Category Archives: Photographs

Sunshine and gardens in London, oh my!

It all started with having missed out. The London Parks & Gardens Trust (and if any city needed one of those, it’s London) runs an Open Garden Squares weekend every year, usually in June, where any punter willing to plonk down the cash for a ticket finds that the gates of a great many otherwise private gardens are thrown wide open for his (or her, of course), viewing pleasure. I think it’s a terrific idea, but last year I only found out about it after it was over. This yeah, having seen a poster on the way to work, I was determined to make sure I didn’t miss out again. So, with the marvellous powers of the Internet having granted me a magic pass, I gathered up my camera, my umbrella, my waterbottle and my favourite teddybear and headed out.

I had no plan of action; there are over 200 gardens on the list, which is far more than can be seen in a single weekend. So I chose an area fairly close to home that had a cluster of gardens all open on Saturday, and worked my way down from top to bottom. This was an unexpectedly successful strategy, considering how much I know about gardens and gardening. Clearly fortune favours the ignorant.

I started out at the British Medical Association Council Garden in Tavistock Square – walked through the gates and presented my fairy pass to the man at the gate, and entered a magical little world. These gardens shouldn’t be hidden away! Not when they are gems like this:

British Medical Association Council Garden

British Medical Association Council Garden

The forecast for the day was rain, but I’m pleased to note that they were entirely wrong. The sun blazed down from a faultlessly blue sky, and the occasional passing cloud only helped reinforce it all. After a pleasant interlude at the BMAC, I crossed the road into Tavistock Square Gardens, and stopped briefly to pay my respects to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi:

Tavistock Square Gardens

Then I trundled onwards to Gordon Square, but didn’t stay long, since it’s open to the public anyway, and visiting isn’t a problem. Stopped long enough to take a few photographs, of course:

Gordon Square

Something I was quite looking forward to was the SOAS Japanese-Inspired roof garden at the Brunei Gallery, described in my little guide as “a space for quiet contemplation and meditation”. Unfortunately, SOAS had chosen this weekend to have an alumni reunion, so the space for quiet contemplation was overrun by awkwardly interacting people all being formally polite to each other while the eager-eyed garden tourists peeked around the door and shuffled nervously around the crowds. It’s a curious garden, very minimalist, with a large stone structure and scalloped pebble beds in the middle, and some lovely shaded seats along one side.

SOAS Japanese-inspired roof garden

SOAS Japanese-inspired roof garden

My fellow garden-ramblers were an interesting mix, from the hardened tweed-and-Doc-Martens-wearing contingent in their identical green macs, through chic Europeans in sunglasses and high heels, to families dragging various kids around by their ears and heels. Plenty of cameras in evidence, of course, and much weighty discussion about the various benefits of Dianthus carthusianorum and Eryngium giganteum. The amount that people here have learned about garden plants and are willing to argue about them in public is a never-ending source of astonishment for me. Plenty of commentary on the merits of the various gardens and plants, far above my head.

I stopped for lunch in Russell Square, and was very pleased to note that there’s at least one other person in the world who gets caught on camera laying on the floor looking like a complete twerp:

A quick stop at the very long, thin and beautiful Ridgemont Gardens was worthwhile, but as time was pressing, I hurried onwards.

Ridgemont Gardens

The Academy, of Virginia Woolf fame, was an interesting change of pace, with a large and ornate house to inspect along with a small garden:

The Academy Gardens

A leisurely half-hour in the much grander-looking Bedford Square was a welcome break from tramping around, and I overheard a woman complaining to her companion: “There aren’t any bloody flowers! What’s the use of a bloody garden with no bloody flowers?” Well, you judge for yourself.

Bedford Square

This led on to the only real disappointment of the day, a garden whose name I can’t be bothered to look up, and which I walked out of after a few minutes because it wasn’t a garden so much as a collection of geraniums in pots, and I’m glad I did, because that allowed me to go on to the final garden of the day and spend some more time there; another little gem, but this time hidden away behind the bustle of Shaftesbury Avenue. I must have walked within a hundred meters of this restored bomb-site but had no idea it was there. The Phoenix Garden is a fantastic little place. Go there if you can. It’s not so much that it’s a grand or ornate garden, because I’ve seen better and more impressive, of course, but it’s just because it’s just so wonderful to unexpectedly stumble across this in the heart of the West End. A good way to end; mirroring the magic of the start.

The Phoenix Garden

You can find the rest of the pictures from the day here. There will be more garden-going tomorrow, and presumably more photographs to add!

Getting the feel of the old homeland.

I like Bangalore. It’s one huge polluted traffic jam from one end to the other, and in the monsoon it’s one huge polluted traffic jam sitting in between six inches and six feet of water, but I still like it. It’d something to do with the sense of comfort that comes from knowing a place well, but it’s more than just that. It’s home, I think, and that counts for something in the end – possibly a lot.

The most immediate difference I felt, the moment I got off the plane, was the feeling of relaxation. I don’t have a sense of personal danger here the way I do in London; I don’t have to constantly analyse every person walking towards me, avoid every group of teenagers just in case, keep an eye out for potential threats and be paranoid about security cameras and potential terrorism. I can just relax, go where I want with what I want, and the worst that will happen to me is that my pocket will be picked. I know this is skewed by having been mugged in London, and not having been mugged in Bangalore, but that sense of constant tension just isn’t in the air. I do appreciate that.

I am looking forward to going home; to have that sense of belonging again, to see people I’ve known all my life, to pick up old threads. Simple things are the most missed, I think – the smell of the monsoon rain, the chaos and confusion of Gandhi Bazaar, waking up early in the morning to the sound of peacocks and the promise of a hot idli. Ah well. Roll on October.


And here’s the funny thing

It’s a curious realisation – but London is starting to feel like home. At least to the point that I’m feeling comfortable and starting to be familiar with a little bit of the place. This was a sudden realisation when I was running along the rain-slicked pavements of Roman Road last week, with Hevia keeping time with my footfalls. It was a sense of knowing where I was, where I was going, of feeling… connected.

This isn’t a feeling I’ve ever had about London before. It’s really quite a cold place, emotionally, and I can imagine that anyone living here on their own would really find it quite difficult. Occasionally, though, little things happen which break that pattern, and I’ve lived here long enough now to be on chatting terms with a few local shopkeepers, and to know my way around this little bit of the East End. I remember when I came to London last year the two things that struck me the hardest were this feeling of coldness, and the pulse and pace that seems to drive Londoners everywhere. It was exhausting, but I seem to have bypassed that by living in a relatively quiet backwater, where the great tides of Finance don’t really flow as strongly.

It’s a city of some subtlety, though, and quite sudden constrasts. I now teach maths to a student behind Oxford Street once a week, and as I take the No. 25 home from there I’m always struck by the way the character of the city changes abruptly and sharply as the journey progresses.

Oxford Street is all light and glitter as I walk up towards Centre Point; understated gloss that screams of money, in a typically restrained English manner. Department store glass fronts rear up on all sides, everything polished and gleaming, with seemingly limitless extravagance on display to enthrall and beguile. Selfridges dominates one side of the street in an arrogantly elegant sprawl, pillars rising up out of the pavement with devotional floodlights playing up the columns and flooding strangely austere window displays. Other smaller, humbler shrines nestle in the shadows – HMV, Louis Vuitton, FCUK, and the decidedly proletarian WH Smith and John Lewis.

Little changes as the bus threads through Tottenham Court Road and High Holborn. Stone facades and solid, conservative architecture house solid, conservative entities: all the formal, black-suited financial heavyweights that make up the Square Mile, from the Bank of England downwards. Some buildings break the regular, reassuring squareness and attract the eye by their shape – the Gherkin and Tower 42 sneering away towards the sky, the cluttered, hunched heads of the construction cranes as they delicately steer steel bars into place around their feet, and most of all, the dome of St. Paul’s appearing without warning between two buildings, giving no hint of its presence. It always startles me – shoeboxes suddenly broken by an arc of stone, capped by a spike, a brief glimpse seen down a street, and then a breathtaking rush as it opens out, trees framing the pillars and dome.

In the middle of all this, the monstrosity that is the Lloyds Building evokes intrigue and horror in almost equal quantities. It just seems impossible that something so grotesque should have been purposefully created, and at the same time strangely draws the eye. I am repelled and drawn in each time I see this building. Cheapside, Cornhill and Leadenhall pass in a blur of anonymous offices; more stone facades, more restrained hints at money, and then the bus swings past Aldgate and everything changes.

Stone gives way to brick; glass fronts to council housing; departmental stores to Bombay Saree Store and Khan’s Kabab Paradise; black suits to sherwanis and burquas – a far more jumbled, distinctly shabbier neighbourhood with graffiti splashed on dilapidated, abandoned buildings and the remnants of the day’s market scattered across the road. The transformation is almost instant. One moment you’re surrounded by faceless financial offices, and in the next you’re watching a bustling street market surge and pulse around you. I love it. I love the fact that there are still family-owned stores around here; that people you meet come from almost every ethnic and geographical background. People might talk disparagingly about multiculturalism being a curse and impossible to live with, but I think there’s nothing like it to bring a sense of life and energy to a place; just look at Camden. Central London is glitter – but sanitised glitter, a carefully manicured show that sweeps everything unwanted under the carpet. Whitechapel is quite the opposite – a glorious, frustrating, deeply annoying, exhilarating mess.

London from South bank

Big Brother meets Speakers’ Corner

It’s quite possible that it’s just my brain selectively seeing patterns where none exist, but I find it curious how the whole Big Brother racism brouhaha tied in rather neatly with the soapbox-mounted orators that I saw in Hyde Park on Sunday last.

First, a disclaimer. I don’t watch Big Brother, having rather less time for “reality” television than for, say, watching paint dry, so I have no idea what really happened or who said what; I just know what I read on the BBC. Racist? Possibly. Idiotic? Certainly.

Speakers’ Corner was populated with the usual mix of religious fanatics, but two people struck me as being particularly interesting. One was a Jamaican Rastafarian, who was standing in a middle of a crowd of people urging them to beware the revenge of the Black Man, coming out from under centuries of oppression. Not ten feet away from him, a silver-haired woman with a strong grandmotherly air was producing a bizarrely Kipling-esque diatribe on the benefits of colonialism, and how “other people” should leave England.

Quite apart from the stark contrast of the two viewpoints, what I found interesting was the suggestion that I should be offended at the woman’s invective. I’m not suggesting for a moment that colonial oppression didn’t happen, or should be defended, but I don’t see why I should be offended that she is insulting my race. I don’t identify with being Indian more than as a statement of fact (and if pressed, I might admit to a slight sporting bias). I don’t feel insulted on behalf of all Indians, because I think that’s just as divisive and racist as anything else.

Don’t get me wrong – I am deeply offended that racism is something that is still tolerated and possibly held closer to the surface than is apparent in this politically correct age, but I feel that the outrage is being wrongly directed. To be offended on behalf of humanity and intelligence and sense is something I can get behind – just don’t ask me to do it for a selected portion of them.

British Museum interior

In other news, visited the British Museum with Fran, and did a little photography near Covent Garden Market.

Living statue, Covent Garden

Glide, Anu, glide! (Or, my poor aching legs…)

Ice-skating is definitely fun. It’s also an interesting experience in that I know of no other form of locomotion where it is possible to go from relaxed progression to frantic uncontrolled arm-flailing collapse in a heartbeat. I always felt like I was teetering on the edge of disaster, and I did indeed fall down four times, to the great amusement of all those around me.

When it does work, though, it’s joyous. Makes you discover whole groups of muscles you never knew existed, however. I still ache.


Let’s just say Richard inspired me

When you get an email that says “your blog keeps its mouth shut” you realise that people do actually read this – and yes, Richard, you will get a reply. Possibly even this year.

Moving to London has been an interesting experience. It has been fraught with occassional difficulty, but overall, I’m actually really, really enjoying myself. I’m moving in a sort of high of learning things, of filling in blanks and having the theory behind things explained. I dropped two relatively easy courses which I’d already done before, and took two other more challenging ones – and I’ve only once regretted that decision, when I had to submit three pieces of coursework in a week.

Generally, though, things are going swimmingly. I realise that I can’t catch up on two months’ worth of events in one post (even if I wanted to), so I will just leave you with a photograph of a runner that I took in Hyde Park last month.

Runner, Hyde Park, London

Note to self: this doth not a breakfast make

I woke up this morning feeling somewhat disgruntled and dissatisfied with life, mostly because of lack of sleep (I was talking about Brockwood with various people till close to 2 am), and in that mood I discovered I was also hungry, so I scoured the room for any sign of edible objects, only to discover that all I had was a packet of dried pineapple slices and one of chocolate raisins. In a moment of weakness, I scarfed down most of both, and I am paying for it now. As Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” echoes through the room, I can hear my insides reproaching me for my lack of foresight in choosing a breakfast food.

What makes it even worse is that there are probably alternatives available in the house; but I was too lazy to go investigate. Oh well. Perhaps cleaning up will help restore some sense of internal order.


I am easily amused, and the world knows it

I am always vastly amused, however, by strange English; a little cruel perhaps, but I make no apologies. The manual for the USB card reader that I recently bought contains these classics:

Maybe you have many kinds of Flash Memory Cards, so you always urge to have a Card Reader who can fit all of your cards.

Although it’s universal and compositive, it’s very simply to use. Additionally, it is very perfect for the out-going as the removable USB cable, let you install and uninstall from your PC to Notebook in seconds.

After you unfold the folder “AU6362” on the driver CD-ROM, you will meet the following picture, please double-click it to start installing.

After your computer restarting, you will see the following screen:

Windows 2000: The driver installation like as Windows 98SE
Windows ME/XP: No need driver in these operating systems.

Snigger, snigger. Yes, I’m evil.

Canada goose on Tarn Hows
Canada goose on Tarn Hows.


I have the strong sense that this is the end of the road for the RLJ, the Brockwood student database that I worked on last year. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am a little disappointed that something into which I put a fair amount of work is being set aside mostly because people are apathetic and resistant to trying something out, and to changing old established patterns, even if they are cumbersome and inefficient. It’s not the end of the world, of course, but I do wish I had some energy and support from the staff – after all, I’m trying to make things easier for them. I’m not trying to push some agenda of my own.

Oh well. C’est la vie.

In other news, the six-month campaign of hate that I waged on dust in the library last year appears to have been entirely futile – it’s obvious that there’s no real difference in the level of dust on the shelves, although behind the books it’s significantly cruddier. And to think I spent all those hours scrubbing like a maniac, thinking perfection was within reach. Hmph.

Small Brockwood failures, the early 2006 edition.

On the bright side of things, while cleaning up after Mr. MacNamara’s depredations, I found a packet of rava dosa mix at the bottom of the suitcase, so this week breakfasts have been splendid affairs. Down with cold sweet cereal! Vive la Revolution!

Ice on Weatherlam
Ice on the way up to Weatherlam. (On which I slipped and damn nearly broke my neck, but that’s another story entirely).