Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 29 April 2015 – Needlework

Since taking up photography again in 2008, I have realised progressively just how much I enjoy photographing people at work or in moments of concentration, especially craftspeople or performers. Today I had a wonderful opportunity to observe some expert needleworkers engaged in their craft. They were making two special kneelers for St Olave Hart Street to original designs: two women worked on one kneeler, while the second was being fashioned by a group of three. Hands and fingers were formed into complex and fine shapes as a variety of stitches were executed, each worker applying herself to a different area of the design – it was like watching a ballet of hummingbirds.

A Year in Pictures – 28 April 2015 – Façadism (2)

150–152 Fenchurch Street houses various health and wellbeing facilities and stands indirectly opposite the Walkie-Talkie, part of whose glowering form you can see reflected in the windows of the property to the left, which fights a valiant defensive action with its display of luxury chocolates.

150–152 has plain glass windows that emphasise the fact that the innards of the building have been removed and that what we see is yet another example of façadism. We all live with and use such hollowed-out husks of former glory for various practical and economic reasons, but such buildings demonstrate a lack of confidence in modern design styles and a tokenistic approach to the aesthetics of previous ages.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 27 April 2015 – This Way to Lombard Street

Exit 6 from Bank Station is the one I generally make for in the mornings as well as my usual entry point for the journey home.

I was intending this morning to shoot the Tudor dragons—emblematic of the City Corporation—that flank the names of the streets and landmarks accessible from this exit, but this man absorbed with his phone were also in the shot. "Expect the Unexpected" has increasingly been my motto in recent years, so I went with the flow and gave him some unwitting limelight.

The church in the illustration behind the man is St Mary Woolnoth, the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor— its strange twin towers loom above you as you reach street level at this exit. Part of the interior of this remarkable building featured in this blog a few weeks ago and I want to return there before the year is done.

Monday, 27 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 21 to 26 April 2015 – The Kingdom of Men and The Kingdom of Heaven

Here is another miscellany of shots as I catch up with the backlog of the past week.

21 April
Looking west along Leadenhall Street. St Katharine Cree, the only complete Jacobean church in London, holds its own against the upstart Cheesegrater (the latest addition to the skyline by Richard Rogers, or at least his minions) and the rather more established and more likeable Gherkin – sounds like the beginning of a salad recipe.

22 April
Red double-decker buses crossing London Bridge show that they do indeed travel in groups, while against the glowering sky the Walkie-Talkie demonstrates once again what an overbearing addition it is to the cityscape. Imposed on London by a forgettable Secretary of State in the teeth of objections and previous planning refusals, it sticks out like the proverbial thumb. The winds whipped into a frenzy by its bulging shape have, as well as nearly bowling over pedestrians making their way along Fenchurch Street, also blown in some its own internal doors.
Behind the Cheesegrater lurks the unfinished Pinnacle, a central service core and not much else. The project ran out of steam and money and its embryonic remains will be disappearing—the ambitious swirly pointy design failed the test of providing floor space that people actually wanted to rent. London awaits with interest whatever will replace it.

23 April
Lloyd's of London, the Richard Rogers building that stands opposite his (or his minions') Cheesegrater on Leadenhall Street, and to which is tacked part of an earlier incarnation of the great insurance market. Finished in 1986, the building was granted Grade I listing in 2011, and is thus the youngest ever to receive such high statutory recognition and protection. It is famous for exposing its service pipes, lifts and other viscera on its outside, and is an example of the architectural style known as "Bowellism". Classy!

24 April
The spring blossom has been especially lush this year, it seems. Here is some from Moor Mead in Twickenham that caught my eye on the way home from French class.

25 April
Rosemary, my favourite herb, in flower in my back garden.

26 April
Cloudscape seen from the rear of my house as the sun began to set.

Monday, 20 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 20 April 2015 – Magnolia

It has been a difficult day: if I just record here the name Microsoft Word, no doubt we can leave it at that. To counteract some of the churning emotions of the daylight hours I wandered out into the churchyard at St Olave's with my camera and took some shots of the magnolia trees—now in spring bloom—that stand atop the old plague pit (I kid you not) in the centre of this historic ground. The dear things did not disappoint.

The genus Magnolia is named after the great French botanist, Pierre Magnol, whose dates (1638-1715) make him pretty exactly contemporary with the most famous of St Olave's parishioners, Samuel Pepys. In addition to lending his name to a large and popular genus of beautiful trees, Magnol was the author of the snappily titled Prodromus historiae generalis plantarum, in quo familiae plantarum per tabulas disponuntur. (Montpellier 1689) ["Precursor to a general history of plants, in which the families of plants are arranged in tables"], and perhaps his greatest and most enduring contribution to plant science is in the concept of plant families: the working out of relations between plants based on shared combinations of morphological characteristics. There you have it.

As far as I can tell, this is an example of Magnolia liliifera, otherwise known as Japanese magnolia since, although native to China, it was first introduced to English-speaking countries from cultivated Japanese origins.
The blooms are now going off and the large, luxurious petals strew the lawn beneath the trees, their pure white concave inner surfaces making them resemble—as the Corporation of London's plant expert described them to me a few days ago—porcelain cups. He did not add the word 'exquisite', but it would not have been out of place if he had.

A Year in Pictures – 17, 18 and 19 April 2015 – Tall Tales

Spring is here, but the air does not feel spring-like yet, as the skies often have a moody and squally aspect and the temperature is surprisingly chilly. The leaves are emerging on the trees with fresh, vibrant green, but each species at its own pace— a work in progress. Here are three different views taken over the weekend just gone.

Whitton Road, Twickenham – 17 April.
On this road, that leads from the centre of town towards the A316 and, beyond that, to England's rugby stadium, there stand two of my favourite trees – ash, so far as I can tell. As afternoon was moving towards early evening, the delicate leaves of these elegant trees were complemented by the limpid sunlight just breaking through the heavy cloud.

Harpenden, Hertfordshire – 18 April.
The bright afternoon sun lights the trees lining the route of a disused railway line that for many years has been used as a public path. One of the old platforms is visible join the right.

Twickenham – 19 April.
Two contrasting trees seen from my front garden against the moody sky.

Friday, 17 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 16 April – Reredos

I spent the afternoon with colleagues at a symposium about opening church buildings up more to their surrounding communities (think "church is for life, not just on Sunday"). We were in the mid-19th-century church of St John Hyde Park. Most of its interior stonework—lofty gothic arches reaching up to a plainly rib-vaulted ceiling—is painted cool white, but there are areas of rich colour, notably in the reredos, part of which you see here.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 15 April 2015 – Another Monstrous Carbuncle (11)

Tha Martian fighting machine that is 20 Fenchurch Street ("The Walkie-Talkie") warms up its heat ray by harnessing the force of the evening sunlight blazing through the City streets.

This building is infuriating. I keep trying to capture its beastliness, but end up flattering it. One day, one day I will nail it! 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 14 April 2015 – The Joy of Commuting (Reprise)

Today's subjects chose themselves. I wondered whether this was performance art and what on earth the young woman and her dog were going to be doing in the City of London. I wanted to ask her (in a nice way) but at Bank she headed for Monument Station, while I had to trudge up the travelator to Exit 6 and Lombard Street.

For once "Joy" in the heading of the post is not used ironically!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 4 April to 13 April 2015 – Time Away and The Return

I went to Brittany for a short week away with my wife and daughter in our family cottage in Brittany. It was blissful and there was just a 3G internet connection, so plenty of snapping away with the camera, but no posting of images online. This is the catch-up (should be doing a but less gadding about after the last four weekends away from home and a number of midweek evening meetings).

The cottage in Brittany used to be the base for the Anglican congregation of expats that now meets 8km up the road. This site cross hanging just outside the back door is the remaining physical evidence of the building's one-time role.

The weather, dull on our arrival, turned into six days of glorious spring sunshine. This is the back of the cottage and the shadow is from one of two cherry trees just coming into bud. The trees give the house its name: Les Cérisiers.

A short drive away from the cottage is this palaeolithic remnant, an allée couverte, once probably part of a larger structure. A drive of something over an hour will take you to the great stone alignments at Carnac near the south coast of Brittany.

A man takes in the sunshine by the waterside in the southern coastal town of Vannes.

Fine bourgeois house in Josselin, one of several towns designated Petit Cité de Caractère.

A 35-minute cycle ride along the Nantes-Brest Canal from our nearby village of Roc St André takes you to Malestroit, another Petit Cité de Caractère, where this elegant shop sign lends a further bit of charm to the town centre.

Hats on sale in the Friday market at Ploërmel.

On 11 April the sun took its hat off. This is the field next to the cottage looking moody in the early morning light.

The voyage home on 12 April. Part of the carpet pattern at my feet in the café on board MV Bretagne, the flagship of the Brittany Ferries fleet, as it made its way from St Malo to Portsmouth.

The Joy of Commuting.
Twickenham Station on Monday 13 April.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 25 March to 3 April 2015 – Big Catch-Up

Two weddings and many evening engagements make for a lot of fun, but delay in blogging, so let's get right up to date, before we go out of date all over again...

25 March
Walking home over Richmond Bridge

26 March
The Joy of Commuting: Travelator at Bank Station

27 March
A short detour into Marble Hill Park to take in the spring air on my walk home from French conversation class

28 March
Attended the wonderful wedding of our godson in deepest Cornwall.
The band were very fine and are called, appropriately, All Good Things.

29 March
Lytes Cary Manor, a National Trust property in East Somerset, just north of the A303 near Castle Cary.
The older parts are a medieval manor house, the home in the 16th century of Henry Lyte, who translated into English a herbal originally written in Dutch and then translated into French. Late added his own material to his translation and there is a copy of the book, dating from 1578, on display in the house.
The garden shows the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Dig that topiary!

30 March
The Joy of Commuting—the improvement works at Twickenham Station are taking an age.

31 March
Herbs comemorating William Turner (c.1508–1568) are plated in the churchyard of St Olave Hart Street in the City of London.
Turner was Dean of Wells. Did he and Henry Lyte know each other?

1 April
The wonderfully bonkers Gothic-Revival-on-steroids fantasia that is 31 Eastcheap defies the bullying of the Walkie Talkie (aka 20 Fenchurch Street or, in these pages, Another Monstrous Carbuncle) that looms oppressively behind it.

2 April
Concert-goers ascend the stairs at The Royal Festival Hall, on their way, like my wife and I, to hear a wonderful performance of Bach's  St Matthew Passion by The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which was sublime in spite of the efforts of some audience members to ruin the experience by leaving their wretched phones on. 

3 April – Good Friday
Easter display inside the porch at St Paul's Hounslow West.
"There is a green hill far away..."

Until next time...

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 24 March 2015 – St Mary Woolnoth

Returning to work after the short break in Edinburgh, I decided to pay one of my occasional visits to the only church in the City of London designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (?1660 – 1736). In what is essentially a small church, though a lofty one, this mighty genius of architecture creates a grandeur of form and interpenetrating spaces that takes the breath away.

The church stands just by Exit 6 from Bank Station at the meeting point of Lombard Street and King William Street. John Newton, the writer of Amazing Grace, was Rector here and has an eloquently simple monument. Do go and see this extraordinary building, if you can. It will amaze you.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Year in Pictures – 22 and 23 March 2015 – Exploring Edinburgh

On Sunday 22 March my wife and I met the parents of the bridegroom of the previous day and members of their close and wider family for morning coffee. Afterwards, in the bright sunshine and crisp cold, we made our way to the centre of Edinburgh at a relaxed pace  through the Meadows. On the north side of the Meadows there once stood the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which was sold to developers in 2001 and the site is now known as Quartermile—a mixture of the old hospital buildings and glassy new blocks designed by Foster & Partners and encompassing a variety of residential and commercial uses (including office, retail and leisure). Along the northern side of the Meadows the older buildings alternate with the new structures and the result, part of which you see above, is—to my eye at least, if not to everyone's—both striking and convincing.

On Monday the 23rd we walked to the western end of the New Town that lies to the north of Edinburgh Castle and from there down into the gorge through which flows the Water of Leith. Here is a very atmospheric collection of former mill buildings, warehouses and workers' cottages known as Dean Village. This was for 800 years the centre of Edinburgh's grain milling (and until the 19th century a village independent from the city). The powerful flow of the river at one time powered as many as eleven watermills. After a period of neglect and decline occasioned by the development of large commercial mills to the east, the area began to be revived in the 1970s and is now a mix of desirable residences and architectural and design businesses.