2013, a year of extremes in pictures

I’m gazing out of the window, the rain is lashing down in ‘sheets’, driven by high winds that are bending trees at an alarming angle. Although only early in the afternoon, the light has already started to fail, making it seem more night than day. The traditional New Year’s Day walk has been postponed – in truth cancelled – due to a general reluctance to endure the terrible weather in person.

My mind keeps wandering over the year just past: this time last year we were celebrating the arrival of 2013 in Sucre, Bolivia, our home for a year. Although we would spend another few months in Bolivia, we were already planning a journey north that would take us through Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, before returning to Bolivia. In between, we’d visit Argentina and Chile, Bolivia’s wealthier neighbours, for a change of scene and cuisine.

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

So, with one eye on the coming year, here’s my homage to 2013, a year which took us from the heart of South America to the heart of Central America. A journey from the high Andean mountains of Bolivia to the turquoise waters of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, and back again, before returning to Britain.

Adobe church and Vulcan Sajama, Sajama, Bolivia

Adobe church and Vulcan Sajama, Sajama, Bolivia

Siloli Desert, Bolivia

Siloli Desert, Bolivia

Salinas Grandes, Argentina

Salinas Grandes, Argentina

Cemetery in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Cemetery in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Fiesta in Cuzco, Peru

Fiesta in Cuzco, Peru

Magical Machu Picchu, Peru

Magical Machu Picchu, Peru

Oasis of Huacachina, Peru

Oasis of Huacachina, Peru

A woman sits on a Botero sculpture, Medellin, Colombia

A woman sits on a Botero sculpture, Medellin, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

The Panama Canal, Panama

The Panama Canal, Panama

The beautiful San Blas Islands, Panama

The beautiful San Blas Islands, Panama

The Pacific Ocean from La Cruz, Costa Rica

The Pacific Ocean from La Cruz, Costa Rica

The magnificent Granada, Nicaragua

The magnificent Granada, Nicaragua

The idyllic Pearl Keys, Nicaragua

The idyllic Pearl Keys, Nicaragua

Glorious Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Glorious Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

…finally, returning to reality in London…un feliz y próspero año nuevo por todo.

Tower Bridge, London, England

Tower Bridge, London, England

The Cathedral of Methodism, John Wesley’s chapel

Walking down the hectic, traffic-filled Moorgate, a major road that slices through the City of London, you could easily be forgiven for not noticing the courtyard entrance leading to a collection of 18th Century buildings. The buildings are both a fine example of Georgian architecture and the centre of a major Protestant religion. Over the road from here, you might notice gravestones behind metal railings, without ever guessing that this burial site of nonconformists, radicals and dissenters is home to some very famous names.

Statue of John Wesley outside Wesley's Chapel, London, England

Statue of John Wesley outside Wesley’s Chapel, London, England

Victorian stained glass window, Wesley's Chapel, London, England

Victorian stained glass window, Wesley’s Chapel, London, England

Here, tucked away just outside of the old City of London walls, is ‘The Mother Church of World Methodism’, the chapel of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley. Built in 1778, this is where Wesley lived until his death in 1791. With an emphasis on personal salvation, helping the poor and a missionary zeal which saw it spread throughout the British Empire and the United States, Methodism has around 80 million adherents today. Although many saw the Methodists as fanatics, Wesley asked his followers to live their lives by a simple, if seemingly unattainable, code:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
– John Wesley

Wesley's Chapel, London, England

Wesley’s Chapel, London, England

Statue, Wesley's Chapel, London, England

Statue, Wesley’s Chapel, London, England

Methodism was an important social driver in Britain throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, closely associated with progressive social and political movements. There were strong connections with the anti-slavery movement, but Wesley’s followers also played a major role in the development of trade unions and the Labour Party. In addition they campaign against the societal effects of alcohol and gambling, particularly amongst the poor.

Wesley’s Chapel is an intimate and unassuming place, the day I was there it was empty. In the basement of the building is a museum telling the story of the Methodist movement. Behind the chapel is a garden where Wesley is buried. It’s a bit unfortunate that an office building of unrivalled ugliness has been built directly behind the garden, otherwise it would be much more pleasant.

John Wesley's grave, Wesley's Chapel, London, England

John Wesley’s grave, Wesley’s Chapel, London, England

Grave, Wesley's Chapel, London, England

Grave, Wesley’s Chapel, London, England

The cemetery across the road, a burial site enclosed in the 1660s, is the charming and peaceful Bunhill Fields. The name ‘Bunhill’ is probably derived from ‘Bone Hill’, and has been a burial site for over a thousand years. Today, it’s an oasis of calm and tranquility in the heart of the City. When the cemetery closed to new burials in 1854, it is thought that around 123,000 people had been interred within it’s four hectares. So many Protestant nonconformists were buried here that the poet Robert Southey referred to it as the ‘Campo Santo of the Dissenters’, after the famous Italian cemetery in Pisa.

Grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

Grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

Bunhill Fields is the final resting place of some of Britain’s most famous radicals and dissenters. This includes household names such as the poet William Blake, author of Songs of Innocence and Experience and the hymn Jerusalem; Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe; and John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. While these names live on thanks to their writings, others buried here are long forgotten, yet many made significant contributions to the world.

John Bunyan's grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

John Bunyan’s grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

William Blake's grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

William Blake’s grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

Daniel Defoe's grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

Daniel Defoe’s grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, is buried here. So to, Sir Foxwell Buxton, owner of East London’s Truman brewery, and the man who took up the reigns of the anti-slavery movement in Parliament after William Wilberforce retired in 1825. Although the slave trade had been abolished in 1807, Buxton campaigned to end the practice of slavery itself. He was successful in having slavery abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833. Thomas Newcomen, Baptist lay preacher and inventor of the Newcomen steam engine for pumping water out of mines, is another of a glittering array.

Grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

Grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

Dame Mary Page's grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

Dame Mary Page’s grave in Bunhill Fields, London, England

It is an atmospheric place, and is also where Wesley’s mother, Susanna, is buried. Known as the Mother of Methodism, she has the remarkable distinction of giving birth to nineteen children. Perhaps the oddest grave is that of Dame Mary Page, wife of Sir Gregory Page, a Member of Parliament and director of the East India Company. She was buried here in 1728, and her giant marble tomb has an inscription describing her final illness. It goes into rather too much detail:

In 67 months she was tapp’d 60 times, had taken away 240 gallons of water, without ever repining at her case or ever fearing the operation.

The Eagle Pub, London, England

The Eagle Pub, London, England

The Eagle Pub, London, England

The Eagle Pub, London, England

After spending a pleasant time wandering the cemetery, which is now a public gardens, it was time to retire to an East London institution: the nearby Eagle pub. The Eagle is famous for being mentioned in the nursery rhyme Pop! Goes the Weasel.

Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

The Eagle is an old pub which was rebuilt as a dance hall in the 1820s, before being turned back into a pub. Although the meaning of the rhyme isn’t fully understood, the reference to the money could mean the need to pawn your coat (‘stoat and weasel’ in Cockney slang) to pay for a night in The Eagle. Given the price of beer in London, it wouldn’t surprise me if that tradition continues to this day.

The ancient and the new, God and money in the City of London

The City of London is a very different place to London the city, it’s a city within a city. A real city, not a royal enclave like Beijing’s Forbidden City. This is where global finance gathers to do business; where people from all over the world come to work in the financial markets. A commercial hub for a thousand years, it is the most ancient and historic part of London. Here is a wealth of Guild churches, some dating from the 12th Century, built with the profits from global trade. God and money go hand-in-hand in the City.

Church of St. Botolph Bishopgate, London, England

Church of St. Botolph Bishopgate, London, England

Church of St. Botolph Bishopgate, London, England

Church of St. Botolph Bishopgate, London, England

The City of London is the ancient heart of the sprawling mass that London has become. The one-time centre of global commerce, where goods from all over the world were traded, and where extreme poverty rubbed shoulders with extreme wealth. From Roman times, the City was founded on the north bank of the River Thames, and flourished. Scratch the surface, and chances are you’ll uncover many layers of history.

It was the City, and the poverty-ridden East London slums that were attached to it, which Charles Dickens brought so vividly to life. Where there was wealth, there was corruption, moral and physical. Oliver Twist is set amidst a sea of filth, disease, crime and prostitution. While some lived a hand-to-mouth existence, and the vicious regime of the workhouse sucked the life out of the poor, others lived in opulence.

God and money go hand-in-hand in the City of London, London, England

God and money go hand-in-hand in the City of London, London, England

The 12th Century Church of St. Lawrence Jewry, reflected in the windows, London, England

The 12th Century Church of St. Lawrence Jewry, reflected in the windows, London, England

The new and the old London, England

The new and the old London, England

Things haven’t changed much, the filth has gone, but poverty and crime remain. Judging by the number of ‘Call Girl’ flyers in the phone boxes, so too does prostitution. In Dickens’ day it was Fagin and his gang of talented pickpockets; today it is international finance, and its gang of voracious and mercenary bankers and hedge fund managers. The crime is white collar, the pockets picked, much deeper.

Living on the fringe of the City, I’ve spent a lot of idle hours wandering its fascinating streets and alleys. Walking routes familiar from literature, passing churches and public houses that are hundreds of years old, is best done at weekends when the streets are free of suits. Much more recently, the City has been transformed by monstrously sized, steel and glass corporate Towers of Babylon. Built not to speak to God, but to communicate corporate power.

The Gherkin, London, England

The Gherkin, London, England

Sculpture near the Gherkin, London, England

Sculpture near the Gherkin, London, England

Buildings in the City have always been constructed with an eye to the power and influence of trade and commerce. Almost all the churches here are home to trade guilds, built to the glory of a God, who was clearly a big fan of international commerce. These wonderful buildings still have the power to impress today, yet they seem almost naive set against the giant structures currently being built. The inhuman scale of the Shard, Gherkin and Cheese Grater, while wildly dramatic and strangely beautiful, is a reminder of the cult of money and power.

The Shard, London Bridge, London, England

The Shard, London Bridge, London, England

The Monument to the Great Fire of London, London, England

The Monument to the Great Fire of London, London, England

The Monument to the Great Fire of London, London, England

 

The contrast, between the old and the startlingly new, has been played out in London many times. The constant renewal and reinvention fascinates me. For seven years I daily walked past the construction site of the Shard. First it was a giant hole. Then the metal frame was built and the glass exterior bolted on. The building progressed until, finally, it towered over the streets below and dominated the skyline.

The Shard is in Southwark, south of London Bridge, but the history of Southwark and the City are intertwined. On the other side of London Bridge, stands the Monument, a marble tower topped with a bronze sculpture, commemorating the Great Fire of London, 1666, which destroyed 87 of the City’s 109 churches. The climb to the top is up a cramped spiral stairway, before you come to a platform offering terrific views; well it would, were it not for the buildings which now overshadow it.

St. Margaret's Patten, Eastcheap, London, England

St. Margaret’s Patten, Eastcheap, London, England

St. Margaret's Patten, Eastcheap, London, England

St. Margaret’s Patten, Eastcheap, London, England

A short distance away, the Walkie Talkie is being constructed. Unintentionally, its concave shape acts like a giant magnifying glass, concentrating the sun’s rays and beaming them onto the street below with enough power to melt plastic. It casts its shadow over several medieval churches, including the Guild Church of St. Margaret Pattens, which sits up an alleyway off Eastcheap. The current church was built by Christopher Wren between 1684 and 1687, but the earliest recorded church on this site dates from 1067.

The church is dedicated to St. Margaret of Antioch, a Christian convert persecuted by the Romans. The name ‘Pattens’ comes from a local industry of wooden shoes mounted on an iron ring. They were worn beneath traditional shoes to keep them clean on London’s muddy streets. The Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers has been associated with the church for six hundred years. The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers is also strongly associated with St. Margaret’s.

Memorial to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, London, England

Memorial to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, London, England

Memorial to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, London, England

Memorial to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, London, England

As I wandered the streets I came across a monument to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, set in the grounds of a former church, St. Gabriel’s Fenchurch. Its hard not to dwell on the great wealth many of the worshippers in these churches acquired from their active participation in the slave trade. Indeed, its hard not to reflect on the role Christianity played in justifying the slave trade. I imagine not many of the sandwich-munching city workers were giving it much thought the day I was there. Still, surprises like this are what make a walk through the City worthwhile.

Church of St. Botolph without Aldgate, London, England

Church of St. Botolph without Aldgate, London, England

Church of St. Botolph without Aldgate, London, England

Church of St. Botolph without Aldgate, London, England

Church of St. Botolph without Aldgate, London, England

Church of St. Botolph without Aldgate, London, England

The way history, and historical places, rub up against the ever changing cityscape of London is one of its most remarkable features. It could be seen as callous disregard for the past – not improbable in a place where people seem only to care about profit. In reality, the contrast between old and new adds a dynamism to the City of London which suits it.

The view from Boris Towers: London, a city unfinished

Peter Ackroyd’s London, The Biography, is fascinating. One of his themes is London as ever changing, ever evolving, constantly being rebuilt on the ruins of London past. Retrospectively its possible to see this evolution – Roman and Medieval London can still be found in parts of today’s city. No one worried about ‘heritage’, things were just ripped down and rebuilt.

Every age – Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Tudor, Victorian, Georgian, right up until the shiny glass temples to international finance that currently dominate the skyline – has left its imprint on the ancient heart of the city. In the case of St. Helen’s and St. Andrew Undershaft (no sniggering), it is literally possible to see 12th century churches overshadowed by a building affectionately known as the ‘erotic gherkin’ – a giant phallus of glass and steel designed by Norman Foster (Freud would have had a field-day).

The view of the City of London from City Hall, Erotic Gherkin on the right, London, England

The view of the City of London from City Hall, Erotic Gherkin on the right, London, England

If there is a greater contrast in building style, purpose, materials and ethics anywhere in the world, I don’t know where it is. One truism, however, is that all these buildings are designed to inspire awe and wonder, and to communicate power.

Several new buildings have sprung up in the City of London recently (all have ridiculous names, the better to ingratiate themselves with the public): ‘The Cheese Grater’, ‘The Walkie-Talkie’ and ‘The Pinnacle’. ‘The Shard’, in Southwark, is the wrong side of the river to be part of the City. These buildings are transforming the cityscape, although, given London’s history, probably not forever.

London's City Hall, London, England

London’s City Hall, London, England

London's City Hall reflected in a sculpture, London, England

London’s City Hall reflected in a sculpture, London, England

Tower Bridge reflected in London's City Hall, London, England

Tower Bridge reflected in London’s City Hall, London, England

It was with some trepidation that I entered another modern glass edifice, London City Hall, home to the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, to take the view from the top. Mayor Boris Johnson (a man many would accuse of having his own erotic gherkin) wasn’t at home, so it was possible to take the view unmolested…and, it has to be said, what a view.

The view of Tower Bridge and the East End from City Hall, London, England

The view of Tower Bridge and the East End from City Hall, London, England

The sunbathers and Tower Bridge from City Hall, London, England

The sunbathers and Tower Bridge from City Hall, London, England

Emerging onto the viewing platform, there was a giant crane somewhere in Southwark going about its business of changing the cityscape. Move anti-clockwise and Tower Bridge comes into focus, with views all the way to Canary Wharf. Then, directly over the River Thames, the Tower of London appears dwarfed by the modern city which has grown up around it. Move slightly to the west and the truly extraordinary sight of the City of London – a work in progress – is illuminated from on high.

The City of London and Tower of London from City Hall, London, England

The City of London and Tower of London from City Hall, London, England

The view of Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf from City Hall, London, England

The view of Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf from City Hall, London, England

The view is fabulous, its probably worth becoming Mayor for that reason alone. Its not just the view though. Despite the unfortunate nickname of ‘The Glass Gonad’ (bestowed upon the building by Mayor Boris), City Hall has been designed to surprise. It does have an unusual shape, more reminiscent of a motorbike helmet than a gonad, but inside it has a beautiful helix-shaped staircase similar to that of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

Helix-shaped staircase in London's City Hall, London, England

Helix-shaped staircase in London’s City Hall, London, England

Helix-shaped staircase in London's City Hall, London, England

Helix-shaped staircase in London’s City Hall, London, England

Descending this glass temple of temporal power, its possible to stroll under and then over Tower Bridge – possibly London’s most famous landmark – before arriving on the north bank of the River Thames where the Tower of London sits.

These two structures reflect Ackroyd’s general point about the city’s evolution. Tower Bridge was opened in 1894 and casts its shadow over the Tower of London, construction of which started over eight hundred years earlier in 1066. Both are now overshadowed by the 21st century City Hall. London will be a nice city once they finish it, not that that is likely to happen anytime soon.

Tower Bridge, London, England

Tower Bridge, London, England

Tower Bridge, London, England

Tower Bridge, London, England

The Tower of London, London, England

The Tower of London, London, England

The Tower of London, London, England

The Tower of London, London, England