Category Archives: Architecture

‘A fully furnished dustbin’

Well. The dam burst.

In a meeting. I came with a constructive head on, smiled and listened. Then I contributed to the group exercises that had been set. Then, I flipped.

I cracked under the weight of the theme: improving tower blocks as places to live. Yes, improving them not just as places to live in extremis, but acceptable places to live, for children. Now, I fully understand if you’ve been on the waiting list for a social housing place forever, you might take up the offer of a fourth floor flat, but I also believe that we should be doing better for children than that.

Heck, even some of the Conservatives think we should be doing better than that, so it’s hardly radical on my part is it? Yet, I was looked at as if I had suggested something so naive, so idealistic, so random that I should be marched round the back and put of my miserable *utopian mindset.

This, when we had been urged to ‘think out of the box’ and to indulge in ‘blue sky thinking’ in an attempt to arrive at ideas that would, rather than tinkering around the edges of seemingly intractable social issues, really kickstart some changes in the system that keep the old inequalities intact.

Well, today I discovered I am not yet too old to point out the Emperor’s New Clothes, even if I am greeted with both derision and affront. And, I am going to keep doing it, until something does actually change. All of which, led me to the ‘fully furnished dustbin’ line, which is from John Cooper Clarke’s poem Beasley Street, a line that I think describes tower blocks and some people’s attitudes to the people who live in them perfectly. Although the poem was set in a Salford terraced street during the Thatcher years, I recognise a lot of what goes on today, and it’s down the road. In fact swap ‘Keith Joseph’ for ‘Michael Gove’ and ‘Alsatian dogs’ for ‘Staffies’ and it could have been written yesterday.

We need root and branch reform of political thinking in this country to address the systematically entrenched issues of inequality, and no amount of well-meaning interventions will change that. If we don’t quickly adopt a true preventative philosophy, and yes that should involve tearing down tower blocks, the worlds of Beasley Street will still resonate with my children when they are my age. Or something even worse.

*What would you do? I was pressed on the local housing issue. Well, I said, I don’t know off the top of my head, but that’s not a reason not to start the conversation. And then I came home and found out that my town has the second highest rate of empty properties (2600) in the county and 1200 people on the social housing waiting list.

Sometimes, things are only as complicated as bureaucrats want to make them. Go figure.

Mongolia and Cape Verde

I haven’t been to either of these countries, but I’d like to.  It’s a terrible thing to feel like a wanderer at heart with a fear of flying (even though the hypnotherapy has helped enormously on that front, it’s not gone entirely.

What these two very different places have in common is that someone, somewhere in both of these countries has visited my blog.  (I know this because WordPress helpfully provide a map of where readers come from, with flags!)  Actually, the one Mongolian reader hasn’t visited much recently which makes me a bit sad.   In my mind it was just one person, somewhere in the Mongolian Steppes, wilfing around the net in a wifi enabled ger.   Of course, I don’t know this, but it’s the image I had anyway.

Who knows why, or how, some readers get here.  Who knows if they read at all, or just surf on.  Either way, it’s quite nice to be part of the whole thing, a little drop in the ocean of world wide white water.

Here are a few shots of a yurt I spent a night in recently.  If you are interested in eco camping, this is where we went.  Needless to say, the girls loved it, especially the jungle shower.  When darkness fell, the stars were quite spectacular and, perhaps because the farmers were out late harvesting, the air was thick with moths like I have never seen in my whole life – and I grew up country style.

All yurts and gers are not equal.  They are constructed with slightly different shapes and in Mongolia they cover theirs with felt, this one was canvas.  I took the time to study how it had been put together quite hard.  One day, I want one.




O & L

I am fed up of living with corners – they are either under or over-used – it’s practically impossible to get a corner just right.  Corners encourage the dark and cobwebs and stacks of stuff.   They are places of punishment and hospital beds.  I have plenty of them in my head, I don’t want to be surrounded by them on a daily basis.

The plan is to have yurt and live in a circle.  Circular walls and roof – perfect.

I was going to write about showers today, but somehow it’s turned into a manifesto for living a circular-shaped life.  I am not sure how that happened, but lets go with it.  I’ll try to remember to do showers tomorrow…

Here are some corners and circles in Suffolk, from the last few days.    I feel they begin to illustrate the point.





The final gate

And my favourite.  Marred by the shadow I cast with my back to the sun, but we discussed that before.  I could have cropped off the shadow, made out like it had never existed, but I can’t bear to.  There is no truth really, just subjective presentation or interpretation, but cropping out that out would be an untrue record of that gate, on that day.

Don’t think I didn’t try it, cropping it out I mean.  Don’t think I didn’t flirt with the untrue.  I am as shallow it seems as the next person when it comes to presenting an image to the world.  In the end, the shadow stayed because it forms part of the shot and losing it meant I would have had to sacrifice the screw detail on the right, which is probably the best bit as far as I am concerned; although the singing rust is right up there too.

Which all goes to show that perfect is never the truth, even though there is no such thing.  Not really.

rust gate

Can it be Gate IV already?

Or how to kill your blog in just five days.

I thought I’d double-check with myself that I am not taking liberties with the admittedly fragile concept, but no – so far every photo has fulfilled the criteria for gate, the definition of which I have ‘helpfully’ posted beneath to save confusion, plus that of door.

Gate (noun)  A hinged barrier used to close an opening in a wall, fence, or hedge

Door (also a noun) A hinged, sliding, or revolving barrier at the entrance to a building, room, or vehicle, or in the framework of a cupboard

I am beginning to think I might have quite lost it.  If I were to take up a recumbent position on the psychoanalyst’s couch they would have a field day with me.  That is such an awful pun that really do think I have lost it.  Perhaps it lies on the other side of these gates.

Today’s post is not really a gate, but it’s not a door either.  Still it’s got a Portugese cat in it, so you can’t complain.  There were kittens hiding in the shadows.  I saw one white and silver tabby one that was momentarily brave enough to poke its nose round the broken shaft of wood before disappearing once more.

All these gates?  It strikes me that, rather like the coffee machine in the song Calling You from the film Baghdad Cafe, they also need some fixing…

cat viana

Gate III – not straight gate

It’s testing the concept here.

Bored with gates yet?

You will be…




I wish I could go back and do this one again.  I have just managed not to chop off the ivy on the left.  The problem with a big shiny phone screen and the sun behind you is that you can’t see what the hell you are doing.  That’s probably why I shoot into the sun, a lot, which is a no-no.  It’s a straight choice between seeing what you are doing and shooting blind.

Life’s a bit like that most of the time though, even without mobile phone photography.

Gate II

It is the law that one graffito attracts another – giving us the more familiar plural term: graffiti. This is especially the case on loo doors.

This is not a loo door – it is a metal gate cum door set into a thick stone wall overlooking the Rio Lima.

Thinking about loo doors has given me an idea.  It may not be a good one however.

graffiti gate


Gates are great.  Really though, aren’t they?  I don’t have one.  Yet.

They are really just doors with outsider tendencies.   And as Ralph Waldo Emerson should have said, ‘every wall is a gate…’

So this week, I will do gates only.  Well, at least until Friday.

Gates link to my self-censorship ponderings too, because, after all, isn’t censorship just a question of which flock of morphemes you let through into the field of play.  On that front I have got as far as thinking that everything is by it’s nature self-censored because, as Will Self puts it, when you sit down to write everything is full of omnipotential.  Why you choose to write, this, and not that – in part it’s due to self-censorship even if it seems to be at a subconscious level.


Solid metal gates: the light can only flood over the top of them

Solid metal gates: the light can only flood over the top of them


It suddenly occurred to me that the image of these gates might be the wrong way up.  Who could tell?  I don’t think they are, but let me be clear about something – to me, it matters like hell.


Clarke/Lake Station on the Blue Line, Chicago

I could talk about the engineering of the rail transport in Chicago: how some of it is elevated and some of it is subterranean. How underground you could be anywhere, how above ground you can only be where you are. I am not going to talk about it though, because there’s nothing to say, not really.

I could mention how the weathered wooden platforms on the elevated sections remind me of Baltimore by Nina Simone and how I am always afflicted with a desire to photo the treads and risers on the staircases, both here and abroad. I could mention those things, but it might make me seem weird, so I won’t.

Public transport by train makes me think about my Grandpa and the red Central line on the London Underground. It makes me think of being gently rattled out of Leyton, after waiting for a train for Epping, or a journey in the opposite direction, Going Underground at Stratford on the way to Bethnal Green.

In Chicago you can go to Harlem and California on the Blue Line; in London, Mile End and Holborn on the Red. Both lines intersect with those of a different colour, travelling in different directions. In London I spoke to Americans returning to Atlanta, in Chicago I spoke to a black man about Marcus Garvey; all of them strangers, me the most. Taking a city train is a meditation, with some psychedelia thrown in, when you open your eyes.

Or maybe that’s just me. Like I said, I could talk about it, but I won’t.



Before I post the results of Space to Create, which was a lovely day despite some of my evident conceptual and manual dexterity difficulties, I just thought I would credit yesterday’s street art piece and post another someone kindly emailed me the other week.

Stik is a street artist closely associated with the place where my heart lies, Hackney. You can see more of his work here. It seems that although all stick people are created equal, some are more artistically endowed than others.

Scriven St E8

Scriven St E8