Going Underground . . .

Sunday 17th November 2013

**Please feel free to click on any image to view in Flickr**

I love the London underground. Getting about by tube is always a highlight of any trip to the capital. I’m also fascinated by the “ghost stations” on the tube system – disused stations that sit there in the dark, gathering dust as thousands upon thousands of commuters pass by them daily on their journeys, not knowing of their existence.

Today we got the chance to visit Aldwych Station, which closed its doors to customers in 1994. The station is familiar to lots of people, although they’re unaware of it – it’s tunnels and platforms are used regularly by movie and TV makers. I spotted platform A in the first episode of “Sherlock” a few weeks ago  . . . . .

London Transport occasionally run guided tours of Aldwych, which gives Tube enthusiasts, in parties of 20 people per visit, the chance to walk the dusty, deserted tunnels and stand on the eerily quiet platforms, one of which last saw customers almost a century ago . . . .

Aldwych station Strand entrance . . . .

Booking Hall Signage

Booking Hall Signage

Aldwych Sign (1)

Fake signage, leftover from TV filming. Aldwych had no Bakerloo line track ….

Platform Access Tunnel

Passageway between lifts and platforms. This passageway was tidied up in 2000, for filming . . . .

Platform access steps

Steps down to Platform A, which closed in 1994 . . . .

Tunnel To Holborn....

Platform A. These rails still connect to the Piccadilly Line . . . .

Remnant of original %22Strand%22 Sign

Platform A signage. The A and N are part of the word “STRAND”, the original name of the Station . . .

Fake Signage, Aldwych

Platform A signage. These are all repro, added for filming . . . .

Fake Signage, Aldwych (2)

More fake signage . . .

Fake Signage, Aldwych (1)

And more fake signage . . . .

Early 70's BEA Sign

This poster, however, is genuine, dating back to the early 1970′s . . . .

Fake Signage, Aldwych (3)

This sign was put in place for filming, hence its shininess . . . .

Aldwych Platform (3)

Platform B, disused since 1917. Treasures from the British Museum (including the Elgin Marbles) were stored here during World War 2 . . . .

Aldwych Platform (1)

Platform B. This area was once piled high with treasures from the British Museum ….

Aldwych Platform (2)

Platform B. These tracks are the oldest surviving rails on the underground system . . . .

Aldwych Platform

The end of the platform tunnel was bricked up to create a secure store room during WW2 . . . .

Derelict Steps, Aldwych

These steps were never finished. On our visit we weren’t allowed to use them, as they’re in a poor state . . . .

Disused Tunnel, Aldwych

This 38 metre section of tunnel was also abandoned before completion.

Sample Tiles . . .

Nowadays Platform B is used as a testbed for new tiling patterns. The original “STRAND” lettering can be seen . . . .

Top of derelict steps (1)

A short walk along lonely tunnels brought us to the top of the derelict stairs . . . .

Top of derelict steps

These tunnels were abandoned before completion, and never used . . . .

Exit Signage

A long spiral staircase took us back up to surface level, where original signage was still visible . . . .

Exit Signage (1)

Theres just something about Leslie Green designed tiling . . . .

Way Out !

Way out . . . .

Our visit was over all too soon. One criticism I have of the tour is that it seemed very hurried. We were constantly being hustled along by the tour guides, which meant I had precious little time to set up the camera and take considered shots. I ended up just snapping away as I walked, which rendered lots of my shots next to useless . . . . However, this grumble aside the trip down into the depths of one of London’s ghost stations was a great experience. Now if only TFL would open up Brompton Road and Down Street . . . .

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An Open Letter To Boris Johnson

An Open Letter To Boris Johnson.

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Along the “Cut” ….

Tuesday 3rd September 2013

This flabby gut of mine isn’t gonna disappear of its own accord, so today I donned the lycra shorts and headed out on the bike along the local canal towpaths. I never tire of walking or cycling beside our local waterways – We’re so lucky to have them, but so many local people either know nothing of them, or think they’re still the dirty, smelly dumping grounds that they undoubtably were in the 1970′s and 1980′s. My route took me along the Wyrley & Essington, Walsall, Wednesbury, BCN Mainline, Titford, Birmingham & Fazeley, Tame Valley and Rushall canals, with a little road cycling between Oldbury and Edgbaston, as the Titford Canal is a dead end. Rather than describe the route here is a link to the GPS track recorded by my Garmin :

Map view of my route. Click on the image to view details ....

Overview of my route. Click on the image to view Detailed map & Stats ….

After the unfortunate demise of my beloved Canon G12 I only have the camera on my iPhone with me on my cycle rides nowadays, as I’m not gonna expose my precious 5D dSLR and lenses to the bumpy surfaces of the local towpaths.

Anyway, these are the shots I took during the day. They’re not perfect – the iPhone camera is hardly a world-beater – but they’re OK . . . .

<<< Click on any photo to view its location in Panoramio >>>

My day started out on the Wyrley & Essington canal as far as Birchills Junction, where I joined the Walsall Canal :

Hungry Swans . . .

Hungry Swans on The Walsall Canal at Darlaston

Ocker Hill Branch

Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch, Now Disused

Tame Valley Junction

Cast Iron Bridges at Tame Valley Junction

I took a slight detour at Great Bridge to check out the route of the now disused Balls Hill Branch Canal. The canal is completely gone now, but pointers to where it was once located remain :

Bagnall Street

Bagnall Street. This was once the location of a bridge over the Balls Hill Branch canal. Just out of shot to the left is the Miners Arms Pub.

Miners Arms

Miners Arms Pub, Bagnall street. This pub once sat beside the towpath of the Balls Hill Branch canal.

Balls Hill Wall

Standing where the canal was once located. The wall appears to be a lot older than the houses behind it.

Balls Hill Canal

This strip of wasteland is the only real remaining sign of what was once a busy, bustling canal.

Disused Railway, Great Bridge

Between Bagnall Street and the Walsall canal, under the Black Country New Road, lie these disused railway lines . . .

Back on the Walsall canal I noticed the quaint Latin plaque on Hempole Bridge :

Hempole Bridge

Latin plaque on Hempole Bridge. Thats 1825 in old money :-)

Hempole Bridge

Hempole Bridge, Walsall Canal

Ryder's green

Moored Narrowboat at Ryder’s Green Locks, Walsall Canal

The short stretch of canal above the Ryder’s Green locks – between Ryder’s Green Junction and Pudding Green Junction – is actually a stretch of the Wednesbury Old canal, which is always confusing. At Pudding Green Junction I joined the BCN mainline heading southeast towards Birmingham :

Pudding Green

Pudding Green Junction, BCN Mainline. The Wednesbury Old canal branches off under the cast iron bridge in the centre of the photo.

BCN Mainline

BCN Mainline at Bromford, looking back towards Pudding Green Junction.

Bromford Stop Island

Bromford Stop Island – presumably tolls were collected here. Bromford Junction can be seen in the distance.

At Bromford Junction I took to the old branch (Wolverhampton level) of the BCN canal, in order to gain access to the Titford canal. A flight of 3 locks raises the canal 20 feet up to Spon Lane junction, and the old canal actually passes over the newer main BCN canal on the Stewart Aqueduct.  Its a strange sight to behold here – 2 canals, a railway and the busy M5 motorway, all stacked on top of one another :

Spon Lane Junction

BCN Wolverhampton level beneath the M5, Spon Lane Junction

Spon Lane junction

M5 supports reflected in the calm water of the BCN Wolverhampton Level.

Forms Of Transport

Stewart aqueduct. A busy railway line and the M5 both straddle the canals.

BCN Mainline

The more recent BCN Mainline passes under the Wolverhampton level at Stewart Aqueduct.

Following the Wolverhampton level towards Oldbury (which is a strange experience, as the canal is located directly underneath the M5 motorway) the junction with the Titford canal was soon reached. The Titford canal, a dead end, acted as a feeder for the BCN. It steadily climbs 38 feet up a flight of 5 locks and terminates at the very pretty Titford Pools.

Titford Canal

The Titford Canal is rarely used nowadays. Consequently some pounds between locks can be barely in water at times.

Langley Maltings

Langley Maltings. Apparently these buildings were owned by Wolverhampton & Dudley breweries from 1944-2007, and were destroyed by fire in 2009.

Uncle Ben's Bridge

Uncle Ben’s Bridge. Can’t help but think of rice when I pass beneath this sign . . . .

At Titford pools it was back to road cycling. I wanted to head into Birmingham city centre, but I took a higgledy-piggledy route, as I rarely follow a map. I cycled up onto the high ground of Warley woods, just to check out the views, then made my way to Edgbaston Reservoir.

Warley Woods

Map of the layout of Warley Woods.

Warley Water Tower

Warley Water Tower. 236m above sea level, so I’m informed. I can well believe it – getting up here on the bike was a struggle . . . .

BT Tower

Birmingham’s BT Tower, seen from the dam wall of Edgbaston Reservoir. The Icknield Port loop of the BCN canal can be seen at the bottom of the photo.

After the “Rezza” it was back onto the BCN and into the city centre.

St. Vincent Street Bridge

St. Vincent Street Bridge, BCN canal. Oozells Street loop can be seen leading off to the right, beneath the right hand bridge arch.

Ooozells Street Loop

Ooozells Street Loop, BCN Canal

Ooozells Street Loop

Ooozells Street Loop, BCN Canal

Ooozells Street Loop

Ooozells Street Loop, BCN Canal

Birmingham Library

Birmingham’s new Library and Sealife Centre, Reflected in the BCN Mainline canal . . .

Old Turn Junction

Old Turn Junction. The Birmingham & Fazeley canal leads off to the left. To the right, beyond the island, The BCN canal continues to Gas Street.

Cambridge Wharf

Cambridge Wharf. From here the Birmingham & Fazeley canal descends 81 feet, through the 13 Farmer’s Bridge locks, passing almost directly beneath the BT Tower.

Heading NorthEast out of the City the canal (now the Birmingham & Fazeley) drops steadily, via the Farmer’s Bridge and Aston locks. I soon found myself under the M6 at Salford Junction, where I headed NorthWest on the Tame Valley canal. The Tame Valley Cut is a real gem – surprisingly rural. One can soon forget that the heart of The industrial Midlands is within touching distance.

Tame Valley Canal

The Tame Valley Canal heads Northwest from Salford Junction. This stretch of “cut” is remarkably rural . . . .

Heron . . .

A solitary Heron on the bank of the Tame Valley Canal. I spotted dozens of these lovely fellas today . . .

At Rushall Junction all that remained of my day on the towpath was a short run along the Rushall canal as far as Sutton Road, where I left the canal for the pathways of Walsall Arboretum, then the busy roads back home.

Rushall Junction

Rushall Junction. The Tame Valley canal continues left, out of shot, while the Rushall canal forks right, under the footbridge.

No.4 Lock

No.4 Lock, Rushall canal.

A great day. I returned home quite knackered – anyone who thinks that canal towpaths are flat & level should take a trip along the canals I’ve mentioned – those locks are hard work . . . . .


Selfie, taken in the lift mirror. Felt quite tired at the end of today’s ride – those locks (and Warley Hill) were hard work ! !

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The South Bank Show . . . .

Sunday 8th September 2013

(As always, feel free to click on any image to view a hi-res version or slideshow)

Starting at Brent Cross, A trip down the Northern Line (which was unusually busy today) brought us to Embankment, a regular starting-point for our walks around the Capital.

Embankment Tube Station

Embankment Tube Station

 After a quick caffeine boost whilst sat outside Costa, during which I spotted an absolutely huge rat scuttling between rubbish bins, We made our way over to the South Bank, via the Jubilee footbridge.

Embankment, From Jubilee Footbridge

Embankment, From Jubilee Footbridge

First things first once we were on the South side of the river – BEANOTOWN ! ! This exhibition of original artwork, memorabilia and fun stuff, all concerning the Beano comic, was something I’d been looking forward to seeing – last time we were in the vicinity it was later in the day and the exhibition had closed. I loved reading the Beano as a kid and wandering around looking at the marvellous collection of front covers and original artwork made me feel 7 years old again. The Beano Les Paul guitar, based on the front cover of the John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Album, was also nice to see.

Afterwards, wandering around the vicinity, we discovered a bunch of market stalls selling a wide range of street foods. Much time was spend sampling a variety of delicacies, including salami, chorizo, crepes, Turkish wraps and my personal favourite – spicy Cajun Chicken with rice – delicious ! !

After all that food a good walk was required, to burn off a few calories, so we threaded our way back towards the Royal Festival Hall and headed off downstream. Along the way we passed numerous stalls selling books, clothing, makeup, perfumes and of course food. There was no shortage of street entertainment either, from the usual skateboarders, dancers and musicians to the unusual things such as a man blowing large and intricate soap bubbles, a headless couple with brollies, and a man playing a flame-throwing tuba ! !

Arriving at the Millennium Footbridge we stopped to fire off the now customary “Tourists walking across the bridge with St. Pauls in the background” shots :

Millennium Footbridge

Millennium Footbridge

Millennium Footbridge

Millennium Footbridge

That done, we then crossed over said bridge onto the North bank of The Thames, stopping midway to photograph The Shard and The “Walkie-Talkie”, or “The Killer Tower Block Of Old London Town”, as I’ve dubbed it . . . .

Millennium Bridge Panorama

Millennium Bridge Panorama

The Shard In Evening Sun

The Shard In Evening Sun

St. Pauls Cathedral

St. Pauls Cathedral From Millennium Footbridge

The sun was setting by now (Autumn is well under way….) and it was getting rather chilly, so after stopping off for a drink at the Blackfriar pub we took the Circle line from Blackfriars to Embankment, where I had chance to capture a few images of the warren of tunnels as we waited for our train. I was particularly pleased with the Mono images – the low, dingy light levels in the tunnels of the Underground seem to lend themselves well to monochrome :

Embankment Tube Station Steps

Embankment Tube Station Steps

Embankment Tube Station

Embankment Tube Station

Embankment Tube Station Tunnel

Embankment Tube Station Tunnel

Embankment Tube Station Tunnel

Embankment Tube Station Tunnel

Embankment Tube Station Platform

Embankment Tube Station Platform

Embankment Tube Station Platform Sign

Embankment Tube Station Platform Sign

Once we were sat on the train we thought our photography for the day was over. Not so – we were informed by the driver via Tannoy that the train was terminating at Golders Green. No problem – we’d hop off at Chalk Farm and hop on the next train, 10 minutes behind. Chalk Farm station was very quiet and I managed to capture a few more Mono images :

Train Leaving Chalk Farm...

Train Leaving Chalk Farm…

Train Leaving Chalk Farm...

Train Leaving Chalk Farm…

I was particularly pleased with these images also – the graininess caused by having to set the camera to high ISO seemed to enhance the photographs, whereas in colour it would look ugly, possibly ruining the shots. As our train pulled alongside the platform I fired off a couple more shots – the obligatory “Station Sign” shot and a Mirror selfie.

Chalk Farm Sign

Chalk Farm Sign

Self Portrait, Chalk Farm

Self Portrait, Chalk Farm

Then we boarded, looking forward to reaching Brent Cross, where the car was waiting to carry us home for a well-earned supper of Chorizo & Mozzarella wraps, and leftover pasta from last night – Yum Yum ……

Brent Cross Underground Sign

Brent Cross Underground Sign

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In The Secret Garden ….

Monday 9th September 2013

(As always please feel free to click on any image to view at higher resolution in Flickr)

My train pulled into New Street station at 16:10 today. The sun was still showing its face in between showers and I wasn’t pushed for time, so I decided to take a walk to the new Library Of Birmingham. I’ve seen the building from the outside a few times and have to admit it looks a little tacky to my eyes, but thats personal taste. Stepping over the threshold into the library I was surprised at how spacious the interior appeared – a little TOO spacious to me, almost as if the owners hadn’t got enough bookshelves & furniture to fill the place and had spread everything out a little too much. But whatever – I’ll take a more leisurely walk around one another occasion – today I was interested in capturing images from the rooftop garden. So upwards I went, admiring the views from the windows as I gained height….

BT Tower from the Library Of Birmingham

BT Tower from floor 5 of the Library ….

A few escalators and 90 odd stairs later I was on the rooftop “secret garden”, admiring the surprisingly extensive views out over the surrounding suburbs and countryside.

The Cube from the Library of Birmingham ...

Composite HDR image of The Cube & The Hyatt hotel….

Looking North From The Library Of Birmingham...

Looking North – Barr Beacon can be seen on the horizon, left ….

Looking towards the Cube from the Library of Birmingham ...

The Cube and the Hyatt hotel….

I also managed to take enough side-by-side shots to enable me to play with the image-stitching software on my Macbook and create panoramic images. It wasn’t possible to capture suitable images when facing Westward, as the sun was very low in the sky, but I’m hoping to make my next visit earlier in the day to remedy this. I heartily recommend clicking on these images to view them at full size and resolution in Flickr, but please be aware that the images are VERY large …..

Looking NW-SE

Looking NW-SE …. On the horizon, far left, can be seen the WBA football stadium, and on the far right is the nearby Alpha Tower . .
Click to view the full size image (16412 x 2518 pixels)

Looking North-East.

Looking North-East. The BT Tower and The Rotunda are clearly visible ….
Click to view the full size image (10377 x 2584 pixels)

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Last Day Of Summer : Blue Skies Over Rushall Canal

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The Wizard of Oz – Randy Rhoads (1956-1982)

Saturday 31st August 2013

Randy Rhoads in 1981

After writing about Steve Marriott a few weeks ago, which I enjoyed doing immensely, I knew that I’d have to do a similar thing on the subject of Randy Rhoads. I’ve been playing guitar since the late 1970′s. I don’t rate myself as anything more than average, but I’ve always had a handful of heroes – guitarists who I love to hear play, and who’s playing I clumsily attempt to emulate, in my ham-fisted way. The names of these guys can vary, depending on what I’m listening to at the time, but a few players are up there constantly – Jimmy Page, Brian May, Les Paul, Yngwie Malmsteen, and sitting up there at #1 in my list – the late, great Randy Rhoads.

This tiny guy (he stood at barely 5 feet tall) only had a short career before his death in a light airplane crash robbed the world of his talent, and he isn’t very well known today outside the guitar playing fraternity, but his playing was a huge influence on my 6-string efforts, and on the guitar work of millions of others. He left us precious little – 2 albums with Quiet Riot and 3 (one of them posthumous) with Ozzy Osbourne – to remember him by, but today, over 30 years since his passing, his playing is still considered relevant and his playing style is dissected, studied and marvelled at by guitarists worldwide.

Randy had a great love of classical music and used his understanding of musical theory to combine classical scales such as Harmonic minor, Melodic minor and Diminished with the staple scales used in Rock – the Pentatonic and blues scales. This combination, in the hands of a genius such as Randy, created a unique style that was to become known as “Neoclassical”, and was to be taken to its extremes (and beyond, some may say) by virtuoso guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen, but Randy was right there at the start.

Sure, he may have ‘borrowed” a few ideas from his contemporaries such as Ritchie Blackmore and Eddie Van Halen, but thats how music evolves – as Ozzy himself has said “We’re all thieves” . . . .

When I first picked up a guitar I immediately wanted to play like Jimmy Page. In the 70′s Jimmy was THE man – in my opinion a Google search of “Guitar God” should lead to a photo of him onstage in his flares, wringing those screaming rock/blues solos from the neck of his Les Paul. I’d spend hours clumsily picking the intro to “Stairway To Heaven”, even though doing so was liable to get me thrown out of Musical Exchanges in Birmingham, where I’d hang out on Saturdays, playing all those guitars that I couldn’t afford, before returning home to plug in my tatty old Stratocaster copy.

Then I heard the first Van Halen album – specifically the tracks “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me”. WOW – I’d never heard playing like that. I immediately tuned my guitar to E flat and set about copying Eddie’s licks, not quite note-for-note, but as close an approximation as my hands could manage.

Then in 1981 I got hold of an album by Ozzy Osbourne, who’d recently parted company with Black Sabbath. I’d never been a big Sabbath fan – I preferred bluesier stuff like Led Zeppelin, so I half-heartedly placed the album on the deck of my music centre, and dropped the stylus onto side one, track one. The instant I heard the intro to “I Don’t Know” I was hooked – this was something else. It was hard and heavy, but extremely musical, and that guitar work was extraordinary – here was a great rock band with a virtuoso lead guitarist. Over the next few weeks I almost wore out the grooves on that album – “Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard Of Oz” – there wasn’t a bad track on it. Even today every single track still sends shivers down my spine, and I just HAVE TO listen to the opus in its entirety.

“Diary Of A Madman” was released soon afterwards, and the same happened. Phenomenal playing, great songs. I couldn’t touch this guy, but I plugged away, stealing a lick here, a few notes there. I wanted to be Randy Rhoads – I still do . . . . .

Randy With His Gibson Les Paul Custom...

Randy With His Gibson Les Paul Custom…

In July of 1981 a mate offered me a ticket to a gig that was gonna take place on August the 1st at the Port Vale football ground – half a dozen or so bands, headlined by Motörhead and Black Sabbath. Cool, I thought - Motörhead were one of my favourite bands, and I never missed an opportunity to see them live. Then a few days before the gig was due to take place Sabbath dropped out and it was announced that their spot would be filled by . . . . . Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz – YAY ! ! ! – my chance to see Randy with my own eyes, see if he could play this stuff live . .  . .

I vividly remember Ozzy running onto the stage to the Carmina Burana (or the “Old Spice” music as we knew it) – he ran up to the mike and screamed “I’M HERE, I’M F**KING HERE ! !”. Then Randy launched into the intro riff to “I Don’t Know” – to this very day I’ve never seen or heard such a heavy riff – the man was a monster of a player, even though his guitars almost buried his tiny frame. My memories of the rest of the set are sketchy – I remember Ozzy dragging Randy backwards across the stage by his hair as he played a solo – Randy didn’t miss a single note. I also remember that polka dot “V” guitar, and the white “RR” guitar . . . . .

Ozzy & Randy, Port Vale August 1981

Years later I bought an Ozzy photo book. Inside there were several shots taken at that Port Vale gig, including one of Ozzy & Randy, seen from the rear of the stage. I flipped when I spotted myself in the crowd :


The sad end to Randy’s short life is documented well in his Wikipedia entry, so I’ll not repeat it here. Guitar players come and go, and players constantly argue over who is the best, who is the fastest. Vai, Satriani, Gilbert, Malmsteen et al are all phenomenal players, but its all about Randy Rhoads to me. He was, is and probably will always be my favourite player. The live “Tribute” album, released in 1987, is my all-time number one rock album – I’m proud to say I can play the guitar lines from every track absolutely note-for-note. I should hope so, I’ve spent over a quarter of a century trying . . . .

Who knows what Randy would have achieved, had he not stepped on that plane. It is well documented that he wanted to quit rock music to study classical guitar. I like to think he’d have gotten that out of his system, then returned to doing what he did best – loud, fast, tasteful, beautiful heavy metal guitar. We’ll never know.

Randy with the tools of his trade . . .

Saluté, Randy – Rest in Peace. Your playing is an inspiration to me every day.

Randy’s Grave, San Bernardino, California

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