Category: Vauxhall

Art in the Arches

Art in the Arches

Covid has given retail a right royal kicking. With people stuck at home, many have swapped their shopping habits from the high street to the internet. Where Amazon and the rest have benefited, shops from Debenhams to our local gift shop Max & Melia are shuttering. Take a walk through the City of London and you’ll see a retail graveyard. Even Piccadilly, in the heart of the West End, has space to rent.

Picture by Thomas Kirk Shannon

Unfortunately, the same is true in our neighbourhood. Vauxhall styles itself as The Vibrant Place though some of its vibrancy has washed away as shops and restaurants close. The same is true of empty railway arches at Vauxhall Cross. To be fair two places I always liked, Counter Vauxhall Bar and Brasserie and the motorbike shop Metropolis, closed before the pandemic took hold.

Picture by Roxanne Dewar (Bucket and I thought this was the best)

Vauxhall One, the local business improvement district, does huge amounts to keep Vauxhall clean and green and they commissioned a series of murals to paper over the empty spaces.

Not art, just me and Bucket having a snoop

The artists have done a great job, but in many ways I’m ambivalent about the whole project. The pictures brighten up the place but I’d far rather there were thriving businesses in their place.

Picture by Luke Embden

For art we can go to the Damien Hirst Gallery on Newport Street or Tate Britain just over the river.

But don’t let me put you off, take a stroll to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and look at what the artists have achieved. Some of the paintings are exquisite.

Picture by Leila Vibert Stokes

Here are the artists along with their Instagram links

Mr Penfold (Tim Gresham)

Luke Smile, a typographic artist

Susheel Basra, graphic designer

Illustrator Roxane Dewar

Italian artist and illustrator Gianinna Delpino

Botanical print designer Leila Vibert Stokes

Collage designer and animator Flavia Felipe

Graphic designer Craig Yamey

Muralist, illustrator and self-professed doodler Luke Embden

Artist and graphic designer NERONE

Thomas Kirk Shannon, VAULT Creative Arts

The featured image at the top is by Gianinna Delpino

The year of living dismally

The year of living dismally

We’ve never lived a year like it. Just over twelve months ago the Prime Minister told us to go home and that’s pretty much what we did albeit with a slight hiatus over the summer. We’ve mostly been home, cooped up and closeted.

Life has been directly informed by whether you like your home and the people in it. We were told we were ‘all in it together’, but that ‘it’ varied wildly from those with a large house and garden surrounded by a loving family to those closeted in abusive relationships or living alone twenty stories up in a tiny apartment with no access to a garden. It’s been a series of very different journeys which have determined how tolerable or otherwise our lockdown has been.

Pernicious disease

Then of course you may have caught Covid, a most pernicious and almost incomprehensible illness. Some caught it, displayed no symptoms and are still unaware they ever had it. More than a hundred and twenty thousand got sick and never recovered. For others still hanging on after being ill for weeks or months it continues to be a long brutal battle.

And what about babies and very young children, usually the most vulnerable to disease? It seems to have had little or no impact on their young lives. How can that be? Slightly older kids may not have been physically affected by the disease, but many have been hurt badly by the psychological fall out.

Our house

Days seem to pursue a relentless course of not very much. In this house we all work or are trying to navigate ‘A’ levels. We moan when the broadband is as bad as dial-up and our super important call disintegrates into digital dust.

In the evening we watch Netflix or a BBC iPlayer boxed set. We’re currently on the wonderful French farce ‘Call my agent!’ and then settle down for the 10 o’clock BBC News, unless the news is too dreadful to watch. I’m now fully acquainted with all Sophie Raworth’s broadcast outfits and frankly Soph it’s time to go online and select a couple of new ‘fits as I gather, they are now called. (Thanks to daughter for that). I really need to get out more, but then again so do you.

If you’re a keen reader of A little London Life, you’ll know that over the summer we moved to Essex for three months while our kitchen was given a complete makeover. Builders seemed to have worked right through the pandemic.

And there in the Essex house that we rented from friends was a small upright piano. I was determined to do something during lockdown that would mark some kind of growth and started hammering out gibberish on the piano. Well, that hasn’t stopped as a lovely friend from my days at ABC News gave me a digital upright which now gets beaten into submission on a nightly basis. I’m still an astonishingly bad player but having played guitar for almost 50 years I do understand music’s basic wiring. I know what’s going on under the hood, which I’m now struggling to translate on to the keyboard. It’s a battle but I’m in it for the long haul. Sorry neighbours.

Suddenly, nothing happened

So how has it been for you? Still struggling to coming to terms with it all? Doing OK? Coming up for air?

It’s odd to try to recall what happened when almost nothing happened.  The major events that typically bookmark our personal orbit round the sun were in short supply from March of last year. No holidays, no going out, no meeting with friends, no journeys, no business meetings. Social interaction reduced to a Zoom call. Work seems like a series of tasks rather than a collaborative experience.

What do I miss most? Is it gigs, theatre, art galleries, cinema, having pleasant things in my diary to look forward to? Yes, all of that but not really that either. What I really miss is just being in the presence of my fellow humans. Hugging, kissing hanging out, drinking, chatting. Life with a forward trajectory built into it. How do we know we’ve achieved anything if we keep busy but are often busy doing nothing?

Vaccination action station

It’s certainly not over yet, but the various vaccines are a beacon of hope. I remember talking with someone at the start of it all saying I thought the chance of getting a vaccine quickly was slight at best and there was a good chance there would be no vaccine at all. Science has come to our rescue, we have vaccines, there is a way out. Let’s have no mealy-mouthed anxiety. Roll up your sleeve.

As the little bumper on the BBC says: The future isn’t cancelled. See you on the other side.

London: It’s only sleeping

London: It’s only sleeping

I just took Bucket the dog, or Nanuk the snow dog of the north as she is currently known, for a walk in the snow. People complain that we never get snow in London and that every day seems the same during lockdown. We can, at least, thank a dump of white powder to mix things up a little. Let’s have a six-foot snow drift I say. (Never going to happen). Nobody needs to go anywhere; stay at home and enjoy it, though I was a little confused by those who were jogging and cycling, not to say motor bikin’. Maybe some broken ankles presenting at St Thoms today.

I love the audio change that snow brings, how everything goes quieter. The sounds are muffled, and the mess of London is covered until the big melt happens which should be along in about an hour. Get out quick if you want to have fun.

Being outside with everyone acting like kids throwing snowballs and building snowmen got me thinking about London. Passing through the centre of town on my bike, as I did yesterday, and there it is: Shutdown, empty, dead, a ghost town. People don’t generally live in the centre; this is where we work and party and for now, at least, it’s gone. Many are worried about it coming back. While I miss it, I don’t share those fears. London is just sleeping but, when it does wake up, I know it won’t be the same.

For me, Soho has long been the centre of the universe where I’ve headed for more than 40 years to meet friends, have fun, misbehave and generally enjoy the cut and thrust of the greatest city on the planet. The writer Ian Dunt calls it the ‘riot of life’. Soho has been boarded up for almost a year with a brief reprise over the summer when the restaurants opened and we were able to sit outside in the streets, enjoy the sun, the food and the company. The pandemic forced this change, and it is to these sorts of changes we will need to look over the coming years.

The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE) recently published their findings on the effects the pandemic is having on the population. They estimate, with all the usual caveats, that London may have lost more than 700,000 people in the last year. They say that much of it may be temporary if non-UK born people return to London after the pandemic; but it may not. Brexit now means that many of those who lived here, but have returned to their home countries, would now find re-entry far more challenging. They have to apply for work permits and settled status and the bar may have been raised too high for many to return.

As the ESCoE point out, inner London lost more than 20% of its population during the 1970s and the picture of sustained growth driven by international migration is relatively recent. Arriving in 1977, I was bucking the trend.

But it won’t be just those from outside the UK who are leaving. The Evening Standard regularly publishes articles with headlines like: ‘Half of Londoners have considered leaving capital due to coronavirus, study finds’ and ‘Why I swapped Soho for Somerset’. I’ve long argued this is a good thing. Trapped in London, most likely because of your job, is no way to live. Don’t live in London if you don’t like it and the proliferation of home working mean that, if work means staring for long hours at a computer, many can do just that.

There were reasons to leave before the pandemic: ridiculously expensive housing, cramped studio flats, packed tube trains and the general hassle of city life. Now, why live in London when it’s shut, where accommodation is still expensive and there’s nothing going on?

In many ways I think those in the countryside during lockdown are better off. But London is just sleeping and one day it will wake up. There will be a lot of empty shops and offices and fewer Pret a Mangers, Costas and Cafe Neros, but there will be room for new ideas, new ways to live and grow. It may take a while but I’m betting on London to take us on a journey into the future in ways we can’t see right now. I was going to set down what changes I could foresee but futurology is a moribund sport and I’m bound to get it all wrong.

As John Lennon sang:

Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
‘Til they find there’s no need (there’s no need)

Please, don’t spoil my day, I’m miles away
And after all I’m only sleeping

I’m looking out the window and the snow is beginning to melt. In a month or two Spring will be upon us, the vaccines will surely be making a difference and London will wake, take stock, shake itself and lead us into the future. The pandemic has forced a reset upon us. The future, no doubt with a few missteps, is beckoning and will take us all by surprise.

Perhaps you’re a young person wondering what life might hold for you. London may not look like much of a prospect right now but keep an eye on it and when the pandemic hibernation is over, if you have the inclination, the drive and the hutzpah then perhaps you should give it a go. It won’t be easy; you won’t be welcomed with open arms, but you won’t be rejected either. Come here and right away you’ll be another Londoner trying to get ahead.

All the things I love are shut

All the things I love are shut

Here are some of them:

  • Ronnie Scott’s Club
  • 606 Club
  • Tate Britain
  • My gym
  • Franco Manca (Victoria Branch)
  • Brixton Ritzy
  • Banh Banh (Brixton)
  • Natural History Museum
  • Clapham Picture House
  • St John’s Smith Square

Don’t worry this is no anti-lockdown, anti-vax, Bill Gates and 5G Networks control the world rant, it’s just me listing and missing what I love. Make no mistake I’ll be rolling up my sleeve to receive a vaccine as soon as one is on offer.

I’ve lived in central London for most of my life because I love it. I’ve always felt sorry for those who were forced to live in town, hated it, but had to do so because of their job. Then I’d say well at least you’ve got live music, theatre, museums to which many would reply well I don’t go to them much anyway. Now I hear several of my friends and colleagues are moving out of town because they’re working from home and will be for the foreseeable future. And those who had three-hour daily commutes are spared that grind and can remain rural. Covid has put rocket boosters on remote working and we’ll be living with the consequences for many years, many of which are not all bad.

As for me, will I be moving to the countryside? Not a chance. I like to take trips out of town on a weekend but come Sunday evening it’s time to head back to civilisation. The problem is of course that civilisation as I know and like it is pretty much closed.

First bike ride of 2021

I’ve just come back from my first bike ride of 2021. A 17K spin around Pimlico, Victoria, Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Chancery Lane, the City, over Blackfriars Bridge and home to the Oval. I’ve never seen London so empty, which is a big fat lie as it was just as empty in March when I was doing the same ride albeit in more pleasant early Spring weather. Despite there being virtually no cars, I still manged to give a Black Cab driver apoplexy with him shaking his fist at me for reasons I’m a little hazy about. One of the things he probably hates are all the new cycle lanes that have popped up all over town. They are a godsend to us two wheelers and another unexpected Covid bonus, though that’s not a view often shared by the four-wheel community. You can now pedal safely up Park Lane which used to feel like joining an F1 starting grid.

Low-traffic neighbourhood

We now live in a new low-traffic neighbourhood which means our streets have become virtually pedestrianised. I see families with very young kids pedalling around in safety in a way that could never have happened before. Once again car drivers don’t much like the look of LTNs, but to me they are another bit of lockdown luck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-car, I don’t own one, but we use Zip cars on a regular basis.

I always detest January and February; they seem to holdout so little chance for fun. This year more so than ever. Mrs Preen is engaged in dry January which always seems such a poor month to stay off the booze. I’ll be endeavouring not to drink during the week but may get on the outside of the good stuff over the weekend.

This seems rather a bleak post to start the New year, but with vaccines ready to be jabbed into our arms things will hopefully improve and perhaps 2021 will be a Happy New Year even if it takes a little time for the happiness to arrive. I’m sat here waiting for London to wake up once again.