Goodbye, Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station + plane

There are few landmarks as iconic to Londoners as Battersea Power Station. To the rest of the world it’s all about the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Shard, but to those of us who call London home those four skinny chimneys are as sweet and homely as a mug of hot chocolate.

To me its emptiness offers a moment of peace in a hectic, jumbled up city. It’s tall and knowing, calm and still. Whenever I’ve been away for long periods of time, the few years I decided to decamp ‘oop north’ for example, it, more than anything else, would make me feel flushed with homesickness when I saw it on TV.

Chelsea Fringe lens thing

‘Arty’ lens thing (being idiots).

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Looking like a total gimp. Again.

A few weeks ago as part of Chelsea Flower Show’s fringe festival, the strip of land in front of the old building was opened to the public for the first time in years. The art installations weren’t particularly memorable, but the chance to get closer to Battersea Power Station was. I’d never noticed the strange romance in its smashed windows, the nesting birds or the rusting coal cranes before.

Battersea Power Station coal cranes close-up

They even had grass growing on them in patches.

Ever since I’ve been dogged by sadness. This week, work is due to start on redeveloping the building (it’s really happening this time). The site’s been bought by a Malaysian consortium – made up of a palm oil plantation, a property group and the state pension fund – who will take it to pieces and start again, rebuilding it minus the decay and the birds. Instead there will be new ‘smart spaces’ – flats, offices and a gym.

Battersea Power Station coal cranes

It was inevitable that it would become something flashy one day, especially considering its fairly central position and notoriety. Of course, I’m happy it’ll be looked after, but I’d become quite attached to the building as it was. Thanks to dozens of failed redevelopments it’s been nothing other than a landmark during my lifetime. It felt like it existed for no other reason than because it was ours, the people who lived nearby, and we loved it.

Battersea Power Station

Despite developers promising a ‘cultural hub’, a community, many of the flats have already been sold to overseas investors. The building will become an international attraction, the famous chimneys part if its brand, and it won’t be ours anymore. Technically the frontage will look similar (it’s Grade II* listed), but there’ll be little of the spirit left of the landmark I loved. When I roll past on the Waterloo train, staring out of the window, there won’t be Battersea Power Station looking back at me, but Malaysian palm oil and Arab black gold.

The fear of homesickness has kept me in London since returning from those years in The North, I was scared of seeing images of the beautiful (to me) landscape and thinking what have I done? But its useless feeling attached to city like London because, no matter how long you’ve been here, it will never love you back. Not unless you’ve got an outrageous amount of cash anyway. Perhaps it’s time to move on.

Battersea Power Station, coal cranes, sunset

As you can see, bit obsessed with these coal cranes (made in Bath, by the way)

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Writer Vs Children: where to write?

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The sun has arrived, sort of, on the streets of south west London and that means one thing: the arrival of the tiny people, or ch-ii-l-deeer-ren. I’m not sure if they hibernate in the winter or something, but Easter always seems to mark their awakening and subsequent release into the world. Every coffee shop, bookshop and, to the dismay of many a hardened drinker, pub, is suddenly teeming with them.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I hate children, I used to be one, of course. And last week I met my friend’s new baby. It was small and baby-like which I took, in my limited experience of such things, as a good sign. She had fingers and a head, all the things you’d expect from a human. Unfortunately however, being recently unemployed, or as I like to call it, ‘freelance’, most of these seasonal baby-haunts also happen to be where I like to write.

All four of my local libraries host Mother and Baby groups during the day. In my local coffee shop (of a brand I’m too much of an Emergent Service Worker to admit visiting), there are often more little’uns than big’uns, too. It’s micro chaos. When I’m weeping over the Story That Will Not Be Written, I want to look forlorn and tortured in peace. My artistic misery looses it’s cool when set to a backing track of Wind the Bobbin Up. So where’s a girl supposed to write?

D.H Lawrence preferred to write under a tree, but, where I live at least, it’s a bit dog poo-ey for that. Virginia Woolf, of course, wrote that ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own’ to write, but today’s London writer would be lucky to have just one of those. Everyone from Herman Melville to George Eliot chose the reading room of the British Library and I’ve considered it, but it requires so much paperwork. I’ve heard trains are a popular place to write and my budget could just about stretch to a day on the Circle Line, but at this time of year it’s packed to the handlebars with kids on school trips.

Writing at home can prove tricky too. As I type this, the small person upstairs is tooting out something similar to the hippo dance from Fantasia (hello mother, hello father...) on the clarinet. The urge to fashion a tutu out of old pillow cases and pirouette across the living room is making it somewhat difficult to concentrate.

However, psychologists say that for roles to be internalised, they need to be observed in public. That means that if I don’t drag myself to a coffee shop and sit brooding over a chai latte, I’ll never feel like a writer. So I’ll ride out the cute, fluffy-hatted plague, and come the rain and the winter that coffee shop will be all mine.

A poem about the Wandle – Rudyard Kipling

Rubbish in the River Wandle

The Moon of Other Days

Rudyard Kipling

Beneath the deep veranda’s shade,
When bats begin to fly,
I sit me down and watch — alas! —
Another evening die.
Blood-red behind the sere ferash
She rises through the haze.
Sainted Diana! can that be
The Moon of Other Days?
 
Ah! shade of little Kitty Smith,
Sweet Saint of Kensington!
Say, was it ever thus at Home
The Moon of August shone,
When arm in arm we wandered long
Through Putney’s evening haze,
And Hammersmith was Heaven beneath
The moon of Other Days?
 
But Wandle’s stream is Sutlej now,
And Putney’s evening haze
The dust that half a hundered kine
Before my window raise.
Unkempt, unclean, athwart the mist
The seething city looms,
In place of Putney’s golden gorse
The sickly babul blooms.
 
Glare down, old Hecate, through the dust,
And bid the pie-dog yell,
Draw from the drain its typhoid-term,
From each bazaar its smell;
Yea, suck the fever from the tank
And sap my strength therewith:
Thank Heaven, you show a smiling face
To little Kitty Smith!
 

Ok, so it’s not directly about the River Wandle, but it does mention it and with a river this small, that’s enough for me. The poem seems to be about missing south west/westLondon (I don’t blame him) and a friend, but I’m not totally sure and can’t find much about it as it’s not a famous piece. If you know more, please, please let me know.

The London Perambulator – Nick Papadimitriou

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I was recently introduced to the work of Nick Papadimitriou by fellow MA student, Rachel Andrews (Thanks Rachel!) and it has blown my tiny mind. After decades spent researching and documenting London’s topography for, among others, Will Self, he’s put together a book, Scarp (great review by radio producer Tim Dee). It tells the story of the landscape surrounding his home in Child’s Hill, north London, through a mixture of memoir, nature writing and social history offering an account of a life lived on the edge lands, geographically and existentially.

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After battling a drug addiction, he took to walking and over the last thirty years he’s kept records of everything from the progress of building works to roads, animal behaviour, sewage systems, dead things and even the weather. He calls his work ‘Deep Topology’. The London Perambulator is a documentary about him, he’s a little eccentric, but absolutely fascinating. It features some words from an impressive list of friends too, including psychogeographers Will Self and Ian Sinclair as well as, bizarrely, Russell Brand (he just gets everywhere).

If you’re interested in London, non-fiction or just interesting characters, it’s well worth a watch. I can’t wait to read his book.

We’re cleaning up the Wandle

Wandle clean up

There’s a certain romance to the River Wandle. Most of it’s hidden behind walls or pushed underground in concrete tunnels, the bits we do see are small and often littered with Lucozade bottles and broken washing machines. But despite our best efforts to hide it, dirty its waters and forget it even, it just keeps on flowing.

It’s funny how we treat nature in London. We seem to bully it, as though giving it an occasional kicking will somehow make it go away. I don’t think Londoners hate nature, I just think, for the most part, we fear it. In a fast moving city, we like our landscape to be straight forward and simple to understand.

The Wandle was once famed for brown trout fishing attracting, amongst others, Admiral Nelson to its waters. After a chemical spill a few years ago destroyed what was left of the natural population, the trout have recently been reintroduced. The water is so clear now that, despite the odd bit of crap, it has become a crucial reserve for the endangered London eel (European variety, not jellied). There’s even a nature reserve up towards Carshalton, the wonderfully named Wilderness Island.

In the 19th Century the Wandle became the most industrialised river in the world for its size, attracting textiles mills from William Morris, of wallpaper fame, and Liberty, of expensive fancy pants fame. There is even a theory that The Mill on The Floss by George Eliot – who lived in Holly Lodge in Southfields after she fell out with her family over a relationship with a married man – was set on her waters.

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Not my best shot but who knows, perhaps waders will be my new look for s/s ’13

The Wandle Trust organise a river clean up on the second Sunday of every month, anyone can volunteer. There are two jobs: picking through the river for rubbish, which means you get to wear waders, and collecting said rubbish, which means you get to play about with a wheelbarrow. I opted for waders on what turned out to be just about the coldest day of the month. Needless to say, I was in dire need of a cup of tea after a few hours getting absolutely soaked (must wear waterproofs under waders).

I can’t help but think that if the river was a single living, breathing entity, that all the rubbish we throw into it would somehow be feeding it. Perhaps one day, it will rise against us, taking strength from what we always thought was waste and force us to become its fleshy slaves.

Picture of the week: the first parakeets

London parakeets

Sorry about the picture, they’re too quick for my phone.

The first parakeets of spring have arrived! Last week we spotted dozens in Istanbul, swooping in pairs, their brilliant green and yellow tail feathers following like a silk train. It seems as though they’ve followed us home. They’re not very popular creatures, but they have a certain poignancy in London.

Ring-neck parakeets originate from the foothills of the Himalayas, no one is totally certain how they got here. Wether they were released from the set of the African Queen, by a drug-adelled Jimi Hendrix or just moved here because of a change in weather patterns, they’re part of the city now. As newcomers, they get a lot of flack, but spring walks would certainly be less colourful without them.

Photo essay: Little Venice to Camden

A winter walk along the Regent’s Canal

We found this walk on the Canals and Rivers Trust website, well, my friend Jenny’s new, and now very much in favour, boyfriend did. It’s the Little Venice to Camden circular taking you along the Regent’s Canal most of the way. It’s quite a long walk and it was freezing, but I have to say it was really beautiful in winter: gulls were floating along on shards of ice, the trees were dramatically bare, contrasting against the moody sky.

Starting out at posh Warwick Avenue, where we were joined by a pair of bright green parakeets for a while, we headed up towards Edgware Road, then skimmed Regent’s Park, passed London Zoo and onto Camden. I had no idea just how many barges would be moored along the way, jumping out from the winter murk with their circus colours and boisterously fonted sides. With it being London, there’s this amazing juxtaposition between the grand, and uber-expensive, houses along the path and the baggy-jeaned kids smoking weed, or the blue sleeping back curled up under a bridge.

As you approach Camden, street art begins to appear. The walls under one canal bridge has been home since 1985 (until recently) to the Banksy Vs King Robbo war. I’m pretty sure this part of the canal is where the Mighty Boosh scene featuring Noel Fielding as a shaman drug dealer was shot too. “Me mum’s making me Spaghettios, do you like Spaghettios?”

We finished the walk in Camden, deciding to thaw out in the Hawley Arms because I couldn’t feel my body anymore. You can continue all the way back around to Little Venice, I might leave it until it’s a bit warmer before I try that though.

Ragent's canal walk start

Start. There’s a nice barge cafe here so you can grab a nice hot tea.

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Regent's canal barges

Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a house boat.

Regent's canal 1st bridge

Surveyors, er… surveying.

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Regent's canal posh house

Imagine!

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London Zoo

Show off.

Regent's canal street art 'Homeless'

This was on the pathway next to bridge with several sleeping bags under it. I can’t find out who it’s by. The way it’s become distressed and weather beaten really makes you stop and think.

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Regent's canal houses

If I could live here, I would never whinge about anything again.

Regent's canal Pirate Castle

Regent's canal Camden

Caaaaamden.

Regent's canal bookshop barge

A bookshop on a barge. Genius.

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Camden Lock

Camden market moped seats

It’s been a while since I’d been to Camden, I usually avoid it because it’s so touristy and the stalls had become so sterile. Anyway, it’s all changed. These are these new moped seats in the market for a start. Nice recycling Camden council.

Travel Massive London

Last night, I went to the Travel Massive travel bloggers Meet-Up (ooh, check me out with my fancy pants lifestyle) at the Long Acre in Covent Garden. It was a really good do. I met loads of really interesting people, some from the travel industry, some not, and with the wine flowing everyone got along famously.

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The guys from travel site My Destination came down too. Unfortunately, due to a bit of a technical hitch their presentation didn’t quite go as planned but I managed to stay sober long enough to find out about their amazing new promotion: the Biggest Baddest Bucket List, or My BBB, with perhaps the most unbelievable travel prize I’ve ever seen. If I start talking about it I’ll get too excited and anyway, I don’t really want the extra competition (IT’S MINE). If you really must know it’s all in the video below.

 

 

I also met the most travelled man in the world, Fred Finn, as confirmed by his award from Concorde. He’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records. He’s a lovely man who came over from Kiev, where he now lives, especially for the event and he’s even promised me and an interview. I’m looking forward to that.

Fred Finn

Some of the other guys I met last night include:

Brendan Wan, who sums his blog up as: Travel, Culture, Imagination, Life.
Rich Leighton, who has itchy feet and travels solo.
Rebecca Kroegel, graphic designer and Australian London enthusiast (who ‘s keen to find a local husband, wink wink).
Sandy Allain, director of Simply Travel Guide which has guides for just about everywhere.
The awesome couple behind Career Break 360, who offer support for those planning the nerve-racking career break.
And of course, James and Neil, the co-founders of My Destination.

Well, those were the people who I got cards from anyway. Stupidly, I didn’t take any of my own, so if you’re reading this and you attended, HERE I AM – the one who kept saying she was hungry (I missed the food).

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Feeling pretty smug that I didn’t partake in any of this.

The next Travel Massive Meet-Up is in Brighton in April, it looks great with writing workshops and other events. It’s really cheap too, come along!