Saturday, 16 November 2013
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
If the Nazis had invaded Britain, they would have earmarked Walthamstow Assembly Hall as their kind of architecture: a severely plain neoclassical front with impossibly tall columns. Not the only use for that sort of building of course, but it was slightly strange to approach on a dark and windy evening, with light streaming out of those tall windows and crowds of people hurrying to get in, for the evening of poetry lined up. And not just any old poetry reading: the place holds 800 and it filled up.
The event was billed "an audience with Carol Ann Duffy with music by John Sampson". But first up was Warsan Shire, the new Young Poet Laureate for London, perhaps not announced beforehand because the appointment is so recent. She stood behind the lectern, striking in a simple black dress and giant frizzed-out hair, and read three poems with just a line or so of explanation. Strong stuff that deserves to be read in print too, to get a better understanding of those alarming images she deals with.
Carol Ann Duffy has a dry sense of humour and her poetry is of course a pleasure to read, as it was to hear her read it. Pieces from The World's Wife remain a strong part of her output. We got a little insight into the meaning behind some familiar pieces, the odd throwaway lines (Mrs Icarus) and even a couple of unpublished pieces. Although she is the Poet Laureate, the title carries no job description and she evidently feels under no obligation to write about the royal family. Making fun of Nick Clegg (like Faust, selling his soul to the devil) comes no closer to an official line, thank goodness.
This main part of the event was set up as a double act with the above mentioned John Samson. A big man in a three-piece suit, he does a sort of foolish musical comedy act, playing a variety of very small pipes mainly for comic effect. He can play very fast and typically throws in a few drawn-out bum notes for a laugh. "The Queen didn't want him so she gave him to me" quipped Duffy dismissively, but in fact she's been performing with him for a least ten years so the apparent indifference is just part of the act. There was little sign of rapport between the two, but she had him play along to a couple of the poems, so we have to assume her deadpan demeanour and his funny noises are an intentional combination. Perhaps he is there to illustrate her conviction that men are basically useless. Actually, a fair part of the audience was amused - they clapped along and even sang to a rendition of the Isle of Skye (or perhaps it was Mull of Kintyre) - but not everyone was pleased with this diversion from the main attraction. I just wished she would stick to reading.
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Monday, 28 October 2013
A fallen tree blocking the towpath of the Lea Navigation canal in east London. One of many trees blown over by high winds on the night 27/28 October, euphemistically tagged Stormageddon on Twitter. The British Waterways man had come with a small crane but it was obviously hopelessly undersized for the job.
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
Sometimes it all comes together. The guy on his bike, not just any old bike but quite a nice singlespeed with leather saddle and matching leather handlebar tape. Plus a fashionable canvas bag with leather trimmings. But also in the background, that character outside the Japanese Canteen perfectly silhouetted against the rectangle of white, dressed with un-missable bravado and swigging from a can of Coke. You can't plan a shot like this, it's just there and either you get it or you don't. It could have been better focused but at least you can see what's going on. Usually it's gone before you can even think about pointing a camera. Having a camera in your hand helps but the odds are, if you're trying to take photos you walk for an hour and see nothing really worth photographing, take a few shots and delete them later. Other times you just have the camera in case, not really planning to take photos but just out of habit, and something makes you switch it on and point just at the right moment. You could drive yourself crazy always being on the lookout for an interesting shot, better just to carry a camera and see what turns up without looking for it.
Sunday, 20 October 2013
After a bit of a hiccup, otherwise known as the recent recession, the frenzy of housebuilding seems to be back in a big way. Along the Lea Valley in east London, the old factories are disappearing one by one, most of them simply bulldozed to clear the site for this kind of architecture-by-numbers apartment blocks. These are fairly typical, built on an industrial area in Walthamstow. There is the usual depressing split between the market apartments, which are quite nicely laid out, and the so-called affordable part which looks a bit like an open prison. Integrating the two is a common aspiration and if I've understood correctly the same developer has done that successfully elsewhere - but that doesn't necessarily happen. It's very much easier to resolve the differences by splitting the site.
In the foreground, another factory bites the dust. There are two problems with all this - firstly, one of those old terraced houses that surround this site are almost certainly what people really want but are now becoming unaffordable, and secondly, those old factories provide affordable business premises which are not getting replaced. Things do have to change, but you can't help wondering how it will work out in the long term.
Thursday, 17 October 2013
It could be a caption competition. Think up a catchy caption and the best submission wins an iPad. All entries must be in by 25 October. Answers on a postcard, a real postcard with a stamp on it, not a virtual one. However I'm not really offering a prize, just thought I would post this photo of a rather charming pair of visitors to London, trying to get across six lanes of traffic on the Euston Road.