I awoke with tired legs from the last couple of days walking round and dodging the throngs of christmas shoppers. It was one of those dull grey flat days that I had been expecting for the entire trip, Id been lucky with the weather so far. Luckily enough this was the day Id picked to go calling on clients and most were organised for mid to late afternoon when it would be getting dark anyway. So to compensate for the late start, the dull crappy day I thought I’d sample some of the local cuisine (yet again). When I’d stayed in London before everthing was horrendously expensive, I thought this trip would be no different. I’d ordered an oyster card in advance and loaded it up with the equivalent of day rates for the trip. Its not hard to believe that after only 2 and a half days in London, the transport costs had exceeded the entire hong kong trip!
The hotel had a couple of ‘greasy spoon’ type cafes across the road so I thought Id give them ago. Id chosen to stay between cricklewood and kilburn as Id wanted to sample a bit of non-tourist London. One of my aunts had lived up near Tottenham for a while so was keen to get out and about with ‘locals’. The ‘locals’ in the cafe consisted mostly of Irish and Polish men, the type of guys who would be usually working on building sites at this time of day if it wasnt for the recession.
The fry up would have choked 2 horses, never mind one, and cost about 7 quid and I genuinely thought I wouldnt eat anything else for a week. Prompting the later in the day well worn phrase of ‘no, I’m not hungry, but I could eat something’ that became the passphrase for my Canada/US trip last year.
Spending most of the morning in and out of the London transport system you get the feeling of how it has seemed to have grown organically rather than someone actually sitting down and designing it. It may have been designed, indeed it wasnt until I was 21 that I realised that Northern Ireland busses and railways actually had a timetable rather than just turning up and waiting for the next one.
Glad I wasnt taking many photos today as the train broke down, tube line was closed, roadworks for the busses and I only had 200 quid cash on me so couldnt take a taxi into town.
I could have been a one off but in my 4 month sojourn in London I decided Id try out this commuting lark for a week to see if I could hack it. My girlfriend at the time was living in Felixstowe so Id get the 6:30am train to Ipswich with the supposed connection to London Liverpool street which would put me at my desk by 8:50am. Well thats the theory… I dont think I was at my desk before 9:15am any morning. Im sure things have improved but at the time I worked with a guy who had a similar commute, he saw his kids only at the weekends despite living in the same house. He would be out of the house in the morning before they got up and back home long after they went to bed. I know its necessary but what sort of a life is that, not one for me really.
So I ask again, how on earth are they going to carry off the Olympics? Im only adding these lines in to wind English people up, every time theres an Olympics or World Cup or any major event, a lot of the pre-event publicity is on how much of a shambles it is going to be.
Reminds me of sitting in an internet cafe in Tokyo during the 2002 world cup. A number of US journalist were giving one of the fifa officials earache about all the problems they were having and one said ‘we told you about these problems yesterday’, to which the very polite official said ‘no sir, the problems you told us about yesterday have been fixed, these are new problems’. I suspect that wont be the case in London
As well as spending the vast majority of the morning in various states of waiting for parts of london transport to arrive I thought Id head over to Harrods and have a look round at how the other half lives. There had been an edtiorial in the papers about how Knightsbridge and Kensington had some of the most expensive parking in the world. I can well believe it as one of the houses I walked past cost more to rent per month than my whole house originally cost me!
I took a walk past One Hyde Park and joined the window shoppers outside the McLaren shop, some of the most expensive real estate in the world. I felt I didnt have enough money to even stand on the street outside! Across the road is Harvey Nichols and I’ve never been there, billed as the young persons Harrods I’ll have to have a look the next time Im over as I needed to get across town for various meetings. Just as I walked down the side, one of the security personnel asked me to move on. Well I was moving on, just not quick enough obviously and I wondered what was up. He said he thought I was paparazzi and Lady GaGa was about to come out and they’d been asked to clear the pavement. I laughed saying Id photographed her before but was heading on anyway. Oh PS mate, your building is on fire….
In between meetings I managed to get to the Imperial War Museum and their Don McCullin exhibition. I only had a quick look round, not enough to do it justice. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
I had a few follow up meetings on my last full day but during the free time the weather did work out for me again.
The phone apps Id mentioned in my last post did work wonders for highlighting some of the current events and I made a detour down to the South Bank for the chocolate food festival. No purchases here but wandering round the smell of cooking chocolate was enough!
It might seem odd but in the whole time Ive been coming to London I cant remember ever going anywhere near Buckingham Palace. Probably one of the must sees, if for nothing else than to say you have seen it. Its one of those weird places where tourists gather and just stand and stare. I watched loads of people just staring through the gates and I wondered if they thought the Queen would just pop out and say hello. Its not as if they just stopped, took a photo and cleared off, it took me about 15 mins to walk past the area and most of the people who were there when I arrived were still there and still staring through the railings. Would hate to see if if there was something on!
I enjoyed my trip to London, maybe I needed that break away from it to go back and appreciate it as one of the outstanding tourist cities instead of just a place to work ridiculous hours. I certainly saw more of it in my 4 days here than I did in the whole 4 months of working there. It was good to go back and wander round some of the old haunts and have a look round some new places. I’ll certainly be planning a return sometime in 2012, but maybe not anywhere near the Olympics
It had been almost 14 years since I last stayed in London. Well not strictly true I had spent a few nights in London since then but part of a medivac journey doesnt really count
London is one of those places I love to visit but would hate to live there. 16 years ago I spent about 4 months working in the west end of London. It involved working there 5 days a week and returning home to weekends which really meant getting in late on a Friday night, doing the washing and drying clothes on the Saturday and then packing for a Sunday night flight to be at my desk for 9am on the Monday. Not much of a life really and sounded a lot more glamourous than it actually was. After a month or so I tried to work 12 hour days monday to weds so I could get home earlier and when the offer of a permanent job came, I was never so glad to turn a job down in my life. Yes I spent time in some great hotels and got the opportunity to eat in some great restaurants but after a while all you want to do is go back to your hotel room and get room service and watch tv.
So I spent some time away from London but would always get over sometime during December, if for nothing else than to take a wander round Harrods and splash out a little.
Id organised this trip to go over and do some quick coffee meetings with some of my London clients. Its odd but I worked for a client in London for over 4 years and it was a good relationship with the client but we never met once in that period and I realised that this was the norm with my current clients so thought Id make an effort to press the flesh. I know I was probably asking too much to get the chance to go round and do some stock photos as it would be totally weather dependent and booked a month in advance it was pretty much a see how it is when you get there trip. If all else failed I’d go to a few exhibitions and I might even do some tourist stuff.
The way the flights worked out Id arrive after dark in London and had pretty much the first evening to myself. The question was then do I take in a show, go for a wander, go to the cinema, veg out in the hotel or… …well to cut a long story short I ended up at Chelsea for a champions league game. A great chance to get some quick street food which looking back on it I wish I’d missed. Not long after returning from Hong Kong where the street food there had sort of spoiled me So when I couldnt decide if the bap had more bread than the sausage I knew Id made the wrong choice!
Still the game was a good result for Chelsea and when the great Fernando Torres was introduced at 80 odd minutes it was time for me to leave and get a quick train home. Turned out to be a great move on my part, with delays, breakdowns and so on it took over an hour to get across London. How on earth are they going to hold the Olympics?
When I worked in London one of my bosses was one of those typical London bosses, when he invites you out for Lunch, it is of the liquid variety. I learned this to my cost one Friday afternoon when I went out with him and a load of the senior managers. After 4 pints I couldnt remember what my name was but I do remember the whole pub laughing when I kept saying ‘no seriously lads, what are we having to eat’. I have no idea how I ended up back in Belfast that evening. The guys had always said that if I was ever in London looking a pint at 6am that I should get myself down to Smithfield Market. Under the market theres a pub called the cock and as long as you order breakfast you can get drink as well. Now as a light drinker the pint didnt really interest me but rather the opportunity to get a fryup that would choke a horse and be made up of every meat under the sun. I waited 14 years for that fry and can I say it was worth the wait. I would thoroughly recommend it and get yourself down to the Smithfield Meat Market (London City Markets) if you ever get a chance. If you are a social networking afficionado (I occasionally use twitter and use facebook for family and friends) then please dont send a message to everyone you know saying that you are enjoying a breakfast at the cock. Innocent enough until some so called friends leave the ‘breakfast at’ part out of their requoting. Sigh!
Seeing as it was such a ridiculous time in the am and the sun was just coming up I headed down over the river for some early morning city views. Going past St Pauls I got a first glimpse of the Occupy London protest and the ‘ring of steel’ around the London Stock Exchange. Lets be honest I remember some of the rings of steel thrown up here in Northern Ireland,so a few crash barriers and fat lads in dayglo jackets doesnt constitute a ring of steel London.
I do have to say it was an absolutely beautiful morning and whilst cold was probably one of the best Ive ever seen there. I would have mostly stayed there in the summer when at times the heat is oppressive, I remember coming out of an air conditioned office one day for lunch only to stay in the revolving door and go and get crisps and cola from the vending machine.
I spent most of the morning wandering in and around the City hoping to set upon some bankers and give them what for but they must have all been sitting in their office, banking, or something like that.
I had a fair idea of the types of photos I wanted so took a wander up around Westminster and in and around Whitehall. It was a good opportunity to try out some of the travel technology Id first tried at my path to enlightenment in Hong Kong. I had downloaded a london transport app, a tube map, walking and guided tour apps and was using google maps to navigate. Despite having an engineering degree and a masters in electronics this felt very weird. Id always travelled everywhere with a map and found it strange to be standing in Trafalgar Square and then finding the nearest highest ranked pub lunch within 100 yards. Sure enough my facebook and tripadvisor friends didnt let me down and I ended up in the excellent porter house just off covent garden. Of course only after Id sat down and ordered did I realise it was an Irish pub and just across the street from Rules where Id unsuccessfully tried to book a lunch.
I then made almost a fatal mistake, I decided to go for wander up round Regent Street and then Oxford Street in late evening a couple of weeks before Christmas. Only the previous weekend the police had closed Oxford Street because there were just too many people in it for safety.
Im sure it was nowhere near that now but John Lewis is an odd place to sit and have your dinner, like a bad comedy sketch Id tried to get in somewhere to sit down and made the mistake of trying to navigate through shops when I found myself outside the John Lewis Cafe. With the glories of trip planners, sat nav, tube maps I worked out that it would be a hundred yard dash to Regent Street tube station and then only one change to my hotel.
Ok so I’ll admit it Im chicken and I bottled out and went back to the hotel to watch the football on tv. Theres only so many shopping crowds you can brave before it takes its toll and if its this bad now, whats it going to be like come the 2012 Olympics?
Well it has been over a month since I got home and well over a month since my last blog post. When I wrote the last blog post I was still sitting in Canada, pretty much packing up and ready to get the flight home. Did I say ready? Well prepared to get the flight home is more appropriate.
Its hard to believe its been a month already, just as it was hard to beleive a month traveling had gone by. In the last few weeks Ive been catching up with my other photo work, getting back in touch with students, starting to wade through the thousands of images to be edited, captioned and uploaded to various sites and sitting watching the rain bounce off the windows.
Its been a tough couple of weeks, not just from the work perspective and the fitting it all in whilst trying to get a house and everything back to normal. The boring mundane ordering of heating oil and cutting the grass dont quite compare to flying over nigara falls in the helicopter but they have to be done.
Its also been a wrench leaving my friends, its not that I dont have good friends here but there is something about traveling together that bonds people. I have 3 close friends that I have traveled the world with and I remember the first day they met, it was down in dublin airport and none of them had met before. I had traveled with them all individually but not as a group so hadnt even considered the dynamics. Our first task as a unit was to report all our luggage missing on arrival so it was a baptism of fire. There is something about the bonds of friendship made whilst traveling that go beyond normal friendship and I have that in abundance now with my friends here, in Canada and in South America.
People have asked what the highlight of the trip was, of course there are loads of things I could mention and already have in the blog but like my trip to South America there is one thing that stands out for me, the people I travelled with and the people I met. Whilst I didnt quite need emergency room treatment as in Buenos Aires, I was treated like a friends by strangers and welcomed into the family by people who didnt need to do that.
Oh but here, did I mention we got buzzed by a crop duster in North Dakota?
With the recent events in London and indeed Belfast it is sometimes easy to draw the conclusion that the world is going to hell and in a bloody quick manner but when someone in nowheresville Iowa comes over to your table and asks how you are and what you are doing there and recommends the platter then its not that bad. When you are invited to a family barbecue even though you arent part of the family but feel like it by the end of the evening then it shows there are more good people than bad in the world.
But Im not knocking the sales of water cannon photos or soldiers on the streets.
It was my first trip to Canada and definitely wont be the last, I felt at home there, I felt as though it was the same as here only different. Ive been so taken with the place I spent the first couple of weeks looking at visa regulations and work permits and the like. There is a danger that the grass is always greener and boy if I complain about the winters here then…
…well you get the point.
I have always been a traveler, even when I didnt know it, its not really about the start or the end or even the bit in the middle, its about the journey as a whole, its not so much about what you see but how it affects you and what you do about it afterwards. Its about meeting people and seeing that we are pretty much the same the world over, we want to be fed and a roof over our head and if we can all have a laugh in the process, so much the better. The world financial system can go down the toilet but as long as you can put food on the table, thats pretty much all that should matter.
I am back to earth with a bump here but it is home and always will be home, I missed the soft grass and the soft rain (ok Ive had enough of that already) and sitting out on the lough fishing as the sun goes down is now an experience having met someone who has never seen the sea. Not to mention the freshly caught mackerel barbequed with friends.
Im waxing lyrical about the trip and the place but I’ll bring it back to the people, it would not have been half as much fun without the old and new friends on the trip and I think if we’d sat in the house for a month it would have been equally as enjoyable.
Just saying thank you isnt really enough, I am a wee boy from the Falls Road in Belfast, I should never have seen the things Ive seen (good and bad) and would never have imagined Id have been to the places I only ever read about or saw on a wee small black and white portable tv as a kid. That means its all an experience, its all good (even the bad bits).
Life is not a rehearsal so even if its just lying on the grass, sitting out in the rain, go and do something you havent done before, say yes to something you would normally say no to and see what happens along the way.
So thanks to everyone I met in the US/Canada, its been emotional Its also been great craic and would I do it again – 4 weeks ago I’d probably have said no, now I’ll say maybe, in 4 weeks time I’ll probably have a bag packed.
After Ive got the rest of the photos edited of course…. ..better get back to work and pull a few all nighters!
..is a UK general election on May 6th.
Northern Ireland is in a unique position in the UK in that we still vote for MPs at Westminster but we cant vote for the three major parties that usually make up UK governments and official opposition. No we have our own groups of vagabonds and thieves to vote for.
Northern Ireland politics is still very much on tribal lines, you have the green shades (not the eco parties) and the orange shades and the various other small parties fighting out the middle ground.
When I was younger I lived in West Belfast which since I can remember has always been green, I bought my house outside Belfast and moved to the most Orange constituency in Northern Ireland. Go figure.
One of these days tribal politics will decrease here and people will be voting on real issues such as the environment minister deciding not to put a temporary bridge linking a thousand or so homes with the rest of the village for a year whilst the motorway was being widened. It would have cost too much apparently but they didnt think of the 1000 or so people who had a half hour each way extra travelling to do for a full year and the number of small businesses that exist on call in or drop past business that virtually disappeared overnight. Remember that at election time guys.
There have been recent boundary changes so now Im in a knife edge constituency where some of the parties have been canvassing since the start of the year. Both main protagonists wanting to get hold of all the new blood in advance.
Northern Ireland has tradionally the highest turnouts for any poll in the UK. I didnt vote once. It was for a european election where the three main incumbents were going to be returned anyway. I think the turnout was low for NI at 60%. When I told my parents I hadnt voted they almost went postal on me. I got the whole ‘people died to get you that vote’ and although thats bandied about quite a lot, here in Northern Ireland it was certainly true within the last generation. When I was born 40 years ago neither of my parents had a vote. Northern Ireland was still a corrupt one party state where election boundaries were redrawn regularly to ensure that one party stayed in power and where business owners (usually one side of the community) could vote on behalf of all their workers ratepayers had the vote rather than tenants. This wasnt just a sectarian thing, it was as much to stop working class protestants from getting a vote as catholics but in the main the Civil Rights Association represented Catholic/Nationalist concerns. Reforms came in in 1972 with direct government rule from Westminster.
Ive voted in every election no matter how small ever since and I encourage everyone to do the same. People complain about their governments and elected representatives and although the conspiracy theorists may have a point about no matter who we elect the result will be the same, unless we get off our arses and vote or protest vote then we may as well talk to the walls.
As a press photographer in Northern Ireland, election time regardless of local council, local assembly, westminster or european is a busy time. Its an endless round of press calls and press conferences, of attending every one under the sun to give balance and meeting lots of politicians and wannabe politicians you thought had died since you hadnt seen them since the last election. People seem to crawl out of the wordwork only to disappear, even if they had been elected. Here in Northern Ireland we have the triple jobbers, those who are an MP and an MLA in the local assembly and who are also local councillors.
Now to be fair the Northern Ireland Assembly has been doing very little as they ignore the water charges, increases in rates, ruining of the economy, strikes, oversupply of empty housing developments, failure to tackle any real eco policies all because they didnt want the other side to control policing. Lets be honest about it, policing would get done regardless of who is in charge. Even if Sinn Fein got policing the first day the minister responsible walked into their new office and got a whole pile of ‘oh shit’ paperwork piled on their desk or email inbox any of the previous arguments would go out the window. Maybe that job sacking council refuse workers wasnt so bad after all.
Yes lads and lasses, welcome to the real world. Its amazing how quickly the fact that we arent concentrating on fighting each other that real politics takes over. The backhanders for land deals, the having affairs with lads young enough to be your son, the dodge land deals and going off to the carribean to see how they deal with wheelie bins rather than going to Dublin or Sheffield all comes to light. To be fair on the Carribean thing, which one of us wouldnt have done it. Its like the expenses scandals, ok I dont have a moat and Id like to think I’d be squeeky clean but if I had a majority of 60k I might just forget my working class routes and socialist ethos and sell myself a plot of land for a tenner, get it through planning permission and build a moat that pirates of the caribbean could be filmed in, plus go to the Caribbean to see if they would film it on the edges of Lough Neagh.
So which bunch of lying, thieving, inconsiderate, money grabbing, self indulgent morons will we vote in next….
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a concerted effort from photographers across the board in the UK to object to the Prince of Darkness (the unelected lord voldemort, sorry mandelson) Digital Economy Bill. A poorly thought out, rushed bill which is supposed to address some of the piracy issues blighting the film and music industry. What this bill proposed amongst other things was to set up a register for photographs which were ‘orphans’ i.e. photographs where the owner could not be traced where after a search was performed, the government would license you this image at ‘market rate’ and then if the photographer was ever revealed (or they found out) they would pass a section of this license fee on. Now this all sounds great but how was the search to be performed was a google search enough, would we have to register every image weve ever taken with a new agency which I assume would charge a fee. What is market rate? Is it microstock rates or what I would charge and how can they license my copyright? In addition to breaching the berne copyright convention this had massive ramifications for overseas photographers who could find their images being licensed legitimately by the British Government. It would have virtually killed the stock photography market overnight (ok maybe not overnight) but it meant you couldnt supply a client with an image without plastering it with watermarks (as on this site). Even then you arent assured that they wont be cut out. Its already a crime to strip out the embedded information in an image for your own commercial gain, something which a couple of companies have found out to their cost when they thought they were getting ‘free’ images from the internet or stealing them off my clients sites.
A herculean effort was put in by members of the Editorial Photographers in the UK (EPUK) who set up the stop43 website. MPs were lobbied, met, facebooked, tweeted, called and snail mailed. The Lords were contacted for the first readings and every step of the way, press photographers did what they do best, use their contacts and made things simple for MPs. Examples of what could happen were mocked up and put on the stop43 website and they were even quoted during the parliamentary debates. With the help of the opposition parties the government finally admitted they werent going to get the bill through and to placate the music and film industry lobbyists they dropped the photography clause and got the bill passed.
During this I actually did some research on my local MP, I just thought he was one of the ones who disappeared between elections. Hes a triple jobber and I dont like his politics and I’ve never voted for him. My research showed he was above average for attendance, above average for speeches and amendments and on all the measure available for MPs he was above average. Hes even sorted out his expenses claims. Overall he appears to be a very good MP and I’ve changed my view on him, even with tribal party politics involved Id say that I could do worse than to re-elect him. I cant say the same about the incumbent MP (from the same party) in the new constituency as hes below average and probably spent too much time chasing the leadership of his party. He may be a good MLA or he may be a good belfast city councillor but hes not a good MP.
I also watched the BBC Parliament channel for the first time ever, watching the readings of the bill. A year or so ago I had a market research person at the house going through TV viewing habits and she asked me if I’d ever watched that channel. I said no and she laughed and said no-one she had ever spoken to had. Well come round next time and I’ll be the first.