The Sky Garden

Sky Garden-27

The Sky Garden is that rarest of things – a view of London from atop a sky scraper that is actually free of charge to visit. It sits on top of 20 Fenchurch Street, aka the walkie talkie.

I believe that there was some quid pro quo done with the building’s owners letting them get bigger as the building went upwards in return for providing free public entry. That’s the good news. The bad news is that to get up you have to book a free ticket in advance, and at time of writing they are completely sold out. The official website suggests keeping an eye on it, or following their Twitter feed. The other way, of course, is to book into the bar or one of the two restaurants.

I won’t bother repeating what others have already said, least of all Diamond Geezer who has written a very good blog on his visit(s).

When I first booked my tickets, I noticed something about “professional” photogaphic gear not being welcome. And certainly no tripods. Just to be on the safe side, I went with my RX100 M3 point and shoot, although plenty of others had DSLR’s. I saw one woman using filters on her camera too – unusual to see when you don’t have a tripod.

From a photographic perspective, the biggest challenge is internal light reflections. The only outside bit is a balcony that was closed off when I visited. It too has high glass, but you could probably hold your camera over that. Added to which, it had been raining on and off, and that left raindrops on one side of the building’s glass.

What I will say is that it really wasn’t very crowded. They seem to limit the numbers quite heavily, and free tickets being free, you imagine that a number of people didn’t show up. The slowest part of getting through the airport-style security for me was the fact that many people were relying on the ticket barcodes on their phone (they email a PDF for tickets). This can be a bit fiddly, particularly with multi-page PDFs for several members of the party. I brought a print-out.

Once in, nobody is going to kick you out. My start time was 3.45pm, and I knew sunset was an hour later. To be honest, if you’re not going to have a drink at the bar, then there’s not a great deal to do. It’s all fully enclosed, and you walk around, take selfies (everyone apart from me, I would conservatively say), and then leave again. I hung around to wait for it to get darker.

So there you go. Keep an eye on the website. Ordinarily they say you have to book at least three days in advance, but I fear that it’s going to be harder than that to get in. With the Shard over the river costing £25, this is a bargain. Even the distant Monument below costs £4 – although climbing that is more of an achievement than hitting “35” in a lift.

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More photos on Flickr.

On a Canal in a Canoe – Secret Adventures

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-18

It being the middle of January, and therefore getting quite cold, what better way of spending a Monday evening could there be than paddling a canoe around London?

This was an organised trip via “Secret Adventures“, an internet Meetup group. We set off from Moo Canoes’ base in Limehouse, heading up Limehouse Cut heading in the direction of Stratford, before passing 3 Mills Studios, continuing up the Lee Navigation, ignoring turn-offs that are still closed due to post-Olympic development until we reached the lock just adjacent to the back of the Olympic stadium near Fish Island, before continuing a little further up to Crate Brewery & Pizzeria.

It was good fun, and not too hard on the upper body! The well organised event did a good job pairing people up for the boats and ensuring we had the basics before hitting the water. I did manage to fairly soak my legs however – something to do with being 6’2″ and not being able to canoe with my legs flat. And although I kept the camera dry, I fear the Lee Navigation must now have a Lowe Pro camera case (thankfully otherwise empty) to add to its disturbingly large collection of junk.

The pictures I took tended to look better on the back of my camera than they did on a 23” monitor. Using ISO 6400 quite a lot, a certain amount of noise reduction has needed to be applied.

Anyway, as well as these photos, there are more over on Flickr.

Highly recommended!

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-19

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-5

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-9

Secret Adventures Canoe at Night-13

Tour of Britain 2014 – Stage 8 (London)

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-56

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-23

A good day yesterday at the Tour of Britain watching first the time trial, and later a 10 lap circuit race around town. Lots of opportunities for photos, and I took them!

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-28

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-40

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-43

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-45

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-52

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-60

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-75

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-92

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-98

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-104

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 8 - London-106

For all my photos, head over to Flickr.

And for something a little different, here are some of my photos along with some audio from the race. I’d recommend listening either with really good speakers, or via headphones.

Tour of Britain photos and sound from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Cyclists’ Traits

Hyperlapse Bike Commute from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

[A hyperlapse of my ride home from work on my Brompton. Made taping an iPod Touch to the handlebars of my bike]

It’s a relatively common thing to categorise cyclists into different “tribes.” But after many years cycling, including cycling as part of my regular commute for the last few years, I’ve decided that people are less members of particular “tribes” than they share common traits with one another.

I’ve tried (not altogether seriously) to identify some of those traits among those you see cycling in the rush hour, and present this as a scholarly work, and a not at all derogatory look at my fellow cyclists.

I should also note that I fall into several of these camps.

Nobody is perfect:

The Roller – the person who rolls very casually past a line of waiting cyclists and straight out across a red light seemingly without a care in the world. They’re not going fast. They’re just rolling.

The Jaunty Helmet – Without getting into the rights and wrongs of helmets, one thing I do know is that if you’re going to wear one, you need to wear it properly, otherwise it’s no more useful than any other hat. I’m talking about people – and they tend to women – who wear the helmet way back with the peak somewhere on the crown of their head. That helmet simply isn’t going to protect you properly.

The Track Starter – A bit like the kid who walked to school and didn’t want to stand on the cracks in the pavement, this is the man (and it is a man) who doesn’t want to put his feet down anywhere along his commute. He might do a very good trackstand at the traffic lights, but more annoyingly, he slows right down on cycle paths when coming towards a red light so as to maintain some momentum – but not too much. In turn he prevents others from getting to the advance stop line for cyclists behind him.

The Wannabe Pro – There really is no need for full team strip to get to work. As a rule, you won’t see anyone other than school kids wearing their Chelsea or Arsenal kits on the school bus.

The Darkness – Come on. It really isn’t hard to put a couple of LEDs on your bike if you’re cycling after dark.

The Suicidal – Why are you going up the inside of a bus or van that is indicating left? You do know that’s how most cycling accidents happen?

The Low Rider – I don’t mean the cool kids who mosey around on their unique steeds. I’m talking about people who don’t seem to realise that it’s easier and more comfortable if you raise the saddle a bit.

The Queue Jumper – There’s a line of cyclists waiting in a cycling lane at a stop sign, and along comes this guy (or gal) and just spins along to the front – cycling in the opposite cycle lane to do so. Because they’re more important than you. Get it? They need to be somewhere while you don’t.

The Queue Jumper Who Is Slow – It’s one thing if you’re Speedy Gonzalez and you’re just trying to get past a group of slow commuters. But if you’re one of the slower commuters, why are you queue jumping? We’re British. We’re supposed to do queues properly.

The Speedy Folder – Just because I’m on a Brompton, it doesn’t mean that I can’t cycle faster than you.

The No-Signaler – It’s not just cars that need to know you’re turning left or right. Your fellow cyclists tend to find it handy, because it indicates you’re going to slow down and manoeuvre out.

The Light Jumper – Yes, yes. I know. Sometimes you do know that pedestrians find it intimidating if there’s a bike speeding by as they look at the Green Man.

The Campanologist – A bell is a necessary accessory for city centre riding. Indeed something with a bit more welly might sometimes be desireable. But these folk love their bells so much they ring them all the time. If they see a pedestrian so much as look towards the road, they ring. If they overtake, they ring. If you are more than 5 nano-seconds slow getting away from a traffic light, they ring. And then they ring some more.

The Salmon – Going upstream. Yes, there should be more roads with two-way access for cyclists. The City of London has made great strides in this. But it’s still reckless – not just for cars, but other cyclists and pedestrians.

The Lighthouse – I get it. You do need to be seen after dark. But that industrial strength strobe you’ve affixed to the front of your bike is actually causing me temporary blindness. See also people who’s stroboscopic lights induce epilepsy in photo-sensitive individuals within a half-mile radius.

The First-Timer – Usually to be spotted sometime around the hottest day of the year. See also every other category.

The High-Vizzer – I must have missed the memo that said every cyclist on the planet must now wear the same garb as workers on building sites. Everyone wears high-viz now – lines of schoolkids on days out, drivers, and mostly cyclists. The problem I have with them is that it becomes assumed it’s essential to wear them. Check out the Netherlands. They don’t wear them. To my mind, if we’re going to suggest cyclists wear them (and on big schemes like the excellent Freewheel and Sky Rides, these vests get handed out a lot), then we should also be spray painting every car on the road in a dayglow colour.

The Weaver – To be fair, just about the only way to get around many central London roads.

The Undertaker – I’m about to turn left, but someone has decided it’s a good time to undertake me. Smart!

The Videographer – Has cameras all over his bike and helmet. I’m not saying he wants to get a viral YouTube hit based around some appalling piece of driving, but if there is some, he’s got it from several angles!

The Conversationalist – Seriously. We’re still commuting. The rules are – no talking.

The Good Lifer – Cycling is a way of life. I’m just dropping the kids off to school in my cargo bike first thing. Then it’s off to the organic food store to pick up some groceries.

The Builder’s Bum – You probably want to rethink your cycling attire, especially for those behind you. This doesn’t just apply to men either…

The Shifter – Why shouldn’t I use my Brompton to transport me, a duvet and a couple of new pillows from John Lewis to home?

The Florist – I want to make a statement with my bicycle. And that statement is flowers!

The Carbonista – I did 30 laps of Richmond Park on this beauty before I headed into town for work.

The Too Cool For School – Look at me. Now look at yourself. We are not the same.

The Lost Boys (and Girls) – Quite possibly on a Boris Bike or similar, and almost certainly a tourist. They just want to find the nearest dock to Covent Garden piazza. Those maps that started appearing alongside bike hire docks a couple of years ago really are very useful.

The Interloper – Probably not riding a bicycle at all. But they’re using the bike lane for their scooter, or electric thingy that behaves a bit like a Segway. They’re usually going slower than everyone else.

The Chicken Player – There’s loads of room for me to overtake without hitting an oncoming cyclist – it’s just that everyone else needs to slow down to avoid a collision!

The Corner Cutter – Turning left at the lights, but bored of waiting for them to turn green? Just hop up onto the kurb, down the other side, and away you go. Watch out for pedestrians!

The Professional – Not Body and Doyle haring up in Ford Capri Mark III, but the last bastions of the cycle courier. To be honest, they tend to be flying around in the middle of day rather than joining the ranks of the 9-5ers.

As I say, these are just a few of the traits you will find. There are many many others…

Northwest and Kon Tiki

The Northwest, or Nordvest, of Copenhagen seems to be rough part of town. Let’s put it this way, you didn’t see much of it in The Killing or Borgen. It’s where the impoverished working class live, with kids falling helplessly into a life of crime.

Casper is a young lad who burgles for a living. He looks at houses for sale online, and picks out expensive designer furniture and electronics that he wants to steal with his friend Robin. He then fences the stolen gear with Jamal, even though he knows he’s being ripped off.

Casper and his younger brother Andy live with their mum, and much younger sister in a tiny flat in the Northwest. Casper does what he can for his family, but his brother is trouble too even though their mum is trying to keep his nose cleaner than Casper has managed.

Then one day Casper meets Bjorn who’ll offer him much fairer prices. Before he knows it, he’s working full time for Bjorn delivering prostitutes around town and supplying drugs, having roped in his younger brother to help out.

We know that this is not going to end well.

The director has a background in documentaries, and it seems that for this film, he’s used a cast made up of unknowns and shot it in a documentary style with lots of hand-held camera-work. He’s got some great performances from his cast, including the two real-life brothers who have what are essentially the two lead roles.

The story does feel raw and real. Although it’s not without its own flaws. We know that the film is going to head into a certain direction, and it does so without fail. During one scene, I knew that Casper was going to get a call on his mobile because it had been telegraphed a mile off. Of course, he did indeed get that call.

But in spite of those flaws, it’s worth catching if it comes around. I can’t find a UK release date for the film.

I must be honest, having quite enjoyed the film, even though there were some flaws as I mentioned, I was left a little disappointed by the film’s director and co-writer, Michael Noer. He just seemed to be trying too hard. The reason he’d made the film, he told us, was because his first film had been set in a prison, and after that he’d made Facebook friends with loads of prisoners. He could get a stolen car or a gun no problem. Oh, and by the way, if you can’t find the film legally, he could tell us another way to get it.

How had he got the dialogue right for his young actors? He’d hung out, smoking weed, and playing Fifa with them until he was accepted and could tell how they sounded naturally. He knows more about gang culture in Denmark than his once estranged father who is a policeman. And one of the actors in the film? He’s back in prison now.

It was almost as though he was trying to be the cool kid at school. He’s got all the mates. He can sort you out.

Maybe it was just honesty. But it came across as showing-off.

When I was a child, there was a big old bookcase in my bedroom that housed lots of old novels that used to belong to my parents. There were lots of orange penguins, and a collection of Pan editions of James Bond dating from the sixties. In amongst all of them was a curious book that I never got around to reading much further than the back cover – Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft – written by someone called Thor Heyerdahl.

And essentially that’s all I really knew about this actually rather famous voyage that took place during 1947. I knew that it had been ridiculously dangerous. And the fact that the author had managed to write a book about it, kind of suggested that he probably didn’t die en route.

Kon-Tiki was actually one of the nominated films in the Foreign Language category of the 2013 Oscars (losing out to Amour). The film is a dramatic telling of that crossing, as Heyerdahl leads a small crew of mostly Norwegians across the Pacific from Peru to Polynesia. He had become convinced that prevailing wisdom was wrong, and that the islands had not been inhabited from Asia, but from South America.

He decided, in a strange post-World War II world – to try to prove that theory by using the currents of the Pacifc to get to the islands without the means of modern technology.

The mostly Norwegian cast is led by Pål Sverre Hagen who ably portrays Heyerdahl. Seemingly he was selected as the preferred actor following a newspaper asking Heyerdahl’s sun who should play him. The film is well directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (who apparently have landed the next Pirates of the Caribbean film as a result).

The film looks superb, and effects are well woven into the narrative. It’s always hard to stay the course with a slow voyage like this that lasts over a hundred days. But the structure works in its favour for the most part.

What I was surprised to find was that the film was in English throughout. From what I could tell, most of the money seemed to originate in Scandinavia, and the richness of the film would suggest that it was one of the more expensive productions to be made in that part of the world. But the fact that the first production credit was from the Weistein Company perhaps explains a good deal. Jeremy Thomas is a key producer on the film, and this seems to have been something of a labour of love, with him having met Heyerdahl before his death, and having worked on getting this made for more than 15 years.

In fact, it seems that there are actually two versions of the film – the English version that we saw, and a version in Norwegian. On stage this was explained to us as simply a matter of repeating the same scene first in Norwegian, then in English, and perhaps then again in Norwegian. Norwegians, of course, are largely fluent in English. However it does seem that the Norwegian language version of the film is significantly longer too. That doesn’t make it better, a common misconception being that the longer a film is, the better it is, but that’s an interesting fact of itself.

I fear that the flaws that I think the film has perhaps come from too much interference in the international version of the film. Occasionally you feel as though the script is on autopilot. Even though this is a remarkable true story, at times it feels as though we’re watching a TV movie of the week, with tensions heightened needlessly. Indeed we learnt that one key scene was entirely made up for the film, even though it painted a fundamentally flawed picture of that character.

At times, it did feel a bit schmaltzy. So we have to open with a “defining” moment in the young Heyerdahl’s life when he’s saved after falling through the ice on a frozen lake. Then we have his poor wife, left behind for months on end in Norway.

But in the end, I did enjoy it. And if nothing else, it makes me want to read the book that I never got around to.

And there is one standout scene that I absolutely loved in the film that came out of nowhere. We’re looking at the raft in the moonlight as the camera pulls back upwards, way way into the sky, through the clouds, and then finally into space where it twists around to show as the stars and our galaxy before spinning once more and returning to earth. It’s a beautiful moment (and a little reminiscent of the other night’s Gravity).

Oddly enough, the film opened over a year ago in Norway, and it’s taken this long to get around to a British screening. Indeed, the film has long gone in most territories, yet I can’t actually find a release date for the UK. It would be a shame for the film to end up solely on DVD since, whatever it’s failings, it does look beautiful.