Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ode to my street

Half a mile to the station

Seven minutes of duration

Broken window, stolen car

Someone sleeping at the back

All the floor, full of bones

Chicken, turkey, parts of phones

Bus smells just like chicken

Pack of fries halfway eaten

Bag of peanuts on the floor

Used trousers; I count four

No wheellie bins, front door with bags

Foxes scavenge while they have a fag

Watch your step in the morning

Piles of s***; just a warning

Is it human, is it dog's?

Not a scene from a catalogue

I saw a man sh*tting round the corner

Fights on the street and professional mourners*

Christmas trees on the curb

I just heard somebody burp


It's not bulls*it, all true story

It's my street. All full of glory

But that really is another story

*couldnt find another better word to rhyme with Corner.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Code name: Paddock

Saturday. Afternoon. Dollis Hill, a very residential area of Wembley.

Shoe protectors

Hard hat and camera in hand.

Code name: Paddock

Paddock was the name of a now disused and derelict Cabinet War Rooms from the second World War. The visit was a one-off. Open doors day as a celebration of the Archaeology Weekend with a free 30 min tour around it carrier out by Subterranea Britannica.

According to the very enthusiastic guide (volunteer, by the way) this was an alternative Cabinet War Room to the one in Central London. Apparently Churchill didn't fancy much coming to these premises for a couple of reasons: first and principle: the plae was very far away. If you think about it, Wembley really is and specially was by that time, a London suburb. For him, coming all the way here, inconvenience apart, felt like letting down London, as being hiding far away. He kept sheltering in the Central one. The second reason: it was quit damp.

Unlike the Central London CWR, this was a purpose built facility. Well engineered with amazingly thick concrete walls and ceilings, and alternative staircases and built just underneath the Post Office Research and Development station of Dollis Hill.

The bunker was just just for barely three years, as I was always kept as an alternative, in case the central London was heavily damaged during the bombings. In fact, althought it was a purpose built facility, there's no documentation about it: no drawings, no maps, nothing. Nobody knew that Paddock was a bunker until years after it was determined that it really has been.

The result of so much secrecy about the site lead to the sale of the land above. A series of construction works unfortunately damaged the waterproof membrane that protected the underground bunker and hence the current state of it right now; in constant need of pumps to remove the water and the puddles, and indeed, it is in a very decaying state.

The guide showed us a room, barely lited, paved with ceramic orange tiles and a chair in the middle. He was playing to confuse us on trying to guess the purpose of that room. It was indeed the battery room. Tiled in case the acid of the batteries spilled, it was easily cleanable. Barely lited to avoid sparks and basically because I didn't need much maintaince.

Fun fact #1: The construction works of the site lasted 3 years (on time), on budget and un-noticeable. 

Telephone communications rack

Fun fact #2: there is a tiny little inscription in one of the hubs that writes CWR what actually confirms this place to be a bunker (apart from the minutes of the War Cabinet that took place in 1940).

The room used as a social club in the 60's, hence the funky ceiling tiles for a resting area. Pretty sure the blokes had fun there.

Althought Churchill dislike the place, it had state of the art technology. High-end air conditioning and high quality galvanized conducts (according to the guide, underground buildings need to be cooled down, not warmed up. Fun Fact #3) and what was even cooler, fluorescent lights to light the rooms and specially the maps covering the walls during the war. Apparently, the now common white tubes were ridiculously expensive and rare at that time. England had them in war times.

It really was an air bomb shelter, not a long term facility, and hence, it mainly consisted in rooms for meetings and equipment and just a little cantine. We all asked the same question to the guide: where is the toilet? Where is Churchill's bedroom? The truth was that; non existent.

In the main plant, a room with the stand-by generator for the production of electricity. Quite rusty.

A small canteen was the only sign of long stay on the underground secret spot. Just two sinks, signs of a counter and a little serving hatch form which to pass the foot to the corridor. They most probably just prepared tea there.

Stalactites and stalagmites

Mould. Damp. Mushrooms...

Steel door frames

There is just one document: some minutes from a meeting held there, found in the National Archives, that describes the location of the place and Churchill siting in this room, in the middle of the big table, facing the door. Even though damp had destroyed most of the flooring and surroundings, very well pointed by the guide, that room still had sound proofed panels. The sound was surprisingly dead; perfect for super secret meetings and discussion.

Below the actual room with the War Cabinet took place the 3rd of October in 1940. Where the lady stands on the left, is the supposed Churchill's position on the table that date. It cannot be seen, but across the room, there was a hatch in the wall to pass the teleprinter messages.

Fun fact #4, the room had an independent ventilation system (now on the floor) for 1: keeping the resonance independent from the rest and 2: to smoke and not get it circulated to the rest of the bunker.

Fun fact #5: Famous Flower's Colossus computer was actually assembled inside the bunker. 

The bunker was locked and abandoned by 1944.  

Again, from here, I really want to thank greatly the guys from Subterranea Britannica for their brilliant enthusiasm and great tour. I had a really good time underground. 

I hope to visit more dark things like this in the future. But that's another story

Monday, 23 July 2012


It happened a year ago. I had just finished my Masters Degree, so I was compensating the long hours spent in the search engines with some London exploring. I took a look at my map, in which I started to collect my geolocalised photographs of London and I realised that there was one area that I had never explored before: Barbican.

It all started when I decided to start from Moorgate, visiting London Met's Moorgate flagship building, and after realising that to the right I was right there in Liverpool Street, I decided to keep walking until I found Lamb's passage. The rest is history: I found myself in the middle of Whitecross Street Party, a 24th of July, with a sunny day and myself, full of excitement of such an amazing vibe right there between the City and the Silicone Roundabout (Old Street).

A year has gone by, an as most of my last year's discoveries, Whitecross Street Party needed an encore. Coincidentally, a 22th of July, 2012, gifted us with great sun, as a year before.

And there it was, as joyful as I remembered. But this time I knew exactly where I was going. This time I knew where to get off, I knew its extent, and I actually knew a bit about the artists featured. Such a quirky little street from EC1Y, just yards away from the cold concrete of Barbican Centre. 

The big surprise of the day was to come across the actual Ben Wilson in person. Known for painting chewing gum stuck to the floor in Muswell Hill, here he was, on East Centre, laying on the floor with his trousers stained with paint, decorated some gum with this year's theme: the olympic torch.

I must say that I am brave enough to explore the city and go to gigs on my own, but when it comes to talk to strangers, it is not that easy. I admit that I followed while he was speaking to somebody else, so that I managed to find out his other colourful little pieces around Whitecross. Hard to spot but finding them feels like little treasure hunts. It kept me looking at the floor for the rest of the day.

Art for all taste and ages. It felt like a rebirth after the gloomy wintery summer that we had. Could't get much more colourful and joyful.

Although that's what I thought.

The day was not over. I had a trick up my sleeve, and actually consisted on a tight agenda.

Just as one of those constellation ordering that only happens once every two million years, the London Underground Network was fully functional for the first time in (most probably) EVER. I surfed all my way to Mile End, sheltering from the unusual heat on the now chilled new Metropolitan Line trains (and went back again to boiling point with Central Line). There I was, waiting for my friend R while trying to figure out which way to go once in the canal. Again, unexplored, we opted for the dodgy way that fortunately, was leading towards Hackney and not Limehouse.

A bit after, just before we almost lost our faith in our orientation and our mobile batteries had drained out while trying, there it was, the distinctive sign for market: Banting.

Mile End Floating Market. From the 20th of July to the 16th of August and from then, will migrate to (the not so sure I like the idea) Little Venice

See, some have argued that markets in London are overpriced and full of hipsters and foodies wanting to show off. I personally don't really care. Weekends are for markets, and this market represented probably my only opportunity to get into a canal boat. By the way, I want to use up this opportunity to advertise that I am looking for friends with boats. Hello!!!

Why people keep visiting Buckingham Palace when there is a gorgeous canal full of excitement?

Look, a polar bear made out of recycled plastic carrier bags. Is this Lost?

Seriously. Floating markets are great. You never know what you are going to find.

Maybe a herbal hippy pharmacy...


Somebody drying oranges...

Blokes under frindgy umbrellas and dotted tablecloth

I like sneak peaking other's boats... 

Or you can find a bookshop. You local sailor library just at your doorstep. 

Band included...

Mind your head, and the two cats inside.


People was really enjoying the sunshine

London Market essential: vintage clothing stall

And we kept walking down the canal until I realised I was crossing boundaries never explored before. I was actually stepping into the black hole between Haggerston and Camden and I was well excited.

Wait a minute... I hear music...

Oh yes, Shoreditch Festival!

A bit of Sweet Toof decorating a food van and little local bands giving some ambiance to the afternoon.

Good or bad, it is walking further away on the canal, reaching Islington, hidden between the swanky streets of Angel, just behind Camden Passage that you think: Is this really London? How come I don't spend all my weekends here by the water?

You London haters. You may argue whatever you like. You can't hate this. I found the cure to your sorrows...

But that's another story.