Saturday, 12 November 2011

Crisis? What Crisis? City, St Paul's, Students, Tony Benn and Tea

Salvador Dali, the artist, might've liked how London turned surreal again last Wednesday (9 November).
At the Guildhall in the morning I listened to property developers, planners and architects ponder the City of London's office development pipeline.* 
  After a lunch attended by the outgoing Lord Mayor of London, I sauntered to St Paul's Cathedral to see if thousands of students marching against rising tuition fees and public spending cuts would link with Occupy London protesters camped outside the great church in protest (above photo).
  Police re-routed the marching students away from St Paul's. However, I did bump into one of Britain's great tea drinkers at the foot of the cathedral steps. Tony Benn, seemingly on his own, was sporting an anorak and bearing a rucksack on his back. 
   Tony Benn (below) entered the House of Commons in 1950 and left 51 years later. During that time he had held four cabinet posts and twice contested the leadership of the Labour Party.
  In his political heyday, Tony was reviled by the right and revered by the left as the darling of the Labour Party's left-wing. Supporters often say 'Tony Benn was the best Prime Minister Britain never had'.
   I watched Tony do a TV interview. He then listened intently to two young men giving him the benefit of their views.  Typically, he responded with "don't give up" and "don't let them get you down".
   I greeted Tony at the foot of the St Paul's steps and we shook hands. I reminded Tony of his calculation that he reckoned to have supped over 155,000 cups of tea in his lifetime. "I still drink a lot of tea," he replied, still smiling at a sprightly 86.
  We chatted briefly about the protest, wealth distribution and wireless communications. As we parted, others recognised Tony and approached him. 

I veered down Ludgate Hill away from St Paul's. Squads of clunking riot police thudded down Fleet Street to block traffic at Ludgate Circus. 
   Other clumps of coppers thumped up Farringdon Road to head off students on Holborn Viaduct. No less than four helicopters hovered over the wedding cake spire of St Bride's and incessantly hammered the air. In this moment, London's political economy began to look a little more like crisis-torn Athens. 

I looked back toward St Paul's but could no longer see Tony Benn who often told denigrators over many years: "If you don't want to talk about socialism, let's at least talk about capitalism."
  Few listened. Now, in 2011, three years after the banking collapse and in the middle of the sovereign debt crisis, everyone is talking about capitalism. 
  The students' clamour distracted my thoughts yet again. A gaggle of young girls in the middle of the march poetically chanted at riot officers. "Hello cop - You're so cute -Take off your riot suit!"
  A genteel banner proclaimed: "Down with this sort of thing". 
I looked at my watch. 
Four-fifteen in the afternoon in London in the middle of the world economic crisis. 
 Why am I so thirsty? 
Tea-time, of course.

* Guildhall City of London event hosted by New London Architecture.

Paul Coleman, London, November 2011

Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman, 2011. No re-use without permission.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Thames Hub hubbub, starring Lord Norman Foster and the City of London

Breakfast this morning proved expensive. £50 billion came up at one point.
  Early birds at the New London Architecture breakfast briefing heard Lord Norman Foster, architect behind the Gherkin and Wembley Stadium, stir up a hubbub about the Thames Hub -  a potential new airport and high speed rail terminal in the Thames Estuary, east of London.
  A carbon neutral Thames Hub would be powered by electricity generated by a second Thames Barrier. Initially, I thought this seems a great initiative.
 But Hub tea cups began to rattle in the meeting room when the £50bn cost surfaced. I sipped my tea and dwelt on a definition: 'an initiative - an idea going nowhere fast'.
  Hub advocates say it would revolutionise the UK's congested, creaking infrastructure. A freight rail hub would link the new London Gateway port with the rest of the UK. A new rail freight line would avoid central London by tracking the orbital M25 route.
   Of course, this would mean building on sacred 'Green Belt' land. But Britain would once again become a competitive trading nation. Did anyone venture what 'Made in Britain' exports would fly, rail or sail to the rest of the world via the hub? 'No' is the long answer.
I couldn't help but think some perspective was needed. Earlier this week, I'd heard some perspective offered to another NLA audience of developers, planners and architects in the Livery Hall at the Guildhall, home of the Corporation of London
   City Planning Officer Peter Rees began his entertaining presentation on 'The Future for Building Typologies in the City', by saying: "Here we are on the brink of possibly the world's worst economic crisis we'll see in our lifetimes. 
   "Thousands of the UK's disaffected youth are amassing in the west ready to march on us here in the City...and I've been told to speak about building typologies!"
   Soon after we were joined for lunch by the outgoing Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Michael Bear, (not to be confused with that younger man Boris Johnson, the ongoing loud Mayor of London).
Bear told a barely humourous joke about Einstein's driver.
Crisis? What crisis?
Aptly, lunch was taken in the undercroft or crypt.

Images: Foster & Partners

Paul Coleman, London, November 2011.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Meerkats fight Russian money battle in London court

I'm sure the £3.1 billion compensation High Court battle between Russian oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich - the owner of Chelsea Football Club - is all very entertaining but why is the case being heard in London and not in Moscow? 
   My eager legal beaver friends offer a couple of reasons. Firstly, Berezovsky apparently fell out with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin and fled to self-imposed exile in London in 2000. 
   Secondly, and more to the point, they tell me London law firms are keen to earn fat fees from putting the fairness of the English legal system at the disposal of Russia's many huge ‘commercial’ disputes.
    I wonder if fees paid to London lawyers delving into Russia's murky post-Communist era contribute to the United Kingdom's gross domestic product. 
  Compare the Mercs. Compare the meerkats.

Paul Coleman, London, November 2011.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Film of three jets circling over north London

Click on the link below and take a look at the short impromptu film I made earlier tonight (9 September, 2011) from the platform at Grange Park railway station in north London. 
   Here's the film; Jets over London. Sorry, it's a bit jerky as it's not edited. Just run it for a few seconds and the planes will soon appear.
   I'm not an aviation journo but planes and helicopters always intrigue me. I'd seen the large jet circling this part of north London earlier this week. On that occasion, the large jet was flying solo. 
   Tonight, the large jet was accompanied by two smaller jets. A third smaller jet appeared at one point but then disappeared.
   The one large and two smaller aircraft repeated at least six wide circles over a heavily populated part of north London during a thirty-minute period.
   Their presence in the sky - just two days before the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on New York - generated curiosity on the streets below and consternation on social media network Twitter. Many Tweeters assumed the two smaller aircraft were fighter jets escorting a larger passenger jet.
  But it seems the large jet - with the Union Jack visible on the tail fin - might be an RAF jet used to fly Royal Family, VIPs and military personnel. Apparently, there are two such planes, based at RAF Northolt in north-west London. 
   The two smaller aircraft look like private passenger jets used by rich folk. As I said at the top, I'm not much of a plane spotter but I was puzzled at the purpose of this flight tonight. 
   Perhaps the smaller planes were filming the larger plane, hence the need for repeated circles. Maybe it was practice for an air show or for next year's Olympics. 
   Whatever its purpose, I thought this flight tonight was strange given this weekend's significant global anniversary. 
   It also seemed somewhat insensitive. People in these post 9-11 times are still easily spooked by the sight of unusual plane formations flying low over their homes and streets.

Photos and Film copyright Paul Coleman. All Rights Reserved. No reuse without written permission.

Paul Coleman, London, September 2011.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Marchmont Community Garden: London's new green enclave

The band played. People clapped. A dog barked. Bees buzzed on freshly planted lavender. The September morning sun smiled and bounced off the new garden's white walls. 
Normally, I go to Marchmont Street to get my haircut at Gino. But this morning I attended the official opening of the Marchmont Community Garden, the first new public garden to be created in the north London borough of Camden for over 200 years.
Rosa, 71, originally from Portugal but now a long-standing Kings Cross-Brunswick resident, proudly showed me some of the flowers that she and other local people had planted.
   Volunteers, including elderly people and several children, have played a big part in the new garden's planning, design and planting. Thirty more people signed up this morning to help maintain the garden's future.
   "This garden is for the people who live in this area," said Rosa. "It gives us somewhere nearby our homes to go and get some fresh air."
   Frank Dobson, the effervescent MP for Holborn & St. Pancras, declared the community garden open when he unveiled a commemorative plaque. Rupert Everett, an actor, planted a tree. Tulip Siddiq, an aptly named Camden councillor, formally welcomed local people. 

"Professionals once called this land a piece of Slap, or Spare Land After Planning," said Dobson. "Now, local people have turned it into a useful garden for people and children to come and enjoy themselves."
   The garden is owned and managed by local people. The lease is owned by the King's Cross/Brunswick Neighbourhood Community Association, an organisation I happily worked for during the mid-1980s.
   The Marchmont Association initiated the project and dug up the funds, including a £100,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund. Another £40,000 came from Camden Council's 'Section 106' pot - contributions paid by developers to offset the impact of their developments on local infrastructure. Local businesses also generously donated.
   Why did the garden cost this much? Marchmont Association chair Ricci de Freitas explained the site for the garden needed raising to a level so it could sit above utility equipment and be accessible to Marchmont Street and Kenton Street. Thanks entirely to the garden, these streets are now connected for pedestrians.
The association appointed the Architects Network to work closely with local people to bring the garden to life. J. Murphy & Sons Ltd were the main building contractors.
   Local people will manage the garden's future through the Marchmont Community Garden Partnership. The board includes the Brunswick Tenants & Residents Association, London Wildlife Trust,  Camden Housing, a Bloomsbury Ward councillor and local residents.
  The planning gap between the older terrace and a 1970s development has now been filled. A great deal of hard work and effort by local people has paid off. Local people now have both a sun-filled and shaded ornamental garden where they can sit and relax or walk through from dawn till dusk. (Image below shows how the site looked for decades).
The idea for a community garden came several years before national politicians suddenly began spouting 'localism', 'neighbourhood planning' and 'Big Society'. People were already  engaged in this kind of local activity - as the garden shows.
  "This garden is a real manifestation of the commitment that people in this area have got," said Dobson.
At that point, Dobson grinned and the sun flared off his trademark white beard.  The 30-piece Lambeth Wind Orchestra struck up the theme tune of the BBC's famous Ground Force team of garden transformers.
    I couldn't help but chuckle. The BBC's garden gang wasn't needed.
   The good people of Marchmont Land have transformed this part of their neighbourhood through their own impressive victorious dig. If you're ever in the area, visit the garden and see for yourself what can be done.

If you'd like to volunteer or help with the Marchmont Community Garden, please contact the Marchmont Association.

Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman. No re-usage without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, September 2011.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Heddlu - Croeso to the streets of London

Police from Wales are patrolling London's streets. I first saw them in Bloomsbury Square. Their vans and police cars, marked 'Heddlu', Welsh for 'police', showed they were from Gwent.
   The Welsh officers are in the capital providing additional support to London's Metropolitan Police after the riots and looting that rocked the city a fortnight ago.
   South Wales Police sent 54 officers to London. North Wales Police sent an undisclosed number.
    London seems 'back to normal' again - although this is now an ongoing saga.  Later, I chatted with friends on Museum Street as floods of tourists ambled to and from the British Museum.  Only the Welsh 'Heddlu' officers appeared slightly out of place. 
   Friendly, they chatted with people, nodded and smiled as they ambled around on patrol. Some of them are big lads too. Probably, ex-rugby players, y'knoh! Oh cry-key!
   But they've received a warm 'croeso' ('welcome') from many Londoners. Partly because our own Met officers have been very busy - as this riot of stats shows. 
  Met police are investigating 3,296 offences that took place over 6-9 August, including two murders, 1,101 burglaries, 399 damaged vehicles, 310 thefts and 162 arson incidents.
 There are more than 1,110 crime scenes in 22 of London's 32 boroughs.
   Police are reviewing over 20,000 hours of CCTV footage. The Met has released 52 new photographs of people they want to interview about violent disorder in Southwark, Greenwich, Merton, Enfield and Hackney.
  To date, police have made over 1,800 arrests, including 396 juveniles. Almost 1,050 have been charged including 218 juveniles. 
  Prison numbers in England and Wales have risen to a record level of 86,931.
   The Guardian newspaper's analysis claims prison terms being given are on average 25% higher than usual. Some 70% of those coming before the courts are being jailed compared to 2% before the riots.
  For instance, Nicolas Robinson is frequently mentioned. Robinson, 23, stole a £3.50 case of bottled water from a Lidl supermarket during rioting in Brixton. He is now serving six months. 

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Facebook reveals character of London rioters

Facebook has provided police officers with insights into the thinking of at least one young person who was arrested, charged and sent for trial for taking part in the riots that hit London.
  One teenager, now awaiting trial after a serious attack on the police, quoted song lyrics on Facebook back in July. The lyrics went: "All I care about is money...ima sip until I feel it. ima smoke until its done. I dnt really gv a fuk."
   Asked a few days later by a friend if they were behaving, the teenager replied: "Yh I'm stayin out ov trouble."
   But on Saturday night (6 August) when rioting flared in London, the teenager posted on Facebook: "eyyy what's happening...I'm hearing ders a mad riot??...I wanna get involvd."
  A friend replied: "Knew you was gonna say suttin like dat lool behave yourself."
   Another friend on Facebook warned the next day: "U shld stay at home."
    Sadly, their young friend paid no heed to their advice, went out rampaging and violently attacked police officers. The teenager's Facebook profile also might lead police officers to other people that might have been involved in the serious disorder.
To be continued when the trial takes place...

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011


Thursday, 11 August 2011

London's Riots: Seven Days Later

A week is a long time in rioting. Last Thursday (4th August) at 6.15pm, I emerged from a cosy conference room in central London - about the same time as armed police confronted Mark Duggan in Tottenham Hale, 
   I checked my Blackberry phone for messages and thought about buying a doughnut. At about the same time, Mark Duggan reportedly sent a message from his Blackberry to his partner, saying: "I'm being followed by the Feds."
   Plied with coffee and cookies, I dodged the doughnut. Around about the same time, several miles away in a very different part of London, Mark Duggan caught two bullets. 

I walked along a quiet safe street, reflecting on a warning I'd just heard during the conference. A Hammersmith-based architect claimed local politicians in Hammersmith had "emaciated" and "demoralised" its own planning officers. "If this is a national policy, then it's very worrying," said the architect.
   Last week I thought the architect's warning carried some significance. But this morning, seven days on, after listening to a recording of that session, the professional conference-going folks with their earnest concerns seem an age and a world away - a small and now irrelevant 'before the riots' moment. 
   Since then, people across London and England have been killed, run down, attacked, shot, and forced to flee and leap from their burning homes with their children in their arms. Homes, shops and warehouses now stand only as ashes and cinders.

Mental map
In recent years, as regular readers will know, I’ve scampered a lot around London’s streets, reporting on this housing scheme, that property development, covering angry residents’ meetings and sleepy council meetings. I've interviewed local residents, shopkeepers, market traders, transport workers, police officers, social workers, architects, developers and planners. 
  As I've scuttled around London on these assignments, I've used my mental map to ensure I don't go into the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Occasionally, my mental map of London and street radar has failed me when, more by luck than judgement, I've only narrowly avoided being mugged and perhaps worse by groups of young opportunists. 
Since then, I've tried to add intelligence of their postcode gangs and their 'ends' to my own map, if only just to keep clear.

In writing this, I offer no grand moral or wise explanation. I'm merely reflecting that people living in parts of London have struggled to run their lives alongside the increasing presence of these young people and their gangs for several years. 
  In fact, as I write, 'holiticians' recalled from their holidays are debating the riots in the House of Commons. Thankfully, so far, politicians have refrained from instinctively indulging in a useless competition to see who can sound the most outraged. 
We might hope Parliament keeps this up but might say let's not hold our breath. Nevertheless, the question of why – the diagnosis – and what must be done – the long-term preventative cures – must be openly discussed if any lasting good can be extracted from the last seven days of mayhem. 

Paul Coleman, London, 2011

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The London Riots: The Question of Why?

© Paul Coleman, London 2011

I bought a Greater London Streetfinder Atlas the other day.
Terrifyingly, it's already out of date. 
Sony's massive distribution centre in north-eastern Enfield shows up on page 105 as a big orange rectangle. 
But in the wee hours of this morning the vast building itself exploded and was raised to the ground in a huge fire set by looting arsonists.

Twelve hours or so later, at 1pm today (Tuesday, 9 August), bits of the building and its huge store of electrical goods - plasma TVs and games consoles and the like - continue to float past my window as dense smoke carried by the wind (click on photo to enlarge). Tonight, Londoners brace themselves across the city hoping to see 16,000 police officers visibly reclaiming the streets of London from these gangs of rioters.

Typically edgy is Enfield, where I live. 
Enfield normally runs shy of the news limelight. 
But, after the Sony centre fire, and Sunday night's now relatively minor skirmish between rioters, riot police and police dogs in sleepy Enfield Town, Enfield is now a familiar tag to millions who watch TV news.

© Paul Coleman, London 2011
Yesterday afternoon, Enfield even 'trended' on Twitter. But, after the worst devastation and fires in modern British history since the 1980s riots, the Blitz of World War II and the Great Fire of London in 1666, people worldwide are now also sadly familiar with Bruce Grove, Tottenham, Hackney, Lewisham, Peckham, Ealing, Woolwich, Colliers Wood, Catford, East Dulwich, Camden, Clapham Junction, Ilford and, perhaps most of all, with the two horrifying fires in Croydon.
   Mushrooming like Sony centre smoke hanging in this bright afternoon sky are several big questions, such as 'why is this happening' and 'why are they doing it'?  
Most politicians, senior police and pontificating pundits who've plonked themselves in front of cameras have struggled to find new ways to give old answers about 'inexcusable violence', 'mindless thuggery' and 'sheer criminality". 
To me, their dead-end condemnations seem pretty mindless, inexcusable and irrational.

However, some of you might've caught Dr Clifford Stott, an academic from Liverpool University, provide his take on these questions on Sky News. Asked what is the psychology of young people attacking police and looting, Stott replied: "We cannot understand the problem if we dismiss it as mindless. It's driven by particular meanings that those rioters have in their heads. 
   "We have to ask where do those meanings come from and what drives them," added Stott. "And that takes us, unfortunately, to questions of social context and social conditions. I populate a very difficult position because by talking about the way this behaviour is meaningful and linked to economic and social conditions, I get called an apologist - as if by injecting some objective, rational debate into the situation I am doing something wrong.
  "But I'm not," insisted Stott. "What we have to recognise is that these targets in terms of the expensive, high-end goods are out of reach of the vast bulk of the people involved in this kind of rioting. And they are using these riots as an opportunity to attack the society from which they are so alienated and marginalised from.
  "So, we've got to ask, how did we get here? How did we get to a situation where this group of people are so angry with the world that they live in, and so angry that they're capable of coming out onto the streets and to attack us in this manner?"
The sorry phlanx who might denounce Stott as 'an apologist' do us all down. These riots reflect more about the psychology of our own consumer-led, profit-driven society.  Sadly, our politicians can't see this kind of logic through the dense smoke of their own populist, sound-bite rhetoric. 

Postscript: Almost on cue, shortly after my original posting, Mayor Boris Johnson, speaking to angry riot victims on a Clapham Junction street, said: "It's time people engaged in looting stopped hearing economic and social justifications for what they're doing."

Photos: The last round? Enfield Civic Centre shrouded by smoke still swirling over north London from the Sony centre fire attack started by rioters several miles away.

Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman. No re-use without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011

Monday, 8 August 2011

Tottenham to Enfield Town and beyond: looting across London

For several troubling hours last night, people in sleepy Enfield Town didn't need to switch on their TVs to see what was making the news. 
They just looked out of the window. 
Rampaging teenagers hurled house bricks at riot police outside Enfield Grammar School, where I looted some 'O'-Levels decades ago. 
Shocking scenes flared elsewhere, particularly the car burning on Gentleman's Row, Enfield Town's conservation area of quaint, listed riverside cottages. 
All rather ungentlemanly, I should say.

Truly shocking, but was I really surprised? 
Every day Enfield Town's anonymous shopping area is disturbed by groups of uninspired youngsters coming in from across the north London borough's east-west social divide. On school day afternoons police keep a watchful eye on clusters of young people 'jamming' outside McDonald's and the HMV. Both premises were attacked last night. 
  A quieter form of individual looting has taken place in the Town's dull shopping precinct each day for many years. Store staff maintain crackling radio contact with the shopping precinct's padding, patrolling security guards.
   Pearson's, a modernising department store clinging to remnants of its old charm, keeps a ground floor back room to detain folks who disobey the payment rules of our consumer culture. Pearson's glass frontage was also shattered last night.

Statisticians say people who reside in affluent western Enfield live ten years longer on average than people from Enfield's poorer east. It's an east-west divide mirrored by a similar socio-economic chasm in Enfield's southern neighbour, Haringey, where Muswell Hill and Crouch End contrast starkly with Tottenham.
   Tottenham, where all this criminality kicked off, isn't that far away from Enfield Town. Text and Twitter instantly shorten that distance although not as much as Blackberry BBM, the fast, free and very private social network apparently favoured by youngsters organising riotous rendevous. 
    After messages are sent and received, it's only a quick bomb up the A10 Cambridge Road to Enfield passing through Edmonton Green, Lower Edmonton and Northumberland Park. That's only a short brick chuck from Bruce Grove where the carpet store and flats were horrifically burnt out on Saturday night, leaving several families homeless and destitute. 

Why did all this kick off in Tottenham in the first place? Much more, no doubt, will be revealed and sadly, concealed. But my photographer friend has sent me a link to an eyewitness account of the demo outside Tottenham police station on Saturday afternoon. 
Click on the link; it sheds some light on why London's barely submerged and boiling pressures geysered to the surface precisely over this particular weekend.

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Tottenham 2011: the background from 1985

"On 5th October 1985, four Tottenham police officers entered the home of a Black woman, Mrs Cynthia Jarrett, and searched it. During the course of the search Mrs Jarrett collapsed, and soon after she died. 
   "On the following afternoon a demonstration outside Tottenham police station passed off without any serious incident. But during the evening and night of 6th October, a violent disturbance took place at the Broadwater Farm Estate, Tottenham. A police officer, PC Keith Blakelock, was killed.
   "Several buildings were set on fire, as well as many motor vehicles. Guns were alleged to have been fired at the police. Officers armed with plastic bullets and CS gas were deployed but not used. 
   "In a television interview, the senior officer for the North London area, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richards, claimed that the disturbances were "the most ferocious, the most vicious riots ever seen on  the mainland". 
   "In the weeks and months following 6th October, police officers remained on the estate in considerable numbers, and raids were carried out by large squads of police upon dozens of homes."

Source: The Broadwater Farm Inquiry, Report of the Independent Inquiry into Disturbances of October 1985 at the Broadwater Farm Estate, Tottenham, Chaired by Lord Gifford QC.

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011

Friday, 22 July 2011

Council vote rejects development for Wards Corner, Tottenham

Councillors in the north London borough of Haringey voted late on Wednesday night (20th July) to refuse planning permission for a controversial housing and retail development at Wards Corner in Tottenham, north London.

If you'd like more details please visit my news story on the 24 Housing website.

Paul Coleman, London, July 2011

Sunday, 3 July 2011

John Mellencamp, Live at Hammersmith, London: It can get...No Better Than This

Recklessly, I missed John Mellencamp's last live gig in London. So, nineteen years later, I wisely reckoned I should get down to Hammersmith last night (Saturday, 2 July). Mellencamp, one of heartland America's most highly regarded singer-songwriters - and an Obama family favourite - doesn't often do London.
   On stage, Mellencamp's gravel diamond voice delivers lyrics that sketch a life thorned with incident, pain and humour. The troubadour's live music paints his words into colourful portraits and landscapes - dark and deathly, bright and lively. 
   Mellencamp's band plays with an oiled precision from rousing start to raucous end. They keep their balance on high power songs and when frequently slowing speed. Each change of pace and passion is propelled by a plaintive banjo, swirling accordion, chugging double bass and a flirtatious violin.
   Often the band exits. Mellencamp goes solo, nose-to-nose with a packed Apollo audience. Spotlight on, acoustic guitar chiming, Mellencamp powerfully relates more colourful tales. Save Some Time To Dream comes over as an especially poignant and memorable Mellencamp soliloquy.
   Mellencamp, now 59, squares up to his own mortality on If I Die Sudden. Few, if any, slack intervals of water have characterised his 35 years as a songsmith. His sweeping tide of songs still flows strongly.
   Melancholy and Mellencamp quickly part company when his band reassembles alongside. Helped by a lucky, plucked fan, Mellencamp and company play out with a joyously powerful and playful R.O.C.K in the USA, sending us Hammersmith hordes off to Walk Tall into the London night, humming and singing all the way home.
   As a Londoner, I don't often like admitting to envying Glaswegians - but if Hammersmith is anything to go by, Mellencamp will inspire and illuminate Glasgow tonight.

John Mellencamp played the Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday, 2 July, 2011.
For more info on the No Better Than This tour, visit John Mellencamp.

Photo: Copyright Paul Coleman. No re-use without expressed permission.

Paul Coleman, London, July 2011


Thursday, 23 June 2011

Tim Jennings speaks on curse of social media at New London Architecture's 'London's Workplaces' event

Self-confessed "grumpy old man" Tim Jennings thrusts an embittered yet sharp riposte towards "social networking media evangelists" who tell him how many apps he can get for his smart-phone. "They're on a mission to make non-users feel inadequate," chides Jennings. "I don't even have a smart phone."
   Jennings, md of architecture and design firm, ttsp, passionately pleads for Londoners to "cherish and nurture the office" rather than let social networking media render our workplaces increasingly obsolete. "Yeah, the pros of social media are all snappy, cool and - 'whatever'. 
   "But, as a parent, I call them 'anti-social' media," says Jennings. "At their worst, they breed a shallow and bullying culture."
Jennings also worries about "a communications breakdown" if companies providing Wi-Fi access across  London suffer technological breakdown? "If the Cloud bursts, it's gonna piss down," warns Jennings. "Be careful what you wish for."
   Jennings wants a premium set on interpersonal relationships and skills rather than filling data centres with a "raft of electronic tittle tattle". Offices with motivated and energised people provide far more nuanced opinions and warm feelings than social networking media. 
   He wants our future held in the hands of creative, responsive and respectful people who know how to converse face-to-face. "So, let's cherish and nurture the office," says Jennings. "And not just treat the office as an exercise in selecting cool furniture and funky interiors."

Tim Jennings, managing director of ttsp, spoke at London's Workplaces: Remaining Competitive in a Changing World, a thought-provoking New London Architecture conference held on Wednesday, 22 June 2011, sponsored by Buro Four. NLA events take place at The Building Centre at 22 Store Street, WC1 and on location throughout London.
Click on images to enlarge. Photos: Copyright of Paul Coleman. No re-use without written permission.

Paul Coleman, London, June 2011.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Shard: bigger by little, each day

Maybe one day, most Londoners won't even give the Shard a second glance. But, for now, Europe's tallest building grows difficult to ignore. 
   Architect Renzo Piano describes his creation as "a city in the sky". 
  Fellow architect Ptolemy Reid describes it "as more interesting in construction". 
Prince Charles dismissively slurs the Shard as an oversized salt cellar. 
   Personally, London's tall, slim Dalek is growing on me. The Shard contrasts starkly with every building in London, as the photos show. 
   However, I suspect the London panoramas offered from the tower might quickly generate more interest than the Shard itself.

Photos: Copyright of Paul Coleman. No re-use without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, June 2011

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Marconi House blaze on Strand and Aldwych

"The fire and smoke was incredible yet frightening," said Ivan. "They were turning back buses on Waterloo Bridge."
    Ivan watched the drama unfold as he served tea, coffee and cake from the garden cafĂ© on the roof of the South Bank's Queen Elizabeth Hall. He was talking about Tuesday's fire on the north side of the river which badly damaged the roof of Marconi House, a 10-storey building hosting a five-star hotel and luxury flats at the junction of the Strand and Aldwych. 
   Only one person suffered minor injury but it took 75 firefighters and 20 appliances to control the blaze. The photo shows fire inspectors trying to identify the cause of the fire.
   A single cloud of fire smoke billowing over 21st Century London is an eerie echo of just how terrified Londoners must have felt as they looked over their bombed and burning city during the blitz of World War II.

Photo: Copyright Paul Coleman. No re-use without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, June 2011

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A Raincoat with a View

A woman wearing a fawn raincoat spoilt my great view of London from an airship...more on this coming later this week.

Photo: Copyright Paul Coleman, London, 2011. No authorised use without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, June 2011

Friday, 10 June 2011

London 2012 Olympic Games: Olympic Park, Stratford - the view from Hackney Wick

My train is stuck in the station under a snotty hankerchief sky. Trains are backed up between Hackney Wick and Stratford at the congested end of the North London Line. The doors stay open so I get off and snap a few photos. 
   In truth, I'm a little wary. I only narrowly avoided being mugged and dunked in the River Lea during my last trip down the Wick.
    The floodlights on the roof of the new Olympic Stadium catch my eye, sticking out like bats' ears on east London's shy skyline. I zoom in on the triangular floodlight rigs. They suggest something else too...Pass the Dairylea cheese, please. 
   The red cornetto rising on the left isn't actually inside or attached to the Stadium. It's the cumbersomely titled ArcelorMittal Orbit, a 115 metres (377 feet) high steel sculpture and observation tower. 
   Designed by Anish Kapoor, I can't yet work out if it'll resemble a steel rose or a nose bleed. It should be finished by December. If you don't like it blame Boris Johnson, London's Mayor, and former Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell. Boorish and Tess decided in 2008 the Olympic Park lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. 
Certainly, it'll be Britain's largest piece of public art, made possible by the deeply filled pockets of Britain's richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, chairman of the ArcelorMittal steel company. Lakshmi lashed out £16 million to help cover the sculpted tower's £19.1m cost with the balance coming from the London Development Agency, the capital's regional development body. 
   The sculpted tower celebrates Kapoor's creativity but also manifests Mittal's interwoven personal and corporate ego. It might also mark the LDA's monument. The cut-crazed coalition government wants London's growth promotion agency shutdown by March 2012. 
Looking over Hackney Wick from its elevated station, I can''t help but wonder if £19m might've been better spent creating jobs or building new homes. There seems to be a lot of local creativity. Just look at the graffiti.
   Finally, my train grabs a green signal, eases out of the station and quickly seems swallowed by the organised construction chaos inside the Olympic Park site.
    There's still over a year to go but politicians and media are already asking us to swallow loads of Olympic hype and mucus. Already, I sense distracted brain cells turning to snot. 

Click on images to enlarge. 
Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman. Not to be re-used without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, June 2011.
Click on images to enlarge. 
Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman. Not to be re-used without permission.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

TSSA rail union calls for Elsenham public inquiry

The coalition government's Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is being urged this week to hold a public inquiry into why Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson were killed by a train at the Elsenham level crossing in 2005. 
  Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the transport union TSSA, called on Hammond to act when opening the union's annual conference held in Norwich. Delegates heard Doherty speak about two crucial documents about the level crossing that have only recently 'emerged'.
   The documents show Network Rail and its predecessor, Railtrack, had received danger warnings about safety at Elsenham several years before the tragedy. An earlier fatality at the crossing had occurred in 1989.
  Mr Doherty, speaking about the inquest into the girls' deaths, said: "The inquest was a travesty because neither the coroner, the families nor the Rail Regulator were told about them. If either of these reports had been acted upon these girls would still be alive.
   The Office of Rail Regulation has reopened its inquiry into the tragedy. "We are fully co-operating," said a Network Rail spokesman.

Earlier on May 13, Network Rail, as Railtrack's successor, was fined £3 million and ordered to pay £150,000 costs following an Office of Rail Regulation prosecution for a health and safety offence which caused the deaths of seven people and many more serious injuries when a West Anglia Great Northern train derailed at Potters Bar station on 10 May, 2002. 
   Railtrack was responsible for the infrastructure - and Jarvis was the contracted maintenance firm - when the accident occurred.
   Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, said: "People need to remember it was the privatised Railtrack and their contractors who were responsible...Network Rail didn't even exist when the tragedy of Potters Bar occurred...It is the directors of Railtrack and Jarvis - including Steven Norris - who should have been held personally liable...It is a scandal that those really responsible have got away with it.
   "Instead of coming out of the pockets of those actually responsible this £3m will come out of precious public Network Rail funds that could and should have been invested in improving and maintaining safety on our railways.
   "That is an appalling indictment of the way that this whole episode has been handled."

Paul Coleman, London, May 2011.