About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Now you see it, now you don't…Isn't that where Battersea Power Station used to be?

May 2016, the view from the north-east side of Chelsea Bridge. Soewhere in there behind the flats is
Battersea Power Station.
On a misty morning in 2012, the developers are already preparing to start work on the first of the four chimneys.
That huge gas container to the left disappeared early in 2015. And, as the mists fall, so the power station itself slowly
disappears into the ether….

In all the advertising for flats in the redeveloped  Battersea Power Station area, there's constant reference to the building's status as a historic London landmark. In fact, as the developers are eager to point out, it is "iconic".

Those four great white chimneys rising out of the massive cathedral-like brick turbine hall are recognised anywhere on the planet, thanks to their appearance in numerous films and on certain album covers.

In recent months, however, you could do the classic drive south down Sloane Street and over  Chelsea Bridge and fail to notice that you've just passed what's left of this icon.
Heading east on the riverside path from Chelsea Bridge, you expect a fine close up view of the majestic facade of Battersea Power Station. Five years ago, yes. Today, this is what you see.

Obviously, three of the four chimneys are missing, awaiting replacement with the replicas which  the developers promise will be rebuilt to full height by late summer of this year. The one chimney in place is also a replica - the first one. It looks a lot like the old ones but the colour's wrong. All four new chimneys will be painted early in 2017, we're told.

So at least we'll be able to see those four off-white chimneys again, but that's about it for most of us. Whether driving past or on a train crossing the river into Victoria station, or from other parts of Battersea and south West London, the upper parts of those four chimneys are all we will see. Because the great bulk of the building will be screened by a densely-built labyrinth of enormous apartment blocks, to the west and south of the power station.
Developers' hoardings in front of Battersea Power Station, London: pious sloganeering
The writing's on the wall for the future of this place -
in this case a load of platitudinous developer-
speak about the importance of community, and how
they value this so much (see  pics below)

The biggest is already nearly complete - "Circus West", a great wall of 865 luxury apartments right next to the railway track, which is already blocking the view of the power station for road and rail passengers. From the riverside path you can just about see the top of the one remaining chimney.

In the final phase 6 of the redevelopment, a similarly huge barrier block will go up to the east of the station as well, completing its enclosure to all except views from across the river.

Developers' hoardings in front of BAttersea Power Station, London: pious sloganeering
Words, words, words…so, the power station is going
to be "browsable" is it? Can't wait.
Of course you will get "wonderful views" of the power station if you can afford a flat in Prospect Place, the Frank Gehry designed area of five of his characteristically wonky, titanium clad apartment blocks just to the south of the Giles Gilbert Scott's monster. Or, perhaps you could take a top floor suite in the proposed "Art 'Otel" next to these. Or stroll along the high-level Foster & Partners designed Battersea Roof Gardens, which will surely be open to all. Or, if not, then snap up one of the one-bedroom apartments, "from £590k". If you are not happy with anything in your new dream home, remember that Foster & Partners are just across Battersea Park, so you can deliver your complaint in person.

Of course, if the power station had been even slightly looked after in the 30 years or so since it was decommissioned, the developers might not have had to do so much drastic surgery. This is a question which only structural engineers with access to this much fought-over building could ever answer.
Er, was it not a real place before?

Anyway, to get back to my initial point, isn't it odd, how with all this talk of the regeneration of the Battersea to Nine Elms riverside, with all those Asian billions invested into a forest of new high-rise luxury apartment blocks, that somehow we were hoodwinked into believing that at least the developers would be preserving and glorifying the power station itself.

By the time the development is complete - what, about 2025? – it seems likely that the re-fitted power station building will be almost completely hidden behind vast cliffs of luxury apartments. Just think of all those very rich people up on their roof gardens, floating in their infinity pools, sipping on their cocktails, worrying about their investments, then looking down on the building that used to dominate the skyline for so many people in and around London, and thinking….what a weird old pile of bricks. Why did they bother to keep it?

Here are a few photos showing how views of the "icon" have changed in the past two years.

The power station in May 2012, when the area in front of the facade was turned into a Chelsea Flower Show
overspill attraction. It was one of the last times the public could get this close to the building. 

6th November 2014: the SW chimney nibbled down to half-height, the cranes are gathering to prepare for building the Circus West blocks. And a full gasholder.

14 March 2014, Netherford Rd SW8. Typical view from the time when Battersea Power Station seemed to loom over  every street in Battersea, Clapham North and Stockwell.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Someone's obliterated Clapham's only decent bits of street art

I never got to take a decent photo of this clever bit of street art by Loretto, so this is two bad mobile phone pics stuck together….but you get the gist, right? Well, now someone's gone and painted over it. 
Every time I go to Clapham Library, which is often, I pass Carpenter's Place, a little road just off the High Street. And every time I pass it I smile, because right on that corner there's a witty, well-executed satirical mural…

Well, there was. Until - it seems - this week. I had to do a double take. I am at Carpenter's Place. There's a blank white wall. There's no mural.
Carpenter's Place today: no sign of the mural, just a poster
for some more physical jerky stuff.

This can't be right. I must've got the wrong road.

I go home and check out the mural online. Sure enough it's in Carpenter's Place.

No, they can't just have destroyed it, just like that. Maybe they've just put a temporary cover over it.

So I cycle back, hoping against hope that the mural that I'd come to love will somehow magically re-appear.

It does not.

The wall is blank, apart from a new poster on the corner. I look closely to see if there's even a shadow of the old painting - but nothing. It's obviously had a couple of good thick coats, you'd need to x-ray it to find what's beneath.

So, it was a quite clever and nicely painted (stencilled?) piece using that famous image of Darwinian evolution from ape via neanderthal to homo erectus and then homo sapiens, with the latter emerging out of millions of years of development and straight into a Job Centre Plus.

I feel a bit sick.

Sometimes there's a final straw moment, where one more thing is taken away from you and you snap.

I felt like shouting in the street, or breaking into the building and doing something gross in there.

Well, I don't have to break in, it's a print shop fronting the High Street. I stride in full of anger. A nice young bloke is working at  a PC. Can he help me? Yes, he did remember there had been something on the wall outside, but no he hadn't a clue what had happened to it or when or why. He use worked here, poor guy.

I leave quietly.

I mean, it wasn't a Banksy was it? No, but it was by a good street artist known as Loretto, only a couple of years ago. It certainly had some of the wit and political edge that makes the best Banksy's so good.

Seeing it, you might chuckle to yourself and think, well at least not everyone is Clapham is a wealth-obsessed, sports-mad SUV-driving rugger-bugger with a pair of designer sunglasses perched on their expensively gelled coiffure.

No wonder the bastards painted over it.

I never took a good photo of it, just a couple of mobile phone snaps first time I saw it. Always meant to take a good camera along. Now, too late. Bad lesson!

Now I am going back again just to make treble sure I am not going mad. I will also try to find the other Loretto work in this area, on a cafe wall in Landor Road. If it's not been painted over already.

I cycle up and down Landor Road. I so clearly remember this painting, a young couple sitting at a café, but instead of a head one of them has a flat TV screen, and the other is holding a remote control.

I never even took a snap of this one, but luckily someone else did - scroll down a bit to see both of the lost Loretto murals on this site.

Loretto also painted lots of stuff in the Southwark area around the same time - there's a good selection of them here. Defintely a sub-Banksy look about these as well, but I do like the London Olympics one.

Now, it's nowhere to be seen, but ominously, a couple more of the old buildings along Landor Road, on the approach to where Andy's used to be, are shrouded in those developers' sheets that  nearly always presage the arrival of yet another horribly blandified, tarted up and luxurified residential apartment property.

All I can say is: fucking hell!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Clapham Library's getting its café - lovely, but where's everyone going to sit?

A new cafe is being installed inside Clapham Public Library in Lambeth, London SW4
Just what you always longed for: a bookish café inside
Clapham public library. Well, at least it's not
After a few years of trying, Clapham Library has finally found a taker for the café concession it always wanted in the street-facing ground floor seating area.

It seems the company ukcoffeestop, who run the popular Hill Coffee Stop in Richmond-upon-Thames, will be taking over this strange space, with an opening expected in a week or two.

Well, almost everyone likes coffee, it seems. But taking a look at the Richmond branch's price list, it's clear we're in Costa/Starbucks territory, that is, around £2.40 for a cappuccino or latte.

Having got used to excellent  1€ cafe cortados in Valencia, I can't say I'd be partaking of that. I'm sure it'll be better than the stuff they serve up in the big three coffee chains, but really, the prices…well, they are Clapham prices but perhaps not Clapham Library user prices. Let's hope they adjust them downwards for this new location.

Anyway, the builders are in right now, so roughly 20-30 study spaces are temporarily unavailable in a library which is often packed to the gills with revising school and college students.

And this also at a time when the council is telling people that they don't need the 10  properly staffed libraries they have been used to, and telling them to go to the town centre libraries - including this one.

Well, if this library gets overcrowded in the run up to the big exam season, as it has for as long as I can remember, let's hope the cafe staff don't get sniffy if kids want to sit at their tables without buying anything. I mean, this is a Public Library!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Why do libraries matter so much? Carnegie's occupiers let the poets explain

Amazing scene in SE24 yesterday afternoon: a young woman was reciting, with passion and clarity, a poem about one of London's great lost libraries, the old Whitechapel Library. She was reading this on the steps of another amazing but seriously threatened London library, the Carnegie Library, Herne Hill.

The poem, Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East, by Bernard Kops, described how this library gave him - as a drifting East End street urchin during the early years of the blitz - everything he needed to get going as a writer and to become the great playwright and poet we know today.

It includes these lines:

I emerged out of childhood with nowhere to hide
when a door called my name
and pulled me inside.
And being so hungry I fell on the feast.
Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.
And my brain explodes when I suddenly find,
an orchard within for the heart and the mind.
Plenty of other great poems were read out by people  both inside and outside the occupied Herne Hill

Ted Hughe's late poem, Hear It Again, is another amazing work. Hughes had no doubt that libraries were not merely important, but a crucial factor in the development of civilisation.

He pulls no punches. In the first verse, he announces that the destruction of the library in Alexandria 14 centuries back "brain-damaged the human race".

Then these terribly prophetic lines, later in the poem:
And it's plain
Decay of libraries is like 
Alzheimer's in the nation's brain.

The traffic on Herne Hill Road at that time was busy. But whether coming up from Loughborough Junction or down from the leafy heights of Herne Hill, almost every vehicle slowed down and beeped its  support for the occupiers.

In fact, I counted twenty, in the space of about 3 minutes, and 17 of them beeped. They even made it difficult for some of the poetry readers to make themselves heard!

And it was not just private cars. The biggest beeps came from white vans, trucks laden with building debris and scaffolding, taxi cabs, scooters, minibuses, oh yes and Range Rovers and the occasional Audi. Even the police car that had been parked round the corner gave a  little peep as it drove off, and then a couple of growls from its siren.

There's no doubt whatsoever how deeply loved this library is. Nor how much respect there is for the people who are doing their best to save it from this strange Lambeth Council plan to instal some sort of gymnasium.

Attached to the locked metal gates outside the Carnegie Library,
Herne Hill, here's a message those wishing to gut this building need to
We now know, thanks to the Brixton Buzz website,  that Lambeth has issued a possession order to evict the occupiers and get on with its ludicrous scheme of turning part of this dignified building into a gym.

I've read stuff from Labour councillors saying we shouldn't worry, that the library will re-open with the same books, etc etc. Well, I wonder about that.

The real, absolute killer in the Lambeth plan, which they freely admit, is that there will be no trained, paid library staff in the new "healthy living centre". So however many books they have there - and you do wonder who will be looking after them, replenishing stock, etc - there won't be anyone there to help you with informed, expert advice on where to look, or what to try.

And, while Bernard Kops' beloved Whitechapel Library has now closed (it is now part of the art gallery), at least that council (Tower Hamlets) provided a proper library building to replace it, staffed with real, paid librarians.