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A walk in the hoods

In mid-October I led the Keepin’ it Real walk for the Films on Foot festival hosted by Inner London Ramblers in conjunction with the London Film Festival. The focal point of this evening stroll was the Heygate Estate in the Elephant & Castle. The sprawling estate was designed by Tim Tinker in the 1960’s, built in the 1970’s and in its prime it housed thousands. The futuristic buildings were designed to offer a utopian ideal where communal living provided a social hub for those who became the first to benefit from the post-war welfare state. But Southwark Council said the estate’s stairwells and dark alleys actually turned into areas which encouraged crime and anti-social behaviour. By the mid-1990’s it was so synonymous with the concept of the sink estate that Tony Blair made his first Prime Ministerial speech in the neighbouring Aylesbury estate.

In 2008 the council began moving residents out. Today it is empty, more famous as a gritty film and music video location and demolition has commenced. While most might know it for the extremely long concrete brutalist tower blocks which wrapped round the perimeter of the site the estate was, and indeed still is, an extremely green site with quite a lot of communal garden space. We didn’t have time to take a trip round the estate that evening but much of it is still open and I found a daytime walk quite an intriguing discovery. There is something quite eerie about empty structures that are still standing in an urban environment. You can see why the filmmakers of Attack the Block and Harry Brown were drawn to it. (Ironically Michael Caine, Harry Brown’s star, lived in a prefab that was knocked down to build the Heygate.) On a bright autumn day, however, it is less forbidding and has a secret garden feel to it and a couple of people I spoke to were former residents who returned regularly to walk their dogs there. Everybody had that slowness that often accompanies journeys from unknown beginnings to unknown destinations.

On the sky line you can see a roof mounted wind turbine still whirring away vigorously and you can’t help wondering what if anything we’re doing with that power generated. The outline of the gardens with their straight lines and slightly overgrown borders are still prominent and recognisable but nature is inexorably re-asserting its ascendancy by bursting from these artificial confines with its abundant greens and browns. Every now and then you spot bird feeders and it’s very pleasing to see that people are still investing their time and energy in filling these with feed and peanuts. The human residents might all have been moved on but the birds have been joined by flourishing urban animals like squirrels, foxes and probably rats. All this is happening a whole lot quicker than the proposed regeneration of the surrounding area of which there is precious little evidence.

It seems 2 or 3 residents are clinging on in the estate. One of them, Adrian Glasspool, a 37 year old teacher who’s lived on the estate for over 15 years, started a gardening project. He “came up with the idea of using the empty plots of land to recreate a community.” He sounds far too polite to say the council destroyed the original one but despite the merit of this venture and the abundant availability of land here the council are being nothing other than aggressively obstructive. Court orders and other legal instruments arrive with blistering regularity. For more of the story and information click here.

Heading a little further south and east – a couple of short train journeys – brings you to another notorious London estate – Thamesmead. To enhance that feeling of a dystopian future A Clockwork Orange was filmed here soon after it was built, I lived here for 4 years in the early oughties but these days it’s probably most famous as the setting of the E4 TV series Misfits. A walking paradise it most certainly ain’t. I actually used to apply a ‘Thamesmead test’ when I was trying to assess how good urban routes were for walking. It’s another design that favours aerial walkways and appears to include plenty of community greenspace. The only problem is that they are all separate and the only way to access them is to risk stairwells and runways with nooks, crannies and obscured places and no clear route of exit. Perhaps a mugger was consultant to the design team. It’s a shame because you’re very close to the Thames Path, have Lesnes Abbey on your doorstep and a spectacular panorama down to the Thames from a nearby hill much loved by William Morris but frankly a couple of artificial lakes linked by some faux canals don’t compensate for such poor design.

In the interests of balance our last estate is to be found in north London where Camden borders Westminster in St Johns Wood. Three parallel crescent shaped blocks make up the Alexandria & Ainsworth estate sometimes known simply as Rowley Way. The desire to control the sound and vibration from passing trains on the west coast main line which borders the site on the north was a major consideration in the layout of the estate. Two rows of terraced apartments are aligned along the tracks. The higher, 8-story block directly adjacent to the railway line is organised in the form a ziggurat and acts as a noise barrier that blocks the noise of the trains from reaching the interior portion of the site, and its foundations rest on rubber pads that eliminate vibration. The estate is definitely not bursting with green space (there’s no space) but its modern design has the virtue of being at street level rather than the artificial elevation of aerial walkways. Also used as a film set, most notably in Never Never starring John Simm, I really like the look of the place. I hasten to add, though, I don’t have to live here and I have no idea what normal daily life is like in such an environment. This is definitely modern high density living and I couldn’t help wondering how I’d find my home when returning a little drunk because they all looked the same and there was so many to choose from. But then I do live on a mock Tudor estate with a hundred or so houses very similar and I don’t have any trouble so I expect the residents cope.

Support the work of the Ramblers – sponsor me here

Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar

Snow Patrol – Run

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Born To Run

Watch:

Chase & Status – End Credits

Attack the Block trailer

Harry Brown trailer

Clockwork Orange trailer

 

 

 

Listen to:

Tom Waits – In The Neighbourhood

The Faces – Love Lives Here

Crosby, Still, Nash & Young – Our House

Coolio feat. L.V. – Gangsta’s Paradise

Landscape – The Hood

Eazy-E – Boyz-N-The-Hood

Crystal Fighters – I Love London (Delta Heavy Remix)

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Longshore drift

Coastal erosion is in the news these days. Most spectacularly near Hayle in north Cornwall where geologist Richard Hocking caught an enormous fall on camera and, of course, like the modern equivalent of whether a falling tree makes any sound if there’s no one there to witness it, these things don’t really happen unless they are uploaded almost immediately to youtube. (It’s well worth a look though.) It goes without saying that the South West Coast Path has been diverted.

Technically speaking this erosion of the land is caused by the constant battering of the sea, primarily by the processes of hydraulic action, corrasion, attrition, and corrosion. Hydraulic action occurs when the force of the waves compresses air pockets in coastal rocks and cliffs. The air expands explosively, breaking the rocks apart. Rocks and pebbles flung by waves against the cliff face wear it away by the process of corrasion, or abrasion as it is also known. Chalk and limestone coasts are often broken down by corrosion and attrition is the process by which the eroded rock particles themselves are worn down, becoming smaller and more rounded. That’s cleared all that up then.

My staycationing this year has seemed to take me quite naturally to our picturesque coast, and particularly the south coast along the Solent. One more bright and sunny day of this Indian summer (I’ve often wondered about that phrase and apparently it’s a north American term dating from about 3 centuries ago: In the same way that Indian giver was coined for people who take back presents they have bestowed, the phrase Indian summer may simply have been a way of saying “false summer”. Well this year has been odd a scorching April and a blistering opening to October, I’ve never known anything like it) found us in Lymington.

They love their sailing down here – it’s got three marinas – and some TV programme rated it the best town on the coast but we were here to walk along the Solent Way along the edge of Pennington and Keyhaven marshes to Hurst Castle. The castle is one of Henry VIII’s coastal forts and was constructed at the end of a long shingle spit. It also has a picture perfect lighthouse. And it is long, about 2 kilometres I reckon, and every step is strength sapping, especially on the calf muscles. (So strength sapping that we took a ferry back to the shore rather than walk it again.) This is the beauty of shingle it can absorb huge forces and this beach was created by longshore drift.

OK pay attention here comes some more science. Longshore drift consists of the transportation of sediments (generally sand but also, as in this case, coarser sediments such as gravels) along a coast at an angle to the shoreline, which is dependent on prevailing wind direction, swash and backwash. (Swash as I’m sure you all know is a turbulent layer of water that washes up on the beach after an incoming wave has broken. Hence swashbuckling I guess.)

Spits are formed when longshore drift travels past a point where the dominant drift direction and shoreline do not veer in the same direction. As well as dominant drift direction, spits are affected by the strength of wave driven current, wave angle and the height of incoming waves. Spits are landforms that have two important features. The first feature being the region at the up-drift end or proximal end. The proximal end is constantly attached to land (unless breached) and may form a slight “barrier” between the sea and an estuary or lagoon. The second important spit feature is the down-drift end or distal end, which is detached from land and in some cases, may take a complex hook-shape or curve, due to the influence of varying wave directions. It’s on days like these I wish I’d paid more attention during geography.

The walk is splendid even if you don’t understand any of this and trust me at best I’ve got a very tenuous grip on it. You leave the chandler shops and marinas of Lymington behind you and you are quickly on the flat marshland with the whole walk spread out in front of you. It’s certainly big sky country round here and the landscape which at first appears deserted is actually teeming with wildlife. There’s oystercatchers, redshanks and what I think were curlews. All dipping, bobbing and wading their peaceful way through the pools and lagoons that surround you. The air is redolent with their gentle whistling and calling. The salinity in these lagoons varies widely, but is generally lower than seawater. This specialised habitat supports its own distinctive plants and animals, some of which are only found in this environment. The lagoons are some of the most important in Britain with populations of rare species including Foxtail Stonewort, Lagoon Shrimp and starlet Sea-anemone. On the walk back in the early evening we were accompanied by swooping sand martins who seem to revel in their ability to fly and for all the world just seem to be doing it because they’re simply having fun. And who can blame ‘em?

Support the work of the Ramblers – sponsor me here

Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar

Neil Young with Stephen Stills – Long May You Run

Lighthouse Family – Run

More information:

OS Map used – Outdoor Leisure 22 New Forest – pay less when you order here

Listen to:

cshx – Solent

Kate Bush – The Big Sky (Special Single Mix)

Shawsax – An Evening On The Estuary

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Longshore Drift

Phonem – Warm Rays (Longshore Drift)

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Here be monsters

An inscription used historically by nautical cartographers to indicate a space of uncharted water.  If the mapmakers had no information as to what might be in an area of map, they filled it with monsters; ship-devouring kraken; huge whales with sharp teeth, Neptune on the warpath, or viciously gigantic mermaids.  This practice suggests that the unknown place is both somewhere to be terrified of and also may be filled with the fantastic.

I don’t suppose any ancient maps of the Isle of Wight had the ‘here be monsters’ tag which is a shame. In fact in geological terms the Isle was linked to mainland Britain – from the Needles to Old Harry’s Rocks in Dorset – only yesterday. About 10,000 years ago sea levels started rising as the great ice sheets of the last Ice Age melted and as sea level rose higher, the Isle of Wight became separated from the mainland about 7,000 years ago. Sticking with the geological theme the Isle of Wight is made up of a wide variety of different rock types ranging from Early Cretaceous times (around 127 million years ago) to the middle of the Palaeogene (around 30 million years ago). The northern half of island is mainly made up of Tertiary clays, with the southern half formed of Cretaceous rocks (the chalk that forms the central east-west downs, as well as Upper and Lower Greensands and Wealden strata). Cretaceous rocks on the island, usually red, show that the climate was previously hot and dry.

All this adds up to a remarkably diverse landscape which often leads this diamond shaped island to be described as England in miniature. It’s one of the few places in England where the red squirrel is still flourishing and it’s certainly a wonderful place to go walking – particularly the 92 km of coastline. Well when I say 92 km you can’t actually walk all the way round the island on the coast and frankly this is both surprising and disappointing. David Howarth goes as far to say that: “Over half of our so-called coastal path doesn’t even follow the shore”. And he should know ‘cos he’s chair of the Isle of Wight Ramblers. They really seem to value their footpaths on the island – there’s plenty of ‘em, they’re well sign posted and we didn’t come across any obstructions. The main part of the coast that is restricted is around Osborne House.

Even more surprising and disappointing is that the Isle of Wight was excluded from the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act. I’m certainly in the Stuart Maconie camp of believing that: “The roots of the Ramblers are not in cream teas and stiles, but in dissent and protest”.  (Just to make it clear I haven’t got anything against cream teas and stiles and am I the only one who thinks Stuart Maconie would make a great pantomime dame? – please insert your own ‘oh no he wouldn’t’ gag here.) So to add your voice of protest please join the Ramblers in their English Coastal Path campaign and contact them to find ways you can help.

Notwithstanding this we set out from Shanklin and walked west past Ventnor until we got to St Lawrence. Then we cut inland and headed for St Boniface Down, which is, of course, a Marilyn. A Marilyn is a mountain or hill in the UK, Republic of Ireland or Isle of man with a relative height of at least 150 metres , regardless of absolute height or other merit. The name was coined as a punning contrast to the designation Munro, used of a Scottish mountain with a height of more than 3,000 feet (914.4 m), which is homophonous with (Marilyn) Monroe. It also offers glorious sea views.

Later on in the week we popped along to the Shanklin Theatre to see Rick Wakeman. These days he seems to be famous for being a contestant on Just a Minute, a Grumpy Old Man and Countdown. But old prog-rockers know him as a member of Yes and I like him for his work as session musician where he played keyboards on tracks as various as Life on Mars, Morning has Broken and Grandad (well aboy’s gotta make a living). He also recorded an album entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII and in a case of art imitating life I think he’s up to number four himself.

The island is also famous for Victorians. The eponymous queen lived at Osborne House after Albert’s death, Dickens holidayed at Bonchurch and Alfred, Lord Tennyson lived on the west tip near the Needles. I can highly recommend another great Isle of Wight walk starting on Tennyson Down. The wind was blowing hard and the rain was sleeting down as we trudged up the down and it all added to the atmosphere. I know these days the poet is probably famous for The Charge of the Light Brigade but I always remember him for the line from In Memoriam – ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’. Then we walked to the Needles followed by a swift visit to Alum Chine – you know where all that coloured sand comes packaged in glass bells, cats and lighthouses. We took a slight diversion to nearby Warren Farm for some tea and cake and then pushed on for Headon Hill. A bit more coastal walking followed before we cut in country and back to Freshwater Bay. The evening was made complete with a few pints of local brewers Goddards Scrumdiggity.

It’s a shame about the coastal path but it’s hard not to warm to the Isle of Wight. There’s an understated solidity about the place. These days our monsters seem to be climatic and financial rather than kraken and Neptune but it’s not hard to imagine the Wighters facing these perils with a collective shrug of their shoulders, briefly stopping their DIY or temporarily ceasing to tend their gardens, stoically lacing up their boots, resignedly filling their rucksacks and staring them down armed with only a Mars bar. Not so much England in miniature but the spirit of England writ large if you ask me. Ah I can hear that Tennyson bloke again: ‘Was there a man (or woman) dismayed?’

Support the work of the Ramblers – sponsor me here

Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar

Jackson Browne – Running On Empty

Plastic Operator – The Long Run

More information:

OS Map used – Outdoor Leisure 29 Isle of Wight. Pay less when you order this map here.

Listen to:

David Bowie – Life On Mars?

The Bees – Go Where You Wanna Go – Single Version

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Coast To Coast

Rick Wakeman – Morning Has Broken

Clive Dunn – Grandad

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Be the change

The story goes that back in the 1930’s in India a mother frustrated by her inability to stop her son eating so much sugar dragged him off to see his idol Mahatma Gandhi hoping he’d be able to make the boy see sense. They walked for miles for an audience and when granted one Gandhi is reputed to have said: “Please come back after two weeks and I will talk to your son.” Perplexed the mother wondered why Gandhi hadn’t just told her son to stop eating so much sugar but she dutifully returned 2 weeks later. Gandhi immediately looked the boy in the face and said: “Son don’t eat so much sugar it is bad for your health.” The mother was angry and confused now and demanded to know why Gandhi hadn’t just said this 2 weeks before and according to legend he is supposed to have replied: “Mother, two weeks ago I was eating a lot of sugar myself.” This modern parable gave birth to the saying – Be the change you want to see in this world. Or maybe more aptly for this blog – walking the walk.

I was born in Lewisham and went to school in Blackheath and know the area really well. (I was tempted to say with all its echoes of Wat Tyler and the Peasants Revolt  I feel it’s my spiritual home but alongside that opening paragraph that would be way too much new age stuff for one blog.) Anyway quite a few years ago Bob Gilbert wrote a book called Green London Way. I’m not familiar with the route but when the West Essex Ramblers reported a set of steps going down to the Lethbridge Estate as very dangerous I thought I know the very place. A key part of the Ramblers’ work is ‘to encourage the provision and protection of foot paths and other ways over which the public have a right of way or access on foot, including the prevention of obstruction of public rights of way’. A representative of West Essex had informed Lewisham Council of the problem but I thought I’d pop along and have a look.

I approached along the edge of the heath and headed for Wat Tyler Road and then Morden Hill. The steps mentioned by the West Essex Ramblers are off a lane that starts here. Well their letter to the Highways Department had presumably prompted some action because the viewing area that the steps led down from was now padlocked off. Undeterred I clambered over the fence and walked down the steps. They were indeed in very bad repair. The exit into the estate was also padlocked off but this time by a gate that was only hip height and a lot easier than many stiles to negotiate. The estate is predominantly grey concrete and was probably built in the late 60’s and now is the subject of major redevelopment.

Now I’m not about to suggest that in some pre-lapsarian golden age before wholesale public service cuts Lewisham Council would have maintained these steps but in my mind the real stumbling block to getting this route re-opened is that the council are under no obligation to keep this path open for the public. Under the current legislation the Inner London boroughs (of which Lewisham is one) are excused from having to maintain a definitive map. This map depicts every single right of way within the authority’s boundary and these rights of way are then protected by law. These steps in Lewisham highlight exactly why the Ramblers are running the essential Put London on the Map campaign.

In keeping with this theme of activity to encourage change I’m in training for the Grand Union Canal half-marathon being held on Sunday 13 November. I’m running this in aid of the Ramblers so if you support the work they do any donations will be gratefully received. If you give online the money goes straight to them and will be put to use preserving and protecting paths immediately. A link to my sponsor page can be found at the end of this blog . If you are able please dig deep – every little helps. Thanks.

 And finally on Tuesday 27 September at 7 pm I’ll be leading an evening stroll from Richmond station. The local MP, Zac Goldsmith, a champion for the environment and friend of the Ramblers will be coming along. Zac was one of only 6 coalition MPs who had the courage to vote against the government during the controversial proposed sale of woods debate this year. Another great example of being the change you want to see in this world. Come along if you can and thank him for this action as well as urging him to do more to preserve our precious footpath network.

Support the Ramblers – sponsor me HERE

Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx – Running

Spencer Davis Group – Keep On Running

Watch:

 Listen to:

MC Yogi – Be The Change – Niraj Chag’s Swaraj Mix

David Bowie – Changes

Fairport Convention – Wat Tyler

Captain Phoenix – Blackheath

Camera Obscura – Underachievers Please Try Harder

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Glovin’ it

‘There’s a town and it’s not much to look at’

I’d never been to Yeovil before and hadn’t given the town much thought at all – one of the few things I associated with it was The Chesterfields’ song Last Train to Yeovil and particularly the lyric above. In fact if pushed it would mostly be music I would mention if I had to say what I knew about the place. (Although I do know that Yeovil Town FC used to play on a sloping pitch.) PJ Harvey was brought up thereabouts and Frank Turner is famously a Wessex boy. (One of my enduring memories of the dying days of New Labour is of Gordon Brown, still Prime Minister, appearing on the Andrew Marr Show in April 2010 and watching in utter bemusement as good old Polly Jane, playing her autoharp, performed Let England Shake.)

I now know that in the mid-19th century the town was the centre of the glove making industry and that in 2006 Yeovil became the first town in Britain to institute a somewhat controversial system of biometric fingerprint scanning in nightclubs. Individuals wishing to gain access to one of the town’s nightclubs were asked in the first instance to submit their personal details for inclusion in a central system. Me, I’d popped down on the Friday to sell some t-shirts for the Wedding Present gig at the Orange Box that evening and then do a bit of walking the day after.

I don’t know if the biometric experiment is still in operation but I wasn’t asked to submit any personal details at the Wetherspoons nor on the door at the Orange Box. And well I never, Simon Barber (of Chesterfields fame) was 2nd on the bill with his new band Design and sitting around in the almost deserted venue. The venue began to fill steadily and I guess the world probably doesn’t need any more singer-songwriters but a pretty decent one – Nick Parker – began the night. The Wedding Present were their usual entertaining selves and t-shirt sales were brisk.

Armed with the local OS map and fortified with a cooked breakfast that did its job and took the edge off of last night’s beer we headed out to explore the countryside around Yeovil. It’s probably a bit harsh to say there’s not much to look at but it is a fairly identikit sort of a town. A  Greggs, the average number of charity shops and all the other stuff you’d expect to find these days.  

Maybe it’s just me but I often find the most difficult thing is getting out of any town – hey it’s almost as if they don’t want you to visit the countryside. The weather forecast was predicting rain about 3 pm and there was a train, out of Yeovil Junction, to Waterloo about 2.30 pm so we headed for Nine Springs Country Park and then looked for the Monarch’s Way. Commemorating Charles I’s flight from Cromwell, this story can now be re-traced in one of the country’s most varied walks. I knew the creator and founder of this route, Trevor Anthill, and his sudden death in August 2010 was not only a terrible loss for his family and friends but also the walking community.

Maybe people don’t get out of Yeovil much because once out of the town some of the footpaths didn’t show much evidence of being walked and we hardly saw anyone else at all. I reckon it’s quite fun to do some walking on the fly – no real plan but just a map and the signposts when you’re out there. Just after leaving The Monarchs Way  near Coker Moor sewage works we needed to check the map quite carefully to see where we actually were. A few footpaths that were overgrown and a couple of missing signposts had put us about kilometre further east than we’d expected. We were soon back on track though, passing a llama farm – aren’t alpacas funny creatures? – and we made the train with 10 minutes to spare and despite the ominous black clouds that accompanied us for the last hour or so we beat the rain.

I used the 10 minutes at the station to buy some coke, crisps and chocolate from an old guy running the cafe who used to live in Putney and who knew my local in Kingston – The Boaters Inn. It was a good weekend of walking, music and beer and, you know, I don’t know who invented gloves but I reckon you’ve got to hand it to them.

More information:

OS Map used – Explorer 129 Yeovil & Sherbourne

Pay less when you order this map here: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/fundraising/shop/anquet-map.htm

 

Listen to:

The Chesterfields – Last Train To Yeovil

Bubblegum Splash – 18:10 To Yeovil Junction

Frank Turner – Wessex Boy

The Wedding Present – Don’t Take Me Home Until I’m Drunk – Acoustic Version

Nick Parker – Metaphor

The Smiths – Hand In Glove

Pulp – Pink Glove

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In the bleak midwinter (December 2010)

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Very appropriate except it probably should say ‘just a while ago’ and they’re not kidding with the ‘snow on snow, snow on snow’ bit are they? On Saturday 18th trusting to the weather reports I popped out to the shops for the paper and a spot of panic buying early in the morning. The Met Office forecast snow at around noon. Almost as I shut my front door the few flakes fluttering lazily down from leaden skies turned into a howling blizzard. By the time I reached the main road the snow was crunching noisily under my boots and collecting on my eyelashes. The journey down by the river truly was magical.

The snow abated early afternoon leaving a crisp white even covering of about 6 cms. The birds seeing their chance descended on the feeding pole in our front garden with some relish. It’s a pretty grim time for garden birds; smaller birds like wrens lose the heat from their bodies pretty quickly, so they need to be eating all the time to survive. Trouble is they really need us to be putting food out for them because the berries on trees, the insects and fish in frozen ponds and rivers, small mammals, or the worms and insects in the frozen ground are all inaccessible. But they love grated cheese, porridge oats, fruit, cooked pasta and rice (before sauce), cooked potatoes, and unsalted bacon, cooked or raw. Festive things like pastry and cake crumbs are also welcome.

Sport was another big casualty of the weekend. I’d been looking forward to watching the mighty Chelsea get back on form by beating Manchester U but that game was called off a day early. Post has been severely interrupted as well – not great at this time of year. (Hope of everybody who Amazon’d their presents got their stuff delivered on time – aah the worries of modern life.) But talking about post my favourite Christmas card is without doubt the one that has an Edwyn Collins illustration of a robin on the front.

With the snow largely melted from London on Tuesday evening (winter solstice day) with images of Odin slaying the frost giant Ymir playing in my head I set off to lead a Metropolitan Walkers walk based around Dickens in London. I’m a big Dickens fan me – and Wilkins Micawber always seems appropriate but even more so these days: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and – and in short, you are for ever floored.” They don’t write ‘em like that anymore – well sadly not George Osborne’s speechwriters anyway. (You young readers might want to find an old person to explain the vagaries of pre-decimalized currency to you. And anybody who can explain to me whether ‘Oik’ Osborne has any economic theory, however misguided, underpinning his cost cutting programme would be more than welcome.)

After a very enjoyable walk I had a couple of beers in The Dickens Inn at St Katherine’s Dock. I couldn’t find any connection to Dickens himself but thinking it was just a ruse to drag in the tourists I was told that one of his great great grandchildren opened the pub here years ago when the re-development of Docklands began. The journey home was definitely messy. Held up for over 45 minutes at Earls Court while police attempted to clear revellers off the rails near West Kensington I was forced to re-route to Heathrow on the Piccadilly line and catch a 24 hour bus back home. Got in just before 2 am. Ah the problems of winter travel in the UK. So with the modern version of the Nativity apparently being no room at the airport terminal I hope you all had a great holiday break.

Listen to:

Annie Lennox – In The Bleak Midwinter

Edwyn Collins – Girl Like You

Dolly Parton – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern – Winter Makes You Want Me More

Charles Dickens – Christmas Ghosts

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Reasons to be Cheerful

I’m lucky enough to have Richmond Park on my doorstep. (Well obviously not literally on my doorstep or else I wouldn’t need to work for a living but it is about 10 minutes away.) This means with relatively little effort I can enjoy its pleasures at dawn and dusk – times when despite the 4 million+ visitors every year, I seem to have the 1000 hectares to myself to enjoy the abundant flora and fauna. In 1625 Charles I brought his court to Richmond Palace to escape the plague in London and turned it into a park for red and fallow deer. His decision, in 1637, to enclose the land was not popular with the local residents, but he did allow pedestrians the right of way. To this day the rights of way along with walls remain, although the latter have been partially rebuilt and reinforced. Perhaps because of decisions like this Richmond Park has changed little over the centuries and although it is surrounded by human habitation, the varied landscape of hills, woodland gardens and grasslands set among ancient trees abound in wild life.

There are 2 separate herds of deer – about 300 Red deer along with 350 Fallow deer – who call the park home. The other evening, having entered using Sheen Gate I came across a huge herd almost immediately. They’re very used to gawping visitors but seem to take even less interest at dawn and dusk when they spend their time heads down relentlessly chewing the grass. Having finally settled down – it was more deluge and swollen river than ‘mist and mellow fruitfulness’ a couple of weeks ago – autumn is its normal dynamically changing self. (Isn’t it strange that many of the sayings that you used to scoff at when young turn out to be true – it really has been nice weather for ducks.) The trees here in the park are a glowingly rich tapestry of reds, yellows, browns and green. The ground is strewn with conkers, sweet chestnuts (these seem to be a bumper crop this year) and exotic funghi.

With the views of London sprawling out in the distance (St Paul’s cathedral is only 12 miles away) offering a constant reminder of the modern urban world I work my way towards Poets Corner. Here you can find the Ian Dury Bench. Take your iPod/mp3 headphones along, plug them into the sockets in the arms and you can listen to many of his most popular songs via the magic of solar power. Definitely a reason to be cheerful. The park is also one of the stars of this year’s BBC Autumnwatch – I wonder if they’ll find time amongst the birds, deer and badgers to visit the bench.

 

And right now everybody who loves the environment needs all the reasons to be cheerful we can find. Just before the Chancellor of the Excheqeur, delivered the coalition government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England said: “The next decade will not be nice”. As we listened to George ‘Oik’ Osborne slash and burn his way through modern life we had many hints of just how ‘not nice’ the near future is likely to be. Amongst other things half a million public sector jobs to be lost, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to see a 24.1% budget cut over the next four years and planning and development slimmed down to remove burdens from the developer. I can’t help thinking that this isn’t being built on any sound economic foundation but based more on wishful thinking like the lyrics from the Deadwood Stage:

There’s a hill of gold just a-waiting for a shovel to ring.
When I strike it rich, going to sit in a hammock and swing,
twiddling my thumbs and rockin’ away.
So, Whip crack-away!, Whip crack-away!, Whip crack-away!

The devil is going to be in the detail and this review has certainly signposted a lot of detail. Speaking at the Nagoya conference in Japan, Environment secretary Caroline Spelman announced a government commitment of £100m for international forestry projectswhich is greatat the same time as stories began to surface back home that thousands of hectares of UK government owned forest land is likely to be for sale through the Forestry Commission – which ain’t so good. With the Environment Agency and Natural England behaving like Victorian children, cowering in the corner and definitely to be seen and not heard, it has proved incredibly difficult to discover much detail about how the environment cuts will affect us all. All this is very appropriate for Halloween weekend but to quote a well known country & western song this looks like it’s definitely going to be a hard row to hoe –   now how do I get to that bench again? 

It’s not all doom and gloom in the Hero household though. Of course there’s the mighty Chelsea 5 points clear at the top of the Premiership and 4 wins out of 4 in the Champions League. There’s Hitsville USA – a history of Tamla Motown currently airing on Radio 6 and these days I’m working for the RSPB as their London Groups Officer.

Listen to:

Ian Dury & The Blockheads – Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3

Smashing Pumpkins – Raindrops + Sunshowers

Bombay Bicycle Club – Autumn

The Kinks – Autumn Almanac

Doris Day – The Deadwood Stage (Whip Crack-Away)

Tommy Webb – Hard Row To Hoe

The Miracles – Got A Job – Single Version

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