Just been watching…(7)

Legend (2015)

Reggie and Ronnie Kray were identical twins, born and brought up in a tough part of London. During the late 1950s and into the 1960s, their criminal gang controlled most of east and central London, and they became men to be feared, though not admired. That is why I have some issue with the title of this biopic, as it implies some status that these sadistic criminals do not deserve. Extortion, intimidation, murder, blackmail, fraud, and corruption are hardly things to be considered the stuff of legend. However, if Jack The Ripper qualifies, then I suppose that the precedent is set.

Their story is well known, at least to most people in the UK. And a very similar film of their activities and background has been done before, in ‘The Krays’ (1990), with twins Gary and Martin Kemp playing the brothers. But that film seemed stagey, the sets felt contrived and lacking authenticity, and the Kemp twins, famous as musicians from the group ‘Spandau Ballet’, did not really impart sufficient gravitas to their roles.

This new film uses one actor to play both of the twins. This could have proved to be a disaster, but director and writer Brian Helgeland made the perfect choice, in Tom Hardy. Hardy does hard men well, and he does London even better. Despite the limitations of over the shoulder shots, and obvious problems when both brothers are in the same room, Hardy brings off the dual roles with conviction, and is believable at all times. Whether portraying the more sensible and occasionally sensitive Reggie, or the bespectacled, lisping homosexual sadist, Ronnie, he manages the balance perfectly.
There is a bonus too. The supporting cast is near-perfect, and seem like they are in period. Some of our best British character actors turn up. Chris Eccleston plays the Scotland Yard detective, Nipper Read, who made it his life’s work to hunt down the gang. Paul Bettany appears briefly as the Kray’s south London opposite number, Charlie Richardson, and the wonderful John Sessions gives an accurate and rather affectionate turn as the Tory peer, Lord Boothby. Strong female roles are provided for Emily Browning, as Frances, the doomed wife of Reggie, and Tara Fitzgerald, who is very convincing as her mother. Chazz Palminteri plays the Mafia connection. Chazz is one of my favourite American actors, but he is almost unrecognisable, as plastic surgery appears to have been his undoing.

But this is undeniably Hardy’s film. He dominates every scene, whichever brother he happens to be at any given time. The nuances that betray the slight differences between the twins are handled to perfection, and there is no slip up, or merging of the two. London in the 1960s is something I know intimately, and it is recreated well here. The cars, the streets, and the interiors of the old houses or modern flats are meticulously rendered. The seedy clubs of the west end might lack some authenticity, but they no longer exist to film in, and this is the only area where the film feels less than convincing. But the pub interiors, cafes, and street market scenes all come with the ring of truth, for anyone who was actually there.

This is a film about violent gangsters, and accordingly has many violent scenes. They are very realistic, and spare the viewer none of the graphic details. A fight with iron bars and knuckle dusters is ouch-inducing, and a vicious stabbing, using a small cocktail knife, is so well done you might think you were in the room. The problem is, who are we supposed to be rooting for? Not the horrible criminals, that is made clear. Not the detectives and policemen, whose bungling and corruption allows the gang to continue their reign of terror. Certainly not the politicians featured, as their lust and cover-ups were tying the hands of the very police officers tasked to catch the Krays. The tragic Frances perhaps, ill-used by Reggie, living a life of broken promises? Well, not really. She knew who he was, and what he was, long before she agreed to go out with him, so should have honestly expected nothing less than what she got.

What the film leaves us with, is a faithful tale of two violent and unpleasant men, and their associates. What they did, how they did it, and what they were prepared to do to keep what they had. If you are interested in this as a piece of history, perhaps know the story, or want to see them get what many considered to be their just desserts, then this might be for you. It is something of a niche film, perhaps more of interest to an audience in the UK, or those of us old enough to remember some of the events. Is it a great film? No. But it is better than some. I watched it for Hardy, and I wasn’t disappointed, at least not by him.

Here’s the trailer.

Sound and Vision

Last night, I settled down to watch a film on the TV. It was ‘Prisoners'(2013), starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhall, Melissa Leo, and the underrated Paul Dano. I had heard good things about this abduction thriller, and was pleased to see it arrive on TV so soon after release. As it was premiered on the usually excellent Film 4 channel, I concluded that there would be no cuts, and the full film would be shown. Allowing for the breaks for ads, the film got its full running time, so I prepared to immerse myself in the great cast, bleak story-line, and compelling visuals. So far, so good.

I have (moaned) written before about the shortcomings of modern televisions. The four year old, 40-inch Flatscreen LED TV that we own seems incapable of rendering true black. As a result, night scenes, or gloomy locations, are hard to watch, at the best of times. Extraneous light has to be avoided, lamps that reflect in the screen must be turned off, and even with all these preparations, vision of my standard will struggle to see through the murk. I put up with it. What else can I do? The old CRT televisions are no longer available, and short of spending every penny I own on the very latest ‘True Black’ technology, I am stuck with it, for the time being at least.

Of course, the film and TV programme makers don’t help. In their quest for more realism, they avoid the use of additional lighting. A Victorian street scene is rendered as it might have looked before 1900, and we see the world as the characters see it. This sounds perfect in theory, but the price we pay is eyestrain, and problems following any action, or the plot. If a film scene is set in a dark cellar, or poorly-lit back yard, the viewer can forget being able to actually understand what happens next. Transfer the action to a dark woodland, or pitch-black desert, and I might as well be listening to a radio play.

That brings me to sound. Our modern TV has a basic speaker system built in, equipped with stereo, and a sound options menu. I don’t want surround-sound speakers all over the room, wireless or not, and I am reluctant to fork out cash for a modern ‘soundbar’, when the technology is changing daily. For most ordinary TV shows, and the majority of films, the set-up works fine, and the middle setting on the volume control is perfectly adequate. Of course, TV ads are always louder, everyone knows that, even though few of us understand how it is achieved. But recent trends in the presentation of some dramas and many films have left us with ‘Natural Sound.’ Like ‘Natural Lighting’, this might seem to be satisfyingly realistic. Whispers are barely audible, snatched conversations impossible to follow, but sudden car chases or explosions are deafeningly loud, just as it is in real life. But this isn’t real life, it’s a film, or a TV show. And that leaves me, frustratedly trying to watch a long film or drama series on TV. Straining to follow most of the action in darkened rooms, constantly adjusting the volume control up during scenes involving conversations, then rushing to lower it, as soon as something loud happens.

‘Prisoners’ was a classic example of this type of broadcasting. Hushed conversations and whispers were essential to the plot, but I couldn’t hear most of them. A breaking window, or gunshot however, had me scrabbling to reduce the volume, from the almost deafening level it was being broadcast at. I manfully endured the full running time. I got to the ending, and enjoyed some of the performances. But as a viewing experience, it was more of an ordeal, than the pleasure it should have been. And I think my remote is going to need new batteries…

Whilst I am on this rant, I will include something else, to save you the drudgery of another moany post from me. Since when was it acceptable for film and TV companies to make plot reveals and crucial events happen by cast members receiving text messages, or scribbled notes, both of which are impossible to read on a TV screen, unless you are 18 years old, and have perfect vision? (That’s it for that one.)

Just been watching…(6)

Blue Ruin (2013)

*****Condensed to avoid plot spoilers*****

I had read some good reviews of this film, and waited until it was cheap on Amazon, before buying the DVD at the end of last year. This American Indie release is a cleverly-conceived revenge thriller, offering all that you might expect from the genre, but delivering so much more.

It opens with the hapless Dwight, living in a dilapidated car, foraging in bins for scraps. He is a loner, bearded and shabby, avoiding contact with the outside world. Something has happened to bring him down, and we soon find out what that was. His parents had been killed some years earlier, and their killer is about to be released from jail. This galvanises Dwight into action. He gets the car going, shaves off his beard and unkempt locks, and heads for home, the unnamed town of his past. He has transformed from the scruffy tramp into a normal-looking man. The type you might see working in your local electrical shop, or trying to sell you insurance. He is an everyman figure, and you cannot help but be on his side, as he begins a difficult journey.

This is where the film builds its strengths. This could well have starred a craggy Bruce Willis, or slick-looking Mel Gibson. He would have a story seen in flashback, and be square-jawed, well-honed, driving along familiar sets, on the streets of Los Angeles, or Chicago. Blue Ruin eschews these classic stereotypes, offering instead a cast of unfamiliar faces, (to me, anyway) in unknown locations, looking like real people, minus the buff bodied stars, artificially whitened teeth, and world-weary smarts that have become so ubiquitous, to be almost a requirement. In Dwight, we have a scared man, determined to exact his own style of revenge. He knows nothing about violence, has never handled a gun, and only his will drives him on.

There is no love interest. Why would there be? The man has been living rough since abandoning his life years before. But you can be sure that other film-makers would have crow-barred in a lover, maybe an old flame, perhaps a waitress in a roadside diner. Director and writer Jeremy Saulnier knew better than to introduce such cliches. The woman that Dwight goes to see is his sister. He is worried about her safety, and must convince her to leave home. The criminal family responsible for his parents’ death is on to him, and hers is the only address they have. He looks up an old college friend, someone he hasn’t seen for so long, he needs a yearbook to remind himself. In some films, this role might be played by a co-star, or well-known tough guy. In Blue Ruin, he is an overweight loner, and his interest in weapons is why Dwight seeks him out. He teaches the hopeless friend how to use guns, and supplies him with what he needs too. But he has a feeling that Dwight will not be up to the task, so follows him, to help out if he needs it.

Much of the film concentrates on Dwight’s preparations. He defends his sister’s home against attack by the family he fears; and we see him trying to stay awake, jumping at sounds, the camera lingering on scenes, as he sits for hours in his prepared positions. He stalks his targets, going to their home when they are out, walking around, searching, discovering. The violence, when it happens, is shocking, and more effective for the scarcity of its inclusion. Dwight doesn’t immediately prevail. This isn’t Bruce Willis, after all. He fails at first, and has to come back again, ever closer to his enemies, always in more danger himself. Despite the quiet moments, the film manages to convey the tension that is always present, as well as the claustrophobic atmosphere, even in open spaces, brought on by Dwight’s lack of skill at what he is trying to achieve.

By the time he discovers that the events surrounding his parents’ death were not exactly as he had assumed, it is already too late. He must continue on his chosen path come what may, and we are certain that nothing will end well, for all concerned. By staying small, and avoiding big names, routine car chases, pointless love scenes, explosions, and decisive shoot-outs, Saulnier has crafted a small gem from what could have been a run of the mill, seen-it-all-before film; placing the thoughtful viewer into a situation that they could imagine themselves in, and showing just how difficult it can be to carry out your intentions. I loved it, and recommend it unreservedly.

And in case you were wondering about the title. It is the old car that Dwight was living in. It was a ruin, and was blue in colour. Here’s the trailer.

Significant Songs (112/113)

September/After The Love Has Gone

I rarely post two songs by the same group or solo artist in this series, but today is an exception. By coincidence, I had a draft in post about a song by the group ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’, then I heard the sad news about Maurice White. I decided to delete that one, and combine two of the band’s best-known songs into this delayed tribute.

It was around the end of 1975 when I first heard this band. They assembled a sound that was a fusion of funk, soul, and jazz, with the feel of a big band thrown in for good measure. The vocals were strong, and the harmonies a delight to the ear. The songs were pretty good too, and the huge line-up made for some real stage presence. There were outlandish outfits, and eye-catching album covers, referencing everything from Egyptian motifs, to Modernist graphics. What drew me in, and kept me there, was the dynamic horn section, perfectly accompanying the high voice of Phil Bailey, or the deeper tones of Maurice White. Nobody else ever sounded like EWF, and that sound was always instantly recognisable.

When I got around to buying my first copy of one of their albums, they had already been working for more than five years with some success, though mainly in the USA. By the time the album ‘All ‘N All’ was released in 1977, they were known the world over, and the track ‘Fantasy’ became a huge hit single, with the following year seeing the release of ‘September.’ By 1979, they could do no wrong, and the album that year, ‘I Am’ gave us ‘After The Love Has Gone’, ‘In The Stone’, and ‘Boogie Wonderland’. That last track was and still is a Disco classic, played every day on the radio all around the world, and ‘After The Love Has Gone’ left us one of the great mournful love songs of the age.

They continued their successful career, despite Maurice no longer being able to tour, after contracting Parkinson’s disease, and were still performing as recently as December 2014. On 4th February, two days ago, Maurice White died, aged 74. Thanks for the decades of great music, Maurice.

Productive Blogging

Over the last seven days, I have enjoyed a very satisfying blogging experience. There are times when we all lack inspiration. Often life just gets in the way, and the blog takes a back seat for a while, as you have to deal with stuff. On some occasions, it is easy to lose heart, to think about changing direction. In the past, I have considered the idea of stopping the blog completely, and concentrating on writing instead. Maybe a fiction book, or perhaps a story based on my life; part-truth, some made up. But I didn’t do it, because I know that I would miss blogging.

Sometimes though, it just all comes together. The posts are interesting and enjoyable to write. The readers like them, and the views and visits increase, as well as remaining stable. This past week has been such a time. Starting with a post about the blogging year ahead, and continuing with a well-liked photo post about everyday things in Beetley, I went on to write two fictional short stories, a detailed travel-themed post about walking in London, and managed to squeeze in a music article too. The result of all this industry has been a very good response from my followers and occasional readers, as well as the discovery that I now have five new followers too.

I have also enjoyed keeping up with the blogs that I usually follow, and commenting on the posts on those. I have prepared a collaboration with another blogger, to be featured in March, and followed one new blog, as well as re-following one that had been dormant and has now resurfaced. Tomorrow, I am back at the windmill, volunteering once again after the January closure. It has been a very good week indeed, and bodes well for the rest of 2016.

The intensity of being

This is a work of fiction. A short story, of less than 1400 words.

“Morning, Anna.” Sally didn’t look up as she spoke the greeting. Her gaze was fixed on the screen of her phone. Checking last night’s Facebook updates probably, Anna thought. She sat down at the desk and switched on her terminal. She had to be logged on by 09.00, or Malcolm would be moaning about her being late again. Another day of complaining customers lay ahead. They talked to you as if you were a machine, but complained if they got a machine. You couldn’t win.

She pressed the button, to accept the first call. “Customer services, Anna speaking, how may I help you?” How many times had she said this during the last twelve months? One day she reckoned, she would work out just how many calls she had taken, and then she would know how often she had repeated this mindless greeting. The woman on the other end spoke to her as if she was a peasant. Her new washing machine hadn’t been delivered the previous day, because she wasn’t at home when the delivery van arrived. ” I want it today, I tell you. I absolutely insist.” Her tone was high-handed, and Anna knew this one was gong to be difficult, especially as she was aware that there was zero chance of that happening. She read out the options from the computer screen, ignoring the customer’s constant interruptions. When she had finished, the woman yelled, “Not good enough, let me speak to your supervisor. Now.” Anna transferred the call, knowing that this would mean another black mark against her. She would liked to have screamed herself. She would dearly love to have told that woman that she was a stupid bitch, for not being in when delivery was arranged. She would like to have asked her what more they could have done, after sending two emails, and a text message, confirming date and time of the delivery. But she couldn’t.

Anna went to lunch alone, as she did every day. On nice days, she sat in the park, reading a book and eating her sandwich. When the weather was bad, she walked up to the bus station, and sat in the waiting room. Since leaving hospital, and moving to this town, she tried to avoid other people as much as possible. Working at the call centre was one way of doing this, as the people she had to deal with were all at the other end of a telephone. Except for Sally, who sat opposite, and Malcolm, who she had to speak to, she hardly knew anyone, and that suited her just fine. That day in the park, at her usual bench, an old man came and sat near her. He smiled, but she didn’t meet his gaze. She picked up her bag and book, and moved some way off, to a different bench. She could sense him watching her though, and still smell him, that smell of decay and badly washed clothes that hangs around the elderly.

She would ideally liked to have lived somewhere remote. A place where she didn’t have to see anyone, except shop assistants, or postmen. But she couldn’t afford that, and had to work. She chose the smallest town possible, one that had employment opportunities, but was a long way from the nearest city. The hospital helped her at the time. They found her the small flat, and arranged for the job interview, explaining her absence from the job market for so long to her new employer. That saved her having to talk about it to anyone. She didn’t like talking to people at all, which was strange, considering the job she was doing. For her, the detachment worked. She didn’t get emotional, failed to engage in banter, or chit-chat, and didn’t respond to being flattered, or chatted up. Malcolm said that she should be friendlier, try to sympathise with the problems that the customers rang up about. Anna laughed at this inside. Why would she do that? They were all stupid, after all. Anna made sure that she did enough to keep the job, and give them no reason to sack her, as she was sure they would like to have done. Her call rate was above average, and her feedback and supervised calls were both well within the required level. When she had her six-monthly review, all they could raise as a negative was her lack of friendliness, but they couldn’t knock her efficiency.

Anna didn’t go to work parties. She put some money into the collections for presents, and sponsored the staff who were doing silly things for charity. But she never went with the others for drinks after work, or to the Mexican restaurant, or pizza place. She liked to get home, to get away from them. Their mindless chatter, their Instagrams, Facebook tags, Twitter comments, and stupid celebrity gossip, all so inane. The trouble was, even when she was home alone, secure in the knowledge that nobody would call, she couldn’t get away from them. Their conversations played in her head like recordings. The rise and fall of their voices, the mumbling, the screeching, it all swirled around like the sounds of the lost souls in Hell. Her headphones were her only friend. After a bath and change of clothes, she would curl up in bed with her audio book, or classical music. The large headphones helped to shut out the rest, though even with the volume turned up, they still managed to sneak in occasionally.

She knew that they talked about her. For one thing, she didn’t possess a mobile phone. That was just unacceptable to the others. How did she live without one? How could she keep in touch with anyone? What did she do in an emergency? She shrugged in reply. In her head, she answered their questions. She lived quite well without a mobile thank you very much. As for keeping in touch, she didn’t need to. So there. Emergencies? She didn’t have any, unless you counted everyday life, which to her, was one long emergency played out from the time her eyes opened. She didn’t tell them all this of course. They were too stupid to understand anyway. As well as talking about her, they watched her, she knew that too. Every time she looked up, either Sally or Malcolm would be looking in her direction, trying to pretend that they were not actually staring directly at her. The others in the huge room were always glancing too, she caught them doing it all the time.

It was the same outside. In the park, at the shops, or in the bus station, people stood too close, and assumed a familiarity that was unacceptable. Their open mouths were disgusting to her, and the smells emanating from them assaulted her senses. The noises they made gave her the headaches too, she was sure. At least with the headset at work, she could turn down the volume, or cover the earpiece. She might have to hear them there, but she didn’t have to look at them, or feel them close by. At all times, the proximity of a stranger made her whole body tingle uncomfortably, like an electric shock. She trained herself to cope with it at work, slowly getting used to the few people who just had to be nearby. But outside, she was on her guard; avoiding queues, choosing where to sit, and never making eye contact.

The afternoon was much the same as the morning, and the day before that. She walked home quickly, looking forward to getting inside, and locking the door behind her. If she hurried, she might be able to avoid seeing any of the other tenants, as they also arrived home from work. Once in, washed and changed, she went to the small drawer, in the unit next to her tiny bed. She took out the bottle and opened the cap. The noises inside her head were beginning to build. Tonight, she must get some rest, so she decided that she should take two Lithium tablets, instead of one. She lay back on the pillow, and glanced at the clock. 6.45 pm. It was going to be a long time until morning.

Non-Tourist London: Surrey Docks to Tower Bridge

This is another entry in my series of walks, for those visitors to London who would like to get off the beaten track, yet still immerse themselves in the history of the city. This starts in the area where I originally grew up, and then lived in for a second time, from 1985-1997. Many tourists and visitors enjoy a trip to Tower Bridge. They can look across to The Tower of London, gaze along the river, see City Hall, and the nearby park. But how many venture further east, delving into the working-class past of this part of south London?

This guide to a walk of discovery should provide a nice diversion for the interested traveller, and makes for a nice morning or afternoon, ending at a familiar place that has good transport links, and lots to do once you get there. The dockland area featured in this post has seen a great deal of transformation since my youth, yet the spirit of the past is in every step, and historical sights and buildings are there to be found, along with breathtaking views across the river, to the modern development of Canary Wharf, and some very old districts too. Links will be provided at the end.

Start the journey by taking an underground train to Surrey Quays Station. This is in Zone 2, on the East London Line. Exit the station onto the main road, and opposite, you will see the large retail development, Surrey Quays Shopping Centre. Cross at the traffic lights, and walk north onto Redriff Road. You are now in the place that was once home to the huge Surrey Commercial Docks complex, where ships from all over the world were unloaded. After the relocation of this work to Tilbury, in 1969, the docks were abandoned, until extensively developed by the London Docklands Development Corporation, in the 1980s. Walking on the right-hand side of the road, the first thing of interest that you happen across is the Dockers’ Shelter. Many dock workers had to wait each day to be given a tally, entitling them to a day’s work on the docks. These casual employees would shelter from the weather under this construction. It features a mural, highlighting the history of that trade.

Continue along Redriff Road, until you pass Norway Gate on your right. The road name now changes to Salter Road. Take the next right, into Rotherhithe Street, and bear left. On the next bend, you will see an open space, and the entrance to The Surrey Docks Urban farm. This is a valuable local resource, teaching inner-city children about farm animals, and providing a classroom for school trips too. The farm is open seven days a week, and entry is free. Walking along Rotherhithe Street, you will see a mixture of social housing that has been home to generations of south Londoners. As this existed at the time when the docks were still thriving, and was accessed by bridges, some of it is unchanged. The change in the law that enabled tenants to buy and sell their homes has brought many new arrivals, but the feel of the area has changed little since my young days, playing around the dockside. These contrast starkly with the many converted warehouses and luxury wharf-side developments, sold at prices far beyond the reach of ordinary local people.

Coming up on your right is the restored Columbia Wharf. There is a modern Hilton Hotel here, and access to Nelson Dock Pier. This was once a riverboat stop, (and might be still) and it offers great views of the Canary Wharf complex, just across the river. Squeezed in between converted warehouses, you won’t miss the timber-framed black and white facade of the pub The Blacksmith’s Arms, a little further on. This traditional drinking establishment also serves food, (until 15.00) and has an outdoor garden too. The interior is unchanged since the 1930s, and provides a real feel of what a London pub should be. Carrying on, now heading west, you will come to Lavender Pond Nature Reserve, which will be to your left. This small reserve is managed by Southwark Council, and is something of a refuge from the dense housing that surrounds it. The park was also home to the Pumphouse Museum, now sadly closed. The pond was originally used for floating the wood that arrived at the docks, to stop it drying too quickly.

Keep going until the street opens out, near the junction with Salter Road once again. You will see an old bridge across an inlet, and to your right, the modern pub/restaurant called The Old Salt Quay. The upstairs bar and terrace offer uninterrupted views of the river, and across to the district of Wapping, in east London. You can see the river frontage of the famous pub, The Prospect of Whitby, as well as the home base of the River Police. In the distance, to the west, is Tower bridge, and this is an ideal place to stop for a drink and watch the water traffic, or just enjoy the view. After your rest, (or not) continue along the old street. There are some modern housing developments on both sides, as well as the old terraced houses that have been there for decades. Some people also live on houseboats moored alongside, with footbridges giving them access to the land.

You will soon arrive at one of the oldest parts, an area that looks like something unchanged for centuries, even allowing for the modern conversion of the old warehouses. To your right, you will see the tiny pub, The Mayflower. This old building is worth a look, even if you don’t want to eat or drink there, as it is more than 400 years old, and retains many original features. It is a popular tourist destination still, despite its distance from the more visited sites in central London, and some tour groups are actually bussed there, to enjoy the experience. The small jetty overlooking the river at the rear serves as an outdoor space, and can get very crowded in peak season. Opposite the pub, is the church of St Mary The Virgin. This was rebuilt in the early 18th century, but a church has stood here since 1282. It is home to the grave of Christopher Jones. He was the captain of The Mayflower, the ship that took many of the original Pilgrim Fathers to America, in the 17th century. The church is still well-used by the local community, and has many historical connections.

Take the narrow Thames Path as far as Elephant Lane, before turning north, (right) to find the path again. At the junction with Cathay Street, you will see another old pub, The Angel. This riverside pub has some history too, dating back to an original inn in the seventeenth century. The current building was erected in 1830, and is Grade 2 listed. It is a popular pub, serving good food as well as drinks. A narrow outside terrace offers panoramic views along the river. The location also marks the boundary between Rotherhithe, and the adjoining borough, Bermondsey. Turn right, (with your back to The Angel) and you are on Bermondsey Wall East. A short walk will take you to the ruins of the riverside Manor House of Edward III, built in 1353, which will be on your right. An information panel marks the site, which is maintained by English Heritage. At the junction with Cherry Garden Street, turn right to continue along Bermondsey Wall East. On your right, you will see a sign for Cherry Garden Pier. This haunt of my childhood is now a departure point for river cruises, and makes a good spot for photographing the river, The Shard, and Tower Bridge to the west. It is also the site of the grandly-named ‘Bermondsey Beach’, where access to the riverbank reveals sand and stones, and an interesting place to walk, if the tide is out.

After this point, riverside access is restricted. I suggest you walk south along either Cherry Garden Street, or Marigold Street, until your reach the busy Jamaica Road. Turn right, and you will see signposts for London Bridge. Stay on the same side of the road, and walk west for a while. There is not much to see, but at the junction with St James Road, opposite, is the imposing St James Church, a Bermondsey landmark, built in 1829. My parents married here, in 1946. Continuing west, you will pass Dockhead and Mill Street, crossing the River Neckinger to your right as you do so. At the junction with Tooley Street, turn right into Shad Thames. This old street is said by some to be the inspiration for the site of ‘Fagin’s Den’, in the novel ‘Oliver Twist’, and you can still imagine the urchins returning to the place, after a hard day stealing. In truth, Dickens’ almost certainly set the scene in Clerkenwell, as this area is some way from the other places mentioned in the book. The restored iron walkways above, crossing between the former warehouse levels, give an accurate idea of what the whole area would have looked like, in the 19th century. Part of this street was once known as Jacob’s Island, and was a notorious area in those days. There is now an art gallery here, named after it.

At the bend in the road, you will see the Art Deco edifice of The Design Museum to the right. This is a great place to visit, and well-worth the entrance fee. It also has a very good cafe/restaurant inside, and a well-stocked gift shop. Once around the bend, the rest of Shad Thames hosts a variety of restaurants and cafes, from the mainstream coffee bars, to the very expensive; like the marvellous Le Pont de la Tour, where we once enjoyed a family meal. You will be under the south side of Tower Bridge, back on the tourist trail, and able to gaze up at this industrial marvel, the best-known landmark of London. It is accessed by steps from the street, and from there, you can decide whether to continue your journey, or make your way home from one of the nearby stations.

I hope that you get the chance to take this walk one day. You will have been steeped in history, able to take some unusual photographs, and have seen a part of London that is very dear to my heart.

Lavender Pond Nature Park & Reserve

This is Bermondsey Beach. The photo just appeared!
Bermondsey Beach