#04 – From Wanstead Temple to Brixton Prison

When you have nothing to do in London, just find a map, pick a place, and go there.

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That’s how I ended up in Wanstead Park this weekend.

I had a free day, and with it being only 3 miles from my house, I thought I would go and see what it had to offer.

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The walk along the River Roding is a lovely walk that highlights the truth in the fact that London parks don’t have to come with a Royal seal to be enjoyed by the many. Primarily, I went to Wanstead to get some good woodland shots out the 80D, but as it happened, the majority of time spent in Wanstead was spent watching a group of coots fight over what seemed like not very much for the best part of an hour. I ran the battery down on the camera over the course of 200-300 shots only to delete hundreds in favour of the few held here, in this blog.

The coots were accommodating in their perseverance in stamping on one-another and nipping at each other with their beak. There were five in total; none escaped unscathed. They paid little heed to me on the banks, and after hurriedly fixing the long lens in a panic to get a good shot, they continued to display for what seemed like the whole afternoon.

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I’m not entirely pleased with any of the shots I got, but I learnt a lot sat on the banks of the Roding, and ahead of Sri Lanka in September, I certainly need to get to grips with aperture and focusing speeds if I am to capture anything acceptable of the illusive Leopard.

It was fascinating watching the birds launch themselves in a frenzy at each other, one moment paddling calmly across the river before throwing themselves into the air to stamp down and nip at a competitor. I assumed this was some sort of mating competition taking place, male coots are identical to females in all but size and weight, so picking out a female in a bunch of five or six is difficult, but I assume there was one present. Finally, seemingly as exhausted as my camera was, they each calmed down, there was no obvious victor and all took themselves off in other directions and allowed me to move on a have a look at what else Wanstead had to offer.

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Arcing around the river you come to an old set of unlabelled ruins. The shell of what would seem to be a once lovely house overlooking the river, long since fallen into disrepair. There isn’t much left of it, and the area around it is all fenced off, I stopped for a short while before plodding on.

Out the other side of the woodland Wanstead Temple. It doesn’t look like a Temple on the outside, but the celebration within would suggest that it is indeed a temple still used for weddings and parties. It has an oddly distorted symmetry, as if it once was symmetrical before someone bolted on another ten feet to the right hand side of it. Even the pathway of trees that I assume once led to the front entrance is now unaligned with the white columned doors.

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It was here, outside the temple that I got rained on. Clear blue skies when I left the station had since been consumed by a thick grey wall bursting with rain. I took shelter under some extremely dense woodland running alongside Wanstead Golf Course before scuttling back to the station when the rain broke.

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Although spring seems to have returned, and is fast rolling into summer with the heat we are experiencing, the rain has been a fairly common occurrence these last few days. On a graduate course just last week we were visited by DJI – drone making dominators of the commercial UAV sector and were lucky enough to have a look at their newest piece of kit. I would say that I’m tempted by one, but at a slice under £20k, I doubt I’ll be getting one of these anytime soon.

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Potentially the most interesting thing I did this week, was an absolutely non-photo opportunity. Following Hannah’s recommendation, the two of us spent our Sunday in prison in Brixton, more specifically, at the Clink restaurant in Brixton Prison.

The Clink restaurant is a rehabilitation programme that aims to educate convicted criminals and provide them with the skills that they require to gain legitimate and honest employment outside of the prison upon their release. The Clink itself it inside the prison compound so you have to do the security and all that jazz just to get in.

The roles of the waiting staff, and indeed the bar and kitchen staff are all filled by inmates serving their last 18-months of sentences. The general and duty manager roles are held by non-inmates but professionals from the hospitality industry, as is the head chef.

I should mention that Brixton is not a high-security prison, but I’ll admit to being quite anxious before we went, not that I had any reason outside of my own misgivings to be so, and the moment we sat down, those misgivings disappeared. The restaurant was packed, I mean there was literally not a single empty table. Every table was filled, birthday parties, celebrations, girlfriends out for lunch together, families having Sunday lunch, it was amazing. Everyone was dressed up as if for a meal in the city, and I’ll admit to being quite shocked by just how busy it was.

That was until I tried the food. The three-course menu didn’t scrimp on the variety or the ingredients. The roast lamb preceded by chicken liver parfait and finished off with homemade apple and rhubarb crumble was incredible. Certainly the best Sunday roast I’ve eaten at a restaurant as far back as I can remember.

I understand now why it was so busy, and all of those odd looks I got in the office before going last weekend should take themselves, the Clink is a commendable programme and one that not only works professionally for convicts, but also for the public, for there are few places that do roasts quite so well.

The sun’s out, the days are unbearably warm, so I leave you with this, the sunset over Leyton last night. I have two months to ensure that I explore and seek Leyton out in its entirety before I move on to somewhere new, as yet undecided.

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