1. From the archives: my post from 7th July 2005

    Posted July 7, 2016 in Diary  |  1 Comment so far

    This is a blog post I wrote (on Livejournal) at lunchtime on 7th July 2005, the day 52 people were killed in terrorist attacks on the London transport network. This was written not long after midday and, as the final sentence shows, before the full horror of the attacks had come to be known.


    I’ve just got back home from Yorkshire via central London, and thought I’d write an account of the morning’s events while my memories are still fresh…

    I arrived at Kings Cross from York at 9.30 and was initially annoyed that the staircase down to the tube platforms was sealed off. That annoyance turned to genuine bafflement when it turned out that the whole station was sealed off, and the police weren’t letting anyone out.

    The exit to York Road was still open, though, so I came out and turned right, expecting to have to walk along to Euston Square. That turned out to be a daft idea when I saw the chaos outside the station – the roads were gridlocked, and people were swarming everywhere. I decided to head down to Russell Square and either get a bus or hop on the Piccadilly line (if it was running).

    Loads of people had the same idea as me, so I weaved through the confused commuters and was eventually coming down Marchmont Street towards Russell Square station when I heard a loud explosion. That was the bus on Tavistock Square, but I didn’t know it was a bus at the time.

    I kept walking until a wave of panicking people shouting “go back!” swept past me in the other direction. A policewoman walking behind them confirmed that it was indeed an explosion and that the whole area was being sealed off. At this point I thought I’d phone the office to tell them I wouldn’t be able to make it in.

    As I made my way eastwards, there were still huge waves of commuters coming down towards Russell Square who were unaware of Tavistock explosion. It was impossible to get them all to turn back, so those of us heading away just talked to who we could and pushed against the tide.

    Eventually I made it back to Angel, via quite a roundabout station-avoiding route. What I’d heard at this point, through text message exchanges with Guy and brief phone conversations with Fiona at work, was that there had supposedly been a series of power surges on the tube network, that it had been shut down, and that people with blackened faces had been emerging from tube stations. I knew that power surges weren’t to blame at Tavistock Square, having heard the explosion, and the general semi-militarisation that had gripped central London – helicopters circling overhead, police everywhere, entire areas roped off.

    The bus I boarded at Angel had just been prevented from going south of City Road, so it had kicked out the passengers turned round to go back towards Hackney. Within seconds of sitting down we new passengers were all talking about the “situation”.

    Everyone was quite surprised to hear about the Russell Square explosion, but a few minutes into the journey we all got a bit of a shock when we found out that it had been a bus. I got a text from my flatmate saying “stay off the buses!” just as an American, on the phone to his net-surfing wife, got the same piece of news. The conductor wasn’t happy to hear this at all, and spoke of resigning, while we all laughed nervously and seriously considered leaping off at the next set of lights.

    So eventually I made it back home and wrote this blog entry. Looking back at the events of the last few hours, a few things come to mind: for example, the speed at which the police had sealed off the Russell Square area was surprising. They were roping off the bottom of Marchmont Street within two minutes of me hearing the explosion, which goes how to show how serious the situation was being taken by them even then, fairly early on.

    Also, the initial story about power surges would seem to have been intended to enable a mass evacuation of the tube network without an accompanying mass outbreak of panic. It’s strange to imagine what the atmosphere would have been like at Kings Cross at 9.30am if it was common knowledge that bombs had been going off; most of us were in the state of agitated determination that commuters enter when tube lines are shut down and routes need to be recomputed. If panic had swept through the crowd, it would have been a shitstorm.

    At the time of writing it looks as though the fatality rate is low – two dead at Aldgate – so let’s hope that that remains the case.


  2. I Moved House So You Don’t Have To

    Posted September 24, 2015 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    I moved house recently.

    Just before 7.30am on moving day morning I sent this tweet:

    But when the horror started, the last thing I wanted to do was to “live tweet” about it—I was far too busy enduring it.

    And I wasn’t able to “live tweet” about it when it ended either, because it has yet to end. Let’s put it this way: despite moving home nearly two months ago I’m writing this post from a Premier Inn in Chingford because our house is essentially uninhabitable at the moment. So you see, the horror endures to this day.

    I was going to write a kind of retrospective diary-style post about the whole experience of moving but then I decided that would be too dull.

    Instead, there’s a blog post I read just before the day of the move which is titled “13 Killer Moving House Tips”. I’m going to quote each “killer” tip and then talk about it from the perspective of my own move, which I wouldn’t describe as “killer” (although it did nearly kill me).

    Be warned, though, it is still pretty dull.

    1. MOVE DURING THE WEEK IF POSSIBLE

    At first I thought I was on to a winner here, because I was moving on a Friday which is generally regarded in the UK as being “during the week”. But when I read on I found out that Friday was not just part of the weekend but actually the busiest day of the weekend.

    …weekends and especially Fridays are the busiest when it comes to moving house.

    I wish someone would tell my boss that Friday was part of the weekend.

    2. TAKE TIME TO RESEARCH A MOVING COMPANY

    Simple searching in Google alone is not enough.

    I was on a bus going round Old Street roundabout when I saw a van with the name of a moving company on it. I googled them on my phone and when I found that they had a website, I was sold.

    Later on, instead of coming to my flat to quote for the move, the manager found my flat’s “for sale” listing on Zoopla or Rightmove and put together his quote based on the photos our estate agent had taken. Rather than being perturbed by this, I marvelled at his ingenuity. It didn’t occur to either of us at the time that in the estate agent’s photos we had made an effort not to include the big piles of junk we own in each shot.

    This led to the first major incident of horror on moving day, when we all realised that there was far too much stuff in the flat to fit into the moving company’s van, and desperate measures had to be taken. So my spin on this tip would be to not just research a moving company, but to make sure the moving company takes time to research you as well.

    3. PACK YOUR ITEMS PROPERLY

    Take some time off and start to pack as early as possible. 2 months prior to your move, for example.

    2 months?? You can imagine how I felt, reading this the day before I moved and having done barely any packing. Well, I’d packed my records and books into boxes and thought I was doing pretty well. Little did I know what a small percentage of the overall mess those records and books comprised.

    4. DECLUTTER YOUR HOME

    You would be surprised how many items you’ve collected over the years. [Get] rid of the ones you no longer need…

    I’m totally sold on the idea of decluttering. In fact I’ve even bought Discardia, a book which is all about the joys of decluttering. I still haven’t read it though.

    On the day of the move, however, it became clear that most of my decluttering had involved moving unwanted things into a cavernous floor-to-ceiling storage space in the corridor of our flat as opposed to actually getting rid of them. Increasingly innovative ways of organising the junk had, over the years, resulted in a solid 20-square-metre pillar of dusty old drum machines, Iomega Zip drives and monstrous SCART cables. This tottering tower of detritus was, naturally, not included in the photographs our estate agent uploaded to Zoopla, and the moving companies movers felt sad when they discovered its existence.

    The point is this: I wish I’d read Discardia.

    5. ARRANGE PARKING SPACE

    I can be a bit smug about this because it was one of the very few advisable things I’d done ahead of the move.

    6. CLEAN BEFORE YOU MOVE OUT

    Clean as you pack.

    For a few years the flat we lived in always seemed like quite a small and pokey flat, a bit cramped even. Yet it underwent an unexplained and unnatural transformation in the 48 hours before the moving date, expanding telescopically in size like the interior of the Tardis. Hitherto undiscovered vistas opened up before my eyes as I explored this now vast territory with my overworked hoover. The cleaning I thought would be so straightforward once the flat was empty became an insurmountable challenge. Long after the movers had left in their van, I was still roaming the unconquerable carpeted plains of our flat hoovering up dust and coins.

    7. DEFROST YOUR FREEZER

    I didn’t have to move our freezer and am greatly relieved about that. My advice would be, don’t move your freezer at all. Just leave it where it is. It’s happy there.

    8. LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN AT A SITTER DURING THE MOVE

    This is another one of the few things about the move which I can look back on and think, “well that wasn’t a completely insane and self-destructive idea”.

    For a few days either side of the move our children were hundreds of miles away, in Cornwall. I can only imagine the chaos that would have unfolded if our three-year-old son had been in the mix. My advice to anyone with young kids moving house would be to forget babysitters and get your children as far away from the blast zone as possible, preferably in a different timezone.

    9. LET ALL YOUR CLOSE ONES KNOW OF YOUR MOVE

    The way I did this was with the above-quoted and by now ironically prophetic tweet. Because all of my “close ones” are looking at Twitter at 7.30 on a Friday morning, obviously.

    10. FILL IN CHANGE OF ADDRESS DOCUMENT

    It’s lucky for me that the internet exists because I did most of this stuff online the day before I moved, and some of it on the day itself.

    11. NOTIFY IMPORTANT INSTITUTIONS

    Same as the above.

    12. HAVE EXTRA MONEY

    You might think you’ve got all the aspects of your move covered, but unexpected expenditures can always occur.

    Going through a house move is similar to being a financial trader operating in the peak of a wild speculative bubble (or, better, a global economic meltdown) who has chosen to take strong hallucinogens on the way into work. What I mean by that is that your normal relationship to the world of money becomes completely abstracted and the rules of conventional economic logic no longer apply. Huge sums of money will drain from your bank account while you shriek with terrible laughter, utterly unable to comprehend what it means for your finances.

    When things calm down later on—and it’ll be much later on—you won’t even be able to calculate the financial damage so it’s best not to try. So yes, it’s good to have extra money.

    13. PREPARE A BACK UP PLAN

    What if your move takes longer than expected? What if you need to leave some of your items in storage?

    This is another great tip. The backup plan I suggest you prepare is quite simple: abandon the move and just stay where you are. I’m sure it’s lovely.


  3. How I’m taking control of my oversized vinyl collection, one record at a time

    Posted December 10, 2013 in Diary, music  |  No Comments so far

    I own far too many records.

    These records total over 2,000 and they’re sorted in alphabetical order by artist. A couple of months ago I decided to go through them systematically, one at a time. For each record I find, I ask myself a simple question: do I want to listen to it, all the way through, then and there?

    If I don’t, then the record gets listed for sale on Discogs. If I do, and I like it, it gets to stay; but if it gets a “meh”, then it gets listed for sale too.

    When I started this exercise I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. Now that I’ve passed the 200-record mark – still less than 10% of the total – I’m realising that it’s going to take ages to finish. Which is not such a bad thing. This long-running triage project is, after all, good fun. It’s nice to re-immerse myself in records I’ve not listened to for years. And it’s curious, almost exotic, to subject myself to its strict alphabetical discipline.

    In this digital age of expensive algorithms and the mind-bending calculations they perform to choose music that takes us to the precise centres of our comfort zones, it’s an odd experience to step away from the “Genius Mix” or the “Recently Played” playlists into an unforgiving regime of alphabetically-sorted vinyl. So you didn’t want to listen to Analord today? Tough. Thinking of leaping out of sequence to Sun Electric just because you ‘feel like it’? Again, tough: list or listen, that’s the rule. Selecting music based on what mood I’m in or what I want to hear will often bring me down the same old pathways to the same old group of albums, and this project is forcing me to do something different, which is great.

    I’ve come to realise that a lot of my record collection had become like junk DNA, lots of seemingly useless detritus that pads out the interesting stuff. Records that I’d regularly flick past without considering, on my way to the releases I wanted to hear. But, like junk DNA, many of them have turned out not to be so useless after all. Having to stop and subject each record to the “list or listen” test has kind of re-connected me to each one of them, encouraging me to remember why I bought the record in the first place, and to imagine future situations where I might regret having sold it. And there is some good stuff in there too. I’ve discovered that even records you’ve purchased can be ‘slept on’.

    OK, this all sounds like a convoluted description of a straightforward nostalgia trip, which it is in a way. But as much as I harp on about rediscovering music and things like that, this whole exercise has one clear and unsentimental objective, which is to reduce the size of my record collection. I’ll probably always own too many records, but one day I hope they’ll all be records I actually want to listen to.


  4. I finally made it to the Milliennium Dome

    Posted October 28, 2013 in Diary, London  |  No Comments so far

    I finally went to the Millennium Dome yesterday.

    I didn’t want to. The plan was to head east with our toddler and cross the Thames on the Emirates cable car. A bit of wind was blowing, however, so the cable cars had been mothballed by the time we arrived. The resulting toddler rage meant we needed to go somewhere else to mollify him, and as he’d shown an interest in the Dome upon passing it earlier, we decided to go there.

    The Dome

    The Dome. A building once so synonymous with costly failure that it could have been rebranded as “The White Elephant” and few would have noticed. In fact it exemplified that idiom so much that many people, when talking about wasteful follies, referred not to white elephants but to the Dome instead. Despite doing better as a metaphor than as a tourist attraction, I had lots of friends who popped down there to see the Millennium Experience exhibition even though their expectations were rock-bottom. I thought about going too – this was the Age of Irony after all – but while an afternoon of cringing at high-budget naffness sounded appealing, it was never quite appealing enough, so I didn’t bother.

    Eventually the exhibition shut down and the Dome spent years in planning limbo. Would it become a sports arena? A cinema? A metaphor? No-one knew. The uncertainty dragged on for so long that the whole story became boring and everyone forgot about it. Then the Dome popped up again, rebranded as the O2 Arena. If Bruce Springsteen or Cher were going to play in London there was a good chance they’d play there. There were restaurants and bars in there too. That’s all I ever picked up about it though – like nearly everybody else, I’d lost interest. And I still thought of it as the Dome, not the O2, whenever I thought of it at all.

    So back to today, and to our unscheduled visit to the Dome. We didn’t have a clue what we’d find in there. And while our toddler seemed keen enough when it was a distant spectacle on the horizon, his enthusiasm faded as we reached the door, shouting “other way!” as he tried to run back outside. After some cajoling, he finally entered.

    I could understand his reluctance: it’s a bleak space. The curved walkways around its inner walls are lined with the sorts of tourist-trap bars and restaurants that are rarely seen concentrated together so densely. If Angus Steak House applied for a slot here I imagine they’d be turned down for being “too authentic”.

    Dome Couture

    Makes Leicester Square seem like a foody-bohemian paradise

    Another thing that struck me about the Dome was how confused and disjointed it was. The interior and exterior are not reconciled at all. Yes, you can see the ceiling and that gives you the sense of being inside the Dome, but most other things inside it look like they were designed for somewhere else and ended up here by accident. It was how I imagine a big film studio, a vast warehouse-like space cluttered up with unrelated bits of fake buildings and props and scenery. All of the interior objects looked out of place. Although the wall in the photo below would look daft anywhere.

    Stupid wall

    I really don’t like this stupid bit of wall. What’s it trying to be?

    But most of all, the Dome feels like an earlier, failed, version of the experiments that would eventually produce that whole wave of shiny, branded spaces that make up the new east London: Westfield Stratford, the Olympic site, the new Overground stations, and so on. When you visit Westfield you might not enjoy yourself but you have to acknowledge it succeeds on its own terms, and it also makes those terms quite clear, with visitors being left in no doubt what Westfield Stratford was created to do.

    It’s the opposite with the Dome. Even though it’s now a functioning music & comedy venue, the sense of purposeless it was so notorious for in the early 2000s still lingers in the air beneath its canopy, and will probably never dissipate. Next time I visit that area I really hope the cable car is running.


  5. How I Turned Out To Be Wrong About Self-Checkout Machines

    Posted November 6, 2012 in Diary, London  |  No Comments so far

    I can still remember my first encounter with self-checkout machines, at the Sainsbury’s near Angel. I thought they were great, that they’d change the world. And they did, I guess – just not in a good way.

    Back then this Sainsbury’s was the only serious supermarket in the area so it got pretty busy. Weekday evenings were so crowded that shoppers unable to cope with the queues would dump their baskets and storm out enraged to the point of tears, while a large clock on the wall reminded the rest of us just how much of our lives were being wasted there beneath the bright supermarket lights. It was hard to handle.

    Maybe the horror of shopping at this branch was why it became a trial site for self-service checkout machines. Initially, though, they seemed to make matters worse. Shoppers feared these new devices so piled into the other lanes, making the existing queues longer. Sainsbury’s responded by forming a kind of evangelism team who would lure people away from the queue and into the glorious new world of the self-checkout. Gradually they chipped away at our resistance to change.

    Me, I didn’t take much convincing. After my first try I was hooked. I particularly loved how they repelled other shoppers. For some time the self-checkout machines, untroubled by the masses, offered we who understood them an opportunity to escape Sainsbury’s early and enjoy our lives.

    Eventually the appeal of the self-checkout machines spread beyond the early adopters. The Sainsbury’s evangelists spent less time frogmarching shoppers to the machines and adopted a peacetime role offering support to willing users. The machines had been accepted; they had gone mainstream, which meant they had their own queues and no longer represented a queue-free exit from supermarkets. The golden age was at an end.

    One major benefit remained, however: the avoidance of conversation. Londoners famously like to minimise interactions with strangers. Think how rare it is for anyone to greet bus drivers nowadays: the only interaction is between our proffered cards and the businesslike beep of the Oyster machine. The self-checkout appeals to the same tendency. It avoids conversation about what we’re buying, the weather, not wanting a bag for that single item in our basket. Like the Oyster reader, the self-checkout wants nothing from us but a proffered object and gives nothing back but a businesslike beep. It satisfies our yearning for the impersonal.

    Along with many others I embraced the alienating aspect of the experience. Even in empty supermarkets with vacant manned tills I would veer towards the machine rather than the human. I was glad for the choice and thought it was the way of the future. But I now realise I was wrong.

    I recently moved house and now live near a Tesco and a Sainsbury’s where the self-checkout has become central to the routine of shopping rather than an auxiliary exit lane for the anti-social and technically adept. Adoption is so widespread there that the early days of the technology seem like a distant era; the fear and confusion with which we once approached those machines is a behavioural relic, like the firm-jawed way Victorians once posed for photographs.

    No-one needs help any more, apart from when the machine actually breaks. Grandmothers and schoolkids alike process their shopping like seasoned professionals. The dwindling human staff linger unoccupied, a legacy technology, needed only for fetching cigarettes or to green-light alcohol purchases.

    I don’t like it. It wasn’t so bad when only a few people used self-checkout, but when everyone does it feels faintly dystopian, like airport security or Argos. In the queue we don’t know where to look. We certainly can’t rest our gaze on the bored staff – they inspire too much guilt, because deep down we all know that by choosing the self-checkout lane we’re telling them they aren’t needed. We’re all dehumanised. The worst thing about it is the broken contract, the polluted relationship between customers and staff, how we now occupy the same space but have nothing to do with one another.

    So every now and again, when given the choice, I opt for the checkout with the human being behind it. The self-checkout still has its place if we want to leave a supermarket quickly – but if we want to change the world, let’s do something else instead.


  6. Do not blog about Dad Club

    Posted February 25, 2012 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    My son Aidan was born just over 11 weeks ago. Since then I’ve not exactly been the most prolific blogger.

    This isn’t due to a lack of things to talk about: becoming a parent is a profound and transforming experience, even for us fathers. Its impact is so powerful that it changes your personality. And when you go through a life event that makes you become a different person in the course of several weeks, you’ve definitely got a lot to talk about.

    Aidan and Brendan

    4 days into the experience

    But the problem is that you’re knackered. Or else it’s that there’s never any time. For me, a big problem is that there’s so much to talk about you don’t know where to begin. Forget blog posts, I feel like I could write a book – but I’m too knackered, and there’s never any time. So I haven’t really been talking about it. Well, not here anyway.

    It’s a shame that I haven’t written more about fatherhood here, though, because I’m starting to find that my memory of the first few weeks is fading. Cathy and I often wonder, is Aidan easier to deal with now that when he was back then? Neither of us know! We remember details – for example, I could tell you the precise time of Aidan’s first fart – but to get a sense of the patterns and rhythm of life in those early days seems very difficult.

    So I’ve resolved to try to write more about fatherhood, if only because my memory has proved that it’s not up to the job. But if this site starts turning into a “daddy blog” please promise you’ll throw some virtual cold water into my virtual face.


  7. Kerry & Mick – a love story that deserves to be told

    Posted October 25, 2011 in Diary  |  No Comments so far

    Back in 1999 I was living in Whitechapel, near a couple called Mick and Kerry who spent a year or so having a passionate love affair.

    We all knew this because their affair was being conducted in full view of the public. On several walls near my flat, they’d been having the written-language equivalent of fantastic sex for all to see.

    always-you-i-love-you

    Love's light shines brighter than the BNP's

    The graffiti started appearing in March 1999, appearing first on the wall pictured above and then spreading slowly onto a disused old doorway across the street. These spray-painted messages of love became quite wild and transcendental at one point; this next one sees both Kerry and Mick touching the infinite.

    love-is-god

    "Kerry is god... Love is god..."

    But being extremely versatile communicators they weren’t limited strictly to the grandiose; they knew how to be succinct as well.

    Always You Kerry

    The small sign says "Oil fill to be kept locked at all times"

    By the summer there was quite a lot of Mick and Kerry graffiti. Who were Mick and Kerry? Where did they live? What kind of a strange relationship did they have, that their intimate pledges of love were spilling out in front of an intrigued if bemused public?

    Mick I love you Kerry god knows

    I'm pretty sure Kerry was behind this one but it's hard to tell

    The messages stopped appearing in early autumn 1999. I imagined several possible reasons for this.

    Firstly, I honestly couldn’t think of anywhere else they could spread their messages to. They’d taken up almost all of the available free space, and it wouldn’t have been in the spirit of things to expand to another street.

    Secondly, the graffiti could have been a by-product of the honeymoon phase of their affair. Maybe their relationship was at a more mature stage with dinner parties starting to replace amorous late-night graffiti.

    Thirdly, their red spraycan might have finally run dry.

    As time went by, it seemed that we’d heard the last from Mick and Kerry, that their story would remain an enigmatic mystery. But several months later a new message appeared – from a devastated Mick.

    Kerry - miss you like mad - Mick

    Maybe Mick scratched this into the wall with his bare hands?

    Our local love story had reached a tragic conclusion, made all the more poignant by Mick’s last lament being scratched on to a door with a piece of metal.

    And that was that for Mick and Kerry. None of the questions I had about them would ever be answered, but there’s one thing I did know for sure; somewhere, in a flat near mine, was a failed graffiti artist with a broken heart. And somewhere else – maybe very far away by this time – was a mad girl called Kerry with a red spraycan.

    The whole doorway

    The whole doorway


  8. Near miss at 35,000 feet

    Posted June 25, 2011 in Diary  |  1 Comment so far

    Soaring westwards high above the Baltic sea yesterday, befuddled by sleeplessness and exhaustion after an intense working week in St Petersburg, I was examining the clouds from my window seat and struggling to stay awake when another airliner suddenly appeared in the sky, bearing down on us.

    It was approaching our own plane from the right, at a slightly lower altitude, and within two seconds it had vanished under our wing and out of sight, passing us at a distance of between 500 and 1,000 feet. No-one else seemed to notice it. Five seconds later the cabin started to rock as its wake hit our fuselage. The shaking was nothing serious – just some mild turbulence – and stopped after ten seconds or so. Then it was all over.

    When you see an airliner travelling at full speed, you’re usually in one of two locations. You might be on the ground looking up, gazing at distant planes crawling across the sky. Or else you’re actually inside the plane, looking out as the clouds slide by. Either way you don’t get a clear visual sense of how fast these things are travelling, so to see one zipping by at cruising altitude was a pretty interesting experience. It was easily the fastest thing I’ve ever seen.

    Funnily enough, it wasn’t as scary as it might sound. It was obvious at first glance that the plane’s trajectory would take it underneath us. There was a tense few seconds between seeing the plane and feeling the shockwave hit – how powerful would it be? – but when the rocking started it was obvious that the plane could handle it.

    While writing this post I’ve been searching Youtube for near-miss videos, and haven’t found any examples where the planes come as close as these two did. Maybe it’s normal, but I’ve never seen it happen at high altitude – only when planes are in holding patterns over airports. Has anyone else seen planes come that close, at that speed? Is it an everyday thing? Or should we all have been more alarmed?


  9. The Penguin Pool at London Zoo – I liked it more than the penguins did

    Posted May 8, 2011 in Diary, Photos  |  No Comments so far

    Last weekend I went to London Zoo for the first time. The thing I liked most – apart from the animals obviously – was the Penguin Pool.

    Penguin Pool outside photo

    You can tell from the typeface that it’s going to be good

    The Penguin Pool was created in the 1930s by Berthold Lubetkin and Ove Arup, and is now taken care of by an independent pool management company.  It’s a masterpiece of modernist architecture, but the penguins don’t live there any more. They were evicted in 2004 amid concerns that waddling around on reinforced concrete was hurting their joints.

    Photo of inside the Penguin Pool

    To be fair it doesn’t look like an ideal penguin habitat

    I was transfixed by the Penguin Pool. The intensity of light, the curved white space, the bold double helix in the centre: I didn’t know what to do with the space, but I had a strong urge to go in there and use it somehow. Obviously the penguins didn’t feel the same way. I guess me and penguins don’t see eye to eye on everything after all.

    Another shot inside the Penguin Pool

    It’s not easy to burrow in concrete

    JG Ballard’s landscapes of broken suburban landscapes being reappropriated by nature came to mind when I gazed into the Penguin Pool. Crystal-shelled armadillos crawling along the floors of long-empty swimming pools, that sort of thing.

    Sometimes architecture serves a purpose, sometimes it doesn’t. Like the brutalist Elephant House, another listed structure at London Zoo that no longer houses its original tenants, the Penguin Pool failed to accommodate the needs of penguins just as Le Corbusier’s grand aesthetic failed to address the problems of human cities.

    But this doesn’t detract from the beauty and impact these works can retain. For me, the Penguin Pool’s only failing is that the creatures it was really designed for just haven’t been invented yet.