Author Archives: Dave Walker

Twigs and paintings

Honestly, I am working on a proper post, but this little idea came up when I was transferring pictures from my phone to my laptop.

Our flat overlooks a communal garden. Before the latest batch of named storms, someone had a clearout of branches and created the pile you see above. On a gloomy February afternoon could there be a whiff of Blair Witch? Maybe I’m reading too much into it. I’ve been writing something with a supernatural flavour to it and I’ve been a bit pre-occupied with the garden. It was a lifeline for me during lockdown, along with other residents who patrolled the space in those days when you weren’t supposed to go anywhere.

Fortunately, this pile was cleared up before Eunice, who would have made short work of it.. I watched the storm from the safety of the flat. None of our trees had any mishaps, although our avian residents were laying low throughout.

This is an old picture of one member of a dynasty of crows whose territory covers the garden. There are about five of them at the moment.

The magpies are just visitors I think. But they’re getting bolder. One morning this ek I saw five of then sitting in one tree. A new family? A crow joined them in the same tree and they moved on, but not straight away. They were back again the following day all in a different tree this time broken up by two crows.

We have wood pigeons, the non-player characters of the garden, gulls (must be rough at sea, as everybody’s Mum and Dad always said) small birds (robins mostly, pretty bold for a tiny bird) and the occasional green bird (the feral parakeets of the south east.)

And squirrels, moving through the net of branches like fish in the water, ignoring the boundaries between trees. They pay hardly any attention to other animals except to scurry up a tree in seconds at the sight of some threat or other.I can hardly believe that cats ever get them.

I once saw a cat make a half hearted leap at one of the crows. He took off, landed again and then gave the cat a damn good talking to, like an adult rebuking a teenager. The cat slinked away.

But back to twigs. After Eunice, the garden was covered in debris from the storm.

Some of these were gathered into another pile.

This sort of stuff does tend to loom large in my mind these days. Although it’s a sombre time of year, the outdoors definitely helps. Before lockdown I imagined my retired life would have involved lots of bus travel and photography but I’ve also been lying low, sheltering from Covid and confining myself to the very local. I’ve also had some medical issues (nothing life threatening) which keep me close to home while I wait for a procedure. So forgive me if I think a lot about the garden.

Really, we got away without much damage as far as Eunice was concerned, and I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much either. Having covered my health experiences on the blog, I have now tested you with nature notes. So perhaps I should turn away from the micro-local and remember Local Studies.

One of the loose ends I managed to tie up before I retired was the case of some missing paintings, which we lost track of during a re-organisation of space at the Town Hall several years ago. With the help of the Mayor’s Parlour staff I was able to locate three pictures which had hung in some now non-existent offices. Such as this one.

A rather nice nocturne featuring Chelsea Old Church, roughly photographed by me just after we got it back. Or this one.

A slightly wonky photo of a painting showing a view looking down Oakley Street. The shop on the left is now a branch of Gail’s bakery.

On the right, Argyll House (possibly the subject of a future post) is currently undergoing building work and is sheltering behind a giant picture of itself.

This painting was frustrating because we didn’t have a decent colour photograph of it. It had been photographed at some point- it was used for the dust jacket of Barbara Denny’s excellent book Chelsea Past, but that was probably in the pre-digital era and the library didn’t have a print or a negative. So I was quite pleased to have it back.

There’s another picture, my favourite of the three, which I couldn’t get a decent picture of (glare etc). I’ll save that for another day. You’ll have noticed I couldn’t remember the names of the painters. Someone will tell me.


I read today about the death at the age of 57, of Mark Lanergan, one of the great singers of rock music. A quick survey of my CDs showed eight albums either solo works, or by Screaming Trees, the grunge band of the 90s he was in. He had a distinctive voice, both rough and smooth, if you can take a bit of music critic writing. I remember reading about his recent memoir Devil in a coma, which details his struggle with illness and thinking he must have been a bit of a handful for the hospital staff.

I particularly liked Blues Funeral and the Last Words album by Screaming Trees. My favourite from that album is Ash Grey Sunday, one of the best opening tracks ever. He made the rest of us look cautious.

I’ll also note the sad passing of Gary Brooker. A Whiter shade of pale is one of those classic songs that form part of the cultural background for anyone of my age. For anyone really. My late friend Carl Spencer was a real fan of Procul Harum. I remember his favourite was Conquistador.

When you sit on a draft for days, as I often have, events overtake you, whether it’s the war in Ukraine, or closer to home, the death of a resident of Kensington and Chelsea. Writer and ilustrator Shirley Hughes had died at the age of 94. Most parents will have memories of reading books to their children particularly the Alfie books (the one with the cement mixer was Matthew’s favourite). And of course that childhood tearjerker Dogger. I met her once at a library event and she was a lovely person, just as you would wish a children’s author to be. Sympathies to her family and friends from book lovers, parents, teachers and librarians.

Good luck to all the brave people of Ukraine.

I saw a report of a demonstration in the UK which featured a lttle girl who had drawn her own poster with the slogan “Putin is a poo”, with a nice picture of a steaming turd. Fair comment.

Another local resident:

Our Covid story

I don’t want to go on ann on about Covid as I last mentioned it a couple of posts ago. Nearly a year ago. But for me, this is an anniversary story , a tale from the pre-vaccine, pre-omicron era, when things were slightly different from how they are today. All the fragments I wrote during the first lockdown are faintly apocalyptic (or at the very least novel), because we didn’t know what was going to happen, or how all this would end. Also unreal, because the apocalypse wasn’t actually happening. For some of us of course it did. For me, Cathryn and Matthew, there was no tragic ending but the last days of 2020 and the first of 2021 did mark the end of a chapter in our lives. Now we’re in the midst of a new crisis I can’t help thinking of this time last year. I guess you could say it’s local history.

  1. The Menu Planner

Every year since .. I don’t know.. Cathryn has written a menu planner for the Christmas / New Year fortnight, some more elaborate than others. This dates from the time when everything in the outside world was closed for several days around Christmas. The fridge is still full to capacity at this time even though you can go to the shops from Boxing Day onwards. The planner is attached to the fridge with magnets, along with relevant recipes, and other purely decorative items. For 2020 it also serves as a prompt for my memory.

The consensus in the flat on Christmas Day was that I had brought home some kind of flu. We all felt a bit rough in a non-specific way. There was no hint of any of the advertised tell tale signs of Covid 19. But it was a bit odd that we were all at the same stage of whatever it was. We got through Christmas dinner and opening presents all right. Just a bit low key. No-one was particularly annoyed that the tree and decorations were absent. That should have told me something.

Looking back at the menu planner I seem to have cooked what I was supposed to have cooked. and the holiday season proceeded…. or did it? Matthew thinks that I didn’t follow the planner at all, but that we actually grazed on cold meat and buffet type food from the fridge. His story is that I was clearly ill on Christmas Day with a cough (I don’t remember that) which he and Cathryn had the next day, suspiciously quickly. I followed the plan on Boxing Day but wasn’t very happy with the results.

We watched the first episode on DVD of a crime series that had been on Sky. I have been known to nod off occasionally when watching TV but this was the first occasion when I realised it had ended and we had all spent part of the running time asleep. (I have the ability to wake up as the credits are running, and appear as though I watched the whole thing.) We have never attmpted to watch this DVD again.

2. The Fall

This is a date I’m sure of: 29th December. A man was coming to fix our washer /dryer. He was coming early in the morning, about 7.30 so I decided to just stay up. We keep pretty late nights. Cathryn and Matthew had just gone to bed. I got up off the sofa to go to the kitchen, or the toilet. I’m sometimes unsteady on my feet and have tripped in the street a few times in recent years. (Once crossing the road at Fulham Broadway. Two kind young people hauled me to my feet. Once round the corner from our flat during lockdown- No-one to come and help you then.) I lost my balance and bounced off one wall, into another which had a pile of books against it. Once on the floor these books rained down on me. I couldn’t seem to get to my feet. I remember thinking what a way for a librarian to go – imprisoned under a pile of books. Of course I had a way out. I called out to Cathryn and asked her to get Matthew up to help me (she ‘s disabled so couldn’t do anything personally). Which he did. In a confined space this was more difficult than I thought but he managed it. The books ended up in a handy box and I was deposited back on the sofa at about 6am. (Remember, most accidents happen in the home, as the Grim Reaper will remind you when he knocks at the door.)

I announced that I had to remain on the sofa indefinitely and would Matthew let the repair man in please? He humoured the old fellow and supervised the visit. I used to scoff at plans with annual payments for white goods but have become a convert in recent years. (I was called up recently and asked if I would like to add the dishwasher to the plan. I replied that I was the dishwasher. I would have asked if I could get covered by the plan and get an upgrade: Dave 2.0 but I thought better of it. The people who phone you up have a job to do after all, and probably don’t need flippancy.)

It never once occurred to me as the sun came up and I sat on the sofa that perhaps this fall was a symptom of something. It does at least provide a date. After that day I think I must have had the Kent (now Alpha) variant of Covid-19.

Matthew also had a moment around this time. His legs gave way after getting up from the toilet. Fortunately, the toilet is conveniently narrow at this point and supported him. We were at a stage ,we thought, of riding the disease out. So Matthew got back to his chair. We had run out of paracetamol so he found a pharmacy which delivered. A man on a motorcycle came, so there was no need to leave the flat.

3. The Samurai

Cathryn wasn’t well. At this point we were still thinking flu, not Covid, but she has form with respiratory conditions, so I was watching out for signs of anything worse. She was mostly sleeping, but what was I doing? Was I dozing on the sofa, or watching TV? What was Matthew doing? We were both convinced that Cathryn’s condition was unusual. At some point one us called 111, but later Matthew was calling an ambulance. In one of those conversations he had to work quite hard to convince the person he was talking to (somewhere out of London) that they should send someone..

The two ambulance guys came as a bit of a surprise for Cathryn and she didn’t want to go. She really didn’t want to go. (She actually thought they had come for me) But eventually they and Matthew prevailed. I hung about a bit in the background. I decided that my role would be to take the blame. Cathryn doesn’t remember the journey apart from the cold air when they entered the Chelsea Westminster Hospital through some unexpected entrance. She isn’t sure where she went exactly. She remembers a “plastic room” which seemed to have been created by partitioning a corridor. She was still trying to convince them that she should go home when a doctor told her she should be glad she was there. Either that night or the next day someone told her that it had been touch and go for a while. She was getting oxygen through a C-PAP machine, which she was used to as a treatment for sleep apnea. She recalls a conversation about signing a DNR.

She isn’t sure where she slept that night but eventually she found herself in a room overlooking Netherton Grove. (A cul-de-sac on the western side of Chelsea Westminster Hospital) There was a balcony with many plants. It became apparent that a samurai warrior stood in the undergrowth. His job was to guard her. I’m glad he was there. He faded away in daylight but returned for one more night. She looked for him later but he had evidently returned to wherever he came from, his task completed. Cathryn is infamous in the family for seeing faces in curtains and other surfaces. Call it pattern recognition, rather than hallucination.

4. Rescue.

Matthew and I sank back into the general detritus of Christmas knowing that Cathryn was safe (but probably annoyed). I slept on the sofa. The following day it occurred to us that neither of us were very well either. There was a further phone call from me to either 111 or a Covid hotline (it was beginning to dawn on us). The person I spoke to was impressed, I think, by how incoherent I was. It was decided that some kind of visit was needed. A personable but impossibly young fellow with a backpack turned up. He was called Andrei. I was convinced he was Italian but I’m not really a reliable witness at this point. He tested Matthew’s SATs with an oximeter and they were in the toilet, alarmingly so in fact. It was a wonder that Matthew was still conscious. Mine weren’t much better. He called for two ambulances. So a total of four women were then in our living room. It was Matthew who had the presence of mind to bring our phones and a charger. But we both left in whatever we were wearing at the time. Two ambulances waited for us outside.

5. Hospital

I’ve already written briefly about my week long stay in hospital. Once the medication started to work my mental equilibrium returned. I had access to television and was occasionally allowed to go down the long corridor to see Matthew and Cathryn who were both on C-PAP machines initially. One particular nurse handled most of these excursions. I won’t name her here, because all the medical staff did a good job., but I’d like to thank her especially, for going the extra mile, not only with me but with Cathryn.

I can’t say I was ever worried particularly, and I went from being mildly disturbed to being bored with the routine quite quickly. But as I’ve said, I was not an entirely reliable witness. I was given a large number of pills including the well known Dexamethasone along with unknown antibiotics (the fact that I don’t know is continuing evidence of my mental state – normally I am obsessive about medication.) I spent much of my time alone so I assume I spent a lot of time watching daytime TV. There was a lot of coverage of Covid and later there seemed to be something going on in Washington, but all the television I watched in this period seems to have had a background of melancholy.

I didn’t know how seriously ill I was, (a bit of pneumonia, I was told although I didn’t feel that bad) but I’m sure it would have been quite worse had we not been in hospital. Towards the end of the week Matthew and I were moved to another ward with adjacent beds. In our turn we persuaded doctors to let us go, and we went home one after the other, back to the flat after a Christmas that was hardly there. I left the hospital in a pair of borrowed pajama trousers, a t shirt and a dressing gown. Fortunately, we’re not far from the hospital. I curled up on the sofa and watched the Star Trek movie about the whale. Matthew’s departure was slightly easier. Of course, once we were home, we were both still vague and disconnected. We discovered German kebabs, a concept suitable for disconnected times. Cathryn was let out one evening a couple of days later. The whole business seemed to have been a short sharp shock.

When I went out to the local shop the people in it looked like strangers, extras in a different story, not survivors like me (or so I felt). I couldn’t believe how calm they were. I never could understand how unconcerned people around me were.

It was not the end of our dealings with the hospital. We had signed up for a post-Covid study and were able to spend time with medical staff who were interested enough in our progress to do many tests and scans, which told a more objective story. The scans of our lungs were particularly instructive.

6. What did we learn?

We had no idea of how ill we were. That’s the essence of our Covid story. We reached out to a beleaguered NHS, not quite knowing what was going on, and they took us in and looked after us. They did that for a great many people in this country.

This all happened a couple of variants ago, in the pre vaccination era. Some people then seemed to think the whole thing was a hoax or a conspiracy. All I can say from my own experience, is that it wasn’t. I think that having Covid, or having a close friend or relative who has had it is one of those experiences that divides us into two camps.

We’ve been through a lot this year, medically speaking. The Alpha variant is history. It looks like its successor, Delta, has gone the same way. We’ve had vaccines and boosters. Those first visits to medical centres and (in Matthew’s case) colleges are also part of the historical narrative. The story is less of an apocalypse. But let me get back to you on that in a future year.

I wouldn’t claim to have had long Covid but I think it did take me a long while to feel entirely myself again. I don’t want to over share but I’ve had another continuing complaint this year. I once jokingly referred to this period in life as the hospital years not realising how true that was. I’m probably still not myself, but maybe a reasonable facsimile.

I hope you all had a safe Christmas. It’s not my favourite time of year. I would prefer it to happen in summer so perhaps on some level I belong in the southern hemisphere. Just a thought.

Finally, my thank sagain to my friend Isabel who was a lifeline at the end of the phone during my hospital stay. This is a detail of our Christams tree from 2021.

Blog extra: more Ghosts

In the end I was in a bit of a hurry when I posted Ghosts of 1923 (Isabel lit a fire under me to get me moving), and a bit rusty when it came to using WordPress so I missed the best “ghost” picture’. So here it is, with a couple more. This is a close up of the picture of the bus stop I did use in the main post.

The figure on the left is the ghost of a very stylish looking young woman. Smart coat, smart hat and a perfect stance. You see enough of her to think she was probably very attractive. Not enough to identify her, perhaps fortunately. The man next to her is dimmer, but stylish in his own way, hat and overcoat.

The picture below, used in the last post shows all the ghosts waiting at the bus stop.

Here is the “man behind the fence”. I have seen instances of only part of a person’s body being visible on the print. Can you remember the disembodied pair of legs in a Hedderly photo? So he could have been in front of the fence. But I prefer to think of him standing behind the bars.

And here is a woman standing next to a container for grit or sand. A woman’s face, I think and a coat. The lower part of her body is also dim.

Finally, this group of three women, looking at the photographer. Note the odd piece of street furniture on the right, also a kind of ghost.

Michael Nesmith

Nesmith was the only member of the Monkees to have a musical career after the heyday of the Prefab Four. I remember the TV show obviously but also his carefully crafted sometimes tongue in cheek solso material. As I sometimes do, I commemorated the news of his death by dowloading a couple of tracks for my MP3 player. The other day “Rio” came on while I was in Marks and Spencer, making me smile. I have the vinyl version of the LP “From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing”. A lovely relaxed song I haven’t heard for years. On the way home I selected one of my favourite songs by him or anyone, “Some of Shelley’s Blues”. A special song for me, and perhaps others.

Anne Rice

Soon, an author will be interred in one of those distinctive mausoleums in New Orleans. Quite appropriately. Vampires are ubiquitous theses days, possibly past their peak, but still hanging in there. (By the skin of their teeth?) The trope has given us plenty of rubbish, including the sparkly vanilla vampires, but we have had many entertaining versions of the idea- True Blood (and the novels the series was based on), Kim Newman’s historical fantasies,to name but two. But apart from Stoker himself, it was Anne Rice, who in her first few books gave us the modern vampire.

Thank you, Michael and Anne.

Another Covid Christmas is heading towards us, so I hope you all stay safe and happy. Next time I’ll be revisiting my experiences in the last Christmas season, but before then, have a good Christmas.

Ghosts of 1923


A little bit more than a short pause I suppose. But I had to get back on the horse eventually, and now I have a bit of a breathing space, This post is one I started last year, with every intention of finishing it quickly, but circumstances intervened. I’ve added some more material to bring things up to date.

As far as I can tell, these pictures were all taken on a single day in 1923,  by Albert Argent Archer. I’m not an expert on the evolution of photographic techniques but I would have thought that by this time the problem of the ghostly images of people who failed to keep still long enough to be clearly visible on the picture would have been overcome. Or perhaps by using a long exposure, Archer got a clearer image of the buildings he was trying to photograph.

We’ve come across Kensington photographer Argent Archer before in posts from late 2017 and early 2018 (a more innocent historical period), and his embossed mark is on these pictures. Leonard Place was a section of Kensington High Street between Earls Court Road and Edwardes Square.



I’m inclined to think the building on the far left may have survived into the present, although the last time I saw it it was covered in scaffolding. It was/is a branch of the Yorkshire (formerly Chelsea) Building Society.



In 1923 it was a branch of the London City and Midland Bank. In the close up you can see a Haircutting and Shaving Saloon, a Servants Agency and what looks like a newsagent. But everything to the west of the bank is gone. The premises next door, home of some Shippers and Exporters were truncated sharply, possibly to make way for the now (almost?) demolished Odeon cinema.

Strachan and Brown, High Class Coach Builders and Engineers, have another sign in a prominent position, “Garage”. Serving motor vehicles may have been the most significant part of their business by this time.



You can also see ghosts in this picture, people who didn’t linger long enough to fully register on the photographic plate, or who shuffled around as they waited by a bus stop. (Note the London Transport roundel.)


From our point of view, nearly a century ahead, they might as well be actual ghosts, watching and waiting to be recognized.

Another angle shows the north side of the road. The wall encloses the then private Holland House estate. Ghosts are still visible and two parked cars.


Here is a closer view of one of those cars.

Behind it is one of the gatehouses of (I think) Edwardes Square.

This ghostly bus must have been moving when the picture was taken.


Finally, a group of ghosts, looking out at us from beyond (presumably) the grave.

Leonard Place 1923 01898 (2) trio


Ever since the death of David Bowie, I’ve written short obituary paragraphs in the past when authors or musicians I liked died, and even once about one of my customers. But I’ve never had to write about a colleague and friend.

I met Karen Ullersperger in the 1980s when she came to work at Kensington Library and we became friends. We worked together on Reference matters and as part of the Senior Librarians team. We also spent some time together recruiting staff, which was something we both enjoyed. We made some pretty good appointments, even if we said so ourselves. Karen moved to a more senior position in her later years in the Tri-Borough service but we stayed in touch. I think I filled a particular role in Karen’s life, listening to her when she had issues with other staff and in other areas of her life. She would sometimes call me Dr Dave when she wanted to let off steam about something. She was sometimes pretty angry about life. I won’t pretend I was the only one who could help her with that. She had plenty of friends at work not to mention her family, and her cats. Karen was a very conscientious person, professionally and personally. She left the Borough intending to have a rest before resuming her career, but she became ill and had to concentrate on that. I’m glad to say I saw her on a couple of occasions before lockdown, and the last time we spoke she was optimistic about her condition, but more importantly than that she seemed to have gotten rid of her anger. There was a calmness about her, perhaps from accepting whatever life had in store for her. Nevertheless, it is extraordinarily sad that she passed away not long ago at a comparatively young age. Her friends and family are all diminished by her death.


001 DW Mamos 1978

Above: me circa 1978, for your amusement. Oddly, my hair is about this length now, due to the lockdown and personal laziness.

Nobody knows how long they have but I do know that I have made it through a 43 year accidental career in libraries and earlier this year I resgned and retired. I survived the ups and downs of local government in recent years . I’ve had interesting times and boring times. I’ve met excellent colleagues, and a few that were perhaps not so excellent. I’ve irritated many people and perhaps entertained a few more. When I started work in libraries back in 1978 I was looking for something that was socially useful and didn’t oblige me to wear a tie. (I didn’t have great ambitions.) Somehow, I’ve enjoyed myself and maybe did a few useful and helpful things. (This blog may be one of them.) So thank you to all the people I’ve worked with and friends I’ve made. And thank you to everyone who has read the blog, which has been one of the highlights of my career. Above all, thank you to my wife Cathryn and my son Matthew who have tolerated me for most of their lives.

This isn’t the end of the blog. Although I have been quiet lately, during lockdown and post-Covid, I have a few ideas bubbling up so there may be a few more posts to come. I sincerely hope so.

After a short pause

So I’m in this room, which has a prefabricated wall and door. It used to be a cubicle I suppose. I’ve had a number of injections, they’ve taken blood I think, and I’m on oxygen. People come and go. I tell a nurse in an elaborate breathing device which covers her head that it looks like she’s wearing a vintage hair drier – the ones that had a plastic hood which inflated. (I don”t know if I was right. Iwas still a bit spaced out.)She was amused but said that she thought she looked like a nun. I said well that too. I was glad she could get something interesting out of the protective headgear.

I saw a lot of odd looking PPE during my stay. A nurse wearing a kind of weird gas mask helped me with washing a day or so later (they really don’t pay them enough).

There was a long picture above the door showing a panorama of a forest floor with tree trunks and bluebells. I had the idea that the image was moving slightly as some screen savers do but at the same time I thought the movement was in my head. I hadn’t been thinking very coherently for several days.

Now I was pretty sure of where I was, lying in this room in A&E. My son was nearby in a similar room. My wife was somewhere else in the building. She wasn’t intubated but a machine was helping her breathe. It was a couple of days before we saw each other.

As you’ve probably worked out, all three of us had new variant Covid-19 and were now in hospital. But don’t be too concerned. I had a bit of pneumonia, but I never had trouble breathing as far as I can recall. There were fleeting visits from doctors, plenty of drugs and oxygen, plus the usual issues of getting the TV to work (bit of a first world problem I know).

Relief at being snatched from the jaws of death (maybe) turned to plotting escape, and a few days later I walked out of the hospital in a borrowed pair of pyjamas and my own dressing gown (we don’t live too far from the hospital). Back in my own home I spent an almost coherent evening on my own reunited with my own machines. My son and wife followed over the next couple of days. We survived.

Thank you to the staff of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and special thanks to my friend and colleague Isabel who kept me sane over a series of phone calls. Thanks to all the friends and medical professionals who have helped me while I’m recovering. Thanks above all to my wife and son.

This post is not to make you feel sorry for me, but to explain my absence from the blog. So there you are. I’m still here and regular posting will be resumed as soon as possible. Apologies to everyone who left comments and had to wait for me to approve them. The truth is that the blog got on pretty well without me. Page views were good. The annual total last year was more than the previous year. January’s monthly total was the second highest ever total for that month. I know. The lockdown. Many people with more time to spare. I’d like to think it has a little to do with the quality of the back catalogue, which is pretty extensive.

I have a bit more time off now, and there were a few draft posts waiting to be complete. So you can expecta return to actual blogging quite soon I hope. Pictures next time, too.

Oh yes, one last thing. In case you were wondering, I saw and experienced nothing which would lead me to think Covid 19 is a hoax. Anyone who thinks that should probably take another look at the evidence.

Pictures of the lockdown – South Kensington

You know those moments that come from time to time when you realise that the narrative has changed and that we’re not in a post war realistic novelist’s universe any more? That science fiction is happening right now? I have a memory which must date back to the 1970s or early 1980s of a newspaper headline seen on the tube.It was in the Guardian. I. can recall the old font they used back then. The phrase “radiactive zone” caught my attention and lodged in my memory. Maybe  I thought about J G Ballard, which seems like the sort of thing I would have thought back then. Over the years since I have sometimes wandered into a Ballardian landscape. You expect that sort of thing in east London near a body of water, or in the western suburbs near the river. Ballard country.

We’ve lived in a science fiction landscape during the lockdown. Think the opening sequence of 28 Days later or the Day of the Triffids. Where have all the people gone? Anyway that’s what I thought when I looked through this set of photos taken by one of my neighbours.



It’s a fine day but the streets are almost empty. Just a solitary figure and a lone car waiting for the lights to change.



That period of deserted London didn’t last all that long really but I remember the unexpectedness of walking through lightly populated streets.




I remember how bright it was, like a summer’s day, but without the unnecessarily blistering heat of the last few days.




The empty buses running through empty streets. At first they didn’t even want you to use your card.

Mostly though I walked. To a supermarket, to a pharmacy, to the post office. Waiting in the placid queues with all the other patient people who didn’t mind the delay. After all, where else were we going?

Normally quiet streets were even more quiet, it seemed.




And familiar sights seemed almost willfully tranquil.




If you didn’t know something was going on you might be fooled into thinking it was all perfectl normal.



Or you might think that’s an impressive building – I wonder what’s inside? Surely something must be going on in there?



Most of these places I saw with my own eyes but our photographer went to places I didn’t see during the lockdown,




Along with some I did.




The oddest thing for me is how ephemeral it all turned out to be. Whatever the ultimate outcome, the lockdown may just be an episode.

But let’s not forget why it was happening.





Thanks to JT for these pictures. I’m sure we’ll feature more images of the lockdown in future weeks.

If all goes well I will be back at Local Studies very soon. I’m looking forward to sitting in the archives again. I might see some of you there.

Quiet days: reading and sleeping


Quiet days on your own, or with close family. If you’re like me you’ve turned to books you’ve loved in the past.

Sit quietly in a garden in a sheltered spot.



After breakfast, or in the late afternoon.


On a veranda, overlooking a pleasant landscape. (If you can manage it.)



Or in a dimly lit room, with little chance of interruptions.




sometimes with a convivial companion.

Reading separately

Or together.



Sometimes you can concentrate, while waiting to go out perhaps.



Or spending an evening inside.



Or after an evening out it’s sometimes good to pause.

Reading is a good prelude to sleep.



On other occasions, sleep will take you unawares.

Sometimes before you can even swing your legs up.



Or when the reading matter at hand is just too heavy.



On those occasions you can just zone out.



Or get comfortable.



And just drift off. And maybe a dream is waiting for you.



I’ve had a few afternoon and early morning naps recently, some with dreams which were more vivid than usual. On one occasion I took a walk with my late mother along an unfamiliar canal in a northern city. She was younger than me but it was good to see her again.

I normally do this kind of post at Christmas (here and here) but it seems appropriate for the lockdown as well. If you are the rights holder for a particular image and its inclusion causes concern, let me know. If you want to know the identity of an image, I may know. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the atmosphere, inspired by a calendar series my wife gets me for Christmas, Women Reading (or women of Reading as I call it.)

There may well be another set of lockdown photos next week. Or something else entirely. Who knows?

Pictures of the lockdown: Chelsea

Now that some of the restrictions of lockdown are being relaxed, is it over? Near where I live there seem to be more people on the street, so has the empty city passed into history? Probably not quite yet. In its May issue the Libraries Newsletter asked for personal accounts and pictures from readers. Response wasn’t immediate, but by word has spread and we have received pictures from residents and staff (sometimes one and the same) which Isabel and I have been sorting into groups by location and theme. This is part of an ongoing project to tell the story from this neck of the woods.



Some of them you will know, like this one.

Others will be harder to place exactly. (Although I could show you a James Hedderly picture showing the same stretch of the riverbed. Here)



Other images are new but becoming familiar.



And complicated.



Some shops make do with just the feet.

This informative notice gives you plenty of time to read.



You don’t have to spend your time reading. There are plenty of tranquil spots where you can quietly contemplate the new normal.



Where is that?

Or this?




Battersea Park?

Some empty streets:


Hortensia House.


Rear windows.



A lone figure.



The distinctive brickwork of the Worlds End Estate.



The London Riverside tower, (work suspended?)



Blantyre Street.



With a little bit of reflection.



An empty playground, with a  view of Chelsea Westminster Hospital in the background.



A lone jogger taking her daily exercise.



There are no credits this time. Image rights belong to the individual photographers. We’ll see how that works out. But we are still collecting. Send us more pictures, (email  for the moment) or written accounts of things that have captured your imagination, or just leave a comment below. We’ll continue this series of posts alongside our regular blog activity. I might even get out a little and take some pictures myself.

Wartime paintings

This post is a kind of loose follow-up to the last one and also ties up with Westminster City Archives’ recent posts about wartime paintings. I’ve collected pictures by Josephine “Jo” Oakman, and Francis Griffen, Chelsea artists I’ve written about before, so there’s a certain amount of duplication but I think it’s worth putting them in the context of the recent anniversary of VE day.



[Oakman’s picture of Chelsea Town Hall decorated for VE Day. She worked there in her day job.]



[Two paintings of the temporary bridge built for military purposes to the east of Albert Bridge.]



Chelsea residents will be reminded of thw notice on Abert Bridge instructing troops to break step when crossing the bridge.

Although she was out of town when Chelsea Old Church was destroyed by bombing, she was fascinated by the devastation.



A sketch from 1941.



A coloured version.


Another, of the covered ruins.




A postwar painting of the site including the future Roper;s Garden, by another artist.

Francis Griffen was a professional artist and print maker. He too took on the subject of the ruined church.



He also covered another well known bomb incident, at the Guinness Trust estate on the King’s Road.



A gas and water mains were damaged. A volunteer fireman, Anthony Smith rescued trapped residents from a basement and won the George Cross.

This was another incident from the same area.



My favourite Griffen painting is this one, of an evening scene after the war.



Fulham Road looking west at the junction with Old Church Street, the Queen’s Elm pub on the left.

One final picture, never seen before on the blog.



By Charles Sneed Williams: Two Air Raid Wardens, Lieutenant Colonel Eastman and Major Stepney.


Kathleen’s war

This week’s guest blogger is my mother Kathleen Walker who passed away in December 2016. One of the things she left for me was a school exercise book containing a short memoir in 22 pages covering her childhood and her life in the army up to 1945. There were also some pictures of her and her army friends in the various photo albums she passed on to me. As as bloggers do, I thought that the pictures and a selection from the text would make a good blog post. I have corrected a few grammatical errors here and there and added a few explanations (in brackets.) but all the words which are not in italics are hers.


I was 18 when war broke out, I remember the Sunday morning when we were all sitting around the radio and we heard Mr. Chamberlain. I was seeing a boy who was at Chester College and he talked about leaving and joining up, he didn’t go right away but he did eventually, I often wondered what happened to him.

We didn’t have a great deal of bomb activity in Chester but one day on the way to work the pavements were thick with glass, all the show windows were out, it seems a land mine had landed somewhere near and the blast had caused the damage.

I used to teach Sunday School at Christleton and our teacher Miss. Catherine Day told my friend Ruth Gagan and I about Red Cross classes, so we both went and did first aid and later Home Nursing, just in case we needed it. Mr. Heath, the policeman told me about a job in Civil Defence, it was in the Regent Centre manning the telephones. There were eight of us and we worked shifts. All the other people who worked there were volunteers, by day they were people who worked in Council offices and the younger people were called messengers (on bikes). They were more my age I was the youngster in the office.

When I was 21 I joined the ATS. I had been itching to go, my brother Charlie joined up at the beginning. He was a driver so he was in the RASC. I did my initial training in Lancaster and after six weeks learning all about the Army I did my signal training where else but Corps School, the Firs, Chester. Some of the girls I met here were my friends for the rest of my army life. After our training we were posted to Woolton on the outskirts of Liverpool. We were stationed at 33rd Brigade, Carsacres Camp. We were to take over from the men in the ops room. The men were being posted to North Africa.


We lived in huts twelve to a hut and we split up into three reliefs and did shifts 2-5, 5-10, 10-8, we all worked together, lived together and spent our off duty together so it was essential for us to get on well with one another as we did.


In the ops room we signal girls manned all the communications and plotted the planes form Preston, while the RA girls plotted from the radar. We also had people in from the Fire Service the SNO (Senior Naval Offices) and the industrial Alarm people (they were on 24hr duty and worked shifts like us. They were there to inform the factories about the raids). They were civilians all retired gentlemen, one was a retired Chief Constable and one a retired factory manager. The SNO man didn’t come as often but (Uncle Bob) the fire officer used to do his stint and he was a good friend. We used to leave out coats outside the ops room and so did the other people. Uncle Bob used to say to me “have a look in my coat pocket when you go out” there would be a bag of chocolates Cadburys Misshapes, enough for a couple each for all the hut.


[Mum second from the left]

We were only there about a month when the men were posted, the Coporal in charge stayed on for a few days and he had heard from the lads, they were in Ireland and one of them Les Powles asked the Corporal to ask me to write to him, everyone wanted someone to keep in touch. I hadn’t been out with him but we had always been friendly and he lived in Liverpool, so I suppose I would be a link. We kept in touch for the next three years, all through his time in North Africa and Italy. Strange isn’t it? Pen pals for all that time and I never saw him again, he wrote to say he had met someone in Italy and that’s when I stopped writing.

I got my first stripe after the lads left and was put in charge of the relief and three weeks after I got my Corporal’s stripes. It was while I was in the army my Dad had an accident and broke his femur, it was a very sad time for me as my Dad was very dear to me, he had been Father and Mother to me most of my life and I could only see him on my 24hr pass, once I and Jean Blower (another Chester girl) came over on our late pass, we had to be back at camp at 2359, we met on the Market Square and caught the last bus to Birkenhead and the last ferry to Liverpool. We missed the last tram to Woolton and caught one to the now famous “Penny Lane”. This was halfway to camp and we had to walk the rest, it was winter and the frost was on the ground and I remember the noise our shoes made on the hard road. We made it to camp a bit late but we sneaked in and no one was any the wiser.

My Dad was tough and recovered and was able to ride his bike and tend his allotment. It’s from him I get my will power, which I will need a little later.

Has there been a time in your life when you found your niche in life? I found mine in the army, I loved the life, the discipline the comradeship, everything. I know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it was mine. I made some very good friends, two still remain.



We had some Signal outposts around Liverpool and I was sent to one, in charge of the signal group, we were attached to 70 Brigade and I remember the RA officer was not very happy because he was not in charge of us. It was a good camp we were stationed at Croxteth Hall (the home of Lord and Lady Derby, they still had most of the hall, we had an annexe).

My room, which I shared with my Lance Corporal, was at the top of the house, it was originally the servants quarters. I was there for three months and then returned to the 33 Brigade where I had a new relief of girls. I must mention that at one time our office was Miss Beryl Nield, she came from Upton and was the twin of Sir Basil Nield a judge of the rolls and later MP for Chester. She was a very fair although strict officer.

We didn’t see a great deal of activity as most of the bombing seemed to be over but Liverpool had had its share and some of the streets just not there anymore and there were ruins everywhere.



We used to have exercises to keep us in trim, our ops room controlled all the gun sites around the area as far away as the Wirral. We had a teleprinter which was in direct contact to Preston (where we the signals received our news of aircraft in our space). I had a friend in Preston and we sometime exchanged messages over the TP (not allowed of course).

When we were on nights it was my job to wake the girls who were on duty in the cookhouse. Imagine this; pitch black, no lights in the camp and me walking the length of the camp (with a jug of tea). I always work them with a cuppa and I had to make sure I didn’t waken anyone else in the hut.

One thing you learn in the army, never get on the wrong side of the cooks. The food I suppose was alright as far as it went, but when I came out of the army it was a long time before I could even look at a sardine. Guess what? When we had beans on toast for tea it was a treat. The three months I spent with 70 brigade was a different kettle of fish as regards the food, it was excellent, why every camp couldn’t have been the same I will never know.

My friend Joyce lived in West Hartlepool and when she went on leave a few of us used to go to the station to see her off. ATS girls were not allowed to travel at night on their own, if Joyce had to wait until the next day to travel, the journey would not be as good and she would spend the whole day of her leave on the trains. So what we used to do we would all go into the canteen on station and watch where the MPs were and smuggle her on to the train when they were otherwise engaged, it always worked.

I enjoyed my time in the ATS very much. I was due to go on a Sergeants course to Durham so my leave had been put back, however the course was cancelled. While waiting to go, on one of our days off we decided to go to West Kirby where we were told there was a swimming baths, but when we arrived we found it was closed, so not to be outdone we went for a paddle in the sea and I think for me this is when misfortune struck. I will tell you why later.

I went on leave and this is when I was taken ill, my sister-in-law Sarah and I went for a ramble across the fields and coming back I could hardly put one foot in front of the other I felt so weak. That night at home I was in dreadful pain, every muscle in my body ached, I couldn’t sit, lie down or walk about for the pain. In the morning I went to see the doctor (my doctor had been called up and was a prisoner of the Japanese). The doctor I saw didn’t seem to be sure about what I had and said it could be sciatica and to report to the MO when I got back to camp. I was due to go back the next day, my Dad didn’t want me to but I being me was determined to get back and by this time I wasn’t walking very well.

I caught the train to Rock Ferry and changed to the underground. I didn’t sit down because I thought I would never get up again. At the station there is a very steep flight of steps and I shall never forget the porter (a little lady) who helped me, I put my arm round her shoulder and she fitted under my arm she was so small and she got me to the top and then went down for my kit bag. The bus stop was about 80 yards from the station and she asked a chap who was going that way to carry my bag and give me a hand, which he did. At the bus stop I met another ATS girl who had been on leave, she was from my camp Laura Magneson. She rang the camp and the sent a Tilly for us.

I went to bed in my hut, the MO came and I was take to the local medical centre and from there what do you know I went by ambulance back to the Mostyn Hospital in Chester. This hospital was a war time structure and was wooden built in what was called spider. There was one long corridor and all the huts, reception, x-ray, operating theatres and physiotherapy went off either side, all huts. And the wards were the same, one side medical the other side surgical. There were just two female wards and they were at the very end.

There were 12 beds in the ward and I was nearly always the only one confined to bed, so people congregated around my bed and we sewed and knitted (when we could get wool) it was scarce like everything else. As it was a military hospital it was run as such and Doctors and Matrons rounds were very strict, I had a cage on my bed to keep the covers of my leg and we would be sewing etc. up to the last minutes of rounds and had the doctors looked under my cage they would have seen all the makings of whatever was on the go. All the beds were neat all white sheets and counterpanes. The Sisters and Nurses were great some were Red Cross and some St Johns, the sisters were military.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I was put in a room adjacent to the medical ward and in the next few days I saw more doctors than most people see in a lifetime. They made me a half cast plaster leg so that it could rest in it, I had a lumbar puncture and they then seemed satisfied what my illness was, I still didn’t know, and after I was moved into the main ward I asked one of the other patients to have a look at my chart, it said Poliomyelitis, never heard of it, but it turns out that we knew it as infantile paralysis and strangely enough that was what Dorothy Enion (the girl whose family I lived with when I was nine) had the same thing but she had it as a baby. It’s a virus that enters the body and attacks the nervous system, one Sister in physio told me that it all depended at what place on the spinal column it rested as to where and how much you could be paralysed, with me it was my left leg.

I knew in my heart of hearts that this would change my life, I was devastated but didn’t dare show it. My Dad used to come to see me every week and I had to keep a brave face on it. I know now that I am a survivor and the will power I talked about earlier would see me through.

A road ran past our ward as we were at the end and we used to see people going past and one was a high ranking German Officer under guard but taking exercise, he had the black jack boots and very long overcoat and was always accompanied by an officer with a couple of guards at a distance. That was the only German soldier I ever saw.

I used to have physio every day heat and massage. We had concerts in the evening and I used to go in sort of wheeled bed not a chair, we had a concert at least once a week and that helped pass the time. After I had been in hospital a few weeks a friend of mine Joyce England arrived she had I think it was kidney trouble, so nice to see a friendly face. Lots of people came to see me as Chester was my home town and my friend Joyce Wood (as she was then) came almost every week and the way she travelled, once on the back someone’s motorbike and once in a police car with a prisoner in the back, she was a real trouper.

[Mum seems to have had several friends called Joyce, I must have been a popular name then. I think the woman is one of them, photographed behind the family home]




Mostyn Hospital was only a reception hospital and three months was the limit for anyone, I arrived in late August and in early December I was moved to Winwick, the army had the annexe of Winwick Asylum, we just had one women ward and once mess. When I entered the ward I couldn’t believe it, I had come from a pristine ward white everywhere. What did I see counterpanes of red and blue and things very haphazard, I soon found it was very friendly and not at all like the place I had just left, very easy going. I was to spend the next five months here.



In our ward we had military personnel on one side and civilian on the other, a consultant (Mr Kerr) had some of his patients moved from Liverpool because of the raids, they were all people suffering with brain tumours, some were small children and it was very upsetting. One little boy about six years old used to sit on my bed and chat, I had knitted a soldier for one of my nephews and this little boy wanted one. All the time I was knitting it he used to say to people who came to talk to me “Don’t bother Kathleen she’s knitting me a solider” when I finished it he slept with it every night.

[I remember a knitted figure of a woman in an ATS uniform which must have dated from this period which sat in a cabinet in the living room. I believe Mum eventually gave it to the daughter of one of her friends called Joyce.]


[Not necessarily the same Joyce]

This hospital was far more easy going than Mastyn, the staff were ordinary nurses and sisters no military. I used to have physio every day with exercises and one day three months after I had been taken ill my knee lifted slightly on its own and that was when I started to get the use back in my leg, it was very gradual and I didn’t ever expect to get the full use. The grounds around this hospital were lovely, the mental patients used to walk around and some of them were quite normal. One used to come into the ward to see if we wanted any shopping, his name was Johnny and he was allowed out in fact he used to so say to us, he had something we didn’t (it was a certificate to say he was sane). He could have gone home but he didn’t have a home to go to and no family. After seeing some of the people there it made you very thankful for everything even if you had troubles of your own.

I was friendly with everyone but I had two special friends both my age. Beryl was ATS and she came from Winwick, can’t remember what she was in for but she wasn’t confined to bed. The other one was Marion she was a land army girl and whilst working on a farm a cow kicked her between her shoulder blades and later it caused a tumour and she was paralysed from the chest down, Mr Kerr operated and removed it and she recovered completely, in fact a few months later I went to her wedding.

[wedding pic]

That year 1945 the spring was lovely, we used to sit outside in the sun, I was making a pegged rug (a wool one) it all helped to pass the time. I had plenty of visitors my Dad came once a week and my sister-in-law Mary used to come and bring my youngest nephew, he thought that was where I lived. Quite a few of the girls from camp came to see me and those that didn’t sent me letters and at Christmas I had lots of gifts from the girls.

My uncle George passed away while I was in hospital (he was the uncle I lived with after my mother died) and we had always been pals. My Auntie Em and Cousin Martha came to see me and tell me all about it. My Uncle George came through two wars unscathed he was in the Grenadier Guards and was in the Boer War and the 1914-18 war.

I progressed quite well and I came out of the hospital in May 1945 and was also discharged from the army.



The narrative ends abruptly there. I don’t know if she planned to write more about her post war life. She might have intended simply to get the facts straight about her life in the war for me and my family. Either way I’m very happy to have the memoir and share some of it now.

I’ve left out a section about Mum’s childhood. When I read the whole thing I am conscious of how Mum had a number of difficulties in her young life which she had to overcome and how her life could have been very different if not for circumstances. I had a happy childhood on the whole in which I was unaware of the hardships my Mum and Dad had overcome to give me that life. Thank you to both of them.

Thanks also to my son Matthew for copying the handwritten narrative into Word.


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