Monday, 30 July 2007

Yes, I'm lost

I think I'm standing all alone. All I can see in front of me is white stuff. I'm beginning to panic slightly and can feel tension rising in my chest then someone's elbow suddenly hoves into view. Almost hits me in the face. Then there's a laugh and the owner of the elbow just as suddenly disappears. I have no idea where I am. I try to remember where the doorway is and the friend I came in to this space with! So, do I go on into the unknown, or make my way back through the unknown to the doorway that represents safety?

No, I'm not leaving yet, I think. I'm going to be brave and keep on exploring this space but I feel more or less paralysed by fear. I reach my hand out to find the edge, the glass that's defining this space and suddenly the experience is too frightening and I need to leave. The white stuff is like a dense cloud, sort of like wet cotton wool and is all encompassing - it feels as though it is inside me as well as outside me. The experience is so disorienting and my expectations have been so thoroughly turned upside down that the white cloud actually feels heavy to move through and all I can see is white, white, white.

I'm not describing a nightmare, nor I am stuck in a blizzard. I have been experiencing Antony Gormley's White Light which is on at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank in London. This exhibit is a cloud-filled glass box where you can lose yourself and is definitely the hands on part of the exhibition since that's the only part of your body that will give you any idea of where you are and only then when you bump into something or someone.

I can't describe it better than Antony Gormley so I quote: 'Architecture is supposed to be the location of security and certainty about where you are. It is supposed to protect you from the weather, from darkness, from uncertainty. Blind Light undermines all of that. You enter this interior space that is the equivalent of being on top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea. It is very important for me that inside it you find the outside. Also you become the immersed figure in an endless ground, literally the subject of the work.'

So if you fancy trying out the modern day equivalent to a ride on a ghost train the exhibition continues until 19 August.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Recent work

I've added a new section to my website devoted to recent work which you can see here. I will add work to this area as I complete it.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Are you lost?

"Are you lost?" the man asked. "No", I replied "we're puzzled". And we were because we were trying to find the beginning of a walk. We were planning to walk along part of the route of the river Wandle beginning near Wandsworth Town train station and finishing 4.5 miles later at Merton Abbey Mills, near Colliers Wood Station.

We were following the route described in Gilly Cameron-Cooper's book Walking London's docks, rivers & canals and cursed ourselves for leaving the A to Z at home which at this point would have been more useful. We began to get our bearings after we'd crossed four lanes of traffic, which is part of the Wandsworth gyratory system, and found Smugglers Way which took us close to the river Thames. Feeling more confident we got on to the Causeway which we learned from the guide book 'was once the road to the village square over the marshy delta of the Wandle'. Evidently the Wandle was great for water power and was one of the best rivers in England for driving mills and this gave rise to all sorts of industry being established on its banks. In the early 19th century the many mills were powering industries like 'lavender and leather processing and the production of beer, gunpowder, chocolate, textiles and paper'. In fact the Ram Brewery, which had been a commercial brewery since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and later bought by Youngs in 1831, has only recently closed for business.

After our fleeting sight of the river Wandle we came upon a modern day industrial site where we were directed to turn left. This was impossible as the way was blocked by a building so we trudged on until we found a local map in a bus shelter which put us back on the right route. This involved recrossing the gyratory system and here our walk proper began. We circuited the Ram Brewery premises which was full of parked vehicles and appeared to be functioning but there was no sign of human life. We wondered what's going to happen to the place now: more than likely it will end up with expensive flats built on the site.

We decided to give the town museum a miss and pressed on to King George's Park and the Wandle Trail, leaving the road works and building sites behind us. The Wandle disappears under Wandsworth's famous Arndale shopping centre and we picked it up again in the park which is a very pleasant, manicured municipal green space with an impressive willow tree, tennis courts and playgrounds for the kids. The further we followed the Wandle Trail the less built up the route became and we could enjoy the rhythm of walking and breathing fresher air. This wasn't to last long because our way was blocked again with industrial buildings and we had to make our way through a large housing estate, which had amazing repeating curved arches under which we walked, to Garrett Lane and then into Earlsfield.

Earsfield was once a rural village and presumably Garrett Lane had been a country lane before the opening of the railways. Now you have to use your imagination because there is concrete and tarmac as far as the eye can see. We decided this was a good as time as any to stop at a pub, and it was pouring with rain, so we ducked into a cavernous bar which it turned out was called 'the puzzle'. Once we'd rejoined the trail we entered the part of the walk which felt very much like being in the country. Our pace slowed and we had time to stare and listen to the sounds of the river. This may not have lasted much more than a mile but the impact it had on me made it feel like the greater part of the walk. Before too long it was time to start navigating our way around Colliers Wood. We couldn't walk through much of the Wandle Meadow Nature Park due to flooding but we could see it and it looked like a lake.

According to our map the end of our walk was in sight but, like the start of our outing, we had much circumnavigating to do before we reached our goal. We found ourselves traipsing through an out-of-town retail park where many centuries before Merton Priory had existed until the Dissolution in 1538. Instead of walking through cloisters, or attending church, or getting fish from the fish ponds we found ourselves passing PC World, fast food joints and filling stations. Still surrounded by retail outlets built in the 1980s we were puzzled again as to how to get to Merton Abbey Mills but we carried on until we saw a small area of old buildings with many sign posts saying 'Merton Abbey Mills'. So there it was, at last and we gratefully sat at a table at Mama Rosa's Italian Trattoria to eat a delicious Italian meal while reading about Emma, Lady Hamilton, Admiral Lord Nelson and William Morris, the pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement, all of whom had lived, loved and laboured on this same site in previous generations.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Website update

This is just to let you know that I have updated my website, which previously had three images on it and now has over 50 images, and you can visit it here.

Monday, 9 July 2007

A short stroll to the canal

As I enter the park through the gate I leave every day life behind me. I'm standing under a tall avenue of plane trees which are as high as a church and extend as far as my eye can see to my left and my right. The branches provide slowly moving shade and a similar tranquility that you might find in a cathedral.

I leave the protection of the trees and enter the open country of the park and am exposed to the sun which feels hot. There are few people around, most walking dogs, and I can hear dried leaves crackling underfoot. I pass the bandstand which stands empty in a stand of trees. Occasionally I see someone practicing martial arts in there but not today. As I move on I spy one or two cyclists in the distance; then feeling a breeze hear it whistling through the trees. Now I am approaching the canal - the object of my walk - and become aware of a number of crows standing on the grass which reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds. This feels slightly menacing but is swiftly replaced with the intoxicating scent of Honeysuckle which I luxuriate in but oddly can't locate.

Here I leave the park and walk onto the tow path of the Hertford Union Canal. I am aiming for the Top Lock as opposed to any other lock. There's one narrow boat moored by the side of the canal and I can just discern the people on it talking. I can hear more birdsong now I am by the canal but they are ha
ving to compete with the sounds of crashing coming from the industrial units opposite. Two very large birds swim gracefully by and I wonder if they are swans or ducks as I turn left towards my goal. While I am enjoying the sounds of bees buzzing, birds whooshing and butterflies fluttering silently by my eyes are distracted by a number of industrial plastic sacks lying in the water by the side of the canal. They look as though they have been there for a very long time.

I forget the bags as soon as I spot the blackberry bushes and hoping for a free treat (although this is only July) feel mildly disappointed when I see that none of the fruit is ripe yet. Then my butterfly mind is occupied by another new sight which I've never seen before. It's on the opposite bank and set in a housing development. It's a sculpture and at first glance it looks like a horse pulling a carriage. On the other hand it could just as easily be a horse towing a rowing boat and what I had thought was the awning of the carriage could also be describing a wave of water. I can see there is a small notice by the sculpture, but I will have to wait until I've worked out how to get over to that side of the canal before I can read it, and that won't be toda

I continue my stroll towards the Top Lock accompanied by the drone of an aeroplane and in the distance I can see the constant stream of traffic on the A12, which although not a motorway might as well be one. The traffic noise is drowned by the torrent of water rushing through the gates of the lock and it smells seaweedy which strikes me as odd since we are inland. I have reached my goal but find I have to share it with a couple who are having a romantic moment. They are oblivious to my presence but I am aware of them so leave them to their privacy. I can come back another day.