Category Archives: Public Art

Statues, Skeletons, Salters and an Empty Seat

Since my serious accident in January my running has been, initially non-existent and now a little hit and miss as my soft tissues attempt to remember what they used to do before a Fiat Punto re-arranged my life.
My first run back was far too optimistic and ended with being almost confined to bed with back pain.  A lot of physio and some gradual building up from just over a kilometre to around 5k now had gone well, but my left calf wasn’t convinced by my first fairly gentle ‘speed’ (3 x 400 metres @ 7:15) session on Blackheath during the week and tightened up.  I guess I need to be a bit more patient in building up my speed.
I have been continuing to revisit some of my running routes along the Thames by a slower form of pedestrianism – walking.  A couple of weekends ago it was downstream from Woolwich – starting at the Arsenal by Peter Burke’s ‘Assembly‘.  Each of the figures is three out of the possible four assembled mould sections of a body cast ‘allowing the viewer visual entry and an opportunity to perceive it from the outside in, as if casting ones own body’.
 Further on there were a series of rusting steel carcasses in the sand and mud of low tide along with almost forgotten wooden skeletons rising out of the water.

Today’s walk was a partial repeat of a run that I posted about over a year ago, albeit in the opposite direction.  We started close the the the now piped outfall of Earl’s Sluice, part of the water comes from the River Peck and its springs high up on One Tree Hill.  It used to the boundary of Kent and Surrey, as well as the boundary between St Paul, Deptford, and St Mary, Rotherhithe, as the (slightly moved) stone indicates.

St Mary’s Churchyard in Rotherhithe, once had to have a watch house to prevent body snatchers, and adjacent to there was a Free School, endowed in the early 17th century.

On Bermondsey Wall though, was a sight that gave me enormous pleasure – the return of Alfred Salter.  His bronze statue had been stolen, presumably by scrap metal thieves a few years ago – last time I passed in early 2014 there was just a space on a bench, but since November there has been a recast statue of Alfred, the restored statues of his daughter Joyce and his cat returned.  Importantly, there was an addition, Ada Salter, her work was important in its own right and there is a real dearth of statues of women in London – Ada was the 15th.

Before heading back for the bus home, we wandered a little further upstream to, perhaps, my favourite view of the Thames, looking towards Tower Bridge and the City with the houseboats of Shad Thames in the foreground.

Yesterday was the end of my team’s football season – after a terrible start, it turned into one of our best ever.  It is emotional business being a football fan and this season I have shared the emotional roller-coaster with the woman who sat to my left.  We both come from northern towns and have adopted the red and blue stripes of Crystal Palace and we have also shared our life threatening health battles since January, mine an accident, her’s an aggressive cancer. Sadly, seat 163 was empty yesterday, Rita had passed away on 17 May.

Rita McGuinness 1958 - 2015 RIP

Rita McGuinness 1958 – 2015 RIP


Reflections on the Rivers Ravensbourne & Pool

As I recover from an accident, I am still a while off running but my urban wanderings always seem to draw me back to my regular running routes.  

This week my still (slightly) short days at work have left me with time to follow the Rivers Pool and Ravensbourne from Sydenham back towards Lewisham.  It seemed slightly odd not running, but it gave a rather different perspective.  

Monday’s leaden skies saw me focus on the both the mural under the bridge near Bell Green – which was painted a couple of years ago, but I have never stopped and looked at – plus the more industrial and metallic elements of the route.  

Friday morning should have seen a partial eclipse and, given the juxtaposition of it with the vernal equinox, meteor showers and the aurora borealis being visible in parts of Britain, it would have had our ancestors heading for the henges and hills.  Sadly it was just 50 shades of grey in London (photo by @weareblackheath).  

The afternoon though was almost perfect spring weather – clear, mild and sunny.  I niddle-noddled along paths alongside the river, which I don’t usually use – tending to stick to the smooth tarmac – to save time on my run to work and to make intervals or tempo runs safer on the run home; it made a wonderful change.

I also spotted several reflections, which at a faster pace I would have undoubtedly missed.

Any wanderings of a fluvial flâneur would not be complete without the sight of a semi-submerged, upturned shopping trolley, one was spotted in the reflection of the Riverside Building of Lewisham Hospital – an odd cocktail of drugs on a past stay there left me convinced of the presence of dayglo squirrels in the adjacent Ladywell Fields. 

Sadly only grey squirrels were visible this week, and alongside the rivers a green woodpecker, a heron and the iridescent blur of a kingfisher was seen a couple of times.  It was two spottings of different wildlife that oddly pleased me more – Lewisham Natureman stags – one by the Ravensbourne under the road bridge in Catford, the other shyly hiding in the corner of the former Ladywell Leisure Centre site as I went from the Ravensbourne to the Quaggy catchment.

Greenwich’s Books About Town Benches

I stumbled across one of the benches a couple of days ago when running through Greenwich Park, despite having passed several others over the summer I had contrived to miss them. They are dotted around Greenwich and the Park and are a good mixture of adult and children’s fiction and many have links to South East London.

Books about Town is being promoted by the National Literacy Trust with Wild in Art. There are four trails of benches around London, all are shaped as open books, decorated by professional illustrators and local artists. After the trails close in mid September, all the benches will be auctioned to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust’s work to raise literacy levels in the UK.

Being Greenwich there are some fantastic backdrops (and in many cases backs) to the benches …..

Clockwise from the top left
– Michael Rosen’s “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”
– Rudyard Kipling “The Jungle Book”
– Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”
– Captain Scott’s Autobiography
– David McKee’s “Elmer the Elephant”
– H G Wells’ “The Time Machine”

Clockwise from the top left
– Sue Townsend’s “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole : Girl Engrossed”
– Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
– Samuel Pepy’s Diary
– Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”
– E Nesbit’s “The Railway Children”
– Douglas Adam’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

As for the local links, they include – E Nesbit lived in various homes in Lewisham before moving to Eltham (there will be a blog post here on her later in the year); H G Wells was born in Bromley and was a regular visitor to Nesbit’s home at what is now Well Hall Pleasaunce; Darwin lived in Downe for many years; Pepys lived in Deptford; Michael Rosen is Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths’ and, finally, Elmer the patchwork Elephant clearly inspired the cladding for Lewisham’s new Glass Mill Leisure Centre.

As for my favourite – it has to be “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” – both because Helen Oxenbury’s simple illustration works well as a bench and in its location -next to the pond and close to large rhododendron bushes in the Flower Garden – it is possible to envisage a parent with a degree of imagination acting out the story with their children in the park; but most of all, I liked it because it brings back happy memories of reading the book to my children when they were younger.