A Week in Whitstable – August 2020

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There was a spectacular sunset 5 out of 7 nights we were in Whitstable. I’m not sure why it’s not more famous for them given they’re not usually a feature of the east coast.

Away to Whitstable for the week: a summer holiday so unambitious we could have popped home to put the bins out without too much inconvenience. But still, away from home for the first time since March and with low risk of ending up in quarantine immediately afterwards. The weather was too hot for us during the day for much of the time, but the chance to swim in the sea seven days running – with high tide conveniently arriving with the warm evenings – made up for it.

We’d originally thought we’d use the place as a base to explore other parts of Kent, but in the end didn’t get much further than Canterbury and Margate, and found enough to do around Whitstable with various friends either living nearby or visiting for the holiday.

We had no real idea of how busy it would be or how it would feel pandemic-wise, but the weather meant we were outdoors almost all the time we weren’t in the rental cottage and didn’t need to linger in shops or restaurants. How this all works when the weather changes, I don’t know. It was clear that the Eat Out To Help Out scheme was really generating business Monday to Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday felt much quieter, particularly in Margate which felt subdued compared to past visits. Dreamland being closed seemed significant; we saw one amusement arcade open but gave it a very wide berth.

In Canterbury the restaurants seemed busy but the shops were largely deserted. From what I saw this week, I think the food and drink part of our service economy will return fairly strongly unless we have a new surge of coronavirus cases, but the future for retail looks pretty bleak and it’s hard to be optimistic about the future of our high streets and town centres as a result.

It was interesting seeing all the different adaptions to the new way of ordering and paying: standing outside a fish’n’chip shop on the high street trying to phone in an order while four other parties stood next to us attempting to do the same was novel, but not particularly effective. Elsewhere, places were using a mixture of JustEat/Deliveroo and their own homegrown apps; eventually I guess some of these will become standardised and second nature but it all feels a little interim at the moment.

Flowers and cards are so passé: say it with a wheelie bin in 2020

End of June / start of July 2020

Looking over Greenwich power station towards the O2 Arena from Greenwich Park – July 2020

June ended with a gradual easing of lockdown, accelerating a bit with the first weekend of July seeing more businesses reopening. It hasn’t made a huge difference to us day to day, but it’s been nice to have friends round to sit in the garden and to meet people in the park. 5 slow laps jogged around Charlton Park with some of my usual Parkrun crew was nice, and a reminder of how Saturday mornings used to be.

I didn’t feel like rushing to the pub, but the idea of a drink in a pub garden is now more appealing than I thought it would be a couple of weeks ago, though I think I’ll hold off for a couple of weeks ago. I really could do with a haircut but there wasn’t much sign of PPE in action when I walked past my just-reopened barbers, so I may continue with Big Hair until I’ve found somewhere else.

Scenes from an evening walk around the neighbourhood

We went back for a Sunday afternoon explore of Foots Cray Meadow with friends; nice to get out of the immediately surrounding postcodes without feeling like we were going too far.

‘Humps’ – a converted bus spotted at Foots Cray Meadow
Artwork seen at Thames-Side Studios while photographing the Royal Iris

Whether it’s just because we’ve been able to spend more time there, or whether adding a few more plants has made a difference, it’s felt like a good year for wildlife in our garden.

A Stag Beetle came to visit one morning after a downpour
A Painted Lady butterfly in our front garden

The Royal Iris, Woolwich

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Every couple of years I seem to find myself at Thames-Side Studios in Woolwich with a few minutes to kill (today visiting a man to see about getting a guitar pickup changed in my Gretsch). The Royal Iris – former Mersey Ferry and venue for early Beatles shows – has looked close to sinking for a long time now, and I can’t believe she’s for this world much longer.

Chart the decline of the Royal Iris through past posts here:

Social-distancing: end of week 13

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A non-chronological look back at a week that felt like it was 90% work – but maybe in hindsight wasn’t so bad. I did get out for a couple of walks and bike rides at least.

A Sunday afternoon walk to Greenwich Park to take in the view and have an ice cream (soft serve on a cone, with flake).

Greenwich Park view View from in front of the Wolf Statue looking over the Queen’s House and Old Royal Naval college towards Canary Wharf

 

New graffiti on the way to the Met Car Pound – executed a bit better than much of what we see around here.

‘End Boris’

A couple of foxes seen on an evening stroll. They’ve always been pretty visible in the neighbourhood but lockdown conditions seem to be suiting them very well.

Taped up artwork on a Westcombe Park bus stop. No other clues to its meaning or provenance to be seen. To be encouraged, though, I think.

‘The It Girls’

Closer to home, a Painted Lady butterfly in my front garden, and a new felt ‘pot’ for tomatoes in my back garden. Having had one abortive trip lockdown to the garden centre, leaving after seeing the queue snaking round the car park in the full midday sun, my gardening supplies have come via the internet with all of the randomness and suprise in what actually gets delivered that that implies. It’s worked well enough so far, though. Some new sedums arrived shortly after a 24 hour downpour, leaving me feeling slightly foolish as I went round the garden with a watering can after planting them out.

 

A short evening walk round the block after a torrential downpour. Nice to see the old phone box light working.

 

A Father’s Day morning bike ride with my daughter and a couple of friends along the Thames Path towards Thamesmead and back again, starting in very light rain and ending in full sun as we climbed the hill from the river back up to Charlton. Building up to a longer ride to Erith Pier before the summer’s out, I hope.

A cycling end note: last week I mentioned the scheme to close off Blackheath’s South Row to cars with a note of optimism. That optimism is, like the scheme, now temporarily suspended... In the meantime, Greenwich Council have announced the ‘details’ of the safe walking and cycling schemes to TfL for funding, but so far this just seems to be a list of routes or road names, with nothing to explain to the public what is actually planned. As lockdown eases and the roads get busier, it feels very much like an opportunity to really make the neighbourhood more pleasant for walkers and cyclists is being missed.

Social-distancing: end of week 12

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Greenwich Park: view from the Wolfe statue on a Saturday evening in June.

The weeks have been passing relentlessly; each one much like the last with slight variants in the weather. The loosening and somewhat complex relaxing of lockdown rules hasn’t made a great deal of difference to us yet: schools are still effectively closed and likely to be until September at the earliest, working from home continues relatively smoothly, we can’t go and see our parents, we’re getting most of our food and other essentials delivered – and we don’t much fancy going to a theme park, or whatever else of that sort is being reopened with our government’s strange priorities.

Having said that, we have strayed slightly further from the immediate neighbourhood for the first time since early March. A Saturday morning walk around Foots Cray Meadows was nice: sun out, people around but not exactly in crowds, and plenty to look at: the River Cray nice and clean for the 9 year old to paddle in, fish visible, coots, moorhens, ducks, dragonflies and damselflies. We’ll go back.

On Saturday evening I went for a quick spin on the bike to Greenwich Park. I’d avoided it for the last couple of months on the basis that it looked much busier than the surrounding streets when I’ve been running, but I thought I should take a look now things are a little more relaxed. It’s always a lovely place, but removing the through traffic and car park has made a huge difference. To cycle up the main avenue from the Heath to the Wolfe Statue without dodging the traffic and parking cars, and to see it in use by families and kids on bikes was a pleasure. I believe the ban on through traffic may be permanent but suspect that the car park will be back, as a source of revenue for Royal Parks. It would be nice if they at least reduced the size of it, but as with mooted long term improvements to the cycling and pedestrian environment around the borough, I’m not optimistic (though this scheme on the other side of the Heath is a source of hope).

I’ve been cycling more than running, having aggravated a niggling muscle injury. It probably needs some physio but I can’t get a referral until it’s been scanned, and all scans are cancelled for the foreseeable – until the pandemic dies out, presumably. It’s not too big a deal, but does give an insight into the downstream effects of coronavirus on society’s health. What will be the long term effect of all these minor (or in some cases presumably not so minor) issues being put off for months?

This year’s strawberry crop

This afternoon we sat in the garden and drank wine with friends – who also brought us tomato plants. A good way to round off the weekend; the future may hold more garden drinks than pub drinks for a while (at least while the weather holds).

Social distancing (and self-isolation): end of week 5 – back garden stargazing special

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Indoors for much of this week: working, homeschooling and, most pressingly, looking after a Covid patient (thankfully over the worst and getting better now but – and while I realise this is not especially practical advice – I really, really recommend not catching it if you possibly can).

The pics above and below are from an exploratory go at astrophotography earlier in the week, mostly as an evening distraction once the rest of the family had gone to bed. I’m not sure the conversion to WordPress-friendly jpegs will do the results justice, but I was pleased with what I managed with my Fuji Xt-20 on a tripod, and a somewhat hit-and-hope approach to exposure parameters.

Since the weather’s been dry and the air pollution dropped away dramatically we’ve been able to see the stars in a way I’ve never experienced in semi-suburban south-east London before. The Plough has been particularly prominent so I focused most of my efforts on that. We’re due some wet weather this week; once that’s cleared I might have another go as the constellations move on.

One problem with photographing the sky at night is that, beyond the technical challenges, is that unlike what I usually shoot, where my camera is significantly more than good enough for 95% of situations, a bigger, faster sensor would definitely produce better results in the dark. I’ve probably spent enough money recently, though.

One result of our now-necessary self-isolation is that the horizons seem to have shrunk even further than they had before. Maybe this was a subconscious prompt for looking at the stars… I find that when I’m focused on the day-to-day routine then the upsides of this peculiar moment can seem quite appealing: lunch with the family every day; more time for guitar practise; tidying the garden; the pleasures of regular deliveries to break up the day (this week brought local bread, groceries via friends, a new wireless router, some extension cables, and other domestic items that suddenly seem very important), and so on. When I look beyond the day-to-day, though, I find I’m really badly missing the routine parts of life-before: Parkrun with friends, swimming at the lido, socialising with actual people, popping to the pub and talking about whatever we used to talk about, playing music with other people… Despite some ‘end the lockdown’ noises in the press, I don’t see this ending soon, however. We’ve got to push on and get through it somehow, but I worry that in the necessity of making it happen we underestimate just how strange and unnatural this period of time is, how difficult it is for so many people, and the trade-offs we’re making.

Other news and diversions:

  • Had a first jazz guitar lesson via Skype. Feels like jumping into a new rabbit hole, but there’s probably never been a better time for me to try it.
  • Listening to the Tokyo Jazz Joints podcast and daydreaming about opening a South East London Jazz Micropub. I’m sure it would be very popular (with about 3 other people).
  • Dabbling – like every bloke in my demographic – with a sourdough starter. It smells quite unpleasant and I’m not convinced it’s working, but it’s something to do…
  • Reading Johnny Pitts’ ‘Afropean’ book. An unexpected side-effect of which, no doubt lockdown-related, is a strong desire to holiday in a mundane suburb of a large European city.

Social distancing: end of week 4

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Black and white fern
A grey day and not much else to do but photograph in the back garden in between half-hearted attempts to tidy and clean the house. We are self-isolating and a day with no real commitments is something of a relief between weeks of juggling work and homeschooling.

Attention is disproportionately focused on deliveries at the moment: what will come to the door today, as we rely on delivery services for food and partly entertain ourselves in a splurge of online consumerism (or attempt to stimulate the economy, I tell myself). This week brought the iMac I’ve been promising myself for some time, a bike tyre, and the new Four Tet record. We hope Ocado will deliver this evening, having given up on Sainsbury’s; sometime in the next week or so we should have some more plants delivered to fill up the borders of the garden (it doesn’t take much in a garden the size of ours). I will probably crack and order a record from Sounds of the Universe or similar, given that it’s virtual Record Store Day.

These ferns grow in the corner of the garden that gets virtually no light; I love the contrast you get between the new bright green leaves and the previous years’ growth.

Black and white fernBlack and white fern

Social distancing: end of week one

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It doesn’t need saying that these are very strange times: stuck at home for most of the day, allowed a trip to the shops, and a daily amount of exercise. Very grateful that the family are all healthy, our employers are being sensible, and we live in a house with enough room for three of us to work, rest and play without being on top of each other all day. Very aware that plenty of others are in a far worse situation.

We’ve been working from home for a fortnight, and that works fine (most of my colleagues are in Ireland and the US; our clients are spread all around the world). Schools closed last Friday, though, and homeschooling at the same time as working is challenging. The days and week felt very long; it’s a good while since I last slept 9 hours straight on a Friday night, but I managed it last night.

The sudden removal of all routine from the weekends is particularly strange: no Parkrun (and the realisation that I won’t get to 100 Parkruns at the turn of the year as I’d hoped); no dance classes or guitar lessons; no popping into cafes or going out for dinner; all gigs with the band cancelled; no Sunday afternoon trips to see kids’ film at the cinema; and no simply going to the pub for the evening. We’re even being discouraged from spring cleaning as the council’s bin service is under pressure (as an aside, Greenwich Council seem to have risen to the challenge and are coping well with extraordinary circumstances – it’s to be hoped that all this will result in a change of Tory attitudes to the importance and funding of local authorities…).

At the same time, the many encouragements to write a book/read a classic/take up calligraphy/learn a language/generally self-improve on social media have largely raised a hollow laugh; Monday-Friday I felt like I had even less spare time than before, even without commuting. There have been some diversions, though:

  • A live-streamed Alasdair Roberts performance from Cafe OTO. I expect they’ve stopped doing these now, but it really worked – and made me glad I dragged myself there back in the cold days of January for a couple of gigs
  • Working through a couple of records that have come in the post:
    • Shabaka and the Ancestors’ ‘We Are Sent Here By History’. Not bad, but no banger like the last Sons of Kemet album; a lot of it feels a bit tentative.
    • J Jazz Volume 2, from the BBE label. Really good Japanese jazz compilation from, as a friend on Twitter said ‘a parallel universe where the classic Coltrane quartet never split up’
  • The Miles Davis documentary on BBC2/iPlayer. A familiar story but some new footage and interviews I’d not seen before. Would have liked a little more on the In A Silent Way era (a more important and significant album than Bitches Brew, if you ask me), but you can’t have everything.
  • Working my way through ‘Bass, Mids, Tops‘, an oral history of UK soundsystem culture and related music scenes.

I’ve been trying to get out for the evening government-approved walk each day and have taken the opportunity to take some photos around the neighbourhood. I’m not sure how long I can keep this up without too much repetition, but it’s something to do and I’ve enjoyed the instagram interactions while stuck indoors afterwards – nice reminders that there’s a world of people still out there.

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January’s nearly done

A sculptural skip arrangement in Charlton, southeast London

Some items, actions and events of note from the last week (some good, one bad)

  • The great Anthony Braxton at Cafe OTO on Tuesday
  • A trip to Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights with daughter: a nice evening out and break in the school/work routine:
  • A Saturday afternoon with visiting friends doing an ‘introduction to archery’ course in Greenwich. Don’t think I’ll take it up as a regular hobby, but it was fun
  • A post-archery riverside tour of Greenwich (and its pubs) with the same visiting friends; a reminder that this is a pretty great place to live (even in January):
  • Awake on Sunday morning, though, to the news that a local bank and takeaway had been targeted by racists spraying antisemitic graffiti overnight. A deeply depressing reminder of what lurks beneath in any of our neighbourhoods, and how the far right has become emboldened in recent years. It’s to be hoped that there is the CCTV footage to find and prosecute the perpetrators.
  • To the cinema for Armani Ianucci’s David Copperfield: great fun, and cleverly done. A good way to spend a damp and grey Sunday afternoon.

Anthony Braxton ‘Standards’ at Cafe OTO – January 2020

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This week I was lucky to see Anthony Braxton performing at a sold out Cafe OTO, the last night of a three show residence in which he performed standards with a quartet.

It was a great experience, and a treat to sit so close to the musicians and watch them interact through the songs. Not every piece worked, but even those that didn’t had something interesting going on, and those that did – particularly Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance – were pretty sublime.

The quartet was:

Anthony Braxton – saxophone

Alexander Hawkins – piano

Neil Charles – double bass

Stephen Davies – drums