Friday 30 April 2021


Looking South towards New York Bay and a setting sun.

The East River is not really a river at all.  It is a waterway that connects Upper New York Bay at its south end and Long Island Sound on it's north. It makes it’s way through the Boroughs of Queens on Long Island and from the Bronx on the North American mainland and also divides Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn. Lucky Queens and Brooklyn.


It is navigable for its entire 16 miles length. Native American peoples settled along its banks. Then the Dutch settlement of what became New Amsterdam began in 1623. It became a strong trading point and remained such. The growth of the waterfront halted during the American Revolution, however. the East River played an important role early in this conflict. 


Hell Gate is a narrow tidal strait in the East River in New York City. A rumbustious stretch that many engineers tried to tame. A film Hell Gate: The Watery Grave (1977), is a 50-minute documentary film, narrated by actor Alexander Scourby, tells of the waterway's history, including the clearing of the channel, the building of Hell Gate Bridge.


Often polluted with spillages it is now cleaner than it was. Swimming is still not recommended! However, there are twenty-four fixed crossings; bridges or tunnels from which we can chose to cross the East River.


In popular culture the East River has provided much inspiration including The Brecker Brothers excellent song named after the river featured on their 1978 album Heavy Metal Be-Bop listen here:


I also discovered the delightful Japanese singer Hibari Misora who’s song "Kawa no Nagare no Yō ni" was inspired by the East River. Enjoy some Misora here:


And finally this waterway has featured large in the photography of P J Lehrer who inspired these 8 pieces.  Thank you PJ

Wednesday 28 April 2021


In the shadow of Windrush tower block, The Church of the Holy Family, Blackbird Leys is moments away from the busy Oxford Ring Road East. It has been serving Anglican, Methodist, Moravian, URC and Baptist communities for over fifty years. The church was a delightful outcome of the post-war church building boom. It was design was a poster child for the Liturgical Movement*

It is extremely rare for permission be given to demolish a Listed building

 The church was built to serve the Blackbird Leys housing estate which was established by Oxford Council between the 1950s and 1980s to address housing shortages and in particular provide homes for the workforce at the nearby Cowley car factory. Cowley today knocks out the BMW Mini.


The Church, built in 1964-1965 by Colin Shewring, has a timber hyperbolic paraboloid roof designed by Hugh Tottenham. Tottenham was a principal exponent of the 'h-p' technology. (see footnote ‘Roof Talk’). Also, it has an unusual heart-shaped plan with many architect-designed fixtures and fittings. Little wonder then that English Heritage gave it a Grade II badge. 


It was not to last. I don’t understand post-war construction well enough to know why so much of it falls apart or falls down.


Earlier this month Oxford Mail reporter Fran Wray’s intrepid piece on the church’s demolition includes a comment: Trustees and planners said the building, on Cuddlesdon Way, was in need of ‘urgent repairs’ explaining that the lights cannot be controlled, the windows cannot be opened, the floor slopes and the pews are rigid.



** Breaking News! **

As of April 7th, 2021. Planning Permission was granted by Oxford City Council both to demolish and rebuild the site. It is extremely rare for permission be given to demolish a Listed building, but after 4 years of hard work by our team we are very pleased that we can really start the major fundraising and soon be able to start on the project.


Our lovely church was condemned in December 2018. Thanks to our consulting team for all their amazing work in getting us to this place and to Historic England who have worked closely with us on the fine detail of possibilities. We now have planning permission, subject to the Secretary of States final approval, to go ahead and build a new church and community cafe, hall, and incubator spaces along with 20 flats as affordable housing. 
The community will be well served goingforwards with a fit-for-purpose, environmentally and user-friendly building, taking us forward into the next decades.


The council officers who wrote the report also praised the 'efficient use' of the site by building more homes. This new house of God would link together with the community centre, cafe and homes in a quad-shaped complex of buildings. God love’s a latte. 

Since drafted this piece I have been in contact with the Anglican incumbant, Reverend Heather Carter. A delightful exchange of correspondence which has resulted in my organising the printing of post cards of my drawing for sale as part of the fundraising for the new church.  This was also chastening, I had just assumed that this was another church bash and build, however evidence suggests that the building is close to collapse so a new church is the only option for the five faiths of this community.



* The Liturgical Movement (a 20th-century effort in Christian churches to re-establish the active participation of the congregation in the liturgy, and official rites of the Christian religion). Transl. altars facing outwards, the people are seated in a semi-circle and choir shoved out of the way somewhere, the modern church.




Sunday 25 April 2021

The View from a Hidden Glen: Part 2 - The tale of a keeper and oystercatchers

Mike Colling continues to describe the view Glen Bruar Lodge in Perthshire illustrated with drawings I made in this wild and special place in 2017. 

We live in splendid isolation, with one exception. Behind our lodge is another house, Dominic’s house.  Dominic Morrogh Bernard head keeper on the Bruar beat. He guards and tends 15,000 acres, rising from 1,500 feet up to 3,557. He is a particular man, I have never in all my years met a stalker halfway like him. A perfect educated Englishman. Better spoken than you or I dear reader, with cut glass accent and vocabulary as wide as the ocean. And stick, stick thin. Heavy estate tweeds just hang off him. Legs that drive him up the hill at pace seem like spider slim and delicate. But he bounds like a spaniel, with a quiet joy about him, and will talk of cabbages and Kings. 

Bruar Lodge, inside there's talk of cabbages and Kings

            As we arrive the sun dips behind Sron na Faiceachan, the great lump of granite that dominates the skyline in front of our lodge. And our last view of the day is of our hinds, quietly working their way down to the river for shelter and water as night falls.

The Bruar River 

            The view the morning brings is restricted. Officially it may be spring, but it seems no-one has told our weather. Snow hammers sideways up the glen, driven horizontally by a bitter south west wind.  The “whyt, whyt, whyt” of Oystercatchers can be heard above the snow, but even their luminous orange beaks are invisible behind the curtain of white. An hour later and Bruar once more proves it provides weather and not climate. Sun illuminates a snow-covered glen from innocent blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds. A mile walk north is the loch, reservoir that feeds the hydro back downstream. Here the oyster catchers can now be seen as well as heard. Whooper swans honk their warning calls, lifting teal, eider, wigeon, and finally lapwing from the reeds at waters edge. Grey hens also lift, but in response to another alert. Three hen harriers circle high above, on winter thermals. They flush the grouse who chose to take to flight rather than hiding still in

Coming off the hills
deep rank heather. 

For a brief ten minutes the view is of spring reigning supreme. The air is full of mating flights. The oystercatchers chase each other and call upon the wing. Mallards race, with three drakes in hot pursuit of just one duck. And then no view at all. The wind howls, and snow once more is driven horizontally up the glen, blinding me as I lean into the storm, and head home. On days like these the best views are from the fireside.

Sunday 18 April 2021

The View from a Hidden Glen: Part 1 - Turn across the A9 at a set of wheelie bins

Glen Bruar Lodge, near Blair Atholl in Perthshire is the home of dear friends Mike and Kate Colling. Mike returned there recently and shared this view. It is illustrated with drawings made when Sian and I were lucky enough to share this special place in 2017.

From the real world the view is dull as ditch water. 

Heading north towards Inverness on the A9, some eight miles north of Pitlochry one turns across the carriage way at a set of wheelie bins parked at lay-by 43. But turn here and one is immediately down the rabbit hole. Or rather, up the rabbit hole. Straight up, literally straight up at a 25% gradient on very rough and ready road. But this is just an initiation test. A first bark with little bite behind it. 

Crest the first brow and moor opens up ahead, dull russet after winters snows and winds have taken their toll. An honour guard of young stags greet us this late March afternoon, as the sun dips and shadows lengthen. Some still hold last years antlers, others have cast them early, and wander bare headed in search of nourishment to enable this year’s growth to replace the fallen set.

A realm of magic

Press on three miles, gently climbing by the wide moor, and then, at the crest drop into our hidden glen. Another view, this time a realm of magic, clever contours unfolding views around each curve and dip. Snow holds still on our high peaks, and in the corries and gullies sheltered from the morning sun. Past the new hydro turbine house, and six miles of healing scars upon the moor. Six miles of buried pipe, politically correctly hidden from our ecosystems view. Hidden solely from them and us. A few hinds, a collection of coveys of grouse and the two luckiest people on God’s earth. And that is it for nine miles of unfolding glen. A thing of multi coloured and many-hued beauty.

One last corner on the track, that by this time clings to edge of sheer drop down to river 60 feet below, and home comes into view. The lodge, in perfect contrast to the glen, is slightly ugly. Not a carbuncle, but more an unfavoured child. It is, or rather was, white. Centuries of liming and whitewashing have laid layer upon layer of outer skin. 

Lunch on the Hills

The last was applied in 1991 and so rather like Williams cuffs and collars the white has frayed at the edges and collected dirt. It is a military building, a little like a small child's fort. Two square turrets adorn either end, with a one-story central link between. When seen from above one realises just how higgledy piggeldy it is. It is a building that like the best stories has grown with the telling. Each passing generation it seems has added its own particular contribution. Inside it is scruffy and unloved, but very lovable. A central corridor that kinks as it descends the house. Each turret holds a child’s room, with hospital beds taken as mementoes from the war when Bruar and its castles played their role as hospital for the wounded returning from the front.

A view from a child's fort

A place that like the best stories has grown with the telling

Friday 16 April 2021

CURVACEOUS SLOUGH - Part 2, The Slug - 'improve pedestrian permeability'...


Improve pedestrian permeability

The bus station was completed in 2011 and features a striking, curved aluminium clad canopy designed by Bblur Architecture. Locals weren’t impressed and nicknamed it the Slug. Bblur, who is also responsible for the Curve, has taken the stylistic ‘language’ of the bus station and applied it across the street (the every busy A4)

 It was a warm sunny day as I sat down to draw ‘the Slug’. As I did so a friendly bus driver looked over my shoulder and was more complementary about my drawing than my subject. Not as good as High Wycombe (bus station) he said and went on to list the poor Slug’s short comings, also referenced in Wikipedia: the absence of public lavatories, lack of adequate seating areas and lack of warm waiting areas. People say the shape of the building channels rainwater into the main waiting area.


More upbeat was Matthew Bedward founding partner of Bblur who designed this shelter, 

“We took the opportunity to significantly improve pedestrian permeability between the train station and the town centre. Our client tasked us to create a memorable front door for Slough. The form of the building derives from the idea of different wavelengths of light inspired by Astronomer Royal, William Herschel’s discovery of infra-red waves in 1800 while a resident of Slough.”


Nice one Matthew and Amy Freerson, editor-at-large for Dezeen magazine is equally enthusiastic: 

It will create an identifiable place within Slough that is a celebration of public transport and is a memorable first and last impression of Slough.


For a well written and balance view head over to Thebeautyoftransport is remarkable source of all things related to transport by Daniel Wright, a freelance transport writer. His blog is well worth a visit. 


Discovering Daniel’s work was a bonus as I was pulling my tawdry piece together. Daniel describes his rich work as: ‘Transport design, transport architecture, and transport's influence on art and culture. Part travelogue, part history, all transport (but sometimes tangentially so)’.

Tuesday 13 April 2021


Der Räucherlachshändler vom Borough Market 

Dear friend Mikaelovic Muller ran a very successful stall in Borough Market. Aside from selling from his pitch in Borough Market Mike supplied a number of top notch restaurants with fabulously tasty smoked salmon.

Mike begins his view across the counter with some introductory words from Mark Riddaway, editor and publisher of Market Life,  about the purpose of Borough Market.

And goes on to add some observations of his  own..


" Borough is London's most famous market, it's a wonderfully chaotic place populated by a kaleidoscope cast of traders bound by a common thread - the ability to shine a light into the deep canyon that too often separates us from the source of our food. 

In recent decades, the increasingly monolithic, impersonal nature of the British food industry has cut us off from the world of farmers, fishermen and's all too easy to presume that you're eating something pure and wholesome when really it's fifty percent ultra-processed rubbish and fifty percent marketing.

You can be gulled into thinking that all salmon is a bit slimy, that cheddar cheese is a dull, plasticised mass and that carrots don't taste of very much. And in extreme circumstances, as history has shown, you can be led to believe that you're eating British beef when you're actually eating Romanian horse."


Nowadays in the UK we tend to taste as much with our eyes as with our mouths. 

An interesting experiment is to conduct a blind tasting of a variety of big supermarket "own label" products, say cheeses, and try to determine what they are through taste and texture alone. Is it cheese and if so what type, or is it actually ham?! Everything tastes pretty much the same and that's even before COVID. 

Eat less, eat better and pay more for quality is where we should all be headed - a cultural shift in line with the priorities of our friends in Europe. Great food should not just happen in expensive restaurants, it can and should be a daily event at home.

Thursday 8 April 2021


John Bonner, artist and filmmaker set me an interesting challenge when I approached him for a piece view for the  'View from' series. He said, "I'll describe the view in words and you can translate these words into a picture." "I'll send a photo after you've done the picture"

Here is the text and the photograph John sent afterwards later. By the way, do enjoy John's short films here  

....waiting for the actors to make their entrance

A view from...

We both noticed it. At night. When the motion detector flood light is triggered by a rabbit. The fieldstone path leads from our back window to the wooden garden gate, set in a stone wall made by cattle farmers over a hundred years ago. Beyond is only the blackness of the forest. The flood is attached to our cedar-sided shed, on the left, and the area it illuminates, comprising the gate, the wall, and the path through the lawn, look uncannily like a stage set. Perhaps it’s the way the background appears to be black, but it’s as if the curtain has just risen, revealing a tableau lit by single light. 

We find ourselves waiting for the actors to make their entrance.

John Bonner 

Here is the actual scene -  John's photo

AGAIN John's YouTube channel Art Stories. Shameless and unsolicited plug:)

Monday 5 April 2021


Named ‘Best Public Service Building

It’s entrance rather looks like your Gran’s radiogram has flown into the front of a glass and steel squidgy thing. 

Slough like most exciting towns of today as its fair share of architectural novelties. The Curve a modern confection; glass steel and a curious floor plan. It squats at the junction of the A4 and the road south to Windsor. Slightly to the east cringes its neighbour, Our Lady Immaculate & St. Ethelbert, built in 1910. 

 The Curve, which opened in 2015, serves many functions, library information centre gathering place with lots of recreational activities. The £22m project is the heart of a £400m scheme to regenerate the town centre. This fearless initiative called the Heart of Slough, includes new homes, offices and improved transport facilities. 

Named ‘Best Public Service Building’ at the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) excellence awards in March 2017, when the plans for The Curve were announced there was controversy. 
Not all bad though: This delightful comment from Mahboob Sabar of Manor Park. 

 This is a crucial development and will no doubt help boost tourism to our lovely town. I have served the local community as a grocer for many years, watching the winds of change shape Slough into an international hub of commerce. We are fortunate to be living so close to Windsor and London, we too can take pride in our architecture! As an immigrant in the 1970's working on the shopfloor at the Mars factory, I ate my first Mar's bar taking satisfaction this was a home-grown product. Slough will always be close to my heart! 

Bravo Mahboob! 

Extract and Copyright