28 August 2023

Battersea Power Station

A few weeks ago, I had a hospital appointment in central London, so Kay and I decided to make a day of it and visit the new Battersea Power station complex. I say "new" but it has been open since October 2022. I just hadn't had a chance to go along and see it before now, although I often pass it on the train.

Work began on the power station in 1929 and was designed by the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. By 1935 the first turbine hall A was completed and put into operation. Work on a second turbine hall was halted because of the Second World War. RAF pilots used the smoke from the chimneys to guide them home, as did the Luftwaffe to bomb London. In 1955, the second turbine hall B was completed. In 1980 the Art Deco building was awarded Grade II listed status, but sadly in 1983 the power station ceased to generate electricity and was decommissioned. It lay idle for many years while various investors looked at it but decided against it. Finally, in 2012, Malaysian property investors bought it  to create a new community of homes, shops, cafes, restaurants, cultural venues and open space for London.

Many of the hi
gh-rise flats, which have been built around the power station, with rents of up to £5,000 per month, overlook the Thames, others overlook the adjacent railway lines and many overlook the rooftops of South London. There are offices in the complex too, but can only obviously be accessed by those who work there. The shops inside the actual power station are not the usual High Street chains, but upmarket ones like Cartier, Rolex, Apple, Chanel, Lego, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and too many many more to mention. There is even a Polestar car showroom. The shops are arranged on three levels around what was the original two turbine halls and the bit in the middle is where the boiler hall would have been. There is a food arcade on one of the levels with very many different world cuisines on offer, as well as street food outside on the riverbank.

I rather liked the juxtaposition of the old Art Deco brick building with modern steel and glass. 

The most exciting bit of all is Lift 109 which is a lift that ascends one of the tall chimneys and gives the most amazing 360 degree views of London. It is pricey at £23 per person but well worth the information display beforehand and then the views from the top. We stayed up there for 8 minutes before the lift descended giving ample opportunity to pick out landmarks and take photos.

the lift inside the chimney

the view from above

16 August 2023

Happy Centenary

My mum was born on 16 August 1923, so today she would have been 100, if she had survived. Sadly, she died in 2017 at the age of 94.

She was born in London as the middle of three children. In January 1925, when she was about 18 months old, she, her 3-year-old sister and 6-week-old sister all contracted whooping cough and double pneumonia and ended up in hospital. The two little sisters died in the same week, but my mother thankfully pulled through, although her health was always frail from then on.  

Her father had got a job as a junior in a French bank in the City of London as a teenager, but was called up soon after to fight in the 1914-18 war. He was badly injured in 1917 at Passchendaele, the most life-changing injury being to lose an eye, although other injuries to his head and leg caused shrapnel to give him life-long bad headaches. Although he was able to return to his bank job after the war, he found adding up long columns of figures a strain on his good eye.  There were no calculators, so it was an arduous task. He therefore had little choice but to resign once he could no longer see properly, just at at time when the world was going through a massive economic recession in the 1920s. Mum said they moved after that to a rented shack in the countryside and kept chickens and goats, but, although my grandfather tried to sell the eggs at market, he came up against market cartels who excluded him and it paid very little. Her memory of childhood was eating mashed potato with gravy, day after day, and her only toys being a box of buttons and playing leapfrog with the goats. People on benefits today, just don't know how lucky they are!

Mum's mother was understandably suffering from stress, having lost two children in the same week, and could not settle. Nowadays there would be counselling and it would be labelled Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but there was nothing like that then. Because she could not settle in any one home, they moved location many times between the wars,  back and forth between London and the Essex countryside, so much so that my mother's education suffered. Always having to change school and make new friends did not help her confidence. By the age of 14, she was made to leave school and get a job. She loved doing people's hair and wanted to train as a hairdresser, but her mother said that was a filthy job, handling people's nits, so put her in a factory instead, operating big Heidelberg printing presses!! My mother was very shy and hated having to walk through the gangways where the men whistled at her and made lewd comments. As soon as she could, she got out of there and applied to an advertisement in the window of a ladies' fashion shop, as they wanted a junior assistant. She very much enjoyed that, modelling clothes for customers, and after a few years was trusted to add up the takings and take them to the bank. 

In 1942, at the age of 19, she was called up for war work and she opted for the Women's Land Army. She was posted to Hertfordshire and a hostel in Barnet. Still painfully shy, she found it hard to mix with some of the more loud and experienced London girls in the hostel, who only wanted to go to dances and meet men.  The foreman would send them off to work at local farms, clearing the land or tending to the farm animals. 

Mum  as a Land Girl (centre) meeting the Duchess of Gloucester

One day, she was sent to a farm where there were a lot of men working on the land. They were conscientious objectors or refugees who could not join the forces. The men were tying chains round the trees and connecting the chains to their tractors, then dragging the trees, roots and all, to clear the land. The Land girls were cutting the twigs and branches off the trees and putting them in a pile to be taken away or burnt on a bonfire. My mum tripped over one of the tractor chains and went flying. The handsome young tractor driver, a German refugee called Kurt, climbed down from his tractor and scooped her up. He asked her out, but she was so shy she declined. Kurt was very persistent and over the weeks that followed he kept inviting her on a date until she finally relented. He loved opera, about which she knew so little, so he would take her to watch operas or dine out in London. Considering how shy and reserved she was, introducing a German into the family as her boyfriend, when her father had lost an eye from German gunfire, was quite a bold thing to do!

They married in 1947 and I came along in 1950. They were married nearly 54 years and remained madly in love as ever until the day my father died on 1 February 2001. Because of health problems, she never really had a career, but was a housewife all the time I was growing up, but did have an office job in later years, which she thoroughly enjoyed. They retired to the South coast, but, after Dad died, her arthritis got worse and worse, so she couldn't cope on her own and I moved her closer to me in 2013 to a retirement flat in London, so I could visit her daily and help her.

Enjoying life on the South coast

She died in November 2017 and I miss her so much. It therefore seems right to spend today visiting the South coast resort, where her ashes remain with my Dad's, to spend the day with her.

Happy 100th, Mum. No birthday card from the Queen (or King, as we now have to say, although Mum would have something to say about that, I am sure), but at least I'll be with you in spirit.