Monthly Archives: September 2022

At the Danish Architecture Centre

Dear Readers, over the years I have found that Danish people have a dry sense of humour that I find very engaging, and this morning was no exception. We were just about to sit down for coffee and croissants (£20 thank you very much) when we saw this advert in letters several feet tall. Netto is the budget supermarket in these parts, and there are two within a few minutes’ walk of where we are staying. We are right in the heart of the student area, and how they manage is anybody’s guess.

Anyway, we ended up at this coffee shop. It was packed to the gunnels with Danish goddesses and handsome young men stocking up on caffeine before retreating to their offices. And us. Though we ended up sitting outside.

The croissant was the best I’ve had in years. Just look at that lamination.

And how about this little beauty? This was a twist on the traditional Danish cardamom buns, with poppyseeds, a lemon glaze and that zesty tang of cardamom. How we shared it without rancour I shall never know.

Anyhow, lest you think that all we do in Denmark is drink coffee and eat baked goods, we were on our way to BLOX, a controversial building that houses the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), some workspace, a café, a restaurant and lots of things for children to do. If you go to the exhibition space upstairs, you can also get downstairs in a hurry by taking a twisty twirly slide in a tube.

The Danish Architecture Centre

Inside, there were two exhibitions. One was called ‘A Space Saga’ – a pod designed for people living on another planet was tested out in Greenland, where two ‘astronauts’ lived in the habitat for 60 days. It was a rather intriguing origami-like structure, which can increase its size by 750% when it unfolds. However, it still felt extremely claustrophobic to me. You’d have to get on very well with your co-workers I imagine. It feels to me as if the biggest challenges for long-term space travel will be the physical and psychological problems of the people who go. Still, it was very interesting. You can read a bit more about it here.

The second exhibition was about women in architecture, both those who worked in the past, and those who are coming up now. Only 25% of architecture practice partners are women in Denmark, and this in a country with decent childcare and equality measures. Even when I was here last, twenty-five years ago, I remember being impressed because the Finance Director of the company that I worked at, a man, was taking a few days off because his child was starting school, and parents could accompany their children to help them ease into the new environment. There was no expectation that his wife should do it instead, and this was in addition to his normal leave allowance (which was 40 days). Denmark has higher taxation than we do, but better social care in almost every aspect.

Anyhow. At the end there were interviews with some women architects. They seemed happy to work collaboratively and to share ideas, and they put thought into how to make spaces feel safe and welcoming for everybody. One woman pointed out how important lighting was, especially at night, and how, while bleak spaces might feel hypermasculine and edgy, they did nothing to encourage people to feel at home. I often feel this in new developments – impressed by their scale, but as if I don’t belong there, which is not surprising as they weren’t designed with me in mind. And if I feel nervous, how about all the other people who don’t find spaces easy to navigate? There was plenty of food for thought.

You can read all about it, and see a short film from the exhibition, here.

And then it was off for a walk home via the edge of the Christianborg palace complex, which is the home to the Danish parliament.

The view along the Christianborg canal

We passed the Royal Danish Library, otherwise known as The Black Diamond. It’s an extension to the existing building, and is one of the largest libraries in the world. Copenhagen is full of bookshops, used and new, and it’s clearly a favourite occupation during those long damp winter nights.

And, me being me, my eye was taken by the abundance of berries on this snowberry. It certainly puts the plants in my local cemetery to shame.

Then we wander around the back of the Stock Exchange, where we saw the spire with the four dragons yesterday. Today I was very taken by the reliefs on the back of the building. There were a variety of muscley bearded and moustachioed chaps, a few wan maidens, and one very fierce-looking matriarch.

Then we passed in front of parliament…

….admired the seagull sitting on the head of this copper-clad warrior (who turns out to be Bishop Absalon, founder of Copenhagen)….

and then admired the three storks on this fountain, topped by a cheeky pigeon. Since 1950, newly-graduated midwives dance around the fountain, a piece of news which cheered me up enormously. No obvious midwives when I was there, however.

And finally, I was intrigued by this building, with its decoration of a snake, a lizard (a water dragon by the look of it), a scorpion and a squid. How could I resist?  These days it’s a store selling Bang and Olufsen sound systems, and in a previous incarnation it sold Louis Vuitton handbags, but originally it was the home of the Svane Apoteck pharmacy, one of the first pharmacies in Copenhagen, dating back to 1849. The building, which dates back to 1934, is a listed monument, but why those particular animals were chosen I have no idea.

Well, I’m sure that the creatures have some symbolic value, but they are also beautifully designed and presented. As in most cities, there is much to see above one’s usual eyeline. It’s well worth looking up.

A Walk to Nyhavn and the Changes on the Waterfront

Statue of Viggo Horup in Rosenborg Castle Gardens by J F Willumsen

Dear Readers, after we left the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen yesterday, I was still eager for some green space and so we walked through the edge of the Rosenborg Palace gardens. I was much taken by this sculpture of Viggo Hørup (1841 – 1902), agitator, liberal and all-round good egg. He was anti-nationalist, and fought for social equality, including campaigning for the gardens to be open to everyone. The relief at the bottom of the statue apparently shows Denmark before and after slavery. I rather liked it.

And then it’s on down to Nyhavn, the old waterfront and these days the scene of hen and stag party bar-crawls. Goodness knows how many people end up in the water. It is very pretty, very crowded, and we passed by on the other side.

At the end of Nyhavn there’s a new bridge, so I popped up to have a look. Goodness!

On the left is the Royal Danish Playhouse, finished in 2008 and, as you can see, currently showing ‘West Side Story’. Most of it (about 40%) floats above the water.

On the other side of the canal, in the distance, is the new Opera House. This has been the subject of some controversy. The architect, Henning Larsen, called it “without comparison the most owner-infected [bygherreinficerede] ‘worst-case’ in my fifty years as an independent architect – squeezed between the Phantom of the Opera himself (of which more below), shipping magnates, and lawyers.” He was deeply unhappy about how he and his building had been treated, as you can see.

The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ was the shipping magnate Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller. He does seem to have had a lot of input into the design of the building (which ended up costing about $370m). In the first place, the building was meant to have been glazed, but Maersk  apparently decided that it should be clad with a metal grid. Larsen also wanted a particular treatment for the rear wall of the foyer, that would have resembled old violins. Instead, it was treated using traditional staining techniques, and the jury is out on whether this is effective or not. Suffice it to say that the locals in Copenhagen call this part of the building ‘the pumpkin’.  Furthermore, Maersk financed the building, but it was tax deductible, and it seems that the Danish government was obliged to buy it back. The building was completed in 2000, so it’s something else that would have been a hole in the ground when I was last in Copenhagen.

The foyer of the opera house, showing ‘The Pumpkin’.

Some things remain the same though – there are some magnificent old warehouses, such as this one, that houses the Museum of the North Atlantic and which, for those prepared to take out a mortgage, also houses Noma, once regarded as The Best Restaurant in the World. Just so you know what you’re getting into, the Game and Forest Season (for which booking opened on 22nd August and closed the same day) has a menu for 3,500 DKK (approximately £420). You can add on wine for a further 1,800 DKK (£216) or, if you don’t want to drink alcohol, a juice pairing will cost you 1,200 DKK (£144).  Too rich for my taste by far.

Anyway, we wander along the waterfront and come across this rather intriguing building, which seems to have no obvious way in. It reminds me rather of the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea, and no wonder – it was built in 1937 and used to be the old Customs House and ferry terminal. Alas, it’s actually the Copenhagen branch of Soho House (a private members’ club for ‘creatives’) so we won’t be dining here either. It would cost you about £1,000 a year to be a member here, and most of the truly creative people that I know are struggling to make ends meet with their art. Viggo Hørup, where are you when we need you?

But what is this? This extraordinary warehouse is now home to the State’s Workshops for Art – this is space for artists who are working on particularly large paintings, sculptures etc. The original building dates to 1882, though somehow an extra floor was added in 1920.

Gammel Dok

And finally we head for home, but not before passing one of my favourite spires in Copenhagen. This I do remember from my previous visits, and for good reason. Known as the Børsen, the building is the old Danish Stock Exchange, and it is made up of the tails of four dragons, intertwined, and reaching a height of almost 60 metres. The spire dates back to 1625. At the top are three crowns representing the old Kalmar Union between Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It was a very distinctive landmark, and still is.

 

At the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen

Dear Readers, congratulations to all of you who guessed that we were off to Copenhagen in Denmark for a few days! I visited the city some twenty-five years ago for work, and was most intrigued to see how much it has changed in the meantime. But first, some coffee. The Danes take their coffee very seriously, and if you find yourself in Norreport, close to the Rosenborg Castle and the Botanical Gardens, I can very much recommend this spot.

We sat outside next to two young women having a most animated discussion in Danish, interspersed with phrases in perfect American English, and the occasional universal swearword. How I admire people who can speak more than one language! That will surely be my next challenge.

You have probably heard that Copenhagen is a city of cyclists, and it absolutely is. MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) are relatively rare – you see people of all ages, some with their children in little carts, some with their dogs in baskets, one lady peddling a disabled relative who was sitting comfortably in a chair at the front of the bike. The cyclists are largely separated from pedestrians (so there’s little need to jump out of the way), and pretty much everybody obeys the stop signs at intersections, so it’s all extremely civilised.

Copenhagen also has a very good public transport network, which we will be investigating later in the week.

Anyhow, as you might expect from Bugwoman our first port of call was not one of the splendid art museums, or indeed the Little Mermaid, but the Botanical Gardens. It is a lovely time of year to visit, and although we’re expecting rain on and off for the whole of our stay, it was dry this morning.

The Colchicums are in bloom. I love these bulbs! They have a florid, blousy quality that I admire, as they put forth their enormous flowers and then collapse with exhaustion.

I rather liked this shrub, which has leaves that go pink from the tips. No doubt some clever person will tell me what it is. Could it possibly be an Actinidia? Feel free to put me right…

The lake is very lovely, and very full of koi carp, some of them very beefy indeed. One fish tentatively nibbled at the feet of a passing mallard and was roundly pecked on the head for its trouble. I fear for very new ducklings and coot/moorhen chicks though – these fish are easily big enough to gobble one up as an hors d’oeuvre. Let’s hope that the parents are wise to the ways of carp.

It was sad to see that the horse chestnuts are plagued with leaf miners just as the ones in the UK are, though the damage seems less substantial. I’m not sure if Denmark has also had drought conditions this year.

I was a bit surprised to see stands of Equisetum (mare’s tail) beside one of the smaller ponds – in my experience, once this plant gets a foothold it’s very invasive, though it does have a kind of primeval spikey charm. No doubt the gardeners know what they’re doing.

We decided to save the palm house for a rainy day, and very splendid it looks too – it dates back to 1874 and is surrounded by a complex of other smaller greenhouses. The heat and shelter will be most welcome later in the week if the forecast is to be believed.

And then, I spot a streak of copper crossing the lawn, and cannot contain myself.

“Red squirrel!” I shout, and a number of other folk from the UK turn round to look.

How lovely to see an animal that is so rare in the Uk these days! The squirrel looked around and then crossed the lawn in a series of perfect bounds, before disappearing into the colchicums. Let’s hope that he doesn’t like the bulbs as much as the grey squirrels in my garden like the crocus bulbs.

There is a group of sequoias and other conifers just next to the Alpine garden. It always cheers me to see these trees growing outside of the Pacific Northwest, where fire and logging have impacted them severely. I wonder if there are more sequoias outside of North America than in it?

Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

The Alpine garden was a joy – there were lots of plants still in flower in spite of the lateness of the season, and paths wandered this way and that.

I rather liked the Carthusian pink (Dianthus carthusianorum) below – it reminded me of a catchfly, and indeed a hoverfly was making the most of the nectar.

And how about this delicate bellflower (Campanula cochleariifolia), also known as fairy’s thimble? It’s native to the Pyrenees, and I love its pale colour and the way that it seems to be hunkered down amongst the rocks.

Well, this was a very fine start to the holiday, and next up is a walk down towards Nyhavn, the 17th century waterfront and scene of many a drunken carry-on (not by me, I hasten to add). I am intrigued to see how the harbour front has changed in twenty-five years. I think I am in for something of a surprise.

Another Clue….

Dear Readers, yesterday I mentioned that we’ll be setting off on an adventure during the next few days, and wondered if you could guess where we’re off to. As another clue, this is the national bird of the country that we’re visiting, and the insect below is the national butterfly. I rather like the idea of a national butterfly. Guesses in the comments please! All will be revealed tomorrow….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Can You Guess?

Dear Readers, in a few days we will be going off on an adventure. I wonder if you can guess where we’re going? Answers in the comments please! It’s our first ‘proper’ break since 2020, so we’re both excited and a little daunted.

More to follow!

 

 

Five Years On

Mum and Dad on their wedding day in 1957. Not sure who that other woman is 🙂

Dear Readers, it was five years ago that my Mum and Dad had their 60th Wedding Anniversary party in Dorset. They got a card from the Queen too, as everyone who manages 60 years married did. There was so much then that we didn’t know. Five years later, all the people in the photo above are dead.

Dad giving his 60th Wedding Anniversary speech, while Mum offers encouragement….

Dad got very confused when he was giving his speech of thanks. At the time, he blamed it on his glasses, but thinking back it was clear that he was deteriorating – five years earlier he would have extemporised, but this time he was completely lost. I can see the concern on Mum’s face, looking at this photo. A year later, he would be diagnosed with vascular dementia. Fifteen months after this, both Mum and Dad would be in a nursing home. On 18th December 2018, Mum died. Dad followed her on 31st March 2020.

Mum, Dad, my brother John and I at the cake cutting….

But I still remember the joy of that day. Mum said it was the best evening of her life. Both of my parents were surrounded by people that they loved, and who loved them. They were together, and so they would be until the last moment of Mum’s life. Mum was always worried that Dad wouldn’t cope without her, but because he was already in the nursing home, which was familiar to him, and because his memory was failing, he seemed content. It is strange the way that things sometimes work out.

Looking back now, a few things come to mind. One is that it is important to celebrate things, to make the effort, to make memories. Often it can feel as if it isn’t worth the bother to go that extra mile, but it is. It would have been so easy to let that 60th Anniversary be just another meal out at the local pub, but I am so happy that it was more than that. We need reasons to be together, to rejoice in other people’s happiness and successes. So often, as people get older, we only meet at funerals.

Cakes from Mum and Dad’s 60th Wedding Anniversary Party in 2017. Note the freesias!

Something else is that we waste so much time worrying about things that don’t happen. We can plan and prepare for every eventuality, and there’s something very comforting about feeling that we’re in control. So often we aren’t, as the Covid pandemic has shown. I think that many of us are in a state of high anxiety all the time these days, and sometimes we can’t help it. I occasionally reach a state of equanimity which is very refreshing for me, where I plan for things in the full gut-knowledge that something else entirely might actually occur. It doesn’t feel like resignation, it feels like freedom. I don’t know how I got here, but here I sometimes am.

And finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that we mustn’t put off saying and doing the things that are really important to us, especially with regard to the people that we love. When my lovely Auntie Rosemary was dying, I wrote to her to tell her all the reasons that she mattered to me, but actually I’d been corresponding with her for months, so I’d said most of it already. I am operating on the basis of no regrets these days as far as I’m humanly able – no arguments unsettled, no love unexpressed. If I think of something that I want to do for someone, I try to do it rather than putting it off. We do not have forever, and neither do the people that we care about. If there is one lesson that the past five years have taught me, it is that the Buddha was right – we are children playing in a burning building. Life can be so beautiful, but it is also so short.

Dad enjoying his 60th Wedding Anniversary speech, with Mum preparing to give encouragement if necessary….

A Fleabane Poem

Canadian Fleabane

Dear Readers, I realised when I’d finished yesterday’s post that poor old Fleabane hadn’t been celebrated in a poem. And so I found this, which I loved. It’s by Rin Ishigaki, who was born in 1920 and worked as a bank clerk, giving her the name of ‘the bank clerk poet’. I’m not quite sure why it’s affected me so much, but there’s that sense of time passing, of great upheavals and change, and those two last lines made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. See what you think.

The poem is a bit of a cheek because Philadelphia Fleabane is actually much closer to Mexican Fleabane than to our plant, but I’m going to move swiftly on.

PLUCKING FLOWERS by Rin Ishigaki

I plucked wildflowers at Marunouchi in Tokyo.
At the end of the 1920’s
I was in my mid-teens.

On my way to work
To the Bank
The hem of my kimono-trousers flapping
Just a dash up the embankment beside the footpath
Before my eyes an open field.
Clover
Dandelions
Philadelphia fleabane
Wildflowers too poor
To decorate my desk at work.

Its been about half a century since then
Days came when the buildings blazed in the flames of war,
Around the postwar Tokyo Station
Just like a graph of the economic boom
Tall skyscrapers bloomed.

I retired at the mandatory retirement age,
I don’t suppose any firms are left which take
Girls straight from primary school.
Even women are questioned about their market value
And ranked accordingly.
Women bloom in competition
But the day has finally come when they cannot possibly be wildflowers.

Farewell Marunouchi
Now no open fields anywhere
The thin green stem that I once squeezed
Was my own neck.
© Translation: 2005, Leith Morton

Wednesday Weed – Canadian Fleabane Revisited

Fleabane (probably Canadian) with ragwort at Woolwich Dockyard

Dear Readers, Canadian Fleabane (and its close relatives Bilbao’s Fleabane and Guernsey Fleabane) are such weedy weeds that it’s easy to pass them by without so much as a second glance. Members of the Asteraceae (Daisy) family, they have tiny flowers and a whole lot of fluffy seeds and are annuals of such fecundity that once you have the plant on a patch of rough ground or, as here, along a riverside, you are probably going to have it forever. Experiments outlined in my book ‘Alien Plants’ by Clive Stace and Michael J. Crawley suggest that grazing with rabbits seems to be a way to keep the Fleabane (Conyza) genus in check, but there’s a grave lack of small furry grazing animals in Woolwich, clearly.

Fleabanes tend to grow alongside buddleia, as I noticed from the Woolwich walk.

Buddleia!

The name given to the community of plants established by buddleia and fleabane is the Buddleia-Conyza scrub community, and you can see it popping up in many urban sunny sites, frequently on builder’s rubble or tarmac – we have a great example of this just up the road from here in East Finchley on the site of an old petrol station which has been landbanked by developers for years, but you can also find great examples on railway embankments. Fleabanes tend to be the first colonisers, along with mugwort, American willowherb, bristly oxtongue and evening primrose, but soon the buddleia and the sycamore start to take over, with the fleabane tending to die out where it’s overshadowed by the buddleia. This feels like such a very urban habitat that I’m glad that it has its own name and now has people studying it. Colonisation can start within a year of a site being left derelict, and the habitat can persist for up to twenty years. It will be interesting to see how long the example of the Buddleia-Conyza complex in East Finchley lasts before someone decides to actually build there.

And when I looked back at the last time that I wrote about Canadian Fleabane, I mentioned that there was a patch at the side of my house. When I looked early this week, there was still some there, probably descended from the seeds that were dropped by the parent plant back in 2014. You have to admire the plant’s sheer persistence.

So, this is from my original post back in 2014.

A thicket of Canadian Fleabane has erupted in the alley at the side of our house, and I am delighted. I know this is not the reaction that most people would have, but then, this week is the thirteenth anniversary of my marriage to my Torontonian husband, so a little reminder of the country that he came from is very welcome. Plus, although this plant comes from so far away, it has put down firm roots in London, and is more commonly seen in the Capital than in any other city, so in that respect it is a little like me.

Canadian Fleabane 004 BPThere are lots of plants that resemble Canadian Fleabane, but none have such a mass of tiny flowers, which at this time of year are rapidly turning into fluffy seeds. The plant was apparently brought to the UK as seeds in the innards of a stuffed bird, back in the sixteenth century (unlike my husband who arrived into Heathrow in a big metal bird twenty-odd years ago).

Canadian Fleabane 003 BPIn many ways, Canadian Fleabane is a ‘proper’ weed – it’s an annual which produces thousands of seeds, and which can grow in the most unpromising of spots, as its appearance in my dark, soil-less side alley proves. But, as with so many plants, it has a myriad of helpful uses. A tea made from the plant is said to be helpful for arthritis and for diarrhoea, and it has also been used to combat hay-fever. Like so many fleabanes, it is also said to be good for deterring insect parasites.

Some wind-blown Canadian Fleabane

Some wind-blown Canadian Fleabane

I can’t help but admire a plant that can erupt from a crack a hairs-width wide and grow to four feet high in a single season.  This afternoon, the little seeds were flying away in the breezy weather, taking their chances on a new land far from where they started. And, thinking of my soulmate who flourished so far from his native soil, I find myself wishing them luck.

A Bit of a Surprise

A pine marten. Image taken in south-west London!

Dear Readers, of all the creatures that you might expect to catch on a camera trap in your garden, one of the most unlikely is a pine marten, and yet that’s exactly what you can see in the image above. The photo was taken as part the Zoological Society of London’s Hogwatch scheme, which is monitoring hedgehogs and sometimes spots other animals such as foxes and badgers (and domestic cats of course). However, pine martens are critically endangered, and the nearest wild population to south west London, where the photo was taken, is in the New Forest seventy miles away. This is the first time that a pine marten has been recorded in London for over a century.

So, how did he or she get to the capital? There are populations of urban pine martens in other cities, and I remember one eating biscuit crumbs from my hotel window box in Obergurgl, Austria about twenty years ago, but this individual may well have escaped from a collection, or have been part of an unofficial rewilding scheme. Let’s hope not as far as the latter goes – releasing an animal in the London suburbs is surely not the best way to assure its survival. But the folk at ZSL will be monitoring their cameras to see if there’s more than one pine marten. This animal seems to be in excellent health, and to be behaving normally, which is good news.

There has been some talk about releasing pine martens as a biological control for grey squirrels – in Scotland, where the bulk of the pine martens live, they seem to find it difficult to catch the faster, lighter red squirrels, but may have a field day with the bigger, slower grey squirrels. Alas, we all know how these stories end – pine martens are also very fond of eggs and young birds, which I suspect are a bit easier to catch. Nonetheless, if they turn up naturally these rare and beautiful mammals would be a splendid addition to the Capital’s fauna.

Pine marten (Photo by Alastair Rae from London, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Capital Ring – Woolwich to Shooters Hill Part Two

The view back to ‘Charlton Riverside’ from the Thames Barrier Gardens

Dear Readers, after leaving the Thames Barrier we are now walking south from the river, through a variety of parks and open spaces. First up is Thames Barrier Gardens, where we encounter this cheeky chap. Honestly, grey squirrels sometimes remind me so much of glove puppets that it’s difficult not to laugh. Of course life is deadly serious for these animals at this time of year – grey squirrels don’t hibernate ‘properly’ and so they need to have enough nuts hidden away to last them every time they wake up in the winter. This squirrel seems to have one very perky ear, and one that is non-existent.

We pass a ramshackle building which sports this sign.

We walked round and round but there was no sign of any sculpture, let alone one that would be maliciously damaged. However, in trying to find out about it, I did find this project by Patrick McEvoy, which was commissioned during the pandemic. McEvoy tried to find some inventive ways of emphasising the social distancing rules, and these would certainly have made me chuckle. No sign of them now, sadly. McEvoy used themes that reflected the area’s maritime history, and I love the idea of the measurements being in carp or barrels rather than the drab ‘2 metres’. You can read the whole article here.

And then light dawns. I think that the sculpture must have been this one: Ash and Silk Wall, by Vong Phaophanit. It was apparently installed in 1993, and very beautiful it must have looked too. Sadly, in this semi-derelict area, far from any residential communities who could have felt ownership of it, the installation was apparently repeatedly vandalised, and even the illuminated bollards that lit the way to it were smashed. Having worked in community gardens and woodland over the past twenty years I’ve come to realise that it’s essential for the preservation of these amenities that local people are involved in any decisions about what goes on in them. Clearly, this didn’t happen here, and there was no one to speak out and protect it.

Ash and Silk Wall by Vong Phaophanit – Photo by Colleen Chantier ART on File from https://londongardenstrust.org/features/art1808.htm

Onwards! We head to a main road and cross into Maryon Park, closely followed by Maryon Wilson Park. These parks were named for the Maryon Wilson family who lived in nearby Charlton House, but they were originally part of Hanging Wood, which included a number of sandpits (before carpets became affordable for ordinary people, sand was a popular floor covering). Hanging Wood was also a hideout for highwaymen who frequented Blackheath and Shooters Hill. However, it most likely wasn’t named after what would happen to the Highwaymen, but because of the steepness of its slopes, so that the trees appeared to be ‘hanging’. The park was featured in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film ‘Blow-up’ which featured David Hemmings as a photographer who accidentally photographs a murder scene. Although the film features a fine roster of British actors of the time (Sarah Miles, Jane Birkin, Vanessa Redgrave, Peter Bowles and Janet Street-Porter as an uncredited dancing girl), the scene where Hemmings photographs a writhing Verushchka is maybe the film’s most famous scene, and the source of a hundred parodies.

This is a very quiet park, with some fine mature trees. When we were there, the only sound was the thwack of tennis balls from the nearby courts, and the squawking of the inevitable ring-necked parakeets in the trees opposite.

This ash tree did look on the verge of toppling though and so we passed under it with some alacrity.

There are some really magnificent specimen trees, including this Spanish chestnut. Maybe the parakeets were keeping an eye on it and waiting for ripeness.

Normally we would stride energetically up a flight of 101 steps at this point, but sadly they’re under repair, so instead we had to make a gentle meander up a gradual slope. We cross the road and are now out of Maryon Park and into Maryon Wilson Park, which has a small childrens’ zoo, featuring some Kune Kune pigs, sheep and a wide variety of waterfowl, all impossible to photograph through the fine mesh fence.

And now we turn into Charlton Park, site of Charlton House, one of the finest examples of Jacobean architecture in the country. This is one of those places that I’m sure we’ll be back to visit properly. The house was completed in 1612 and used to be the site of the annual Horn Fair. Sadly, this became such a scene of drunkenness and general buffonery that it was banned in 1812, though it has made a more genteel come back in recent years.

We walk along a grassy path between the trees and the young footballers taking their exercise.

When we leave the park, this modest road is named for the garden designer who worked on the grounds of Charlton House, Inigo Jones.

The next little park (called Horn Fair Park) has a very nice BMX track, but is otherwise quite non-descript although, if you look back, you can see Canary Wharf peeking through the houses.

We cross another road and we’re on Woolwich Common. For some reason I was rather taken by these bollards – they remind me of corten steel, the pre-rusted steel cladding that is so popular amongst architects these days.

Woolwich Common has a long involvement with the military – this is where the soldiers used to group before picking up their munitions from Woolwich Arsenal and boarding their ships in the docks. It has an open and airy feeling, and for a few minutes there I thought I was in Dorset rather than Zone 4.

And look, molehills! How exciting. I have seen many a molehill, but never one of the ‘velvet gentlemen’.

There’s a largish flock of crows picking over the molehills – I imagine that quite a lot of small insects are disturbed by the activity of the mole, and I sense that these intelligent birds are taking advantage.

I get very excited about this bird – is it an immature stonechat? On second look, I’m fairly certain that it’s a dunnock, behaving like a stonechat. They can be dastardly like that.

There was clearly some bother here during the summer, though –  there is quite an extensive burnt area. Fortunately it looks as if it’s regenerating.

And then we’re at Shooter’s Hill, and heading off to catch the bus, having run out of time for this particular bit of the walk. There’s always so much to see, and of course so much coffee to drink and cake to appreciate. When we get the bus we head off not towards Woolwich (which would be sensible) but towards North Greenwich, so we get a fine tour not only of IKEA and TK Maxx but also Primark in the ‘Millenium Village’ Complex. Still, it’s been a lovely walk, and to end with here’s a photo of the haws on the hawthorn on Woolwich Common. They should keep the birds happy for quite some time.