Horrid weekend, having a cold that I’d postponed on Friday because I had a meeting to host. Sleep shot to hell. Tidying up to be done. So, quota photo time, or so I thought. Inevitably, it got out of hand:
All of that was exactly five years ago, to the day. Having assembled them all, I couldn’t then postpone shoving them up.
There was a Lego Gherkin next to the regular Gherkin. They still thought, or were pretending to think, that they were building the Helter Skelter, which they have now turned into something else, even bigger and a lot duller. Otherwise, it all looked much as it does now.
Yes, last summer I went on several exeditions to such places as the Dome, and beyond. Here is a clutch of photos I photoed in the beyond category. On August 11th, I journeyed to the Dome, then took the Dangleway across the River to the Victoria Docks, and walked along the north side of them, ending my wanderings at the City Airport DLR station:
I love statues. Mostly, you don’t have the exact same one in several different spots, so when you see a familiar one, you know you are here and nowhere else.
And while checking out a statue near Blackfriars Station recently, I encountered another statue that I also like:
Photoing statues can be tricky, and I found this one particularly difficult. Very black and very shiny, lit by a sun that was crashing in from what seemed like entirely the wrong direction, was an awkward combination of circumstances, which made photoing Queen Vic’s face especially difficult. But, the outline comes out well enough.
Two of the photos, 5 and 9, have benefitted (or I hope they have) from a little post-production enhancement.
Photos 7 and 8 each feature a crane, and also the Oxo Tower. I like how the green of that container-office (7) echoes the green of the faraway tower. The crane is one of many working on the big London mega-sewer. Photo 9 features the tower of Tate Modern.
Presumably, many readers of this blog regard my fascination with roof clutter as a mere eccentricity, perhaps a consequence of me getting old. But, I believe that there is more to it than that. I mean, for starters, there is just, in a place like London, so much of it.
One matter illuminated by observing roof clutter is that one is thereby observing which parts of a city are, so to speak, part of the public performance, of the stage scenery as seen by the audience; and which parts are the mere behind-the-scenes clutter by means of which the appropriate public appearances are created, and by means of which the merely mechanical purposes of the buildings are kept going. And one of the things about this division is that it keeps needing to be changed, to incorporate the new ways people look at their city. They start looking down on it, from tall new buildings, for instance. Which causes all sorts of aesthetic oddities to be experienced. Like observing a vast see of roof clutter of a kind never originally intended to be observed at all.
This roof clutter photo strikes me as especially striking:
Yesterday I attempted to visit the roof garden of John Lewis, as resolved during the previous posting. But it turned out this roof garden is shut for the next three weeks. I only got as far as the floor beneath the roof garden. And it is amazing what a difference that small difference in height makes to what you can see. It’s the difference between dreariness and all manner of distantly visible excitements. Also, when I got to this not-quite-top, the weather was pretty dreary, so I didn’t stay long. But I did photo the photo above.
How come this particular stretch of roof clutter is so near to the ground? Why has’t it been tidied up. Why hasn’t it been arranged, prettified? Why hasn’t it been “designed”?
The reason is that in the normal course of things, nobody would ever look down on it.
This is because department stores are typically not places where you are supposed to be looking outwards, through the windows of the store. You are there to look inwards, at the produce on display, and to buy some of it.
Look at the department store windows in the above photo, the ones above the roof clutter. They aren’t real windows! They may have glass and everything, but they aren’t there to be looked out through. They are there to disguise the brute fact that a department store is a big box, with walls you aren’t supposed to be looking through instead of spending money.
And that part of Oxford Street is all department stores. So, when it comes to the roof clutter in the photo, nobody’s looking. This stuff is invisible. The only people looking at the facade of the House of Fraser are at ground level, and even they aren’t really looking. For them, a pavement is mostly a machine for walking along and a department store is a mostly machine for shopping in. What mostly matters to them about the House of Fraser is all the signs saying “House of Fraser” because that tells them what sort of stuff is inside.
There is also, of course, a decidedly backstage atmosphere to this entire little street.
Here’s what happens to a roof which, for some of the time at least, is often looked down upon, out of office windows for instance. Offices have real windows (and it occurs to me that one reason for the fake windows in the wall of the House of Fraser might be if they want to turn a bit of the store into an office, or maybe even convert the entire thing into an office (but I digress)):
I was only able to photo these photos because of the rather recent (?) habit of turning the tops of department stores, and office blocks for that matter, into observation decks, where food and drink can be sold and where the city, publicly impressive or merely cluttered, can be observed from above.
Lots of rather incomprehensible stuff to be seen through this charity shop window in Warwick Way last Friday (i.e. September 27th), and more to be seen reflected in it. But the central message, stuck on the inside of the window, is clear enough:
It would appear that the Festive Season has started even before the clocks go forward.
I have labelled this photo “NearlyEverything” because for me, it has nearly everything. Scaffolding, roof clutter ancient and modern, a crane, Magic Hour light, the lot. Well, not the lot, there are things I like that are not present in this photo. But a lot of the lot.
There is even present a favourite item of London public sculpture, in the form of the statue of Mercury that adorns a building on the north bank of the River called Telephone House. If you follow that link, you’ll learn nothing about this sculpture being there. But it is.
Googling for “mercury statue” is greatly confused by the fact that a statue of pop singer Freddie Mercury has recently been on display outside the Dominion Theatre, across the road from Centre Point.
When I say exploring, I mean three kinds of exploring, rather than just the one. The “just the one” is going there, and taking photos. But the second is finding things out from the Internet about the various things I saw and photoed. And the third is exploring my photo-archives for related photos that I photoed during earlier explorations.
Here’s an internet discovery of what the place I was exploring looked like, in (guess) the late eighteenth century:
At the back there, the Monument, and the church of St Magnus the Martyr. Note how you also see three other church spires, and a rather distant church tower. In those days, churches dominated the London skyline.
Here another Monument image, this time one which I photoed in the vicinity of the Monument, yesterday:
At the top of that, beyond, you can just about make out a horizontal slice of the Monument itself.
I’ve obviously been up this London Big Thing, but not very recently. Now, I want to look more closely at how this London Big Thing looked, when it first arrived on the scene:
I’m sure there are plenty of references to God and how he should bless and receive into heaven, or wherever, all the people who perished in the Great Fire of London, at the base of the Monument.
Nevertheless, I wonder if The Monument was actually some sort of turning point for London architecture, in the sense that it is very tall, but not a place of worship. The Monument, from the moment it was built, was what is nowadays called a “visitor attraction”. It works by allowing people to climb up a big staircase inside to a viewing platform at the top, from which anyone who cared to make this effort could then gaze down upon London, and its many churches. No worshipping involved, unless you want it to be.
Until the Monument, I’m guessing that the last place of non-worship to dominate the London skyline so forcefully was the Tower of London.
The Monument must have caused quite a stir when it first appeared. Did some people then think it was an eyesore? (A major function of blogging, for me, is that it records questions. That’s one I don’t want to forget.)
And if the Monument was thought of by some to be an eyesore, did this make it easier for people later to argue for taller – also secular – buildings in its vicinity, the aesthetic and spiritual damage already having been done? Like the Guy’s Hospital Shard story, only this time for the entire City of London.
To bring the story up to date, here’s a photo I photoed a while back of The Monument and its immediate surroundings, from the top of the Walkie Talkie:
The Monument and St Magnus are still a bit taller than their immediate surroundings, which are nevertheless pretty bulky. But as for the Walkie Talkie, and the other Big Things beyond, it’s definitely a case of The Monument being dwarfed by modernity.
Here’s another photo of The Monument, this time from the Top of the Tate Modern Extension:
Again, dwarfed by modernity.
Walkie Talkie on the left there, behind the red crane. And since we have a crane there, here’s a roof clutter photo, also feature the top of the Monument:
Photoed from the other side of the River also. Don’t get me wrong, I love this kind of alignment/juxtaposition, as regulars here will know. But, that’s how little the view of the Monument from any sort of distance now matters to London’s aesthetic overlords.
As regulars here know, I am very fond of Richard Seifert‘s One Kemble Street (that link will now get you to this posting again but keep scrolling down). I am fond of One Kemble Street because of its repetitively yet I think elegantly sculpted outside walls but chaotic roof clutter topping. One of Seifert’s best. (His worst was concrete monstrosity at its most monstrous.)
Here’s another good photo of One Kemble Street that I found in the archives, photoed in September of 2016, from the top of the ME Hotel.
Three distinct bits of roof clutter there, on top of One Kemble Street, at a lower level between One Kemble Street and the ME Hotel, and in the foreground on top of the ME Hotel itself.
A little bit of spotting I mean. The ship itself was rather big.
Remember this map, showing where I went walking from Maze Hill station to YOU ARE HERE, and then went north to the Dome:
The original idea of that posting was to say where I was, and then tell you about something rather interesting I saw from that spot. But by the time I had finished rambling on about the sign of which the above map was a part, I already had an entire posting, about the sign.
But yes, there I was at YOU ARE HERE, and rather than concentrating all my attention on the view of where I was about to go, I also looked west. Here’s what I saw:
That’s right, one of those huge and impossibly top-heavy-looking cruise ships.
I tried to think when I had ever seen such a vessel in London before. I have a very vague recollection of having once such a thing, maybe, but nothing for sure. Well, well.
I then turned right and north, and in among all the photos I took on my way north, I occasionally looked back at this ship:
Those being the same photo, one of the last I took, with, on the right, the bit of the photo on the left which shows the actual ship slightly more clearly.
And this was the very last photo I took of her, maximum zoom:
With that, I took a turn inland, dictated by the path I was following, and I saw no more of her.
When I got home, I became curious about this ship. Name? I look a closer look at one of my photos above, and found this:
The Viking Jupiter. So, basically, that would be: Wotan. Just kidding. Viking’s the line, Jupiter’s the name. Fair enough. Just because an ancient (in both senses) historian might get angry about saddling a bunch of Norsemen with a Roman god, that doesn’t mean anyone else has to fret about this.
Then, in an inspired move, I wondered what Google Maps would have to say about the spot where I saw this ship. Here’s what came up:
And in particular, closer-up, this:
So, not just a pier of some sort, an actual ship. This would appear to be a regular London thing, with a regular pier for the ship to attach itself to in a regular spot.
Google google. Here is a map of the cruise that the Viking Jupiter was about to embark upon:
I had always thought that ships like this confined themselves to places like the West Indies or the Mediterranean. London? Liverpool? Apparently so.
Yet again, what I observed, and photoed with much pleasure, was something I would not dream of purchasing myself. Cruising on a big and over-decorated cruise ship like this is absolutely not my kind of thing. If they paid me £6,340 to do a cruise like this, I might even turn that down. (Probably not, but maybe.) But, I rejoice that London is part of this business.
I was there on the afternoon of July 29th, and “departure” was supposedly the 28th. But I think that may have meant the day when you had to leave your home in the UK, get to London and check in on the ship.
Photo and learn. Blog and learn.
New category, long overdue: maps.
I now rather regret that I didn’t scrap my original plan and turn left, and take a much closer look at this ship. Maybe next year.