Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bring on the Dancing Horses

Hello again – yes I'm still here – thank you so much for your patience.

I just couldn't think of anything to write about.

Until today.

I've said it before and I’ll say it again, I love London.

I really do.

Barring a three year hiatus, while banished to the UK’s West Midlands, I've worked in London since 1998, and it has never failed to lift me when I've really needed it.

How could it not? Look at the craziness of the contrasts in this Skyline…

Where else in the World can you stand in one place and look at so much history? Just out of shot is a piece of Roman Wall – so it goes back into the thousands of years. Thanks go to Google Streetview for the image..

It’s such a mixed up bag of old and new. So many cultural influences in one place; so many cultures, all of whom carrying a voice, all of whom considered equal. Well, theoretically equal, if only that were really true.

But it is a truly diverse city – full of wonder and full of joy – you just have to open your eyes and your mind.

It is also a city being rebuilt. Buildings are dying and being reborn all the time. Cranes are almost as much a fixed feature of the Skyline as the Shard is. Walk down any street for more than a hundred meters and you’ll find yourself walking next to some blue boarding. You know the boarding I mean – the safety net of the modern day builder’s yards. Behind these boards hides an uncertain future, climbing slowly towards the clouds.

You become numb to them. You stop wondering what is behind them.

Let this post be a lesson.


Less than a hundred meters from my office, a new tower has been going up for what feels like forever. The boarding long since became invisible. Until today.

I actually don’t know how long the boards have been down; my tube station is in the opposite direction so I haven’t walked along this way in a little while. Today I popped to get my haircut during my lunch break and nearly got myself run over by a bus when I stopped dead in my tracks half way across the road.

The boards have come down.

What they were hiding is beautiful.


Look at the space it is taking up – how much office space could be stuffed in to this same area? The financial pressure to use the space for the main housing building, which might make money back, as with the rest of the dour buildings that shade Leman Street, rather than wasting the space on art that will never recoup its cost, must be huge. And yet here it is. How brilliant is that? No sense, no logic, just pure imagination. The imagination of artist, Hamish Mackie, finding a link to the site's distant history.

I talked a while back of my private moment of beauty when I watched a Pigeon bathing in a fountain. This time I decided to get my camera out for you. I'm not specifically a horse person, I’ll have the occasional bet on them and (don’t hate me) I'm not totally against them turning up in my frying pan – but this blew my mind

Though not before I almost got myself killed again… I was so taken aback by what I’d discovered that I almost tried to share it straight away. A man was walking past, his head bowed down in the correct London fashion, deeply engrossed in whatever his earphones were telling him,  and I found myself reaching out to stop him. I wanted to show him. I wanted to give him the joy that I’d just found.

Just in time I remembered where I was – great city it may well be but talking to strangers is strictly not permitted, especially if you are laughing uncontrollably and appear somewhat over excited at the time….

I stood entranced, for far too long, considering I still needed to get my haircut, but it was time well spent.

There should always be time for joy.

Make time.

Open your eyes.





And if you ever get the chance, visit London. Come see my horses.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The stupidest Selfie ever - and where to stick it

Celebrity Selfie off of Google

Those of us who have reached a certain age remember a lot of strange things.

For instance, I remember when my parent’s TV only showed three channels. Just three. I remember a time when you had to watch all of the adverts, because you couldn't forward through them and nobody could be bothered to cross the room in order to stand at the TV and flick over to BBC1 or BBC2.

These were dark times.

I also remember a time when you had to wait a week for your photos to come back from Truprint before you knew how well they had come out. And when they did come back, they were almost always of other people or things – rather than of you.

When did that change? When did we stop taking photos of other people and only start taking them almost exclusively of ourselves?

In the grey old Dinosaur olden days, whenever you went anywhere exciting and you tried to capture a photo of it, then you occasionally asked someone to take a photo of you standing in front of it – but mainly you just photographed the place / people / thing itself. And the really astonishing thing is that people believed that it was you that had taken them. They believed that you were there. Nobody doubted it.

This is apparently no longer the case. Unless you are actually in the photo then you weren't actually there. If you didn't post it to InstaBook at the time with the location digitally stamped in the forefront, then you simply didn't do it. Ensuring that random strangers, just as much as loved ones and friends, are unable to infer that you are faking your life is becoming more important than actually living the life, seeing the thing, or being in the place in the first place.

I believe I saw an example of this fact the other day, which firmly shows just how far down the evolutionary ladder the Selfie obsession is taking humanity. Be afraid, people, be very afraid.

I went to London.
The Shard - taken by me, but you'll have to take my word for that

Not to work, as is my usual habit, but to be a tourist.

10 of us in total. My family and our very good friends and their family, set off on an adventure in modern day exploration. We went to see the sights of our amazing capital city on a lovely sunny day, and I can secretly reveal that we had great day.

I love London. It is such an amazing mish-mash of time. Ancient, old and ultra-modern, sit side by side in a seemingly random, jumbled up, explosion across the land. Every country on Earth inspires it, everywhere you look you’ll see something that just doesn't make sense. So much history, so much future.

Love it.

Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, 10 Downing Street, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Borough Market, The Shard, Tower Bridge, Tower of London,O2 Arena, Hamleys, the list goes on…

The kids went on the underground, the DLR, the buses, and even the Cable Car – What an experience, what a day.

Photos were taken – fun was had. Everything was seen, everything was experienced. The kids came away knackered but absolutely happy.

This is how it should be.

some soldiers passing by me - on foot

Now let’s go back to the start – Buckingham Palace.

When we arrived, the changing of the guard was in full swing. The crowds were gathered. It was shockingly busy. The Victoria Memorial was covered in bodies, The Mall was lined with people.
It was the place to be.

The band played, the people cheered.

And the Horse Guards approached, polished and grand. This was something to see – especially if you are a young child visiting London from afar. Our kids were enthralled.

I’d imagine seeing those horses strut past would be something to remember forever.

I’d imagine. Sadly another tourist who was there as well didn't.

Just as they approached, the random stranger in front of me, who had spent the last two minutes setting up his Selfie Stick, suddenly grabbed his daughter (I'm guessing she was his daughter - circa 7 years old), and spun her around so that she was facing away from the action and instructed her to pose with him; both of them together, smiling manically into the camera while facing in the complete opposite direction to the thing they were there to see.

And there they stayed, presumably videoing the whole experience.

The girl was not allowed to turn around until the Cavalry had gone past.

Her only memory of the event is in looking at the camera with her back to the action.

But she was there. She can prove it.

This is completely sick - and I don't mean in the way that my 13 year old son says it.

How can a parent be so completely stupid? To completely miss the point of giving your child this memory? She didn't see the guards, she never saw them. The only way she will ever see them is on the video.

And when she does – assuming she learns to speak English – then she will also remember me.

Because the camera, throughout the whole passing of the parade, was waving about next to my face. I'm afraid that what they were too self-focussed to realise, was that I was giving them a running commentary of how ridiculous and stupid her father is. Begging him to let her turn around and see it for herself.

It would be fun to be in the room the first time that video is shown to someone who speaks English.

Technology is amazing. I genuinely love how easy it is to take great photos now – how easy it is to share them. And I'm not against the occasional Selfie – why not? It’s fun. It’s nice to get a record of yourself at a certain place; and do you know what? – it isn't new! I remember taking photos of myself as a child, arms stretched out with a camera pointing at myself. Two weeks later you’d find out that only half your blurred face is on show – but you still did it!

But keep it real folks.

We all love capturing these special moments of our children’s lives on film, we have been doing that for well over a century, but never let doing that become the whole story – never forget to actually let the moment be special. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Wife, The Teenager and the Wardrobe

The plan was simple.

The plan was good.

It just wasn't thought through properly.

Our brand new, swanky, spare room needed a wardrobe, while our bank account needed a rest. This led us to an Oxfordshire charity shop in search of a bargain.

And we found one.

I saw it from the door and rushed straight to it – it was perfect.

Old, battered, creaky and huge. The wardrobe called to me in ways that the, admittedly lovely, new ones we had bought for the main bedroom or the IKEA Pax units the rest of the house is filled with could never do. Every scratch, every mark, every creak from the hinges, told of the wardrobe’s character. Even the vaguely distant urine smell told a story.

The lives that have intertwined with this box. The children that have hid in it. The Christmas presents it has hidden. The laughter it has witnessed. The tears it has heard. The births. The deaths.

And I can’t resist a good story.

I don’t know how old this unit is but it was certainly built to last, to be used and to be part of a home, not sat in a warehouse gathering dust.

We bought it. £50 delivered and for the size and quality of this wardrobe, this has to be the bargain of the decade.

And then it arrived, carried by three people to the door who promptly declared it a “Beast” and refused to carry it any further. The journey to the bedroom would be down to us.

I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d been able to get a photo of it at this point; while it was still in the original form. But I failed. I failed to record the original beauty of this magnificent piece of furniture.

Jo and I didn't agree at all on what to do with it – and as we all know, when a husband and wife disagree about furnishings, the husband is wrong. This is standard all around the world so it was no surprise to me when I came home to find the wardrobe sitting in the garage and covered in modern paint; colour schemed to match the room it was going into.

Gone were the scratches, the peelings from the varnish, the Sun focussed light patches, and the multi-shaded brownness. Gone was the life. I’d wanted to keep it as it was. I’d wanted to leave it as we found it and let it keep its own character. At worst, I would have considered sanding it down and varnishing it, a compromise that would have removed the past from the Beast but at least maintained its identity.

But apparently brown isn't an acceptable wardrobe colour and they don’t have stories. Tell that to C. S. Lewis.

And so, what we had now was a half painted beast in a garage.

And the beast needed to move up a set of stairs that refused to stay a consistent length. I've been up and down those stairs hundreds of times. Thousands. And one of the main things I've always liked about them is that they stay the same. You know where you are with my stairs. Top, middle, or bottom – it’s always the same.

Funny how they can suddenly become the longest set of steps in the Universe when you have a stupidly heavy wardrobe on your shoulders, a teenage boy guiding the top and the World’s most panicky, flappy, ‘Health and Safety’ obsessed wife running back and forth along the landing.
Jo decided the best way she could help would be to continually shriek out reasons why everyone was about to die.

Things got a bit stressful. The wardrobe got to within a step of the top before I had to bring it slowly back down. Daniel couldn't hear my instructions over Jo's constant insistence that if he followed them he'd be crushed.

A meal was eaten in stony silence. Jo was still calming down; I was still seething at Jo’s insistence on not helping.

After sustenance, I decided to take the doors off the wardrobe and realised quickly that this would make a huge difference. The doors weighed an absolute Tonne! I carefully explained to Jo & Daniel what I needed them to do at the top of the stairs and got myself back under the Beast.

Seconds later we were upright and safe at the top of the stairs, only to discover that it had nowhere to go from there. No way would it turn in any direction so we had to take it back and then flip it upside down over the bannister instead.

Jo was completely pale at this point – practically translucent.

And this was the point when we discovered that we couldn't get it through the spare room’s door.

At all.

And so it was left on the landing overnight, silently reeling from the indignity it had suffered at the hands of my wife’s paint brush. I firmly believe that it was probably enjoying Karma’s swift response.

“I’ll give you a bloody story, you pair of classless IKEA upstarts!”

The next day I made my peace with it. Gave it a pat and an apology and promised that I respected it.

And then I took it apart.
Carried the pieces carefully through to their new home and lovingly rebuilt it.



And now it stands proud. No longer battered. No longer scratched. No longer brown.

Its past maybe forgotten – but its future has only just begun. It won’t be leaving this room for many, many years and I hope it will see many lives grow around it.

And I look forward to helping it write a new story.