London: Twenty first century style

When I was five, and shortly after Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, my family moved from the rural North Riding of Yorkshire to London, where my Polish father had found work. What a grubby, shabby place it was. The war was long over, but still streets had jagged gaps in them, with piles of rubble on which hardy buddleia plants gamely tried to put on a floral show. It was a grimy and often unlovely experience.

Many years later, long since moved away from London, my visits there revealed a city that had thoroughly re-invented itself, while leaving plenty of traces of its history behind. And there’s no better place to inspect it than from a boat on the Thames, or by walking one of the many paths alongside the river. Come and visit twenty first century London with me for Sofia’s Lens-Artists Challenge – Urban Environments. I’ve shown quite a few of these photos in the past, but for me, they bring memories with them.

Thames Barrier, Woolwich.
‘Redoubt’ tugs cargo-laden barges down the Thames. The Thames is as much a busy highway as it ever was.
The Tower of London, with the now almost equally famous Gherkin behind.

The header photo is taken – not from the banks of the Thames – but from next to the Royal Greenwich Observatory and the Prime Meridian Line.

I remember, I remember … the River Thames

The Lens Artists Challenge this week asks for Memorable Moments. I was all set to embark on a virtual journey to Moorish Spain, or Seoul, or Pondicherry. But then on Monday, I wrote a post about fog, and I found myself making comparisons between the smog-bound, dirty, industrial and horribly polluted Thames that I knew as a child, with the vibrant highway that has become the face of modern London.

I have no photos of 1950’s London. I’ll give you instead, with sincere apologies to John Masefield’s Cargoes, a word-picture of the working craft on that busy river – traffic which still exists today.

The Tyne coal was then. The tonnes of waste are now.

The header photo combines old and new: one of those barges, still busily doing what Thames barges have done for several centuries: with a twenty first century backdrop. The gallery below shows recent photos which contain memories of the rusty workaday river I once knew.

Any minute now, I’m going to get marks deducted for not answering the question. But I am, in my own way. Those early memories are etched into my head, and on my visits to the Big City now, every trip along the Thames in a Thames Clipper – always a treat – adds fresh memorable moments, as I savour the clash and contrast between old and new which brings piquancy and added flavour to my long held recollections.

The Tower of London, founded 1066, meets the City of London, largely re-invented after WWII, and especially in the last twenty years.
The building on the right is London’s County Hall. As a teacher, my mother had access to its wonderful library, and it’s where we often went on Saturday to choose books. Nowadays, it’s a hotel, and utterly dwarfed by The London Eye.
The Thames at Greenwich. Not much changed.
Further out still, beyond Woolwich: the flood defence of the Thames Barrier, which formed no part of my childhood.

A Different Perspective on Saint Paul’s

Back in a Previous Life, a viewing platform on the South Bank in London had me exploring the sights on the other side of the Thames.  I liked this juxtaposition of old and new, chaste stonework and bright colour.  It might not be glazed, but it’s a window  through which to get a new perspective on the more usual views of St. Paul’s Cathedral.


Monday Window

Square Perspectives

Vertically Challenged

It’s time for Jude’s 2020 Photo Challenge again, and this week, she’s asking us to focus on the vertical.  It’s not surprising that I’m heading for cityscapes on the whole: though not entirely.  I wanted to have something for #15 Squaretops too – so look out for a topsy-turvy image at the bottom of the post.

Here are two riverside skyscrapers: quite similar.  But I like the way that in one – in Seville, on the Guadalquivir – the upward sweeping lines are emphasised by its reflection rippling on the waters beneath: and in the other – in London, on the Thames – it’s the contrast with the blocky cranes that does the job.

Then I chose a couple from Cádiz.  Palm trees.  In one the tall palms lead your eyes to the – rather small – moon, and in the other, two wayward palms making an impromptu arch contrast with the properly upright trees they’re next to.

Back in London, Greenwich actually, the standing figures echo the massed skyscrapers of modern 21st century London.

And I liked this shot from Warsaw. The vertical lines aren’t all that pronounced, but still lead you up to those precariously perched window cleaners.

Finally, an image (square of course) taken on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal near Gargrave.  Have you noticed it’s upside down? Topsy turvy? That’s the water up above, and the trees and sky down below.

Liquid History: a Trip on the Thames

Adam’s splendid birthday cake. The design is full of allusions, only one of which will perhaps be accessible to you.

I love the River Thames, and I love a river trip.  Our friend Adam’s birthday treat to himself and all his friends was just that.  A river cruise taking in everything from the London Eye, past wharves and warehouses, parks and pavilions, bridges and Big Ben.  I didn’t take my camera, expecting not to be tempted by photography.  I was tempted though, so thank goodness for my phone.

A view from the river cruiser.

I was tempted by what always seduces me about the River Thames: the old, battered,  rusted and gritty references to its industrial and commercial past and present.  The juxtaposition with new money: glittering ultra modern towers thrusting skywards, surrounded by squadrons of cranes. Expensive new housing where during my childhood there was only industrial waste.  Even a helicopter, on duty for …. something.

Dirty-British-coasters-with-salt-caked-smoke-stacks* – or their freshwater cousins anyway, share the waterways with commuter clippers, speedboats and long, slow, rust-coloured barges.  Rotting houseboats cling to the shoreline below busy streets and assertively up-to-the minute financial districts.

There are peaceful moments too.  Here is Battersea Park, and the Buddhist Peace Pagoda.  When I was a child, our flat in Victoria looked directly across at the four imposing towers of Battersea Power station.  It’s now decommissioned, and is a housing and residential development, though looking at this image, it’s hard to believe.

A line of cormorants occupies a pontoon below Cheyne Walk, one of Chelsea’s most desirable addresses.  And seagulls choose any old rusting buoy to rest on.

We finish near the Houses of Parliament.  This view is not quite right.  One iconic element is missing, all wrapped up in the manner of a Christo sculpture.  What is it?  No prizes… not even a river trip.

Returning to our riverside mooring. Goodbye, south London.

Click on any image to view it full size.

*from ‘Cargoes’, by John Masefield


Snapshot Saturday: a view of densely-packed London from the River Thames

‘Redoubt’ tugs cargo-laden barges down the Thames. The river is as much a busy highway as it ever was.

I had to be in London, because it’s not every day my son gets a chance to sing in the Royal Festival Hall. Admittedly, he was only one of some 400 singers from Lewisham Choral Society and the Hackney Singers, who’d combined to perform Bach’s B minor Mass.  What a privilege to hear so many voices give such a finely tuned and moving performance.

The other treat was that I was seated between my daughter-in-law, and a new friend made entirely thanks to blogging.  She’d discovered my blog after following up a comment I had made on the wonderful ‘Spitalfields Life’.  She commented – often – on mine, and eventually we met. I do like this blogging malarkey.

Views from the deck.

Anyway, I got to the Festival Hall from Greenwich by way of a commuter trip along the Thames.  And on this journey I got a sense of densely packed communities, sometimes in tower blocks; and of the densely packed offices of Canary Wharf and the City.

Something old, something new ….

I saw too the Docklands area, where once tobacco, ivory, spices, coffee, tea, cocoa, wine and wool were unloaded from densely packed ships along the quayside to be processed in wharfside buildings – once busy, crowded industrial sites, and now transformed into desirable apartments and businesses.

Once a busy hive of industry, these wharfside buildings are now dwellings for people who would never have chosen to work there.

I saw the Tower of London, with the city behind showing itself developed in a manner unimaginable to the many unhappy souls who entered, never to return to life as they had known it …. or to life at all.

The Tower of London, with the now almost equally famous Gherkin behind.

This journey is a treat which some lucky Londoners can enjoy every day as part of their regular commute.

My response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: ‘Dense’