london diary

february 2007


my london diary

the river roding runs into the river thames at barking creek. i'd hope to be able to ride alongside it to the thames, but although the london borough of newham spent a small fortune on getting arup to produce 2.4km of riverside path in 2001-2, it still isn't opened for public use. the large and expensive gates at its northern end remain locked.

i don't know what it is about newham and footpaths. at canning town, the exit from the station to the riverside path remains firmly closed after the riverside walk was completed some years back, with the end of the bridge over the dlr coming from tower hamlets also being fenced off.

this would be the end of the roding valley way, started in 1996, but still largely non-existent, leading to the as yet unbuilt thames gateway bridge and the dream of a park across the river. don't hold your breath.

i'd gone to barking partly to have a look at the jenkins lane car park underneath the a13 flyover being offered by the london 2012 olympics developers to relocate travellers from the clays lane site. it's in a kind of wasteland adjoining the roding, handy for the council yard at the end of the lane, the cinema complex, the sewage works and the new refuse transfer station, and not far from the east beckton megastores. just down the road there is still the horse sanctuary, a home for neglected old horses.

it is just possible to force your way along the riverside path north from the hollywood bowl and showcase cinema, but on a bicycle it's easier to follow jenkins lane under the a13 and then take the new path to the riverside walk and cuckold's point, and its viewing area, with some convenient seats where i sat in the february sun and ate my sandwiches. unfortunately the path ends at the head of hand trough creek a couple of hundred yards further on, with a long detour under, beside and over the north circular to reach highbridge road and the town dock.

from there you can walk along the river in tesco's car park and on from there all the way to the railway line, although it gets rather overgrown. today i left the path and went through little ilford, meeting the river again at the side of the city of london cemetery, then going off through wanstead park and the redbridge roundabout.

from the redbridge roundabout going north is another finished section of the roding valley way, although i only followed it as far as the bridge across to roding lane south, where i turned south and rode back to ilford and the train home.
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i arrived at the detention centres at harmondsworth (colnbrook and harmondsworth are separated only by a narrow road) just as the people who had come by coach from london marched onto the roadway leading to the two sites, with banners and the street band of rhythms of resistance.

we had come to give support to migrants and refugees, and to demand the closure of detention centres, a stop to deportations and and end to immigration controls. since i was last here the windows of the two detention centres seem to have been blocked off, giving them a more sinister appearance, but although those imprisoned within the blocks were not allowed to see us, i imagine they could hear the noise that was being made.

i left after around an hour, when a few people were still arriving. as well as the crowd in the road, there were also a number of people lined up along the main road passing the two 'prisons'. there didn't seem to be a huge police presence, although probably there were rather more on hand not far away. I left to meet a friend I'd arranged to see in the centre of london.
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there wasn't a great deal special happening as i walked through the streetsof the west end of london. at piccadilly circus we bumped into some people with placards, but they were celebrating someones birthday. in trafalgar square we found the biblical gospel mission preaching and handing out free bibles, though i told them i had several already at home.
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sunday i went to the olympic site again, keen to photograph before the area becomes fortress olympics and is destroyed. many of the businesses have now moved out and some of the small industrial estates are looking pretty empty. tate moss, who occupied a site by the city mill river had staged their final event the night before, but the partying didn't keep going long enough for me to look in, the place was deserted.

some of the riverside paths were open again after the test borings that have been going on, although several were fenced off over a year ago. the gate to the path by the waterworks river from the greenway wasn't locked, so i took a walk up this, but i knew that it was no longer possible to get out onto marshgate lane so had to retrace my steps.

the route back up to the greenway from marshgate lane was almost completely obstructed by heaps of old car tires, and i had to carry my brompton for a few yards and climb up onto a grass bank where the steps were completely blocked. parts of the road were no longer open to cars too.

from there i moved on to hackney wick and waterden road, and i finished the day as the light was getting low on hackney marshes, one of the areas in which locally important sporting facilities will be lost at least for a few years, perhaps for good.
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jiro osuga is japanese although he grew up in london. his pictures show a magical world in which he lives, which overlaps intriguingly with the more mundane earth the rest of us inhabit. i hadn't really intended to take pictures of the opening, but of course i had my camera with me and couldn't resist a few, and of the party down the road afterwards, in one of the dimmest lit pubs in london.

i've been rather unlucky with flash units lately. i lost one photographing the manor gardens allotments last month. today the replacement for that stopped working, and had to be sent off for repair. however it is really surprising what you can do without one with digital cameras.
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reclaim love is a valentine's day event - held on the nearest saturday at piccadilly circus, around eros and below the illuminated advertising that has subverted our culture. the three events in previous years have been organised by venus. this year she was in ireland and unable to do it, and there were no plans for an event.

last monday, some of those who had taken part in previous years decided it would be a good idea to carry on the tradition, and phoned venus to ask if she minded if they did something without her this year.

so today's event was very much organised at the last minute, and relatively few attended. missing too was the samba band that has been such a vital part of previous events, although there was a bicycle-hauled sound system.

i stayed for a couple of hours, photographed some dancing around the circus, and also the cutting of the love cake, supposedly an aid to fertility, with fruit in an agar-agar jelly. good stuff for vegans, avoiding gelatine, an animal byproduct.

a surreal touch was added by the appearance of a man with a poster reading "i want to talk about penises", apparently someone who appears on tv doing just that about his rather diminutive member.

today, very obviously nobody wanted to talk to him, everyone carefully avoiding him. but perhaps the message of the day was that size does matter, as there were not really enough present to get the reclaim love event really happening in the same way as it has done in previous years.
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there were perhaps just over 200 marchers in the 'march for our flag' which made its way from westminster to marble arch on sunday. organised by football supporters, it was billed as "a peaceful march consisting of whites,blacks,asians" and the invitation was clearly made for people to attend "regardless of colour or creed or firm or team." however it was also an event that members of the national front youth 'bulldogs' were urged to support in one of their forums with the hope of attracting new members.

englishness has been officially relegated to a fringe activity, and to a great extent politically appropriated by the ultra-right. so it isn't surprising that we get populist outbreaks such as these, under the banner of the 'united british alliance' which seems to be largely an anti-islamic movement of football supporters, many of whom seem to take a pride in their membership of noted hooligan groups (the 'firms'.) on its web page, uba describes itself as "a multi-ethnic, multi-faith organisation with a passionate interest in reclaiming our once proud nation from the grip of international terror and political correctness gone-mad,with a view to re-installing some pride in our communities and way of life."

so i was hardly suprised to find the march almost solidly white and male; i noted only one black and one asian face - and only three women. what was overwhelming was the drab surliness of it all, with rather few english flags in evidence - probably fewer on hats and shirts than in the average crowd, now that many england soccer and rugby fans regularly appear covered with st george symbols.

at its front was a large st george's flag with the message 'tunbridge wells yids on tour.' although generally a term of racist abuse, here it is a name spurs fans use with pride, having christened themselves 'yids' in response to the anti-semitic chants from fans of other clubs.

events such as this, organised by a fringe extreme right group,do represent a widespread feeling among many people that we need to do more to promote english culture and a pride in being english. nothing prevents us celebrating st george's day, such celebrations have never attracted the official support and funding that attend the other national saints days in the uk.

in the arts, there has been a reluctance or even a refusal to finance traditional english folk arts, while those from many other ethnic groups have often received generous support. in part this comes from the elitist snobbishness of an establishment that massively funds opera while being unable to stomach grants to morris dancing, brass bands, folk singers and english choirs and other elements of a genuinely popular and largely working class english culture.

even, if not especially, on the left, we have generally left official culture and the patronage it gives to be run by the champagne socialists in islington and hampstead rather than supporting the kind of activities that came with our roots in the co-operative movement, the methodist and other churches and the working mens clubs and unions.

the police took a very obvious interest in the event, and in the few of us trying to photograph it. i was twice questioned by them, and my press card details were noted down both times, while i was photographed. there were probably more police than marchers covering the event, both at liverpool street, where many of the marchers met, and also on the march itself.

the police were polite and made sure i was aware that some of the marchers resented being photographed and suggested it would not be sensible for me to attend the rally at the end of the march. i hadn't intended to do so, although this almost made me change my mind.
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i'm very much in favour of london celebrating the chinese new year (as well as st george's day) but it now seems hardly worth photographing. partly because i've done it so often that there seems to be little more to say, and in part because it is just too crowded with far too many people trying to take pictures.

controlling crowds such as this is a tricky affair, but there never seems to be much reason in it, with police lines often blocking off relatively quiet areas and thus creating jams elsewhere. i wandered round a little and took a few pictures before going home. there are better days to come to chinatown.
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shrove tuesday is the day when pancakes were made to use up the fat on the day before ash wednesday, the start of lent (known elsewhere as fat 'tuesday' or 'mardi gras'.) traditionally it was a half-day holiday, marked by the ringing of the 'shriving' or 'pancake' bell by churches, and some still ring their bells. given a half-day, various events filled it, particularly cock-fighting, but also other games and activities, of which the most famous is at olney, near milton keynes, where since 1445 women have raced with hot pans around 400 yards (and 3 tosses) to deliver the pancake to the bell ringer to win a kiss and a prayer book.

the annual pancake race in guildhall yard is rather a newer tradition, although organised by the worshipful company of poulters which got its charter to regulate the sale of poultry and small game in 1368, and run, by permission of the chief commoner, in the yard fronting the guildhall building, which got a controversial new gothic facade in 1788 thanks to george dance the younger. it was first run in 2005, but as befits the city it has a serious set of classes and rules, music from the worshipful company of musicians (1500), time-keeping by the worshipful company of clockmakers (1631) and a starting cannon for each of the many races provided and fired by the worshipful company of gunmakers (1637.) most of the livery companies are now just charitable organisations, and this year's event was run to raise money for vso.
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i left while the races were still in progress, and hurried across the city to spitalfields, where alternative arts organises another series of races in aid of charity, the great spitalfields pancake race, in dray walk off brick lane on the truman brewery site. i arrived just as the last race finished, but in time for the prize-giving and to photograph some of those taking part. the atmosphere was considerably less restrained than in the city.
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spitalfields city farm is one of a number of urban farms set up in the 70s and 80s (1978 in this case) on waste land. this was formerly part of a railway goods depot next to the line out of liverpool st. it provides an environmental education and a great deal of enjoyment to people of all ages in the local community. one of my friends helped to start a similar project in vauxhall the previous year.

it's the kind of site i feel happier going in now when i'm accompanying a child, given the level of public paranoia about photographers. my own are now adults, but i'd met dave at spitalfields and it was half-term so he had company, and i was happy to go with the two of them.
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i walked back through spitalfields to shoreditch to catch the bus, passing the closed shoreditch station and walls with grafitti. i was photographing a dark alley leading through to bishopsgate when a hooded figure strolled past me. despite the media stereotyping of 'hoodies' i couldn't feel he was in the least threatening; if anything rather more like a monk.
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i was off to meet a few photographers in an italian cafe in new malden, and from there we went on to kingston museum, where the show 'another london' including my work along with that of paul baldesare and mike seaborne continues until march 3. i took advantage of the visit to take a few hand-held installation views
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i've for many years been opposed to the so-called independent british nuclear weapons. even at the height of the cold war they were never credible as an independent deterrent. if they have ever had any justification it was that they made the usa feel less guilty, although american guilt at its huge nuclear arsenal and at being the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons has always been an incredibly stunted growth.

i was also firmly against the invasion of iraq. it was always clear to those who didn't want to be deluded that the so-called 'intelligence' on weapons of mass destruction was laughable. blair was either a liar or a fool as he misled a minority of the british people and a majority of their mps. or most probably both. (saddam may also have been deluded and certainly was an evil dictator, but we had long failed those who tried to oppose him.) the invasion was criminal, but the lack of planning for the occupation that inevitably followed even more so.

so saturday's march, organised by stop the war, the campaign for nuclear disarmament and the british muslim initiative against both of these had my whole-hearted support (although i would have photographed it anyway.) it is hard to be sure of numbers on events such as this, but the police estimate is laughable (the first figure they gave to the press, of 4000, was totally ludicrous.)

it took around 90 minutes for the march to pass me in park lane, and although there were a few short gaps, there were plenty of times when the wide street was too crowded to really take pictures. my estimate of the average number of people passing me per minute is 200-600, giving a total of 18,000-50,000 marchers. you can add to these figures perhaps another 10-20% who for various reasons go direct to the rally or join the march closer to trafalgar square, giving a total that could be between 20,000 and 60,000.
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after photographing the march, i took the tube to get to the rally in time to hear some of the speeches (marchers were still arriving almost up to the end of the rally.) as i arrived, there were many people already leaving, and the square was filled, with people spilling out at both the northeast and northwest corners.

i wasn't there in time to hear ken livingstone, mps john mcdonnell and john trickett, meps caroline lucas and jill evans, playwright david edgar, paul mackney of the university & college union or some of the other speakers, but i did hear the co-chair of the us 'united for peace and justice' judith leblanc, lindsey german, george galloway, and augusto montiel, a venezuelan mp, as well as several muslim speakers, trade unionists and singers including julie felix. i didn't catch all of their names.

for me the most moving speech was from rose gentle, whose son gordon was killed in iraq. together with others from 'military families against the war' she is camping out over the weekend opposite downing street. six of her colleagues stood with her as a group while she addressed the crowd, lending their support. she was simple, direct, emotional.

the final speaker (i think) was jeremy corbyn, mp, and it started to rain again as he was speaking, so i headed for the underground and home.
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Barking and the River Roding

Barking, Ilford & Redbridge. Saturday 3 February
Barking © 2007, Peter Marshall Barking riverside from Hand Trough Creek
Barking © 2007, Peter Marshall A13 Alfred's Way crosses the River Roding
Barking & River Roding © 2007, Peter Marshall This car park in Jenkins Lane is a possible stie for relocated Clay's Lane travellers.
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No Borders Demo at London Detention Centres

Colnbrook & Harmondsworth, London. Saturday 10 Feb, 2007

NoBorders Demo,Harmondsworth © 2007, Peter Marshall
Rhythms of Resistance players outside the detention centres - Harmondsworth centre in background.
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London: West End

Saturday 10 Feb, 2007

London: West End © 2007, Peter Marshall
Birthday celebrations at Piccadilly Circus.

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2012 Olympic Site

Stratford, Sunday 11 Feb, 2007
Stratford Marsh © 21007, Peter Marshalltate moss, home to four artists and a venue for gigs of various kinds, now lost for the olympics.
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Jiro Osuga Opening at Flowers East

Shoreditch, London. Thursday Feb 15, 2007
Jiro's Opening © 2007, Peter Marshall
Jiro Osuga at his opening at Flowers East
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Reclaim Love IV

Piccadilly Circus, Saturday 17 Feb, 2007
Reclaim Love © 2007, Peter Marshall
Dancing around Eros at Piccadilly Circus

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March For Our Flag - United British Alliance

Westminster, Sunday 18 Feb, 2007
March for our Flag - United British Alliance © 2007, Peter Marshall
Around 200 football supporters in the right-wing march.
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Chinese New Year Celebrations

Chinatown, Westminster Feb 18, 2007
Chinese New Year, Soho © 2007, Peter MarshallIt is the year of the pig.
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Worshipful Company of Poulters Pancake Race

Guildhall Yard, London. Shrove Tuesday, 20 Feb 2007
Pancake Race © 2007, Peter MarshallThe start of one of the races at the London Guildhall
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Great Spitalfields Pancake Race

Trumans Brewery, Spitalfields, Shrove Tuesday, 20 February 2007
Spitalfields Pancake Race © 2007, Peter Marshall
The best dressed team celebrate.
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Spitalfields Urban Farm

Spitalfields, London. Tuesday, 20 February 2007
Spitalfields Urban Farm © 2007, Peter Marshall
Looking at the sheep in the urban farm.

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Art, Architecture and a Hoody

Spitalfields, London. Tuesday 20 February, 2007
Spitalfields © 2007, Peter Marshall
A dark alley and a light top
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Another London

Kingston Museum, Kingston, London until March 3
Another London © 2007, Peter Marshall
Paul Baldsare and I took a couple of photographers to see our show at the Kingston Museum (also featuring Mike Seaborne.) Some installation views here, you can see the actual pictures at the Another London site.


Stop Trident, Troops out of Iraq

Stop the War/CND/BMI Demo, Saturday 24 Feb, London
Stop Trident: Troops out © 2007, Peter Marshall
Some of the roughly 50,000 demonstrators at the start of the event.

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