Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow! 1: Look OMG The Snow is Falling

This is the post about the snow where I just go 'snow! Oh my God!' and show you some pretty pictures. Thus unimpressing those used to proper extreme weather, for whom we are but milquetoasts obsessed with any change to our bland, grey weather. Anyway so me and my sister Frances have been going outside our flat, skidding around in the slush and generally behaving like idiot children. All photographs by her except for the ones with her in, which feature my famously inept camera skills.

The small park outside our East Greenwich flat, at midnight. The chip shop and the all-you-can-eat chinese buffet are covered in icing, and the park looks much like this:

Today we decided initially to go to East Greenwich Pleasaunce, a slightly larger park which was laid out as a burial ground for employees of the Royal Naval Hospital. Nobody seems to know it exists. There were about three children and one American woman making a snowman. 

We retire to the excellent GMT Cafe to recuperate. In this cafe there were once photographs of the Slavic proprietor in military fatigues. Initially we wondered what side he fought on, then realised by reading the caption that he's actually posing in his job as an extra - in Spooks, as a Yugoslavian colonel. They have no mushrooms, presumably because London's mushroom wholesalers have all died of hypothermia on the Blackwall Approach. After much discussion she convinces me we that we ought to walk up the hill to Blackheath,  thus risking our very life and limb.

The road goes alongside said tunnel approach, where we also note the local Rail station is snowed in. 

When we finally get to Blackheath it is white as far as the eye can see. There should normally be a large office block in this shot, but Lewisham's nearby Citibank tower is totally obscured by mist and snow. Blackheath usually has pretensions to be south London's Hampstead, but today it is its Siberia. If I were in a postpunk band this is where I would get Anton Corbijn to point his camera while I gaze existentially into the distance.

We walk over to the Paragon, a Barry Lyndon Georgian close on the edge of the heath, designed by Michael Searle in 1792, blitzed and reconstructed as part of the Festival of Britain ('cockney panache...the Royal Crescent at Bath wearing a South London grin' - Nairn). Sadly this facet of that exercise in 'three dimensional socialist propaganda' is now obscured by the giant cars of the super-rich - although they look much nicer when covered in icing. This is my only hat, and I apologise for it.

By this point I can no longer feel my feet, so hubristically declare to some protest that we shall walk on, through the various Eric Lyons-designed Span schemes of the 1950s and 60s that give Blackheath an element of high-end, somewhat Scandinavian midcentury Modernism to go alongside the Georgiana. This one, South Row, has a neat beton brut frame enclosing some deeply covetable flats full of books and things. The gardens and public spaces that make these developments so enduringly idyllic are actually private areas, but their Grade II* listing stops them being enclosed, so one can walk through them willy-nilly.

A bit further on there are more - Hall Gate, the Hall - past a church whose spire always resembles to me some sort of instrument of medieval torture (George Smith, 1830). Two of these photos hopefully show his beautifully flowing, Weimar Republic Siedlung-style landscaping blanketed appropriately in snow, while the last one is by Patrick Gwynne - Kubrickian again, resembling the houses where the intellectuals of his pop art/russified state plot to alter the minds of criminal youth.

Eventually we try to walk home down Vanbrugh Hill without falling over, miraculously just managing it. This view would usually show all a panorama of Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome, and its rather nice that we can't see them, other than as the most abstract set of blurred neon lights.


Anonymous Jonathan Davies said...


Liked the photos, but what does this mean:"...Weimar Republic Siedlung-style landscaping blanketed appropriately in snow, while the last one is by Patrick Gwynne - Kubrickian again, resembling the houses where the intellectuals of his pop art/russified state plot to alter the minds of criminal youth."

I lived in both the Span houses in Foxes Dale (in the 60s) and The Hall (in the 90s), and loved the mixed-up Blackheath landscape and architecture - admittedly thanks to the WW2 bombing.

3:41 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Heh, it means the following, in a convoluted way - in the case of a) that it reminded me of the housing estates (siedlungen) designed in the Weimar republic, which have planting very like Span; and b) the Gwynne house just seems very Clockwork Orange, like the open-plan houses the droogs break into in said film. Hope that clears it up...

4:27 pm  
Anonymous Jonathan Davies said...

Thanks Owen - it always fascinates me how we see & experience objects from different perspectives (my kids are a constant reminder of this). The interior of the Gwynne house was very exotic for us in those days, but we were far more impressed by the lurid-yellow Lamborghini parked a few doors along Blackheath Park (this was time when our parents had Morris Minors, Fords--- in their own way revolutionary),

6:52 pm  
OpenID blackheathbugle said...

I nearly rented an flat in one of the Span buildings when we first moved to Blackheath, but it was on the ground floor, and felt like it would be very easy to burgle. They are strange buildings though - my girlfriend always referred to it as "The Clockwork Orange Flat". I've linked to your post on the Blackheath Bugle - but I can't believe you didn't go and check out The Pagoda! It's hardly brutalist, but for weird English Orientalism you can't do much better...

11:21 am  
OpenID blackheathbugle said...

By the way, you can see inside the Patrick Gwynne Hexagonal House here:

11:24 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Cheers. I didn't know about the pagoda! One for next time...

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