The Empty Streets

A friend kept phoning us in the mornings of late April and early May. She was, rather against her will, still gallantly fulfilling her duties at an office in Oxford Street. She disliked being there and feared the possible consequences in mid-pandemic. But the reason she kept phoning was to tell of her exuberance in the early mornings at being able to walk the length of Regent Street alone and in the middle of the street. She described the complete peace and quiet in the utterly empty street free of people, free of traffic. Continue reading “The Empty Streets”

Frames of reference

Among The Trees

In the incongruous setting of London’s Southbank, among all its heavy-duty architecture and its everyday hustle and bustle, there is a safe arbour in the concrete jungle, a quiet sanctuary of beauty and harmony where we can remember the trees. The Hayward Gallery’s surprising exhibition Among The Trees reminds us of the many ways in which we have forgotten our close arboreal connections. Continue reading “Among The Trees”

Frames of reference

Being John McLean

This time last year, as relief from the winter gloom, we went down to Margate to see an exhibition of paintings by Patrick Heron. This year there’s no need to travel quite so far; the Art Space Gallery in Islington is full of winter sunshine until the end of January. I don’t know why I’ve never been before. It’s an intimate series of rooms and alcoves and niches, presently framing some wonderfully joyful bursts of colour by John McLean. It’s a memorial exhibition for a sharp, bright and generous spirit. Continue reading “Being John McLean”

Frames of reference

On Bell Street

The Lisson Gallery at 27 Bell Street in London is presently home to a fascinating and wonderful collection of sculptures by Ai Weiwei, cast iron facsimiles of tree roots grubbed up from the Amazon rainforest even before the latest round of Bolsonaro inspired deforestation wildfires. Melancholy mementos of ancient trees untimely ripped and castaway via traditional Chinese craftsmanship. Continue reading “On Bell Street”

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Living Symphonies

We came down the hill and over Chingford Plain and joined others arriving from north and south in a steady stream flowing into the woods. I thought of Geoffrey Chaucer – Those that sleep all the night with open eyes… Then folk long to go on pilgrimages… We really should’ve known about this, but it crept up and took us by surprise. We’d been here just a few weeks before, but walking in the opposite direction. Today, 28th July, we got to see it just in time, on its last day in Epping Forest. Continue reading “Living Symphonies”

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Epping Forest x 3

Three walks in Epping Forest, all within the past few weeks. This time of year I can’t get enough of its green light to escape the city. I never lived in a forest but this place always feels like home. Maybe I did in a previous life, maybe we all did, maybe this is the nearest thing to a prelapsarian London. Continue reading “Epping Forest x 3”

Frames of reference

WOWI

WOWI is an acronym for What Once Was Imagined, a reference to William Blake’s proverb ‘What is now proved was once only imagined’, and the title of a beautiful exhibition at the Royal College of General Practitioners. There are 28 exhibits and it opened on the 28th of November, William Blake’s birthday, but I don’t think that was part of the plan, just a happy and auspicious coincidence. Continue reading “WOWI”

Frames of reference

Maisha London June 2017

Jake Long (drums), Nubya Garcia (saxophone/flute), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Amané Suganami (piano/wurlitzer), Twm Dylan (double bass) and Tim Doyle (percussion) stretching out at the Boiler Room in June 2017. They’ve gone from strength to strength, and in November 2018 they released their long-awaited first album, There Is A Place, a beautifully uplifting collection of songs that recalls the music of some of the pioneers of spiritual jazz. I hear echoes of Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Gato Barbieri and Don Cherry. I can’t stop playing it. It’s my record of the year – There Is A Place.

Frames of reference

Walking Home With The Trees

My car was in the garage for repairs but rather than take the tube home, a journey of 40 minutes, I preferred to walk, a journey of 3 hours. There was a time when travelling on the underground seemed exciting; you go down in one place and come up in another place, as if by magic. But over the years, in crowded rush hour compartments stopping without warning or explanation, that magic had faded and was gradually replaced by claustrophobia. That was when I learned how to drive. Continue reading “Walking Home With The Trees”

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Ancient Trees in Richmond Park

The Royal Oak

The presence of great trees in the city has always been a source of fascination to me as one born in the countryside. I often think of the nineteenth century rural writer Richard Jefferies who, while struggling to make a career in London, took lonely walks in the parks for consolation and once, to ameliorate his home-sickness for the West Country, spontaneously wrapped his arms around a tree. Thus he originated the notion of ‘tree-hugging’, a phrase that is now used to embrace the deep affection which many people feel for trees. It is a tendency I recognise in myself, as I came to realise last week, while prowling around Richmond Park in the frost in search of ancient trees. Continue reading “Ancient Trees in Richmond Park”

Frames of reference