1. 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.

  2. The 10K run: over and done with

    Posted July 11, 2010 in running  |  No Comments so far

    Today was the day of the Asics 10K London Run, the first serious running event I’ve ever taken part in. And I finished the race alive, getting to the finish line in just over 54 minutes!

    But what’s more impressive is that my sponsors helped me raise a total of £290 – much more than my goal of £200. That money will go to the Haller Foundation, a charity that works towards environmental and economic development in Kenya. It’s not too late to sponsor me, of course – just head over to my page on JustGiving.com if you’d like to chip in.

    The race itself

    My usual running routine is pretty simple. I run up to Highbury Fields, circle it several times, then come back home. Other runners will be there but it’s hardly packed. So the 20,000 participants in today’s run made it a very different experience.

    The race route – click to see larger version

    There were lots of novel things about today’s experience. Here are three of them.

    To begin with, it was funny being a cause of, rather than merely subject to, a massive transport disruption in central London. As soon as I arrived at Piccadilly and saw the thousands of runners mobbing the cordoned-off streets, I realised that the race had more or less shut down Westminster for the morning. Usually when these things happen I’m one of the people on a diverted bus cursing the event and everyone involved, so it was nice for the boot to be on the other foot.

    Another thing that surprised me was how encouraging I found the spectators. I’m accustomed to running in a near-deserted field so wasn’t looking forward to thousands of strangers looking on and shouting. But in the end I actually missed them on the stretches of race where they weren’t allowed. Hopefully it won’t seem too lonely next time I run around Highbury Fields!

    Finally there was the sheer size of the crowd. On Highbury Fields you might pass an unpredictable dog or a pavement-spanning pushchair armada, but at least there aren’t 20,000 other people running around. When there are, you quickly learn two things: i) there are lots of people slower than you and ii) there are lots of people faster than you. This means you need to read the crowd, in front as well as behind you. Running into someone’s back or being run into by someone else could lead to a pretty painful fall, so you really have to look out.

    Cathy came along to cheer me on, and found it so inspiring that she went to the gym afterwards and ran 5km on the treadmill for the first time ever. And I was pretty inspired too. I will definitely be doing it again!

  3. Running 10,000 metres in July – and looking for sponsors!

    Posted June 9, 2010 in running  |  No Comments so far

    On Sunday July 11th 2010, I’m taking part in a 10,000 metre run in central London. It’s my first proper race and I’m doing it for charity – so all donations are welcome!

    To donate, please visit my JustGiving page and follow the instructions. It won’t take more than a few minutes.

    The charity I’m running for is the Haller Foundation who work for economic and ecological development in Kenya. To find out more about why I’m running for them, click here.

    The Race

    The race I’m running is the ASICS British 10K London Run. Its official website can be found here but be warned, it is absolutely atrocious! So to spare you from having to experience its full horror, here’s what you need to know.

    It all kicks off at 9.35am on Sunday 11th July 2010. The starting point is Hyde Park Corner (Google Maps link).

    The route goes down to the river via Trafalgar Square and then eastwards to Tower Bridge, where we turn around and come back along Embankment. We’ll go west as far as Westminster Bridge before heading up to the Houses of Parliament, then finally along Whitehall to the finish line at Horse Guards (Google Maps link).

    My plan is to run the race in 50 minutes, so if there are no complications I should be finishing at approximately 10.30am. I’ll then most likely be on the lookout for a local pub to visit (although obviously not The Greencoat Boy!).

    The Haller Foundation

    The charity I’m running for is the Haller Foundation. You’d be forgiven for not having heard of them – I hadn’t until a month ago, when I visited their stall at the Camley Street Natural Park Festival and got talking to their representatives.

    The Haller Foundation works in support of economic and ecological development in Kenya. They rightly view economic and ecological issues as completely interlinked, and this is reflected in the way they work.

    They focus on providing small farming communities with techniques and tools that can be sustainably managed, without need for ongoing outside support. They encourage farmers to work smaller plots of land far more effectively, which in turn delivers ecological improvement at the regional scale. And they recognise that human communities, economies and ecosystems are all emergent and highly interlinked systems, which respond best to change coming from the “bottom-up” instead of from the “top-down”.

    Please sponsor me in this 10K run and help the Haller Foundation continue to improve the lives of communities, economies and ecosystems in east Africa.