#78: Battersea Power Station – 11/02/2020

This is the first of three bonus stations that have as yet to be built – well to be precise, to be completed as construction started several years ago and commissioning isn’t expected until at least 2021/22. Nevertheless, I thought it right to draw attention to them as much work has already been done, though much still to do.

The Tfl website explains the plans for this Northern Line Extension, so no need to repeat what’s there, so this is more a walk around a building site. But still, it’s an interesting day out.

The Station

There’s some amusing media speculation on the final station name, and this LondonIST article speculates how the standard naming convention may not apply in this case. Should it be Battersea Power Station Station, or simply Battersea Power Station? Time will tell.

So other than showing some hoardings surrounding the building works, I was alas, unable to get a high enough vantage point to get some meaningful construction works shots of the site being built by Ferrovial Agroman Laing O’Rourke.

For those who are local to Battersea, you’ll have seen the area surrounding Battersea Power Station evolve into a mini construction city as the Grade II* listed building is redeveloped into luxury accommodation, along with new builds surrounding it. And despite being a building site, builders and the Battersea Power Station Development Company actively encourage visitors and have done much to achieve this through the provision of a carefully managed road infrastructure and by providing a regular free shuttle bus service from the site entrance into the heart of the site. You can of course walk through as well.

For those who don’t know the area, I’d highly recommend a visit as there are many points of interest to keep your attention.

Battersea Power Station – I’ve already touched on the area in my previous blog when I visited Battersea Park in July 2019, so I’ll focus on what’s changed and how the development corporation continues to encourage visitors to come and take a look. One example is through the sponsorship of four spectacular light installations. Alas, by the time you read this blog, they will have been dismantled, but I have no doubt there will be others to follow.

Talking Heads: – a striking artwork by Viktor Vicsek, and I’m struck by the scale of the exhibition as I approach the Riverside Walk, overlooking The Thames. There are two super-sized heads each with some 4,000 controllable LED’s which show different facial expressions which not only react to each other but to those walking past too.

Eternal Sundown: – a light installation by Mads Vegas consisting of an array of 160 coloured fluorescent tubes arranged around the Coaling Jetty under the shadow of the Power Station. The best time to have seen this would have been nighttime and from the north bank opposite the Power Station, but despite being there during the day, the intent and colour pallete is still evident. And it was here I chatted with James, the lighting technician who’s in charge of the displays and running safety checks following the deluge in the wake of Storm Ciara.

Nine Elms Lane

My walk sees me meandering along the A3205 from Queenstown Road (Battersea) station to Vauxhall Bridge and I stop in a few places to admire what I see. Here are a few of them:

Battersea Exchange Arches: – nothing spectacular other than some neon lights under the arches to draw you into the area which has now been redeveloped into a modern housing and business complex that has no life or soul. I take the picture of the place name more as a reminder of where I am, but it has a rather striking quality don’t you think?

The Duchess Belle: – this pub stands out opposite all the building works and no doubt serves the local community of those living in the adjacent tenement houses equally well as the building workers. Its window display catches my eye as it’s clearly promoting allegiances to four of the six nations in this year’s six nations rugby tournament.

New Covent Garden Market: – unlike the old Covent Garden which is a delightful tourist destination, the new one is a hidden and inhospitable complex which offered little other than a walk along its service road. Maybe if I arrived at 4 in the morning instead, I’d be drawn into the hustle and bustle of the fruit & veg and floral merchants which would have provided a different atmosphere, but as it’s early afternoon, all the traders have gone. Maybe I’ll return another day and forgo my sleep.

Embassy of the United States of America: – Since 2018, the US Embassy moved from its Grosvenor Square site to NIne Elms, where the administration is housed in a new square building encased in screening sails. No doubt partly to obscure people looking in, and in part providing some sun shade to those inside.

I approached the embassy with a little trepidation as I thought the sight of a casual photographer may have attracted some unwanted attention.. So I decided to check out with the nearest armed police guard stationed on one corner, who helpfully confirmed it would be OK to take pics. So I did…

The wind was blowing the flag quite resplendently and I positioned myself to capture the right moment. And as I did, and waited for the flag to unfurl, I noticed a gentleman surreptitiously pointing his mobile phone in my direction. Each time I caught his gaze, he turned away, and I’m a little amused by this as if he’s an embassy employee, why not ask me what I’m doing.

Well his behaviour continues to entertain me so I make a deliberate effort to look at him, and at this point he starts stroking a nearby sapling but still pointing his mobile at me. As I move to walk on, he does too, ahead of me, so I decide to confront him and openly invite him to take my picture. Walking at his pace behind him, he avoids eye contact as he turns around and stops on some stepping stones in the middle of a water feature. I follow him and ask his intention to which he spun me a line that he’s a textures student interested in tree bark. I smile inwardly as this elderly gent seemed unfazed by my challenge, not the kind of behaviour I would have expected.

So if indeed I’ve been followed by an embassy official…I only hope they found me interesting? I have no doubt in my mind that he was NOT who he claimed to be – well it makes for a good story doesn’t it…

The Secret Intelligence Service: – better known as MI6, whose headquarters is adjacent to Vauxhall Bridge on the South Bank. Now an iconic building since its appearances in several James Bond films, especially when it gets blown up. But not surprisingly, it’s not as accessible as the Embassy of the United States of America as I walk past it’s high rise perimeter wall surrounded by cameras pointing in every possible direction.

Directly overhead there are two chinook helicopters looking to land: probably nothing to do with either the American Embassy or MI6, but their low flying downdraft adds to the mysterious and secretive nature of these two buildings.

Albert Embankment

I continue walking easterly and I’m soon reminded that Old Father Thames pops up everywhere symbolised in several sculptures along the way. The first I see is back along Nine Elms Riverbank where the artist, Stephen Duncan has depicted the demigod amidst his watery cohorts. And the second is a bronzed relief in the Sturgeons Lamp Posts that adorn the embankment. These lamp posts were designed by the Victorian architect George John Vulliamy.

Regular readers will know I have a view on modern architecture, and today is no different. I appreciate architects need to be creative, adventurous and bold when designing buildings, but would you like to live in a 25 storey concrete tube as depicted by these modern (?) assisted living apartments. And the price of such privilege – oh yes…nearly £3,000 per week!

A little further along, I see these intriguing seating areas created to reflect a type of working boat no doubt associated with Lambeth’s history, and their symbolic significance is revealed as I turn into Black Prince Road. The site is the location of London’s White Hart Dock, one of the City’s many docks and slipways: this one dating back to the 14th Century. The location also marks, rather sadly, Lambeth’s Cholera Epidemic where, in the mid 19th Century, at least 1618 residents perished of the disease. The epidemic here was also the trigger for the discovery by Dr John Snow that Cholera is a water borne disease.

Further along the embankment, my walk leads me past the former Headquarters of the London Fire Brigade, a glorious and imposing art deco building, which will soon be redeveloped into flats and house the London Fire Brigade museum.

And finally, a jaunt past the International Maritime Organisation, part of the United Nations, which displays its maritime link through this imposing sculpture of a ship’s bow protruding out of the front of the building. It is known as the International Seafarers Memorial.

Pictures of the Day

I have several contenders for today’s picture, but this one of the ‘Talking Heads’ gets the vote. I took several shots of each of the two heads at intervals to create an animation showing the different facial expressions. But this one, with both in shot, helps to set the scene. The heads are in metallic black, and the white LED’s help to complement the effect. So I’ve added a black and white filter to this shot to show it off at its best

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/400; Focal Length – 125mm; Film Speed – ISO400; Google Photo Filter – Vogue

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#77: Reading – 04/02/2020

Today, I stretch the boundaries of my Freedom Pass to its limits as I travel from Gidea Park to Reading for free. This will be an uninterrupted route courtesy of the Elizabeth Line, once it starts operating, but today, I have to change at Liverpool Street and Paddington.

Nevertheless, hats off to London Councils and Tfl for this great experience.

The Station

I have ‘fond?!’ memories of Reading Station as I travelled through here during different stages of my life. In my early working career I spent 6 weeks in Reading so the weekend commute to/from my home in Aberystwyth was always a challenge. And again, some 30 years ago, I passed through the station on my weekend visits back to Cardiff as I waited to move my family up to London. And more recently as I visited nearby IT and Telecoms providers in Newbury, picking up connecting services here.

Over the years, I’ve seen the station change, and I have to say its current incarnation is a significant improvement on what was once a severe bottleneck for the weary traveller. The station was remodelled in 2015 and it now boasts 15 platforms serving four train operating companies: Great Western Railway (GWR), South Western Railway, Cross Country (by Arriva), and Tfl.

I’m no train geek when it comes to spotting trains, but being one of the top 10 busiest stations across the country, this is an ideal location to see the variety of trains passing through. Some of today’s trains include: the sleek bullet shaped electric trains recently introduced by GWR, the stylish electric Tfl Rail trains introduced as part of the Elizabeth Line; the familiar South Western electric trains; and the more laboured Cross Country (diesel?) trains.

Alongside the 15 platforms, there’s a new inter-platform walkway, complete with shopping experiences and wide covered stairs and escalators to each platform (there are lifts too). All colour coordinated throughout in a ‘pleasing to the eye’ themed blue and grey. 

It’s a bitter cold day and even though the inter-platform walkway is covered, access to the platforms and stairs/escalators is open to the elements. So as I crouch down taking a few shots, I’m approached by a very pleasant and chatty Interserve supervisor who’s intrigued by what I’m doing, so we chat for a while. She’s an Irish girl quite used to the cold, but a little surprised when I tell her tales of having to scrape the ice from inside my bedroom window when I was growing up. As we part company I remark on her cold hands, to which she responds…’ah but I have a warm heart…’

Passengers come and go, with little regard to their surroundings as they work out which platform to head to. But their heads popping into shot through the angular structures makes for an interesting collection of pictures. I wonder what they’re thinking?

Before leaving the station, I notice that the Tfl Rail returning destination shows Ealing Broadway, even though the scheduled destination is Paddington. I’m intrigued and when I ask a Tfl platform guard, she helpfully explains that it’s done to prevent those journeying through the station thinking that it might be a fast service to Paddington. I speculate this may have been the case when this service was first introduced just before Christmas.

As it’s been a bitterly cold morning, I decide a short respite in The Three Guineas pub which backs onto the station is called for. I rest my feet whilst enjoying a coffe and as I leave I try to work out what’s the time?

Out of the station, heading to the river, I pass under the brightly coloured railway bridge with repeating geometric shapes that are formed from the girders spanning the road. A combination of having a back-lit footpath on the opposite side and pedestrians from a nearby building site  wearing high-vis jackets helps to make this picture. I also notice a couple of stranded birds roosting up above too.

The River Thames

A walk along the south and north banks brings a different Reading into perspective, and here are a few of my highlights.

Thames Water Property Searches: not necessarily everyone’s idea of a landmark, but this open circular building has some interestingly shaped access stairs. No doubt purposely designed to reflect the circular shape of the building, but in my mind also mirroring an Archimedes Screw designed to move water, and now used in some hydropower schemes.

Christchurch Bridge: this is a relatively new foot and cycle bridge built in 2015 to connect Reading and Caversham through Christchurch Meadows. A cable-stayed bridge with one mast and 14 pairs of cable in a fan style. I’m sure this looks very attractive at night time lit by its 234 LED’s, but this monochromic shot helps to show off its simplistic beauty.

Caversham Weir and Lock: continuing along the north bank I return via Heron Island and View Island, a once derelict boatyard now converted into a wildlife haven. There’s a footpath running through it which brings me out at the Weir. An impressive water feature used to manage the water flow at this point on The Thames, and with the sluices wide open, the water flows rather fiercely.

The footpath across the weir is quite popular, and standing in the middle peering over the edge, I get a strong sense of the water’s power. And I can understand why the local community has successfully lobbied to build an environmentally friendly hydropower scheme utilising two Archimedean screw turbines here.

The Thames Path: I only cover a minute part of the 215 mile path, which at Reading runs along the south bank from Caversham Bridge, under Reading Bridge and past Caversham lock and weir before meandering easterly towards Henley-on-Thames. There’s one peculiar river boat moored along the path and as I say farewell to Reading, I reflect on the achievements of my sister-in-law and her sister who both completed the Thames Path challenge recently. Well done ladies…

Birdlife

A few birds catch my attention as I walk along the riverbank. On the Caversham side walking through Christchurch Meadows I pass a small copse and hear some rustling in the undergrowth. I assume it to be a squirrel so I decided to ignore it, but the sound seems to follow me. Looking around, I could just make out a bird ground feeding around the copse. It’s unperturbed by my presence, although I did keep my distance, and this short animation captures its movements. I didn’t recognise the bird instantly, but my suspicion was confirmed once I looked up the RSPB Identify a Bird site. Some of you will recognise it instantly as a Redwing.

Further along I arrive at Heron Island, and no guesses what I see here.

And in the middle of the river, there’s a trio of Seagulls perched on a rather faded Danger sign, no doubt placed to warn anyone approaching of the nearby weir and reminding boaters to keep right towards Caversham Lock.

Picture of the Day

This is a view of the footpath over Caversham Weir. I waited for some cyclists and pedestrians to pass by and crouched down to get the low view shot. The railings on either side help to guide you through the picture and the Vista filter adds strength and starkness.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ4.5; Shutter Speed – 1/100; Focal Length – 28mm; Film Speed – ISO125; Google Photo Filter – Vista

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#76: Emirates Royal Docks – 28/01/2020

My penultimate end of the line: what am I to do afterwards? Suggestions on a postcard please.

Today’s wintry cold yet bright day sees me heading to the northern end of the Emirates Air Line at London’s Royal Docks alighting from the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) at Royal Victoria.

The route I take is a fairly simple one: twice around the westerly part of the docks from The Emirates Royal Docks station in an anti-clockwise direction over the Royal Victoria Bridge and back. Once in the daylight and once at night time.

I also ‘fly’ in the Emirates Air Line to North Woolwich and back to enjoy the experience and daytime and nighttime views which shows the Dockland’s continuing development.

The Station

Commissioned, built and opened just before the London Olympics in 2012, the ‘air line’ has  a capacity of 2,500 passengers per hour travelling at five miles per hour and taking three minutes to complete the crossing.

On my outward flight, I’m joined in the gondola by VeJay, a resident from Australia who’s visiting friends in London for a couple of months. We both remark on the rocking motion of the gondola as it’s battered by the winds when at the highest point of the journey, but thankfully, the structure is designed to withstand such winds. I spot some of London’s distant landmarks and observe the waterline’s tidy array of yachts some 80 metres below.

This night time shot of the North Greenwich station is quite striking as the Moon and the planet Venus shine brightly against the cloudfree sky.

Reflections

Nearby to the station is The Crystal, a conference centre designed and built with sustainability at its core generating its own electricity needs through 1,580 m² of solar panels. Despite being closed for refurbishment, the conference centre boasts a daily average visitor attendance of 1,000, but today, it’s the exterior that grabs my attention as its glass fronted surface offers an opportunity to capture some reflective moments.

Nearby water puddles, which shimmer slightly in the breeze, also provide a similar opportunity by creating a fuzzy view of the neighbouring residential block.

And into the night, the low lit footpath along the southern end of the dock casts a colourful display on the water’s surface transforming an otherwise drab vista into an almost Meditaranean one – oh if it were only 20 degrees warmer…

Historic Docks

Constructed in the mid 19th Century, the docks were an instant commercial success as they could easily accommodate all but the largest steamships; and despite being badly damaged in the Second World War, the docks remained a viable hub until the 1960’s. With the onset of containerisation, shipping throughout the London docks migrated easterly towards Tilbury where the larger ships could more easily be managed, and consequently by the 1980’s, the Royal Docks closed to commercial shipping traffic.

The docks have been sympathetically restored with obvious reminders of their heydays on display as the docks are surrounded by a display of cranes and derricks, as if ‘on guard’ for what has now become a fashionable residential and leisure area.

On the northern bank and just outside the entrance to the ExCel Centre is a poignant statue created by Les Johnson entitled ‘Landed’. Commissioned by the Royal Docks Trust, it has been erected as a tribute to the history of the communities of the Royal Docks and the men and women who worked there between 1855 and 1983.

Leisure

The docks are now a hub for a variety of conferencing, entertainment and leisure industries, although as it’s the middle of winter, all of the water borne leisure facilities are closed. There are few people milling around although there is a steady stream of visitors making their way into the Sunborn Yacht Hotel which is permanently moored by the ExCel Centre. This shot is taken through the legs of one of the cranes on the opposite side of the dock.

The docks is also the home of Lightship 93, a former Trinity House light vessel, now repurposed as a photographic studio and location. And looking east, about one kilometre away is London Docklands Airport with planes landing and taking off at regular intervals.

I end my day where I started, but spend a little time reflecting on the moody lighting which casts a soft shadowy glow on the footpath as a few revelers head for the DLR or to one of the nearby hotels. The overhead gondolas continue to pass robotically by, regardless of whether they carry any passengers, and I decide it’s time to get back into the warm…so it’s homeward bound for me too.

Picture of the Day

This shot is taken on the Royal Victoria Bridge looking straight into the low lying sun and I’ve positioned myself so that the vertical and horizontal struts of the bridge support are dissected by the sun. The shot is unfiltered as the stark sunlight adds to the shadowy black and white effect I’m trying to create, and highlights the white wispy clouds against an otherwise clear sky…

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ13; Shutter Speed – 1/800; Focal Length – 18mm; Film Speed – ISO100

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