At West St Leonards I finally catch sight of the sky – the mixture of railway tunnels and the natural darkness till this point meant the only way I could tell if I was in the open was a cursory glance at my mobile phone signal.

A much milder start than anticipated – the weather people had warned of thick fog and a harsh frost, but perhaps that will come tomorrow morning?

I remembered to sit on the left hand side today, and the view out this way is a little more interesting as the land falls away to the left, rolling down to the sea briefly until our course is corrected to the north.

Here, the landscape is that familiar mix of agricultural land which looks somehow wild: I still remember a timeĀ before and a timeĀ after the moment I was enlightened by a friend of the fact that incredibly small amounts of the British countryside are actually ‘natural’ or wild.

Having grown up surrounded by neatly edged fields and plantations of woodland and roads splintering across the landscape, I had at one time felt that this patchwork of greens and browns was very obviously ‘nature’ in the sense of being untouched by man. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to be disabused of that impression.

Yesterday there had been a thick frost at dawn.

My weather apparatus logged a temperature of between -2 and -3 Celsius. But by the time I’d had my first coffee it had thawed as the night’s chill lost its grip, and the temperatures inverted into positive numbers.

The birds noticed this change, too. As I boiled the kettle for the first time, the garden had been empty of movement, and even the sky lacked the usual marauding seagulls and corvids. There came a tipping point, though, and by the time the tree limbs were dripping, the birds had decided en masse to wake up, and appeared to descend as one upon our garden.

I saw: wren, robin, black bird, blue tit, great tit, sparrow, coal tit, and mistle thrush – that last being an uncommon sight in this garden. I had seen previously the sparrows and tits happily sharing the same tree – the robin being more characteristically territorial, chasing off its foes – but I had not before seen this gregarious association across the species, as if a brief ceasefire had been declared on the occasion of the morning’s bitter start. For a few moments, the pecking order had been disrupted and all could pursue their first meals.

All, that is, apart from the tiny, frantic wren, whose movements had already been erratic, but as soon as the robin had become aware of its presence, it was summarily dismissed from the gathering and chased into the lower reaches of a nearby hedge. Some rivalries persist even during the harshest hours.

“Blue” Monday


For ‘blue Monday’, nature is definitely trying its best to shift those blues to one side.

This morning I was greeted with a clear, blue sky with just wisps of cloud catching and burning orange as the sun rose, and the odd vapour trail from aircraft high above.

On the horizon a large, full and yellow moon sets, nestling from time to time in the monochrome branches of bare trees, and I catch it and lose it as my train weaves its way up the southern English countryside. Beneath it, the ground is hard and silvery. In town the temperature had crept above freezing by the time I woke, but out here away from everything the air and ground is still frigid from the winter night.

I am enjoying these staggered commutes so far – the scenery is good, and doing the same journey at the same time twice a week means I am noticing the dawn creeping ever earlier, and – something I’ve missed for a while – I am more and more aware of the conditions outside and how they change over time. For too long I was sealed away from these subtle changes.

The rhythms of this route feel familiar to me from a childhood spent growing up at the end of the Metropolitan Line: London will ever be a train journey away and I grow to appreciate the cadence of familiar sights and sounds on the way there and back. A (mostly) predictable bubble of time I can disappear into for a while.

And when I am sated on the outside world, I can turn to the inside one: reading articles and blog posts, listening to music and field recordings and podcasts and mixes, and reflecting. And from most of those I can draw inspiration which might, I hope, coagulate one day into something worth doing or thinking or saying.

Making this early morning journey in winter means that the spreading daylight coincides with the oncoming day. I board the train with only a gloaming in the sky, and by the time I emerge at the other end, the day has very much begun. It will feel different again as the year progresses and I begin my journey in full sunlight. But that is just another seasonal, temporal progression, one of many, that I am looking forward to feeling unfold at its own pace.

Friday, 7 January 2022


Friday. Up and out by 7.30. Urged on by Thursday’s gorgeous bright and crisp start (above), which I had whizzed through at speed on a London-bound train, I find Friday’s attempt somewhat less stunning, but fine enough to run.

As usual with winter running, arms initially cold but I warmed up in a few minutes, running gently uphill towards Silverhill, up to the junction with Sedlescombe Road North. Then along, and down, down, down, under lightening skies, down to the sea front at St Leonards.

I pass a brown tourist sign pointing to ‘Seafront’ and noticed that it had been stencil graffitied underneath in a similar font and colour with ‘doesn’t exist’. My mind paused briefly to consider whether this was a bespoke job for this particular seafront or this particular sign, but I reckon it’s something that could be used elsewhere.

As I near St Leonards I see the U-shaped valley formed by the shops and buildings on either side of the road, and the view through to the sea beyond. I like these views, where the land rolls down to the sea, and you often find a gateway or arch through to the sea in towns like this.

I had timed this run as much to get me out at dawn before work as to see the coast at low tide. Hastings and St Leonards has quite a wide tidal range, and it’s still novel to me to observe it at its highest and lowest. I check the charts for these extremes and if the timing works out I will always try and get down to see them. A year of reading The Almanac from my London home and reading but not fully understanding the concepts of spring and neap tides, and now I live by the sea and can start to grasp it.

This morning it’s an hour or so from low tide and rock reefs are exposed, along with wide, flat banks of sand which normally lie under five or six metres of water, owing to the steepness of the beach.

The submerged reefs are fun to explore, forming rockpools, and the exposed flat sand is also fun as the beaches hereabouts are made up of large pebbles and shingle. But at low tide there are wide swathes of flat, dense sand which can be walked on run on.

The rocks are fascinating too as it gives the impression of a reservoir or lake in which the plug has been pulled and the water level has dropped sufficiently to reveal ruins and remains of something much older. I’m told there are shipwrecks along this stretch of the coast, and I look forward to making a special journey out to see the exposed ribs of an old, doomed vessel in the shallow waters.

I’m not the only one out here at 8am – dog walkers and the occasional solo walker are out too, some rather further out than I dare to venture in my running gear. They appear as dots further out on the sandbanks, reflected in the isthmus of water left behind on the surface. There are also one or two photographers, including a man with a smartphone clamped into a sturdy-looking tripod pointing down the coast to the pier and the sunrise beyond.

At this time of the year the sun makes a shallow arc up and over the horizon, and it rises out of the sea. Those of a certain constitution embrace this event, bravely going for a dip in waters below 10 degrees Celsius, emerging red and frantic and elated. But there is no actual sun to see on the horizon this morning – and I see no swimmers – as a bank of cloud sits grumpily obscuring the show, teasing us with occasional pink and gold frills at the edges.

I snap a few photos on my phone, grateful to have this remarkable landscape not so far from home now, before running along the promenade until I have to turn left at the sculpture of a submerged / re-emerging Norman longboat, and head for home under the shadow of the cliff-top castle ruins.

I manage 10km on this morning’s run – I’d planned an 8.5km route, but hadn’t figured in the beach explorations. It’s a good way to start the day, and I return home for a steaming cup of coffee and a fried egg sandwich while I edit some of the morning’s photos, my legs tired, but with a rewarding ache.

I Live a Lot of Places


This morning I have Woodpigeon’s song ‘I Live a Lot of Places’ in my head, and as I put the album on – an album released in either late 2008 or early 2009, whichever source you consult – Google Photos showed me some images from late November and early December 2008. My first winter in Manchester.

It’s not hard to look at those frosty, misty photos and feel a good dose of nostalgia. It was pretty cold, mind you. But Manchester opened up and offered up a hundred little places to call my own, or to share with like-minded folks.

I moved to Manchester in September of that year, and proceeded to start a new life there, with my best friend living elsewhere in the same halls of residence, and with the vague notion of studying at university providing a core to the reason for moving there in the first place.

Did I move to Manchester to go to university, or did I go to university to move to Manchester?

As the cold winter wore on – my first in that northern climate – my small room revealed itself to be rather cold. The single electric heater had a timer switch – did that put it on for an hour at a time, or for half an hour? – and I became adept at pressing it from under my duvet using the extended leg of a camera tripod before I finally had to get up.

The walk from Daisybank up to my university buildings took me along or through Whitworth Park and I’ll always associate the reddening, browning leaves with the red bricks of the buildings thereabouts. Across the road was the imposing Manchester Royal Infirmary, reminding me that my grandmama (who trained as a nurse in Nottingham) grew up not so far from there.

I remember sitting in the university library overlooking All Saints Park on cold, frosty mornings like these, unable to shake the connection it made me feel with the grids and squares of Christchurch. That city played on my mind a lot during those years I lived in Manchester, from my visit earlier in 2008, to the devastating quakes in 2011. But it wasn’t long before I’d spent enough time in Manchester’s libraries, bars, high streets and backstreets that it all began to embed itself into my mental map, and to make sense to me.

Now I find myself these many years later, stumbling into places in other towns and cities which make me think of Manchester’s red bricks and basement bars and lingering signs of industry; its mix of gentrification and dilapidation.

I received my advance copy of Woodpigeon’s Treasury Library Canada during that first winter in Manchester, not long after the photos above were taken, thanks to our involvement with PULP, the university’s student magazine.

It was an instant hit, right from those opening snare hits in the intro to the opening track. And this chance encounter with their album would lead to two occasions where John and I had Woodpigeon come and play a live session for us, first at PULP magazine, and again for our show on Levenshulme community radio station All FM. Good times.

With a head that’s today full of Manchester – and, constantly, New Zealand – it seems pertinent to add that M and I are moving away from London this week (though not our jobs), down to the south coast.

I’ve lived in London for six years, and M nearer fifteen. This move has been in the works for about eighteen months, initially held up by the current situation. As usual with these things it feels both long drawn out, and suddenly happening all at once.

It will take a while to mentally readjust to our new home town. But I am very excited about it all.

I live a lot of places, indeed.

Re-photographing glass plate negatives for a new angle on early 20th century New Zealand

aotearoa, archives, blog, history, national library of new zealand, new zealand, nz, photography

The above glass plates are in fact from Manchester Central Library rather than NLNZ

There was a time when I would read about some cool new project on the National Library of New Zealand’s website and get stupidly excited, frothing at the mouth on my blog at how cool it is, and how much they as an institution seem to get right with stuff like this.

That time is still now. I still do that. Here is another one.

With the blog post Re-visioning Joseph Divis and Waiuta from Caroline McQuarrie, we have a really interesting take on breathing new life into early photographic depictions of life in Aotearoa New Zealand.

There is an inherent difficulty in representing analogue photography in the digital space, particularly when the object itself is not merely a flat, paper-based print but is rather an object in and of itself.

Photographing a 2D object top-down with good, even, lighting is one solution for simpler media. But even then decisions have to be made about how to light the object, and what angle to shoot at.

If the object itself is more elaborate, like a Daguerreotype housed in a folding frame, or a glass transparency, then it all gets a lot more complicated.

How to light it? How to even support it, allowing for light to pass through the object so the subject can be seen? Which way to shoot it? Reversed, so that the image itself (impregnated onto one side of the glass) is the most detailed part, the image later being digitally reversed?

But then what if you take this process – photographing an object which is itself photographic – and abstract it one level further? Rather than merely trying to digitise the flat image the object represents, why not expand on that and use photographic techniques to present the image in an entirely new way?

And that is what McQuarrie has done here: new takes on old images, which highlight – thanks to the inherent quality and detail of the original photographs themselves – tiny elements or areas present in the scene itself. It’s brilliant. It’s a sort of uncanny ’tilt shift’ effect which brings into focus just one section of the larger image.

McQuarrie’s wider project into the area’s history is equally interesting, and as usual with the NLNZ blog, I am just so glad they have brought it to my attention.

(Do not misunderstand me: I feel that the priority when digitising objects like this in the first instance is a good representation of the image contained within – that is arguably the most important ‘message’ to capture. But I imagine that this is the same goal of world-class institutions like the National Library of New Zealand as well! These sorts of projects are the next tier up – a meta-project which breathes new life into an existing collection.)

Footnote: This all reminds me that I believe I once had a short-lived series on Tumblr posting old photos that had been scanned at high resolution – from the likes of the National Library of New Zealand or the Library of Congress (via Shorpy) – and highlighting tiny details contained within those photos that were visible thanks to the high res nature of both the digital scans and the underlying quality of the image itself.