31 January 2013

LIKE 42: How to do an Elevator Pitch

The prospect of an evening discussing Elevator Pitches did not really appeal to me that much but it had been some months since I had managed to get to a LIKE meeting that I made the effort anyway.

It proved to be a very wise decision.

Our guide for the evening was Suzanne Wheatley of Sue Hill Recruitment. And a good guide she was too as she took us on a well-prepared journey. She is standing at the right end of the bar while we are all sat eagerly at our tables.

One of the philosophies behind LIKE is that the sessions are interactive and Suzanne's session was more interactive than most. She peppered her talk with activities for us to do that reinforced the points she was making.

There are two parts to the Elevator Pitch, the message and the messenger. Both must be right to make the required impact.

The message should contain one decent fact and one insightful question. It should be something simple and something memorable. The messenger needs to convey the message well and to inspire confidence.

You are more important than your ideas so presentation really matters. Start with a good handshake and positive eye-contact, but do that without being oppressive. That was our first exercise of the evening and we practised handshaking and maintaining eye-contact. I think that I lost the staring competition.

Next we considered our voices. This means being conscious of the volume, length and pace. We may have a lot to say but if we say too much too quickly then the main message will get lost.

In particular, we need to pause to allow time for the words to sink in.

Our exercise for this was tongue-twisters which are easy to say if you get the pace right but which breakdown if we try to say them too quickly and sound dull if we say them too slowly. It is not an easy balancing act and practise helps.

The message needs to be concise and compelling. Think about the objective? Are you selling you, the bid, the company? How do you/your company solve problems/provide value? What is the key point? What do you want to happen next?

Be excited about your main message. If you are not excited then you cannot expect your target to be.

End with a question with a yes/no answer so that you have to get a definitive response, e.g. Can I call you next week to arrange a meeting?

For our final exercise we had to invent an elevator situation and write a pitch for it. Mine was meeting our new CEO and this is what I came up with. "Hi, I'm Matthew Rees. I am in the Business Consulting division currently working on the Weymouth Water account. They are spending $10m on a new customer billing system. I have 15 years experience of implementing billing systems in utilities and telcos world-wide. Is there a role for me on this project?"

The pitch is far from ideal, and that is part of the point. It shows that you need to spend time and effort in getting them right.

Suzanne's session was excellent. It delivered good information and real value while engaging us totally in the experience.

After the formalities came the food, drink and conversations that make LIKE sessions so enjoyable. I lingered for another couple of hours just mixing and being sociable. It was a great evening, and a useful one too.

30 January 2013

Consulting on the Planning Brief for Latchmere House

Once upon a time Latchmere House was the centre piece of a low-risk prison and then a couple of years ago the Ministry of Justice realised that it was poor use of land and they could get sheds load of money by selling it to a property developer. That is now going to happen and a planning brief is being prepared to guide them as to what is acceptable development.

This is complicated a little by having the borough boundary run through the site with the top half being in the Borough of Richmond and the lower in the (Royal) Borough of Kingston. The two councils have collaborated to produce the planning brief but it is still not clear how the final decision will be made. But that is a question for a later day and at the moment we are still in the consultation stage and that was the purpose of the meeting that I went to.

I am interested in the site because I am interested in the local area (hence my Ham Photos blog), I am interested in buildings generally and I am on the Committee of the Kingston upon Thames Society.

I was also interested in the meeting itself as I wanted to know how many people were there and what their views were.

There was a full panel to explain the plan to us comprising officers and councillors from Kingston and Richmond, the external consultants used and local MP, Zac Goldsmith, who chaired the meeting.

The Concept Plan included in the planning brief summarised what the councils were trying to achieve:

  • New homes to be sensitive in scale, character and proximity to the site’s neighbours and Conservation Area, in line with identified housing need;
  • The setting of Latchmere House is to be enhanced and protected;
  • There is an improved network of pedestrian routes across the site;
  • The existing vehicular access of Church Road is maintained and improved;
  • Potential for new vehicular accesses via Latchmere Lane, and by extending Garth Road is shown;
  • There is no direct vehicular access through the site;
  • The new homes enjoy easy access to the Tudor Drive Local Centre and bus stops.

The diagram below shows the layout of the site, the proposed access routes and the proposed green spaces, most of which are already there.

The Concept Plan seemed pretty reasonable apart from insistence that the new homes are "sensitive in scale, character and proximity to the site’s neighbours". This looks like a missed opportunity to me.

This used to be a prison so almost anything would be a significant improvement on what was there before.

The houses nearby are, generally, at the lower-end of family housing. This includes ex-prison officers homes and ex-social housing. Again, what we build in the centre is almost certainly going to be better than what is around it.

Generally Kingston has taken a very conservative approach to new housing and almost everything is in the mixed vernacular style with pointed roofs and Tudoresque timbers. I would like to see something imaginative and iconic built. Something like the nearby Span development at Parkleys.

Instead we are likely to get something extremely dull like this.

The reason for this approach appeared to be traffic, i.e. the councils did not want a larger number of units because of the extra car journeys they will bring.

And traffic was certainly the main concern of the audience, about a third of whom came from the Garth Road / Garth Close area and were opposed to their cul de sac being extended and pedestrians being allowed to walk past their homes.

This is nonsense in so many ways. I live near to the only entrance to a much larger development and I hardly ever see a car go past. Traffic is most definitely not a problem for me and it will not be for the Latchmere site either.

There were some nice comments made apart from the continual moans about traffic. I loved it when one of the consultants said that they wanted the area to be "permeable", a word I tend to overuse, and there was a neat suggestion from Ham United Group (HUG) that part of the planning gain could be to make one of the typical local houses eco-friendly to help local residents do the same to their houses.

I sincerely hope that the fear of traffic and of the new does not stop this opportunity to build something innovative that Kingston/Richmond can be proud of for decades.

27 January 2013

Art on the District Line

I love street art and I am upset that London has too little of it when compared to many European cities. Art in galleries is good and art in the street adds elements of surprise and contextual shock that make it exciting.

London has made efforts to fill this cultural deficit and projects like the London Elephants in 2010 are very welcome.

Also welcome is the artistic& use put to the disused platform at Gloucester Road underground station.

This is on the left-hand side when travelling east along the District Line and the first picture here was taken from inside one of those trains. The colours made such a delightful impact that I immediately decided to break my journey there on the way back from London to take a closer look.

There was a time when I passed through Gloucester Road every day but projects change so destinations change and now I am far more familiar (sadly) with Newport Station. This change of commuting patterns no doubt increased the surprise and the pleasure, though it is fair to say that one of the joys of commuting through there was the chance to spend a moment in a gallery before rattling on.

Coming back later I was on the far side of the station which meant looking at the installation across the intervening platforms.

Of course I could have crossed over to get closer but one of the important points of street art is the context and I liked being reminded that this is a busy station that just happens to have some art in it.

The installation is by Sarah Morris and, obviously I think, is based on the tower and clock-face of Big Ben.

Despite this grounding in the real world what attracted me the most was the abstract use of colour in each piece and the contrast in colours between the pieces.

The brashness also works very well in its setting of brick and darkness. The station is just a tunnel after all and the art is an interloper. I have tried to capture this in the final picture by including the station sign which, incidentally (but probably not accidentally) echoes the circle of the clock-face and the straitness of the tower.

Gloucester Road station shows what London can do when it wants to bring art in to the real world for real people to encounter. It is just a shame that it does not do it more often.

More wanderings in the V&A

Having spent the morning touring the Hollywood Costume exhibition I then spent most of the rest of my birthday exploring other parts of the V&A. It was my birthday and that is what I wanted to do.

I won't pretend that I knew where I was going most of the time, or even that I knew where I was, and that is a positive. The big joy of the V&A is the serendipitous discovery that comes from random wanderings and the obstinate refusal to look at one of the helpful maps.

There are large sections that, ostensibly,  are filled with things that I am not that interested in, such as sculpture or metalworks, yet such is the richness and quality of the V&A that there are always some objects that appeal immensely as I amble past and these make me pause to examine them further.

Thinks such as The Lure of the Pipes that I love for its simplicity, clear lines, neat typeface and the palpable sense of anticipation in the two women.

Somewhere in the same corner of the museum (and it has an awful lot of corners, possibly a British record) is the Medieval section which is kept dark to protect the fragile objects on display. Amongst them is this lively tapestry.

Also on the ground floor, and this time fairly easy to find as it is close to the shop, is the Japan gallery.

I was just using it as a route through avoiding the busy shop but was halted by the display of Lolita fashion. This mixes other styles, such as Gothic and Punk, with little girl skirts and soft toys.

My immediate thought was of Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (a wonderful film) where O-Ren Ishi's most deadly aide combines extreme violence with a pleated skirt and girlish giggles.

This is the Punk Lolita complete with chains and cuddly toy. It looks fantastic.

I did have one destination in mind, and that was the new furniture gallery. This is located on the sixth floor in a new half-wing off the ceramics section that runs across the front of the building.

Getting there is not easy, which is how I like it. For example, staircase V only goes to level 4; there is no level 5 in that section of the building.

The furniture is arranged sparingly along a narrow corridor. Space is limited but what the V&A does well across the museum is select pieces that give you a enough of a flavour of the subject to satisfy and inform.

The gallery also takes a big technological step forward and instead of the usual printed cards describing the works the information is provided by iPad-like touch-screens. The big advantage of these is that they can hold a lot more information as each one can have several pages of information.

This innovation means that a gallery that I could have walked through in something like ten seconds took getting on for an hour to wade through.

After the furniture I went in to the modern ceramics section next door. This is unusual for the V&A in that here the approach is to stack-em-high and there are long shelves from floor to ceiling that are stuffed tightly behind protective glass.

I tried to walk past slowly, intending to spend time there on a future visit, but it proved impossible to do so and I was forced to stop repeatedly to looking at things. Things like teapots.

The familiar V&A whimsy was on display here too and in among old and valuable objects was a collection of everyday mugs, including a Beano mug.

I was flagging a little by then, I think that I had been in the museum for over five hours, so it was time to head back to the cafe (where I had had lunch earlier) for the mandatory tea and cake.

Of course the route there was not straightforward and I found myself seriously distracted by the Britain 1500 - 1760 gallery on level 2.

That is where I discovered this four-poster bed dressed in the sort of fabric that should be made in to a tie.

The gallery does not connect directly to any others, the only access is via stairs or lifts, and that heightens the sense of adventure in getting there when you meant to.

Going down from there took me back in to the main flow of the building and then the cafe was was a simple, if slow, jaunt. It was a slow cup of tea too as I really needed a rest by then.

The quickest way from the cafe to the tube is through the garden and out the main entrance. The sun had given up for the day by then and the courtyard looked stunning in its night-guise.

And that was that for an excellent day out and a series of birthday treats all in one building. This blog informs me that I have been to the V&A twelve times in the last six years, and I had been several times before that, and still it is easy to find new things to surprise, entertain and delight. It really is a magical place.

Hollywood Costume at the V&A

I was not interested in the Hollywood Costume exhibition when I first heard about it but the steady trickle of positive reports, mostly on Twitter, convinced me that it was worth going to but by then it was sold out.

Fresh hopes were dashed and forgotten.

Then another tweet said that a limited number of tickets were available. On my birthday. So I bought some.

These were timed tickets due to the huge popularity of the event and I was scheduled for 11:30 on a Sunday morning. The transport worked well and I was there with enough time to spare to allow a little jaunt through the sculpture galleries before taking my place near the front of the queue.

The layout of the exhibition did not suit timed starts as there were two ways in and that meant two streams of people moving in opposite directions past the first displays. Progress was very slow and good positions were aggressively fought for and defended.

Things got a little better as we moved in and thinned out a little but it was very busy all the way round, good positions had to be waited for and progress was slow. But then I was not in any rush, I had all day for this.

The curation was as good as I expected from the V&A, and that is very good. Each costume came with an explanation of the film, the character and what the designer was trying to achieve. Many of the outfits had digital heads above them to remind us of what they looked like in the films and a few videos took us in to greater depths on the characters and the designs.

The mix of costumes was refreshing too. There were the obvious grand outfits from period dramas but these were a minority. We also had simple outfits for films iconic and unknown and some icon outfits from films good and bad.

If you look carefully in the middle picture you can see Neo (The Matrix), Terminator and The Bride (Kill Bill). And just to make the point, the last three costumes in the exhibition are Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz, Marilyn Monroe from Seven Year Itch and, finally, Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns).

It was to the V&A's credit (again) that they kept me entranced for approaching two hours on a subject that I thought I did not care about.

26 January 2013

Sleeping Beauty at Sadler's Wells

Seeing every Matthew Bourne ballet that I can is one of the better habits that I have developed. This often takes me to Sadler's Wells and often over the Christmas holiday season.

The seasonal offering this year was a new ballet, Sleeping Beauty.

As with most other Bourne ballets (Edward Scissorhands is an exception) the story is changed completely from the familiar one that everybody knows. And that is a good thing as the original stories tend to be too slight to carry an evening of drama.

Not that the story matters that much. There needs to be one to string the scenes together but you attention is on the dance not the narrative.

In Sleeping Beauty Bourne takes a simpler approach to the performance and compared to some of his other works there is much less going on, there are generally fewer people on the stage and they tend to all be doing much the same sort of thing rather than dancing in competition with each other. This is a ballet that little girls can readily enjoy.

Grown men can enjoy it too as the simplified Bourne is still Bourne and the  music by Tchaikovsky bounces along in raucous splendour.

The Gothic style is redolent of Edward Scissorhands, and that is not a bad thing as I love Gothic. The style is expressed in the staging and costumes while the story at the heart remains a fairy story (with some bad fairies).

This was a well constructed and carefully considered performance, and you would expect no less from Bourne. However, the simple story and the simplified choreography made for a less satisfying show than he normally delivers. It is competent and charming but not a classic.

Kings Place on a Saturday afternoon

I had been to Kings Place (just North of Kings Cross) many times previously but only during the working week and only to work; Logica (now part of CGI) occupies the top floor.

I found myself there on a Saturday afternoon as I was walking along the Regent's Canal and Kings Place was in the right place at the right time for a short rest, a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

I had no expectation of any other entertainment but I went downstairs to the gallery area anyway, just on the off-chance.

I was very pleased to discover an exhibition of paintings by Adam Birtwistle (son of Harrison) of whom, like most current artists, I knew nothing of. I likes the paintings immediately for their structure. They were mostly portraits set low in the frame against a black background with just a touch of detail that related to the subject.

This picture shows the paintings in situ. The upper of the two floors is the exhibition floor (this is one down from the ground floor) and the lower floor is where the concert spaces are. The two Birtwistle pictures shown at the top can just be seen either side of the pillar in the centre.

There were more Birtwistle paintings off to the right and further to the right there is a separate gallery which was displaying paintings by John Lessore.

I liked some of his subjects, such as the London scenes, but I found the colours insipid and none of the pictures made me pause as I walked quickly around.

Returning to the atrium area, what did make me pause on one of the soft benches there was some acapella music.

The cluster of people standing in the exhibition area were a choir who entertained us for quarter of an hour or so. I guess there was some event on as I could hear more singing when I went back up stairs for my cup of tea.

I could not end my story without saying just a little more about Adam Birtwistle's art.

This closer look at my favourite of his paintings, obviously Sir Patrick Moore, shows just how rich the compositions are.

The bold red of the shirt is a refreshingly bold statement against the blackness. In this case the black is punctuated with celestial objects.

It is a lovely picture but I am not sure that I would pay the £38k that was being asked for it.

That seems a reasonable price when compared to other paintings in other galleries, it is just that art is generally very expensive.

The tea and cake worked their magic and i was soon able to resume my walk. Kings Place impressed in that brief visit and with so much going on in the area I suspect that it will not be too long before I am back there. And not just to work either.

Along the Regent's Canal

Saturday 26 January 2013 was a busy day that started with an exhibition at the British Library and ended with a ballet at Sadler's Wells. Between the two was an inspiring walk along the Regent's Canal with a short break at King's Place.

This is the story of the walk.

I find the British Library architecturally uninteresting and it is made even more so when compared to the, er, incomparable St Pancras next door which peers in to the courtyard of the BL with justifiable disdain.

The one quarter that manages to spark some interest is the north-east corner where the clock tower, window shades and the relentless brick combine to make something photo-worthy if not quite special.

The walk starts ugly with the passage north along Midland Road where the substantial presence of the station dominates uncomfortable.

Things soon get better as the road veers away from the rail and St Pancras Old Church and grounds fill in the gap between them. January is not the best time to go there as the trees are at their bleakest but the monument is still there and it draws you to it.

From their another short ugly walk along Camley Street takes you over the Regent's Canal and to the steps that take you down to the footpath on the north bank.

Heading east takes you under the railway lines and immediately after there is a small mooring that holds around thirty boats.

The still boats from two centuries ago are in marked contrast to the new trains that whizz above them on their way to and from Europe.

Camley Street Nature Park lies on the other side. It plays no other part in this story as it is closed on Saturdays, for reasons that completely escape me.

Just beyond the moorings is an even greater surprise, for those who do not know the area, a lock.

It is small and clearly not that busy but its main purpose today is as an object of historical industrial architecture, which it is rather good at. By now the trains and the other signs of modern London are obscured enough to be forgotten and the dreaming can begin.

A slope down and a bend to the left bring you to the new Kings Cross, the biggest building site in London.

Most of the site is being reclaimed from its previous use and new buildings are coming but in the area nearest the canal the old buildings have been retained and converted. These are now the new home of the Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design.

Kings Place lies just the other side of the bridge that carries York Way over the canal.

There lies another marina and beyond that more converted warehouses that make the walk even more rewarding.

There are a couple more bridges before the canal disappears in to a tunnel that finally gives the passing boats peace from the joggers and lunchtime sandwich snackers. The bridges acknowledge the passing of the canal beneath with decorative metal work.

I have done this walk many times, mostly as a break from a working day in Kings Place, and still the magic of the canal remains. It is a sudden and deep immersion in to another world and long may it remain so.

Murder in the British Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction

Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction is a small exhibition at the British Library that caught my eye.

My interest in crime fiction comes more from the TV adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Adam Dalglish, Miss Marple, et all and that was enough when combined with my experience of previous exhibitions at the British Library to pull me in.

The exhibition is on one of the funny landings between the entrance and the reading rooms near to the cafe. It is generally accessible to the public and is free to enter.

It consists of 26 alphabetical displays of around A3 size. These covered topics like Agatha Christie, Kidnapping, Locked Rooms and Villains.

In each case it explained the history of the theme, e.g. the first story to feature a murder in a room locked from the inside (which is The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe), gave examples of where else it was used and described how the trope developed.

For somebody who has read none of the books mentioned, not even the Enid Blyton, I was surprised at just how interesting it was and I read every word on every display.

25 January 2013

BalletBoyz at Richmond Theatre

My mission to see how dance is certainly helped when it comes to a local theatre. This time it was the BalletBoyz who made my life easy by popping up at the Richmond Theatre.

Life was made even easier by friends finding out about the event first and booking the tickets.

The only trouble came from the logistics as I was working in Cardiff that day. A prompt (i.e. early) exist got me back to Richmond at 6:45 and that gave me just enough time for a pint of Winter Warmer and a small metal bucket of chunky chips in the Orange Tree pub. One day a pub will decide not to serve chips in a metal bucket and we will all be shocked.

Watered and slightly fed I took my seat in Row E of the stalls.

First up was Liam Scarlett’s SERPENT, a study of unison and virtuosity featuring a  score by Max Richter and stunning lighting from Michael Hulls.

It opens with a brief video in which Liam explains what he was trying to do with the work and we saw some of the rehearsals in progress.

The BalletBoyz were dressed in tight almost skin coloured briefs and nothing else.

Despite the unorthodox start and dress what followed was fairly traditional ballet. At least the individual moves were recognisable though clearly the over all effect was somewhat different from the usual with eight men and no women.

It was a very active piece with dancers constantly exiting and entrancing. This meant that the number on the stage varied constantly and that led to us having dances with one, two, six and eight dancers. The moves and combinations were pretty enough but it failed to go anywhere and felt a little light because of that.

After the break we had Russell Maliphant's FALLEN, a "display of grace and power" featuring a score by French cinema composer Armand Amar.

This is what I had come to see.

The dancers were dressed more normally in something approaching Army fatigues but the dancing was very modern. In particular greater use was made of the vertical space, as this picture illustrates, with lots of climbing, lifting, tumbling and rolling.

The shapes made were also more modern than in the first piece. Again the picture has an example of this with the bent arms of the man at the back in the centre.

I felt that this piece was more varied in pace and emotion too. There was a slow tender part with just two dancers and the performance built to am amazing climax with all the dancers on stage moving, climbing and throwing. They were behaving like a single well-oiled machine. This was a masterpiece of choreography with everybody having to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time otherwise the machine would have broken down and one of the thrown dancers would not have been caught.

The icing on the impressive cake was swapping tweets with Russell Maliphant afterwards to let him know personally how much I liked the show.

21 January 2013

The Mikado at the ENO

I have never been a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan despite a reasonable amount of exposure to it in my school years. Then I was not a fan of any opera, though I had a fondness for traditional musicals as brought to me by Ian Charmichael. on Radio 2.

The ENO has been presenting Jonathan Miller's production since1986 and it has become something of a classic. Friends of mine have been to see it and liked it so this year I thought that I would finally give it a go.

I gave it a good go too and opted for front row seats in the upper circle. That £60 on a show I had doubts about.

From the very opening the quality of the production hits you.

The set is simple and bleached white. The lack of props told me what I wanted to hear, that this is an opera that tells the story with words rather than tricks.

The costumes follow this theme and are mostly black and white with things like French Maids outfits. There is also a slightly disturbing scene with young school girls in their St Trinians garb (but without the threatening hockey sticks). Remember, this is an old production and our attitudes to women and young girls have changed a little since then.

The story is as silly as you would expect when the characters have names like Yum-Yum, Pooh-Bah and Peep-Bo.

A wandering minstrel arrives in a small town search of a young girl he fell in love with on his last visit.

Unfortunately she is due to be married the next day to the town's executioner.

And he is under pressure from his masters to have an execution. No prizes for guessing who he thinks of.

Other loves, other interests and other characters mix in to the plot but it never gets that complicated, and nor does it need to. The centre of the opera is the fun it pokes at officials and officialdom, such as the dignitary who has a host of official titles and has different opinions according to which one he is acting in at any moment.

The story evolved nicely and was acted wonderfully with the over-the-top Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, being the obvious star.

So far it all sounds very good but there was one flaw, and it was a big one.

Almost all of the singing was weak.

I have followed other operas sung in English at the ENO with just a few glances at the sur titles to check on what I've heard but for The Mikado I was reading them constantly and it is very hard to follow what is going on on the stage if your eyes are permanently watching the script run above it.

This is a particular issue for operas like The Mikado where the songs have very little repetition and the vocabulary is decidedly dated at times so many of the words are not immediately recognisable.

You cannot do a good opera without good singing and, despite all the other good stuff, the singing let this one down badly.

20 January 2013

Kew Gardens in the snow

I do not normally go to Kew Gardens two weeks in a row but then they do not normally lay on snow the week after I have been.

And snow changes everything.

I was more organised this time (that's not that hard) and arranged a walk with friends that took us though Kew Gardens and then on to a lunch at one of the riverside pubs at Strand-on-the-Green.

We all met at Lion Gate at 11am and it was like walking in to Narnia. The familiar path looked anything but familiar, despite the presence of the Pagoda.

We tramped towards the Japanese Garden where the careful geometry of the stones was obliterated by the inconsiderate snow.

Descending from the hillock we entered one of the long straight paths the dissect Kew. The main routes have names, like Cedar Vista and Cherry Walk, but this is just a grassy gap between two straight lines of trees and hoes unnamed. The tarmacked Holly Walk parallels it off to the left but this is a far more attractive route.

We passed the Temperate House and arrived at the little garden below King William’s Temple on the North side.

There we were greeted by several snowmen, a snowcat and this delightful Robin. His red breast looking even more colourful than usual against the white on the snow and the dullness of the day.

He looks quite content in weather that forced the rest of us to dig-out our ski gear.

The path from there curves gently to pass behind the Palm House which still managed to look magnificent despite the snow-laden air sucking all the colour out of the picture. The roses in the foreground had lost everything except their spindly branches that twisted confusingly.

Syon Vista runs from the Palm House all the way to the river. Even in bright sunshine that looks a long way and in the snow the distance was hidden completely giving you no idea of where the path leads and giving you all the more reason to try it.

One of the biggest pluses of the snow was the impact on the semi-circular path that runs behind the Palm House to form the border of the Rose Garden. This path is lined with tall neatly trimmed bushes and I had been trying to take a reasonable picture of them for years but had always been thwarted by the thick band of grey tarmac running between them. The path is ugly and is so wide that it dominates any picture that tries to show how the bushes are arranged.

The snow neatly solved that problem.

By then the walk was almost over. There was just time for a coffee in the White Peaks Cafe (the Orangery was closed) before leaving the gardens at Elizabeth Gate and heading over Kew Bridge to Strand-on-the-Green.

This was one of the best walks in Kew Gardens that I have ever had, it ranks alongside the plane-free day, and I would love to do it again. More snow please.

18 January 2013

A walk in the snow

Snow is a rare beast in South-West London and when it does come it usually runs away again quite quickly. It came again on 18 January 2013 and I was determined to make the most of it with a circular walk around Ham.

Even the modern development of traditional looking houses that I live in, some still recall that its marketing name was Royal Park Gate, is transformed and absorbed in to the whiteness.

It is a shirt walk along the cycle path to the river where I joined the tow-path that links Kingston and Richmond. There is a brightly coloured path here that is easy to walk on but that comfort comes at the expense of any claim to be natural. Again the snow wins, it hides the path and keeps the crowds away so that there are only the determined walkers like myself out to enjoy the new landscape.

Heading toward Richmond the open space, Ham Lands, opens and by the time that you get to Teddington Lock there are a couple of hundred metres between the river and the road.

This space is home to grasses and trees and is laced with footpaths forged by dog walkers.

Here the grasses lose out and are hidden leaving the trees standing triumphant. A few have even kept their leaves.

It was a shame to leave the wilderness at this point but I did not have the time to follow the bend of the river all the way to Ham House. Instead I followed the footpaths, lanes and then a road that took me to Ham Common.

This is probably the only photograph of Ham Common that I have taken that does not have any people in it, and I've taken hundreds like this one.

The Common is ringed by roads and houses which the snow has skilfully hidden. That alone makes any hardship caused by the snow worth while. Only the bench remains as a sign of humanity.

The Common changes mood when it crosses the road and it becomes Ham Common Woods.

In the foreground here is an area of special grass (that's another story!) and the line of trees behind marks the main part of the Woods. There is a road between them that the snow has claimed.

There is a nicer, quieter and bendier road, Ham Farm Road, just behind where I was when I took this picture and it is there that I walked next.

There the woods come right up to the road and form an almost vertical border. more like a hedge than a wood. The branches defending this border are thick with snow, a demonstration of their stillness and strength.

One last stretch of my legs took me home, 68 minutes and 4.17km after I started. Not a long walk, or a quick one, but a very enjoyable one.