Graeme Jefferries @ The Wine Cellar

Friday 27 April 2018. Wine Cellar, K’ Rd, Auckland, New Zealand.

I bought the first two Nocturnal Projections (NP) singles when they were first released back in 1982. Both were stolen when the flat I lived in in Green Bay was cleaned out by burglars early in 1983. My small collection at the time was a pretty good representation of the Auckland punk and early post-punk scene and the bands I used to see. Like most independent music in New Zealand not many copies of these records were pressed and I have not been able to find, or afford to buy them if I could find them since. I bought their third EP, released in 1983, and still have and play that now. They were heavily influenced by Joy Division and early Sioux and the Banshees, and those artists are visible in their songs. My favourite track is ‘Nerve ends in the power lines’ from one of those stolen EPs. Fortunately a German label released a CD of all their available music sometime in the 2000s, it is firmly lodged in the car CD stacker.

Graeme and Peter Jefferies were members and the main songwriters for NP and went on to form This Kind of Punishment (TKP) when NP broke up in 1983. I had not heard TKP before they first performed in Auckland in 84/85. I saw them at a gig at the Gluepot Hotel on a bill with three other bands I had not seen before. This live version of TKP was a three-piece with Chris Matthews from Auckland band Children’s Hour, another post-punk band, joining the Jefferies on stage. I think it fair to say we were expecting TKP to be loud, dark, and furious. They were not. Dark, yes. Loud and furious, absolutely not. Tracks backed by solo piano or guitar, I do not recall any bass player. They were mesmerising and beautiful, I have never been to a gig that was totally silent before, the audience blown away by the songs and the music. I was an instant fan.

I saw TKP a couple of other times after that. The final time was in 1985, a few days before I went to the UK to live for a couple of years. They were supporting Hunters and Collectors at Auckland Uni. It was the first and only concert I have been to where I, along with most of the audience, sat on the floor of the venue in stunned silence. A brilliant performance again.

TKP split up while I was living in the UK and Graeme started performing under ‘The Cake Kitchen’ with a revolving cast of supporting musicians, releasing a few EPs and LPs over the years. I have a couple of recordings, not being a fan of CDs I pretty much stopped buying music in the late 90s when vinyl almost completely dried up so have a few holes in my collection, which I will seek to rectify as old material gets re-mastered and re-released on vinyl.

Both of the Jefferies brothers built and have maintained a small but passionate following overseas, particularly in Europe and a lot of their material gets released on small independent labels. Dais Records out of the USA have been working with NP and released two records this week; the first is a collection of all their recorded output, and the second a set of live recordings. I have ordered the first of the LPs and it should be waiting for me when I get home. I am very much looking forward to putting it on the record player. The first two TKP LPs have also been re-released recently, though I still have the original, and increasingly more valuable, first pressings.

I would love to be saying that to support the release of these records that NP have reformed for some shows though that has not happened and is not likely to. However, Graeme performed a solo show tonight and I went along. Conveniently I was in Auckland at the right time.

I met my old mate Jeff at an Italian cafe on Auckland’s K’Rd, a strip of nightclubs, bars and venues that has existed since before my time. We had a couple of beers and a very nice meal before heading along to the venue – The Wine Cellar. I have only been here once before, it is small, with decent beer and an excellent sound system. For a small crowd and a solo show it is perfect.

Graeme was supported by i.e.crazy, another solo performer. I am not sure how to describe her music; dark electronica maybe. I mostly enjoyed her short set. I like the Beard of Bees LP sleeve design as the backdrop.

With no bands being involved there was not much equipment to faff about with so it was quite a quick change of artists and Graeme was on stage on time, and nice and early in the evening. Too early as not that many people were in when he started, most choosing to be out in the bar area. As the place filled up I moved my way towards the front and sat down on the floor, mainly to not be the tall dick standing in the front. I was joined by other sitters soon after.

He played for about 45 minutes, using both the guitar and the electric piano, with songs from all three of his previous bands, I am guessing most were from the TKP years, though there were were a couple of songs I did not recognise.

I was really hoping that he would play ‘The Sleepwalker’ my favourite TKP song, however it was written and sung by Chris Matthews on the ‘Beard of Bees’ LP so I was not surprised it wasn’t played. He did play ‘The Cake Kitchen’s ‘Dave the Pimp’ which I thoroughly enjoyed.

On the side of the stage was Graeme’s flying V electric guitar, I was really hoping he would play it, as that would signal to me a Nocturnal Projections track. Sadly it was not to be and the Gibson SG was the only guitar used all night, it still sounded good. He has quite a unique style of guitar playing, and it was interesting watching him play, along with his quite unique voice and some fabulous songs made for a very enjoyable, though sadly brief show.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was over all too early. Thanks Jeff for securing tickets for this sold out show, and thanks for your company, it was really good to see you again.

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Rangitoto Island.

Monday 23 April 2018. Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand.

Walking from the hotel to the waterfront Auckland appears to be one large construction site. Just like central London only the buildings are newer and uglier; the harbour not distracting from decades of bad design and poor planning decisions by a variety of careless and care less councils. For 9.45 am on a work day downtown seems lifeless and deserted. There are few people about; some tourists and some who look like the street is their home. Maybe everyone is in their office or school. It is school holidays this week so perhaps everyone has fled the city. Which is precisely what I am now doing.

I arrived in Auckland late yesterday afternoon, stopping over in Singapore for two hours on an otherwise non-stop 27 hours flying from London. Mum is away in Australia until Tuesday so I have decided to take two days off from people, stay in a hotel and just be on my own. I need the space, it has been a while since I had any length of time alone, and one thing I have learned as I have aged is alone time is critical to my mental health.

What I like to do when I am on my own is walk, preferably as close to nature as possible. There is a ban on walking in the Waitakere Ranges; my favoured Auckland walking place, so I am going to walk up Rangitoto instead. There will be more on the Waitakere walking ban in a later post; when I go walking in them.

Rangitoto Island is 25 minutes from downtown Auckland via ferry. It is a dormant volcano, last erupting, when it is arose from the sea about 600 years ago. It is my favourite Auckland sight, being close to symmetrical, and now a pest free reserve. Being created by volcanic activity it is largely made of scoria, and has become, over the decades more forested. As an environment it is unique, I love the place.

I was surprised at the number of people heading over on the ferry, though discovered when we disembarked that there is now a shuttle to the top. This goes some way to explaining those on the trip who were not built for walking up hills. I was not planning on the shuttle, there are a couple of walks to be done. I had a loop planned that takes me past the old bachs (pronounced batches), along the shorefront and then a slog up to the summit, back down again past the lava caves. I had 4 ½ hours, which seemed ample time; though I only made it back with 10 minutes to spare at the end.

Once off the ferry I waited for the rest of the passengers to work out which way they were going; most taking the shuttle to the top, before heading off on my walk, nice and alone. The first part of my walk took me past a number of the old bachs, these were detailed in my last post, so I will only add one photo here. It goes without saying that as a part of Auckland’s limited history, I do love them.

There is a road that follows the shore around one side of the island, to walk it takes just over an hour. It is pretty flat, a good warm up for the climb to come.

The shore line is quite interesting, predominantly dark, rough, scoria, with tufts of grass and a few mangrove sections. Pohutakawa trees are the main flora at this level and they have taken to the rocky shore with gusto. I am surprised that anything manages to grow here at all.

All over the island, the trees and shrubs are covered with this moss like growth, it is both quite beautiful and otherworldly eerie, like something from an ancient primeval forest; where bad things happen…

All along the shore there is driftwood, both man-made and natural, some bleached white and looking like the last remains of some previously unknown deep sea monstrosity.

There was a lovely grove of large, mature pohutakawa trees as I approached McKenzie Bay, these trees are known as ‘New Zealand Christmas trees’ and flower bright red for a very short time around Christmas, a shame to not be here then.

McKenzie Bay is one of the few sandy beaches on the island, the shuttle comes here and I was surprised to find only six other people here, pleasantly surprised I should add.

It also where the path turns inland and a gentle climb to the summit begins. I found this part of the walk less interesting, it was also warm and humid and though cloudy I could feel the sun starting to burn my ridiculously feeble, turned English, skin. I liked this tree, just growing all alone out of the rock.

Soon enough the gentle climb reaches that point when things turn upward, and the steps begin. About 300, apparently. I did not count them.

At about this point the tree line changed and we entered into a different type of forest, there was more soil here, trees have obviously been growing, shedding and dying for longer. Leaving matter for newer generations to grow in. There was a lot of beech, manuka and other trees and shrub species I know nothing about. (Note to self; learn more trees!). Time for a bit of blur action.

After significant time and effort Rangitoto is now a pest free island. No rats, no mice, no stoaty/ferrety/weasely things that kill flightless birds or raid nests of unhatched eggs. This has led to a large increase in the bird population on the island, and this was made quite obvious in the amount of bird call I could hear as I slowly walked up the last flight of stairs to the crater rim track, and almost the summit.

At the summit I finally caught up with some of the other folk who had been on my ferry, as well as a bunch of people who had come on the following. It was a lot noisier up here than on the trail. There is a great 360 degree view from the top, and I was surprised that it was slightly hazy over the city.

As the island is close to the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour ( the east facing of Auckland’s two harbours. The Manukau Harbour has its entrance on the west coast) and the gateway to downtown Auckland there was a military presence on the island for some time. On the summit there is an old observation post, along with the ubiquitous trig.

There was a lot of bird life at the summit viewing area, like many people I stopped to eat the lunch I had bought before I left the city (there is no shop on the island, part of the pest management plan), this obvious attracts the more curious, and greedy of the birds.

After lunch I took the short crater rim walk back to the top of the steps. On the walk I found this building dug into the rim, I am assuming it was some sort of ammunition or dangerous good store. It was has been well visited; inside there are the names of many visitors from a wide range of countries. Germany, Brazil and France all featured heavily, along with this missive from, I am assuming, an Aucklander ‘pigz are dogz’. Got to love the locals…

Heading back down the steep track I came across a few people still struggling to the top, welcoming them with a cheery ‘you’re almost there’, and hoping they would all make it back in time for the last ferry.

I took the short detour to the Lava Caves, these were formed when the island emerged from the gulf, and are tunnels burnt through the scoria by the lava flowing down from the summit. I am sure the island is riddled with them, but these three are all that are publicly advertised. In a rare show of planning I had bought a head torch with me, though the battery was pretty flat and it was virtually useless in the short tunnels. I had a look in a couple, but was not prepared to do any crawling around on my own. Though this 10 metre tunnel was high enough to walk through.

The circular route has been blocked by a slip and the path is closed, though the slip looks quite old, no-one has had the time, money, or inclination to re-open the path. Heading back the way I came I detoured off into the forest for a short way. The forest at this level of the park is wonderful, very ‘Jurassic Park’, rocky and viney, dense and lush, old looking, yet new. It would be great to be able to stay and spend a few hours exploring more deeply. The final ferry is at 15:30, so no time for too much off-piste clambering about.

I took a more strident walk down the final section of the path, looking back up to the summit as I crossed the line between heavy and sparse vegetation.

I wanted to get back to the shore line to have a look at the bachs on the other side of the wharf from where I started my journey, though I did not get the time to see them all before I had to join the throng and make my way to the ferry to take me back to the city.

I will bring El here next time we come to Auckland.

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The bachs of Rangitoto Island.

Monday 23 April 2018. Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand.

Bach: – Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period Is a small, often very modest holiday home or beach house in New Zealand and is pronounced ‘batch’.

The first bach was built on Rangitoto Island, a 25 minute boat ride from Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf,  in 1918. Over the next two decades around 140 were ‘illegally’ built, though in 1937 all building on the island was banned. In the 70s and 80s as the island became a reserve the majority were pulled down, however, a moratorium on the demolition was put in place in 1990, and those that remained are now part of the historic record of the island. The bachs can no longer be sold to new buyers, or have any major work done to them. Many of the remaining bachs have been modified and updated, though retain their original character.

The bach is such a unique New Zealand artefact, the traditional cheaply built, small, and humble version is slowly disappearing as only the wealthy can afford a holiday home. Small and humble does not really feature in the plans of the very wealthy so it is lovely to see these buildings preserved. No building or design standards, built from whatever was available, painted in what was cheap at the time, but much loved and much used. Generation after generation.

I paid a visit to Rangitoto today, I will write more about the trip in an upcoming post. Here are some images of these lovely old holiday homes as a taster of my walk. 

I love the socks on the line!

 

Some were quite well hidden.

There are some quite good boat sheds.

Each bach that had been removed had a sign where it sat describing it,

some had signs in windows proudly showing its history,

and, finally, some had ‘facilities’ not quite up to modern, western, standards!

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Walking and chatting. The River Lea with M.

Saturday 14 April 2018. River Lea, Walthamstow.

I think it is reasonably safe to say that I can be a little obsessive. I am no single issue fanatic, often obsessing over multiple things at the same time; work, photography, books, writing, fitness (lack thereof). Flipping and flopping my focus, thus ensuring I never achieve anything at all. This strategy has served me reliably, if not well, for most of my life. I never suffer humiliation and public failure, and dreams are never shattered because I never quite finish things. There is always something shinier and newer that catches my attention, and the last thing languishes unfinished, often at a tricky or awkward stage in its gestation.

Recently this obsession has been reading books set in and around where I currently live. I don’t mean to be unfair to Walthamstow, but on the surface it is not the most exciting part of London. It does have the longest street market in Europe, but to be honest, the market is not something I particularly value. What Walthamstow does have is some authors who make the place sound interesting. I have mentioned Will Ashon’s book about Epping Forest in the past and I have recently enjoyed reading ‘Marshlands’ by Gareth E. Rees, stories set in and around the River Lea and the ‘marshes’ that edge it. I have Esther Kinsky’s ‘River’ to read next, more tales of the Lea and the folk that live nearby.

I am off to New Zealand and Australia for two weeks from next weekend. A quick trip to see my family, and to make sure the grand kids don’t completely forget who I am. My daughter, nannying for a family in Stroud, wanted to come and visit before I left. She chose the best weather weekend of the year to come down. Today was glorious; warm sun and no wind. A perfect day to stroll the Lea down as far as the shopping centre in Stratford to buy some gifts to take back to New Zealand.

We took the long way, walking up Forest Rd, through Ferry Lane to Walthamstow Wetlands. I wanted to stop for coffee and then walk M. through the Wetlands to Coppermill Lane. However the Coppermill Lane exit was closed, so we carried on along Ferry Lane to the Lea, which was not a bad second choice. It was not too busy at that time of the morning, a lot of runners out; maybe a last minute stretch out before the London Marathon, but few cyclists. It was nice to just stroll and chat; without having to duck out of the way all the time. Spring has finally started to deliver some natural colour to the city, it is proving to be popular.

There is a lot to see, though for some reason I did not take any pictures of the river or the many river boats that are moored here. I guess I wasn’t really thinking photos and blogs when we walked and talked, as we have not seen each other in a while.

The filter beds feature in the ‘Marshlands’ book, I have been planning on visiting here again after a wander through a couple of years ago. Bright sunshine did not set the right mood, or light for the photographs I had in mind, though no mist has descended on this part of London for ages, not once all winter. Unusual.

The Middlesex Filter Beds were built in the 1850s in response to new thinking about cholera, after an epidemic in London in 1849 took 14,000 lives. Physician John Snow correctly deducing that cholera was spread via contaminated drinking water, not the thick dirty air of London. The filter beds were built where the River Lea met the Hackney Cut canal and filtered the cleaner water of Essex through sand and gravel and pumped it into reservoirs and on to the homes of NE London. The filter beds expanded massively over the years until the Coppermill Waterworks, nearer the reservoirs, was opened in 1969. The area has been left to be re-wilded and is now a nature reserve. It is very green.

I have been here twice before, and been virtually alone both times, seeing only a ‘romancing’ couple under the trees on the bank of the Lea last time I passed by. Today it was really busy, families with kids, bikes and strollers. We are re-wilding our landscape for the benefit of the urban and urbane, the least wild of us.

Back out on the Lea-side path the traffic got heavier as we made our way towards Hackney, M. wanted to walk barefoot so we detoured off the broken chipped path on to a mud track in the grass, feet having softened from a few months in Europe. It was nicer in the trees and off the path. The A12 road bridges have long been a shelter for river barges and boats under repair, sheltering from the rain and the worst of the wind. There has always been graffiti and odd artworks on the concrete shoulder and bridge abutments. This morning there were three guys working spray cans on the wall and a stone-carver at work, I have never seen the actual artists before. There was also a group of climbers, practising roping up the short, thick round pillars supporting the hellishly loud road above.

We stopped for lunch and coffee at one of the new cafes on the Stratford side of the river, they were all really busy, but we found spot in the sun to chill and wait, people watching the new East Londoners who mean that places that serve vegan food and nice coffee exist.

We had left home with the intent of walking to the mall in Stratford, which was only a few minutes from where we sat sharing nachos in the sun. It was early afternoon and though I really needed to get gifts to take with me it was just too nice to even think about walking into a busy and noisy mall. We chose to turn round and start walking home.

On the way we had passed a stand of young silver birch, back from the river, and behind a fence. I have seen these trees before and always wanted to find out how to get amongst them. Though had never seen away through the fence when coming from the direction of home, walking the other way an entry point was obvious. The silver birches were a bit disappointing, though this path covered by arched trees revealed itself to us, a haven from the now very busy tow path.



We followed it and the mud tracks as far towards home as we could, finally stopping for a cold pint before jumping on a bus at Lea Bridge Rd.

El was at the football on Saturday night so M. and I went to Brick Lane for a dosa.

I had a great day, I really like spending time with my daughter, we are different enough to disagree on many things, but share enough passions and ideas that the differences of opinion (and age) do not get in the way of long, rambling and enjoyable chats.

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The Epping Forest Project, Phase 3-March

March 2018.

I am so glad I managed to get out earlier in the month to take some photos as that was it for forest trips this month. I have to thank the snowy weather that got me there. I am making this once a month photo-blogging project of the ever changing Epping Forest far harder than it should be.

Here are a small number of favourite photos of the winter wonderland that was a snow covered forest, not in any particular order. As always they have all been posted previously.

I am trying to be more experimental in photography again so here is March’s Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) image, or impressionist photography as we used to call it.

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The Little Muddy

Sunday 01 April 2018 – Wivenhoe, Essex.

The Big Muddy is a river in the United States that feeds the mighty Mississippi, which also takes on the name as its nickname. Muddy it may be, but the River Colne in Essex is definitely not big, it is one of the shorter rivers in the UK and is very tidal, at low tide it is very unimpressive. Though calling it The Little Muddy would be slightly hurtful.

There are some affordable houses in Wivenhoe, which is perched on the north bank of the Colne, and just over an hour from home by car. it is also about an hour from London on a direct train which adds to its attraction.

It is not spectacular, though we were not expecting it to be. It was surprisingly quiet, with very few people walking or driving the narrow streets, and quite pleasant. The first person we saw as we walked up from the car to the cafe said “Good morning” to us. Now that never happens in London.

It is not spectacularly old, though there are some lovely older houses mixed in with some tastefully architectured newer builds. Wivenhoe has a long history as a port town serving inland Essex as well as fishing and boat building. There is still a small fleet based here and a couple of boat yards. There are a few pubs, though mostly deserted late on a Sunday morning, but we did visit a very nice cafe where I was served an excellent flat white before we went for a walk.

The church of St Mary’s is the oldest building in town, dating back to the late 13th century.

Though I was in good spirits and the town is quite pretty, even under a heavy grey sky, I seemed to have only taken photos that show the town as being rather ramshackle and rundown, which is very much not the case. It is a pretty place, with a nice  vibe, an artistic community and a tiny range of independent shops; there are two book shops. Wow!

We had a very nice lunch in a Syrian vegan cafe and then went for another walk. After all the rain lately it was quite muddy, though there is nothing wrong with that at all. It was a short loop out of the town and along a flood bank between the river and a wetland, overlooking the town of Rowhedge on the far side of the river. In summer months there is a small ferry between the towns.

After the walk it was time to head back to London, avoiding the worst of the Easter Sunday returning traffic, and get home in time to watch some football on the telly.

In two weeks today, I will be back in New Zealand for a short family visit. I am hoping the long hot summer will have stretched into the early autumn!

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3 nights, 3 gigs.

Friday 23 March 2018 – London.

Walking out of the Tufnell Park Dome into the cool and drizzly north London night, both ears ringing, I had a big smile on my face after two loud gigs in two nights. Guitar Wolf last night and The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing tonight.  A very much needed blow out after a really busy  and stressful work week. Six performance reviews completed, meetings galore and an inundation of last minute requests had me thinking that three nights out in a row would just be too much to take and I would not last the distance.

We are very fortunate here in Walthamstow to have the e17 Rock and Roll Book Club. Run by Mark, he organises authors to come along and talk about themselves and their books. Most often these authors write about music or are musicians themselves. A couple of weeks ago we had Brett Anderson, the singer from Suede. Tonight (Wednesday) we have Hooky at Mirth, Marvel and Maud. Peter Hook, bass player from Joy Division and New Order. Joy Division being one of my most loved groups of all time, arriving in my life at the same time as the break up with my first girlfriend. Staying with me through both good and bad times ever since. 

Hooky was hugely entertaining. I don’t think he directly answered any of the questions posed, not trying to avoid, just he had way better anecdotes that wandered off in many different directions. Very funny, and very engaging. He also played a couple of quick tunes as part of the show, the longest of the many e17 RnR Book Club events we have been too.

Mirth, Marvel and Maud is a large bar in the foyer/reception area of a reclaimed cinema about a five minute walk from home and a fairly recent addition to a rapidly gentrifying Walthamstow. The Maud theatre, where the Hooky talk was, stands about 120 people maybe and was the venue for Thursday nights much different and much louder affair. A gig by Japanese punk and rollers, Guitar Wolf. This was the first gig I have attended in the venue.

We missed the first band, arriving in time for the second, Los Pepes. Slightly clichéd Ramones style punk rock with a bit of lead guitar thrown in for good measure. I really liked them. I was really impressed with the sound quality and having a gently sloping floor meant those of us at the back had some sort of view. Why are there so many tall people at gigs? I took to the front  for a couple of songs to take a couple of photos. If I had been younger and the circumstances different I would have been tempted to jump up and down a bit.  A shame no one did as the band deserved some sort of reaction.

Sadly the same quality of sound was not there for the headliners. Guitar Wolf have been around for decades, they have been to NZ a few times, though I have never seen them.

They were unlistenably loud; and I love loud, even more I love a wall of noise, but this was just a sludgy overdriven mess and I could hear nothing but a roaring noise. I was really disappointed as they were a bit of fun.

I stayed up the front for a couple of photos and then moved to the back for a bit with El and some friends. Frustrated, and deaf, we left soon after. The light was pretty terrible for photography as well.

Friday I was in Tufnell Park with Steve and Arthur to see The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing (TMTWNBBFN). Steve has seen them a few times, but this was my first experience of a live steam punk band. I was also new to the Dome,which is a great venue and I will go and see a band there again, great bar and selling my favourite beer was a definite bonus.

There were three support acts, the first two were neither here nor there, but I really enjoyed ‘I Destroy’ who were by miles the best of them.

TMTWNBBFN were mostly brilliant, a couple of dud tracks in the middle, but they were a lot of fun, playing a variety of different styles, but not veering too far from a punky/metal sound. Lyrics are where they truly excel, songs about Victoriana, Marie Curie, Jack the Ripper; and the set finale is the classic rock and roll tale of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Everyone’s favourite civil engineer.  Brilliant!

Three nights out in a row, haven’t done that for a very long time; and I didn’t even have a big lie in the next Saturday! I have tickets to five more gigs, I have never been this well organised in the past. Really looking forward to them all, next up is Graeme Jefferies in Auckland in four weeks.

Rock on 🙂

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On the hunt for the elusive ‘Skull Tree’

Sunday 18 March 2018 – Epping Forest.

In a tight clump of holly trees I once discovered an old dining room chair, alone and discarded, missing the companionship of its fellows chairs and the table itself. After an unsuccessful mission this morning to find ‘the skull tree’, I had resolved to at least re-finding the chair. This too proved to be unsuccessful. As I was crashing through a small, dense and tangled thicket of undergrowth, I spotted a very dark fox ambling through the snow in a clearing in front of me. Giving up on the chair, I forced myself clear of the holly and into the clearing. Hoping at least to find some fox prints in the snow that I could follow, in some sort of primitive huntery way. Though I was only armed with my camera.

Unlike two weeks ago, the snow was not thick enough to leave trace of light footed passers-by and my brief urge to be primeval man was over. Standing up I was looking around trying to work out where I was and spotted the back end of at least two small deer skipping away from me. I stood and watched until they disappeared from view, then spent ten minutes trying to find them. To no avail.

I did take this picture in the location I stopped looking. It is my favourite from the day.

The beast from the east made an unexpected and unwanted return this weekend, dumping a light load of snow on to London, most of which fell late on Saturday afternoon. Sunday was cold, much colder than two weeks ago, so I anticipated the snow lying on the ground for longer that it did on my last visit. Even if it didn’t last, going for a walk in the forest is always a good thing.

Last weekend, El and I went to a book reading and talk by the author Will Ashon. I enjoyed his book Strange Labyrinth and its stories of Epping Forest. On the cover of the book, and mentioned in its pages is a small skull carved into the trunk of a tree. I have tried, and failed, to find the tree before, and the talk inspired me to try again today. I had a broad idea where to look, but no specifics. In the questions after the talk I was assured it existed, but no further details were given.

Though I had to clear a light dusting from the car first.

The skull tree is supposedly not far from Loughton Camp so I parked the car nearby and set off, wrapped up warm as I was quite cold. Fingerless gloves to operate the camera not quite adequate enough while not under trees.

Strawberry Hill Ponds

Loughton Camp

Crossing over to the ‘lost pond’, I meandered around the trees for a while, not straying too far from trails, in the assumption that Will must have found the skull tree while walking on a path. I found lots of trees with writing, but no skulls.

I also found a summertime camp, looking long abandoned, and a small group with packs and furled away tents who looked like they may be nomadically living in the forest.

I was getting quite cold wandering around the lost pond area, and felt uncomfortable taking pictures if people were living in the area, so paid my respects to my favourite ancient tree before starting to walk back towards the car, though following a snow covered forest trail rather than the path.

I stumbled across the romantically named Loughton Brook Storage Pond, a place I have never been to, and then followed the brook back down to the car.

Before heading home feeling unsuccessful with not finding the skull tree, I thought I should try and find the old chair I came across back in summer, buried deep in a holly grove. I wanted to see it covered it ice and snow.

Leaving the mandarin ducks in the northern of the two Strawberry Hill Ponds I took to the trees again to find the chair, which takes us back to the start of this post, and a further lack of success.

I was quite cold by now, and getting a wee bit hungry as well, so after taking a couple of photos around the larger southern pond, I took to the main path, and went back to the warmth of the car. Next time I bring food!

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The Epping Forest Project, Phase 2–February

February 2018 – Epping Forest.

February was a strange month, we seemed to be really busy each weekend with different activities that allowed me no time for the Epping Forest photography project I started in January. It is also winter, though winter did not fully happen until the very end of the month, even though I was still not feeling as inspired as I should have been. This is not untypical though.

I made two trips to Hollow Pond, a 30 minute walk from home. It is on the southern edge of Epping Forest, a small outpost with a thin link to the larger forest area. I like Hollow Pond, though it has its seedy, sleazy, tree-covered edges that are less attractive and reduce its overall appeal as a place to wander vacantly about. The sunny, open shores are very popular. Families and young and old couples stroll through trees and reeds, feeding the ducks, geese and swans, trying to avoid the marauding , thieving gulls.

Here are the best of the photos from the two walks.

Walk one started sunny, but very windy. El and I were half way around when the clouds started to form in the distance, and we could see rain falling over Woodford. We made a run for the lovely All you read is love bookshop in nearby Leytonstone. Before catching a bus back home.

Walk two was a solo walk starting from Waterworks Roundabout on a gloriously sunny, but cold day. I was aiming for some super close-up with massive of field shots, but there was just enough of a breeze to make them quite tricky, so I went for the loads of intrusive flare instead. Rule breaking by shooting in to the sun. Again.

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Epping Forest in snow.

Saturday 03 March 2018 – Epping Forest.

What a difference three hours can make.

The meagre blanket of snow that covered the plain when I arrived on the edge of the forest was all but gone when I left. Arriving with hat, scarf, gloves on and jacket zipped to the neck, departing with all the accessories packed away and my coat wide open to cool down. It was a great morning’s walk between those points.

Three hours later.

The ‘beast from the east’ weather system passed through London, and the rest of the UK, over the last five days. The system brought some terrible weather to many parts of the country, though we in London were unscathed – as usual. What we did have was four days of on and off snow, resulting in the longest period of settled snow in the five years I have lived here.

It has been a really busy month at work so I was not able to take time off to get to the forest, so it was a little worrying to see the snow no longer falling on Friday evening. It was with some nervousness I peered out from behind the bedroom curtains early this morning to see what it was like. Snow on the ground, very flat grey sky and the roads were clear. Perfect!

I am not sure what I wanted to achieve this morning, take photos being the obvious objective, getting some quiet time also appealed. I never listen to music when I am there, one of the few places where I am on my own that I do not. Wandering vacantly appears to be what I excel at.

Chingford Plain


Warren Pond


Butlers Retreat – where I stopped for coffee on my way home. Very nice coffee and cake 🙂

Surprisingly I was alone for most of the morning, only seeing a couple of mountain bikers and a few dog walkers. I saw no-one on the main routes apart from one solitary runner, the dog walkers were all in the trees on what I have considered bike trails. Perhaps they just took the opportunity to roam more freely than usual? There were signs others had been here mid-week.

I was really (pleasantly) surprised how many animal foot prints I saw in the snow, though this is a forest so not sure why I was surprised. Deer, rabbit, fox and bird trails criss-crossed every human marked trail. Great signs for a healthy forest. Apart from birds I saw none of the animals that left these trails, though I was looking.

The snow was very shallow and very light; a foot step enough to disturb it, leaving earthen trails behind. Enough to cover light undergrowth and tree fall. Brambles, nettles and ferns were barely visible and where I would normally walk around the undergrowth I just walked over the top, only becoming entangled the once. It allowed for a more random path though the trees, inevitably letting me get hopelessly lost. As always.

As well as providing an amazing contrasting backdrop for photos and letting the trees stand out from the natural toned background the snow made finding my way around far harder than I expected, I was lost almost immediately I was into the trees and I never found the spot I was at barely two weeks ago. Though discovering this small grove of beech made my morning. The coppery gold leaves just popping out of the background. Humping the tripod around was worth every ounce of extra weight.


Following a bike tyre trail from what I thought was Cuckoo Brook I was aiming to get to a stand of silver birch near the church at High Beech. Silver birch in the snow is a real cliche I know, but then I do love a cliche. I never did get there. I had no idea where I was by this stage.

The morning was getting on and it was time to head back towards the station, with no idea of my location I turned towards the distant traffic noise from Epping New Rd. With the snow and the flat low clouds the forest was very quiet, I could hear the squeak of my shoes on the snow, the occasional bird and a dull but constant, surf like hum in the background. It was almost like being slightly inland from the sea.

I followed one of the main paths for a while, seeing one of the few people that were also out enjoying this rare solitude.

I soon left the main path again and back into the trees hoping to find Connaught Water. It turned out I still didn’t know where I was, though I did find a nice stand of young silver birch to make up for missing the one I was aiming for earlier. It is all a bit Scandi !

Finding another one of the main paths I experimented with a bit of impressionist photography before checking the map on my phone, finally working out where I was and setting off in the right direction.

The paths around an almost totally iced over Connaught Water were almost empty of people, I found this so unusual as this place is normally full of walkers. I had visions of families and young couples out enjoying the snow, tossing snowballs at each other and admiring the dedication of the birds sitting on the cold ice.

The snow was slowly melting away where there was no tree cover and I was quite shocked to see grass that had a white top coat when I arrived was almost bare of snow as I left.

I was really pleased I made it in time, that I had not followed my normal weekend routine and had a lie in.

It was a lovely, peaceful, beautiful morning out, and I hope you enjoyed the photos.

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