London…A Win, A Winner & A Concert

London Sunrise

London Sunrise

Thursday the 30th June 2011 began like any other day…kids off to school, cup of coffee and toast and then a lift to the hospital for the lovely mother in law. Doing our bit waiting patiently Elaine and I talk about our upcoming holiday and how our excitement is building, planning our timetable and evenings alike. We are brought back to reality by Mum’s appearance, she requires a cup of tea…this comes as no surprise as it is part of the payment for our taxi services. We talk in the car deciding between Costa coffee or a little cafe in the village..the cafe wins as the thirst begins to get too much to bear. We find a parking spot outside the door to the cafe and head inside for our refreshing cuppa and no doubt a cake. On perusing the menu it is decided that its Mum’s treat..again..so fruit scones with jam and cream are top of the list. I’m not entirely sure where this rule came from but I don’t see the point in arguing; it wont get us anywhere. We sit and chat for a while awaiting the arrival of our treat, our drinks have arrived but where is the main event…hurry please…oh yes they have arrived, delicious. We fall silent as we eat this naughty delight, savouring the jam and cream, oh and the butter…the phone is ringing…not now, not in the middle of this. Is it acceptable to take a personal phone call in the middle of a small cafe?

I hurriedly go outside and take the call as its far too quiet in the cafe to take a personal call.  I stand in the doorway and speak to the caller. It was Nissan Promotions informing me that I had won a competition. Competition? I am then waving frantically at Elaine, beckoning her to come outside, I exchange glances with her mum, she looks worried, as if something is wrong, but it can’t be I am smiling. Elaine comes to the doorway and I tell her  “we have won a competition do you want to see Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton or Lee Evans ?”. “Lee Evans” she replied looking like she wasnt sure what was going on. She turns to return to the table giddy as a school child with a huge bag of sweets.

At this point I am still unsure if somebody might be having a pull on our chain. I return inside the cafe and head to the table both Mum and Elaine are waiting in anticipation of the outcome of the phone call.  Yes we have won an all expenses paid trip to see Lee Evans at the o2 in September. Things like this don’t happen to us….EVER, we cannot believe it we are so sure that it is a wind up that by the time we have returned Mum home safe and sound we are now sure that it’s a gag. We arrived back to our little slice of comfort to find that we have indeed received a phone call on the landline from the very same number..maybe its not a wind up !!.. we decide to ring the number back and see who answers…..to our shock and joy its REAL…we really have won…..YESSSSSSSSSSSSS.

Thursday 29th September 2011 Our journey began with a brief ride in the taxi to Guiseley train station. Our train to Leeds was on time and full, luckily its only 10 mins into Leeds. On arrival in Leeds we had an approximate wait of 25 mins for our connection to London. We chatted with a lovely lady who was a seasoned train traveller who informed us we would be departing from platform 6, she was right as well. Our carriage awaits us, reserved seating and a table. We set off on time and arrived in Kings Cross 2 hours and 20 minutes later. After a private chauffeur driven transfer we arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf.

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We didn’t have long between arriving at the hotel and returning to the lobby for a meet and greet drink before departing for the O2. Lucy our hostess was lovely so friendly and welcoming. After meeting the other guests on the event we set off to the O2. We were driven in to the VIP area underneath the building. This was the entrance where all the stars, acts and bands arrive. Upon arrival we were not asked to attend the Nissan innovation station which showcased Nissan’s look to the future. It wasnt long before we were called to our VIP box, this is located about halfway up the arena and had excellent views of the stage. It was very hard to decide where to look whilst Lee Evans was on stage. There were various large screens and because Lee was so small and far away it was difficult to decide which to focus on, the screen or Lee himself. Lee Evans was better than ever, when we saw him on the XL tour he was really good at targeting the normal person. But this time he was even better. I don’t think i will ever walk into Sports Direct again without laughing. The Galaxy advert will now forever hold a new meaning.

imag0394

The O2 stage getting ready for Lee Evans

After the event we were again transferred back to the hotel. Elaine & I decided to go to our room and have a coffee and chill out, after talking for a couple of hours we hit the hay. This was in preparation for an early rise and an opportunity to use my camera in and around London. When I wrote this I actually realised that the words I wrote here made it sound quite selfish and that the most important part of this trip was my photography. Yes, it does come across like that doesn’t it? Well, trust me it wasnt…..honest.The Four Seasons Hotel is next to Westferry Circus and also very close to West India Quay. This is an absolutely fantastic location for photographs. We had taken a little wander around in between arriving at the Hotel the day before and setting off for the O2. I had my pre-visualisation head on and was trying to calculate where the sun would rise. I was eyeing up suitable subject matter for foreground and reflections, I am sure you get the idea. I had the idea of checking the weather forecast on my mobile but what would I feel like if it had forecast rain. I would be so disappointed so I decided to abandon that idea and roll with it.

It was 5.00 am when the alarm went off. Now then, let’s get this straight here. Most wives would have gone ballistic had they been away in a five-star hotel in Central London with their husband. Not my beautiful wife Elaine. She is a star, someone who knows what I like to do and supports me through it. I couldn’t work out if this was acceptable or not but I chanced my arm and went ahead and set the alarm. Had this backfired then it would have simply been a case of climbing back in to bed and going back to sleep. The consequences and repercussions would have come later. If it was going to work then all was good and well. I have become a good judge of the weather over the years, my experience with sunrises and sunsets stem way back in to the late seventies. Time to put it to the test.

Friday 30th September 2011 So we got up for the sunrise. It was actually dark when the alarm sounded and to be completely truthful I had to double-check the time. My initial reaction was that I had either set it wrong or the thick curtains covering the view over the Thames were blocking out the last of the darkness. No, I had got it right first time. It was time to get up, it was dark and it was time to fire up the Canon. I can’t remember if we “borrowed” something from the mini-bar in the room or not but we headed out for the waterfront unsuitably refreshed. In the two or three minutes it took to cross the road and get to the waterside the sky was slowly paling in to a nice violet colour. My eyes were constantly scanning the horizon for worthy foreground subjects. The whole scene looked so different from the day before, nothing looked the same as it had in the afternoon light, and as the sun started to create an orange glow there was a notable transition of colour between the paling navy blue and the warming glow of yellow on the horizon; everything just dropped in to place. Was it worth it? Damned right it was. Here is a small slide show of some of the images from the sunrise alone.

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There were so many interesting foreground subjects. The cranes and towers, the dockside buildings, windows with reflections, people going to work; you name it the opportunities were endless. This was the start of a very long day of photography, enjoyment and exploring London in beautiful weather. If you would like to look at the sunrise images in detail, they are available on my Flickr pages as a set here . After a full circuit of Canary Wharf we headed back to the hotel for breakfast. On the way back to the hotel something totally unexpected happened which really knocked me for six. I was stood taking photographs; nothing wrong with that I hear you say? Until I was approached by a smartly dressed, suited member of the public who then insisted on advising me that I couldn’t take photos at Canary Wharf. I acknowledged him but didn’t say too much and continued doing what I loved best. Not for one minute had I considered that Canary Wharf was actually on private property and that photography is not allowed without a permit. A quick look on the website today states that :-

Why are permits required for filming and photography? 

Canary Wharf is a privately owned Estate owned by Canary Wharf Group plc.

As owners of the Estate, we have a duty to ensure that any activity that takes place there including filming and
photography is safe, carries the correct insurance, minimises disruption and does not compromise security.

Do I require permission?

You will require a permit for filming or photography on the Canary Wharf Estate if:

  • The filming and photography is for professional use, sale, commercial gain or media reproduction; and/or
  • you will potentially cause disruption or harm to people or property on the Canary Wharf Estate; and/or
  • you are filming/photographing indoors in any of the common areas in the buildings
    (eg lobbies or shopping malls); and/or
  • you are filming building entrances, shop fronts or any of the security arrangements in place.

You do not necessarily require a permit if:

  • You are taking the images for solely amateur purposes and do not intend to reproduce them for media,
    sale or commercial benefit (for example you are a tourist, hobbyist or student); and
  • your equipment is minimal (for example, nothing more than a camera and stationary tripod); and
  • you are not causing any disruption, harm or potential harm to people, property or yourself; and
  • you are outdoors; and
  • you are not filming or photographing any building entrances or security arrangements.

Students are advised to carry with them a student ID and letter of introduction from their educational institution.

So, they have updated some of the rules and regulations. That is totally irrelevant now, I’m home. It appears I was pretty lucky and apart from getting reminded of this on a couple of occasions on my Flickr pages since that day I am now fully clued up regarding photography in this part of London.

We headed to the City, the London Eye to be precise. We disembarked the Clipper at Embankment and headed across the bridge for the London Eye, all the time looking at it wondering “There is no way Elaine is going to go anywhere near this let alone on it.”. As we approached the pathway heading for the Eye we saw a street performer dressed as Charlie Chaplin. This was one of those “Street Photographers” moments of opportunity that should never be missed. It’s very hard to conceal a DSLR camera and long lens and the minute he noticed me he decided that he was very happy to pose for me. All the time I could see was Elaine still looking at the London Eye knowing that her Asthma was building to a peak with panic. We walked a little way on and decided to sit on a bench below the Eye. Looking up it was starting to sink in a little how high this thing was. 135 metres of white metal supporting thirty-two pods standing proud alongside the River Thames. As much as the wheel was towering down majestically over the river the Thames looked back up with a knowing glance that said “I was here before you even existed

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin

We had a rest and a chat, at this point Elaine spoke” I cant do it”. She informed me that she had to be honest with herself and me. The terror was immense and when i looked up at it i was just beside myself knowing that if she had an asthma attack we were stuck on the wheel it could well be a problem. Not only would it upset Elaine but would more than likely upset others in the pod. The idea was put to bed and we both mutually agreed that it was a definite no-go, no-way scenario. We walked along the path towards the National Marine Aquarium and along to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. At this point we needed what Winterbourne’s thrive on in the north…… Coffee! Not just any Coffee, We needed Costa Coffee. Gingerbread Latte times two please.  As we approached the opposite side of Westminster Bridge we asked two very heavily armed Policemen for some directions to a Costa. I have to say their directions were spot on but I suppose you should really ask yourself “why wouldn’t they be?” We sat down enjoying a coffee and the for the first proper time today the weight off our feet was really just the job.

After our coffee we jumped back on the Thames Clipper and headed back to Canary Wharf for a bit of lunch. When you bear in mind how many people work in Canary Wharf I really couldn’t believe that the options for food were sp limited; we grabbed a sandwich each and went to sit on a bench while we looked over the River Thames. The sun was out, it was warm; warm enough to manage without a coat and it was one of those days that you could have sat there for the whole afternoon. I managed a couple of images looking in to the sun. Now its time to tell the truth; my skills fell by the wayside down here, in a big way. I consider myself able to take photographs in any situation but for some reason I felt very uncomfortable. I don’t think it was because there was no subject matter, it was the people. I couldn’t connect with them. Everyone was either rushing around as if they were late back from lunch or they were too wrapped up in their individual little worlds. We sat in a riverside bar with a cold beer. With things to be done and places to see, we had to make a move. Time was fast disappearing.

After our break we jumped back on the Thames Clipper and just sat on board for a trip up and down the river. I have to say by this point we were both feeling the pressure and we were very tired. In terms of photograph, when you consider that this wasnt the primary reason for the day around London I did really well. I had managed over 500 frames in a full day and within those frames were a vast array of subject matter. Something I would look forward to editing upon my return home.

We landed back at Canary Wharf at 4pm, sat down for a couple of soft drinks. It was just a case of waiting for our chauffeur from Addison Lee to collect us. As we were making our way down to the reception area of the Four Seasons Hotel I began wondering if I could squeeze some last shots in. The sun was due to set within the next 20 minutes or so and the car was due to collect us about the same time. I know this sounds an ambiguous statement but it was a mutual decision inside my head that came to the conclusion that it was best if I didn’t bother. The journey to the o2 the day before had been bad enough as the traffic really hampered our progress and that was a Thursday evening. Today was Friday and I had my own ideas of what central London would be like at 5:30pm on a Friday tea time which I duly shared with Elaine. This led to yet another mutual decision that as the driver had yet to turn up it may be best if we had a word with reception to see if they could chase him up. There seemed to be a few of these Addison Lee vehicles darting around just not for us. There were no two ways about it, this was no cutting it fine.

It turned out that the driver was waiting in the wrong place and was around the corner of the hotel and not at the designated pick up point. Common sense never ceases to amaze me but lets leave that for another time eh? Panic over, we were on our way. We now had one hour to get to Kings Cross and to catch our train. Sat in the back I couldn’t help noticing the driver re-routing the Tom-Tom for a quicker journey across London. He had stated quite categorically that we would make it. Was this a vain attempt at doing the impossible I wondered. The traffic was mayhem, bedlam had descended on central London at the wrong time, the wrong time for us and the right time for everyone sat in a bar with a Gin and Tonic in hand. They obviously had the right idea for a Friday night as the traffic was bumper to bumper all the way through the Blackwall tunnel under the Thames. With three miles to go it was gridlocked, the countdown was speeding up and time was fast running out. It wasn’t really but that’s the way it felt. We spent every second of our time in that car either looking at our watches or spotting suicidal cyclists and workers who seemed hell-bent on risking their lives at crossing the rush hour streets of the capital. They were obviously totally oblivious  to the fact that cars belong on the road and not pedestrians. We could see the Tom-Tom standing proud on the dashboard clearly displaying the time left before arrival. Never before had a journey been so arduous. Never before had two people wanted to get to Kings Cross as much as the Winterbourne two. Our train was due to leave at 18:33 and the Sat-Nav showed an arrival time of 18:07, this I could cope with. As predicted just as 18:07 appeared on the timer we could see the huge sign adorning the station entrance proudly labelled “KINGS CROSS” … The driver had abandoned the car amid the ensuing chaos so we both leapt out, grabbed the suitcase and made our way into the station.

Now we knew it was Friday, we knew it was early evening and people were heading back home for the weekend but nothing could have prepared us for the sight that greeted us as we made our way to the departures board. There was an endless sea of people all craning their necks looking almost skyward at the every changing information board to see if they were next to escape the mayhem. Kings Cross don’t allow you to stand on a platform….no no no….you watch a board and as soon as a platform number is allocated it then appears. What happens next is staggering. It’s like a starting pistol has gone off for the one hundred metres with Usain Bolt at the front followed by the also ran’s. In a matter of less than a minute  the area we were stood in had emptied. Upon the arrival of our service we made our way to platform 5. One the way I spotted the words “Seat Reservations Unavailable on this Service” …what in the name of all that’s holy did this mean ?? we had seat reservations !! Did it mean we didn’t have a seat?  As we headed for coach E as clearly detailed on our ticket…it became painfully obvious what it meant. First come first served. “I’m sat down balls to you” There was no chance of us getting our seats Usain Bolt, his twin and his happy band of followers had them all. What East Coast did was quite unfair and as far as I can understand was a damage limitation exercise. As the inbound service was late it meant that all the little cards that are displayed in the seat backs displaying your name etc were not changed. This meant that it was a “free for all” a “sit where you like scenario”

We ended up separated and a few rows apart, eventually a very kind lady moved so we could sit together, and we settled down for the journey home. On our service to Leeds a portable buffet cart was doing the trolley dolly number, he passed us in coach E and made his way to the front of the train before we left Kings Cross. To give you an idea of the time he took he eventually made it to us in E by Wakefield; nearly two and a half hours later. As we pulled in to  Wakefield Westgate we knew we were nearly home. Our last obstacle was the Leeds to Guiseley train; this operates every twenty to thirty minutes. Having missed our planned train by three minutes upon checking the board it showed that the next train was at 22.06…a full hour later than expected. Time for plan B, we decided to go and wait for a bus. We made our way around to the bus stop and upon arrival we were presented with a choice of two buses…both of which had just left the stop and have a guess when the next one was?…that’s right.. another hour. So Taxi it is then, we walked to the Wetherspoons exit of the station to pick up a cab, this proved fun too. Despite ringing for a cab we literally had to ask every car if it was our taxi. Elaine’s phone battery was on critical so we were afraid to use it in case it switched itself off. Because of this it meant that it wasn’t vibrating when it received the message telling us the taxi details including the car type and registration. Eventually Elaine  looked at it and we began the last leg of our trip home. The Taxi driver had a bit of Lewis Hamilton about him, you know…50 in a 40 zone and all that…we couldnt care, just take us home Lewis. We were home. We walked in the doorway to face a very smiley son waiting with open arms. We were absolutely exhausted and really hungry. Chinese take-away and home-delivery is a thing from Heaven.

Fed and watered we finally crawled into bed at 10.45pm. What a day, what an evening Lee Evans you were the star of our show. Below you find a selection of the images from our trip….sorry the whole story was so long-winded, I hope you enjoy the photos.

  1. A wonderful description of your time in London,having visited our selve’s for a weekend,I can appreciate your exhaution.Well done Mark an excellent blog.

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