church – few words here as I feel the picture speaks for itself. I felt compelled to take this picture as the sight of the sleeping vagrant seeking solace on the steps of this church epitomised the meaning of ‘hope’ (or maybe ‘desperation’).

Brixton Rail Station

But I close this chapter with a sculpture of Peter Lloyd, a young man who has been immortalised in Bronze and is believed to be the very first bronze statue of a black man in the UK when it was created in the 1980’s. It stands, somewhat eerily, but proudly on the westerly Platform – No 1, and I think the story behind the sculpture deserves to be told more widely. Please read and share…

Journey’s end which neatly concludes in a manner to that at the start of this visit, with a mural adorning the entrance to one of the platforms.

Picture of the Day

This was a tricky shot and is one of a sequence taken to get the right composure. I’m standing under the main railway bridge, on the west side of the road looking at the ‘BRIXTON’ mural on the wall on the east side. Traffic is coming from both directions and people walking by from the mainline station and underground. As the traffic lights turned red, there’s a double decker bus just out of shot on the left hand side – you can just make out its yellow wing mirror above the ‘B’. And I was trying to line up people walking by making the upright of the letters.

Judging the timing was crucial to get that juxtaposition, and as I saw the girl in the green top, she was ideal to colour complement the mural. Some shots got quite busy with people walking in different shapes to the letters, but this one was perfect. There are three people whose movements coincide with an upright part of a letter. The lady on the left just entering the ‘B’’; the guy on the right making the ‘N’ and partly hidden by the traffic light post, and the lady in green making a perfect centrepiece forming the upright of the ‘T’. I think it works…

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ/4.5; Shutter Speed – 1/100; Focal Length – 32mm; Film Speed – ISO200

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