All posts by Andy Day

Dark Corners

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At one end of the incredible Llanberis Pass, a mountain has disappeared. In its place lie immense piles of slate and a handful of enormous holes.

After nearly two centuries of of digging, slate quarrying at Dinorwic came to a halt in 1969. For every ton of slate that the Welsh unearthed, up to 30 tons went to waste, stacked so high that it became unstable and eventually made the quarries unworkable.

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What remains of the quarry dominates the landscape, offering adventure to those willing to clamber the fence and explore the huts, ladders and tunnels.

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Climbers have established numerous routes amongst the many sheer faces, the special properties of slate offering a unique climbing experience. Any rain turns the surfaces to glass and a showery day in April gave me opportunity to wander with my iPhone whilst waiting for routes to dry.

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Sticky Snow

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In the last ten years, I think Johnny ‘Sticky Fingers’ Budden has appeared in more of my photographs than any other traceur. Looking back I realise that I’ve been on a fair few adventures with him – running across the rooftops of shopping malls in Nottingham, being paid by a giant Russian multinational to jump around the capital of Nicaragua, exploring a derelict ocean liner, trekking around Paris in the rain to shoot for the cover of a magazine. Of all the people to hook up with and do random things, he’s got to be one of my favourites.

2013_stickysnow_his_01Since completing his epic 1,000 miles of parkour, Johnny has been living in Paris which has made our adventures a little harder to come by. The guy regularly works a 70-80 hour week so even getting a reply to an email can be a struggle. When I spotted Eurostar’s January sale, I didn’t hesitate; I bought the tickets and told Johnny when I’d be arriving, hoping he would reply with his address so I at least had a door to knock on and floor to sleep on.

2013_stickysnow_mine_01When I arrived he was in the middle of pitching for an advertising job worth several million euros so I wasn’t even sure if he was going to be able to find time to hang out. There were vague plans for climbing in Fontainebleau or tracking down some old military hospitals in Normandy but both of these ideas had problems; there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground which would make climbing tricky; and we hadn’t done enough research to know where to go for our Normandy explorations. Jokingly I suggested that we try walking the 60km to Fontainebleau, buying a tent and a sleeping bag en route. Somehow Johnny thought this was a great idea. On Saturday morning we set off.

2013_stickysnow_mine_04We took the Metro out to the southern outskirts of central Paris and bought a tent. And a sleeping bag for Johnny. And a roll mat, And a gas stove. And a map. And a compass. God bless Decathlon. We were hardly equipped for walking; we were both carrying hold-alls, I had my DSLR and Johnny was wearing trainers. We had an idea that the trek would take about 13-14 hours but this was not taking account of time spent navigating and trudging through 6 inches of snow. I had a vague understanding of a route that took us through the Forest of Senart and across a wide stretch of farmed countryside before reaching Bois-le-Roi on the northern outskirts of the forests of Fontainebleau. On we marched.

After the monotony of the major roads, entering the Forest of Senart felt quite peaceful. There were a handful of other walkers that passed by but we did half hour stints where we didn’t see another person. Despite feeling that we were maintaining a good pace, the snow, the badly-fitted packs and the navigation was slowing us down. After emerging from the forest into farmland it became apparent that our chances of reaching Fontainebleau, finding somewhere to camp and pitching a tent before midnight were looking slim. This was made worse by painful inflammation in my knee, probably a result of walking through snow and having spindly legs, a hold-all on my back and my camera rucksack on my front.

We took a very late lunch in a nearby village and grabbed some supplies. There was a train station a short walk from us and in two stops we would be at Bois-le-Roi. It was dark when we boarded and darker when we got off. The Fontainebleau Forest lay before us and it was a forty minute hike to some rocks where I was hopeful of finding some flat ground and a strong sense of isolation. It was a short, steep ascent to get amongst the boulders and finding a spot in the dark was tough. In addition, Johnny somehow hadn’t brought a torch, we’d not used our brand new tent before and it had been snowing pretty consistently since leaving the train. All part of the fun.

For £25, the tent did an amazing job. We heated our tin of beans, drank whiskey and chatted endlessly, high on the exhilaration of doing something so random and the sense of being far away from everyone else, albeit with phones and bank cards in our pockets. It just goes to show, you don’t need to go far to get a small sense of adventure. This one was right on Johnny’s doorstep.

2013_stickysnow_mine_10The following morning, breakfast was instant coffee and a sandwich, sharing some crumbs with a very brave robin. We walked back to the train station with the idea of boarding a train all the way back to Paris and spending a relaxed day in Johnny’s apartment. However, a fine cocktail of paracetamol and ibuprofen was doing its job on my knee and we felt like doing some more walking. We had only seen the snow-laden forests by night and it seemed a shame to head back so early. Instead we weaved a 14km route through the trees, often improvising our route depending on how long it was taking and what looked the most interesting. Flâneurs of the forest.

Warm and damp on our train back to Paris, we dozed and hoped that our next mini-adventure wasn’t too far away.

A Factory In Finland

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If you ever get the opportunity to go and train in Finland, do not hesitate. Go.

In December last year I was invited to Jyväskylä in Finland to train, speak, and take photographs at the Finnish Parkour Association’s annual training event. This year it was entitled “The Most Apocalyptic Supreme Parkour Armageddon Nuclear Lightning Storm”. The Finns tend to have a rather unique sense of humour.

My good friend Perttu (aka Mr Spidey to more experienced readers) was keen for me to get some shots of some of Finland’s best athletes and, given the snow, it made sense to find an indoor location. The prospect of a derelict factory on the outskirts of the town seemed too good to be true. When Perttu told me, I asked him to find as much lighting as he could lay his hands on, packed my strobe kit and flew to Helsinki.

The factory is an old papermill and most of its innards had been ripped out and moved to China a few years ago. The shell remains and one of its huge rooms was transformed into the perfect venue for the training event – warm, dry and with plenty of space for a scaffold structure and a good selection of other obstacles. Before things kicked off, the space was mine to explore and photograph with Perrtu, Jarkko, Nikko, Monster, Juho and Juho from Parkour Akatemia.

Shooting indoors is not something I do very often and I was anticipating the possibility that a fair bit of improvisation was going to be required. Perttu had managed to dig out a handful of freestanding halogen work lamps which were bright enough to light the walls but no where near bright enough to freeze any action. I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to balance this light with my strobe and the first hour was spent experimenting with various lighting setups before I found something that worked. It was easy to flood the area with enough light but I was keen to try and keep the dark atmosphere of the factory’s huge spaces. About 6 years ago I made a snoot out of cereal boxes and gaffer tape and for the first time in my life it came in handy, allowing me to focus the strobe and avoid swamping the glow from the halogens.

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Perttu was my first model, quite useful given that he understood that it would take me a while to get things set up. Once I’d figured out how to balance everything together (for the geeks: ISO500, f/5, 1/160, 5 halogens + Vivitar 285 at 4-5m with snoot + PocketWizards) finding the shot was relatively straight forward. Perttu had already spotted two huge hooks hanging from a mechanism on the ceiling and after playing around, we found a movement that allowed him to swing between them.

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Now that I understood how it worked, transferring the lighting set up to the next shot was simple but we were starting to get pushed for time. Nikko was my next model and I was reluctant to change locations. Instead we grabbed some oil drums and a massive tractor tyre and set about building some obstacles. Pete McKee made a brief cameo and suddenly it was time to go and eat dinner.

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2012_12_13_finland_jarko_climb_prepJarkko, one of Parkour Akatemia’s most senior coaches, was my next subject. Again short of time, it made sense to exhaust all of the opportunities inside this first room and I asked how he felt about doing some climbing. As the shot seemed to feel a bit empty I dragged along the ropes and barrels that had already served as filler and shoved the tractor tyre in at the back. The warm sidelight from the lamps was creating some really nice textures and this ended up being my favourite image from the entire shoot. We both had to put in a lot of effort to get the shot to work and I like the fact that Jarkko’s position doesn’t really make much sense.

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2012_12_13_finland_thurs_250_webThe last shot of the day was with Monster. Time and availability of obstacles was now a concern so we built a tictac movement across some of the props that we had been dragging around. A little rushed but still a good result.

The following afternoon we returned to the factory. While the Finnish guys were busy assembling scaffold for the event, I spent an hour exlporing deeper into the factory searching for ideas. Various parts of the vast complex were made a little more intimidating by the rumble of machinery (doing what, I have no idea) and there was the occasional sound of fast-flowing water from the diverted river that ran underneath the enormous building. I found what remained of a staff room; one of the few remaining partition walls was covered in postcards and pictures of half-naked women. These little details added to the tremendous sense of thrill as I explored, intensified by the noises and the fact that I was alone. I could have carried on for hours but I knew there were photos to be taken.

My final two models, Juho and Juho, were fantastic athletes, ready to improvise and take direction despite having little experience of being photographed.

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Looking back, it was a fantastic opportunity to do something new, both in terms of location and technique. Little work was required in post-production and contrast of the cold light of the strobe with the warm glow of the halogen lamps was not as severe as I had initially feared and was easily balanced in Adobe Camera Raw.

Being a perfectionist, there are a ton of things I would go back and do differently but time, pressure and resources are often determining factors. I’m proud of the way we all worked under unique and challenging circumstances. You can find the gallery here.

My thanks to Perttu, Ville and all of the Finnish traceurs. And a shout out to Pete McKee, Martin and Marcus from Denmark, and Chau and Yann of the Yamak.

Elephant Encounters

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There were two very good reasons to hook up with Parkour Generations in order to photograph the ADAPT Level 2 course taking place at the end of November. Firstly, this was a unique collection of traceurs gathering for a week in one location. Students from the UK, France and beyond were meeting with the likes of Stephane, Yann and Chau to study and train incredibly hard. Secondly, it was taking place at the huge, derelict housing estate in Elephant and Castle which I’ve visited on many occasions. A few years ago I spent a morning photographing its desolation and handful of remaining residents, the results of which can be seen here.

A unique gathering in a unique setting. The atmosphere around the housing estate is now subtly different; it’s said that one or two residents remain but other than the traceurs working hard, there’s little sign of life beyond a renegade gardening project that has produced some strange objects dotted around the walls and walkways. Previously, the surreal was tempered by the occasional inhabitant wandering about. Now it is increasingly overgrown and deserted to the point that even the gangs, homeless and alcoholics seem to have abandoned it. My phone felt like the best means of capturing the strangeness, some of which can be found amongst my Instagram feed, all of which gets posted to Twitter.

I had huge admiration for those taking part. The course challenges one’s knowledge, leadership and creativity, whilst punishing the body. The highlight was spending ten minutes with Pete Mckee as he contemplated a precision jump as part of Dan’s ‘Breaking Jumps’ module. (See photo above.) It’s a reasonable distance but it isn’t the size that presents the challenge; the difficulty lies in sticking the landing as the twenty foot drop behind the target rail makes it hard to convince yourself not to overshoot.

As well as a great chance to catch up with my good friend Thomas, it was an opportunity to start discussing January’s trip to Thailand to visit Stephane who is hard at work managing the rapid growth of Parkour Generations Asia. Roll on 2012!

Composition: A Parkour Frame of Mind

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Until writing this article, composition is something that I’ve never really given a lot of thought. There are rarely any conscious decisions when I compose a shot, in the same way that there is rarely a conscious decision of when to pull the shutter. I just know (or at least I hope I do). And my assumption is that other experienced photographers are the same; I feel my way to what’s ‘right’ and in terms of composition, sometimes that’s as simple as making sure I don’t stick something slap bang in the middle of the frame.

hudsonwright_751There are various principles – rule of thirds being the most obvious – to give us an idea of what creates a pleasing image, and of course, there are plenty of occasions when those principles are irrelevant, forgotten entirely or deliberately undermined. I can’t think of one instance where I’ve looked through my lens and tried to find the four intersection points, nor have I ever used a viewfinder with a grid in place. The principles are a way in, an early nudge to start considering composition and, through repetition, to establish some unconscious habits.

paris_bridge_toni_smartIn each frame I seek a sense of balance that pleases me, that feels right, and this is something that is quite difficult to describe. I want all parts of the image to work together which is perhaps why many of my images feature clean lines, diagonals and perspective. Anything messy can easily disrupt this balance and this probably explains the love of buildings and absence of trees throughout my work.

Parkour was my route into photography (and vice versa) to the extent that the two are inseparable. Thinking back to when I started, composing a parkour shot followed some basic logic; to create height and make a movement more dramatic, it made sense to create space beneath the athlete’s body. Instantly, this was an improvement when compared to simply placing the the subject matter in the centre of the frame. I guess I was fortunate to be photographing something that showed me how to compose photographs: creating this dramatic space led me to give more thought to how an image can be framed. Over time, and through lots of repetition and experimentation, photographing parkour began to inform all of my work. Whatever I shoot, you can usually see its influence.

ohio2012_performance_133Away from parkour, the subject matter does not always inform how one frames a photograph in such a direct way, but perhaps this is what makes good composition; that moment (and you can bet it’s not always deliberate) when composition and subject matter work together. Suddenly you’re creating images that speak to people, rather than just presenting something that was once in front of your lens. Instead, you have framed it and the medium is suddenly part of your message.

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My sense of composition came about as a result of shooting loads and loads of photographs and spending hours editing them. I can only speak for myself, but there is no short cut; I shot as much as I could, developed my eye, and over time I absorbed a methodology. From this came my own style and judgement to the point that it became instinctive.

Just like parkour, there are no secrets. Just training.

A Compact Wedding

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Back in May 2011 I finally treated myself to a Canon G12, a piece of kit that I’ve wanted since it was released the previous year, and I set myself a challenge: use it to photograph a friend’s wedding.

My good friend Ruth was getting married not far from Aviemore in the Highlands of Scotland. Not having an official photographer she had asked all guests to take a load of snaps and share them afterwards. I was traveling up on the Caledonian Sleeper from London (highly recommended) and, given that my arrival was before 8am on the morning of the wedding, it made sense to head to the venue early, lend a hand with whatever needed doing and take lots of photographs of the preparations.

Normally, on the rare occasion that I photograph a wedding, I shoot with a Canon 5D, an EF 24-70mm, an EF 16-35mm, a Speedlight EX580 with extension cable, a pair of Pocket Wizards, a Vivitar 285 with light stand, and a reflector. Stripping this down to a compact camera was going to be interesting especially as I’d not used it before.

I read most of the manual on the way up on the train. Knowing how the autofocus and auto-exposure operates was crucial. I made sure that all face recognition was switched off and kept it simple. In the middle of the display is a box; point it at what you want to focus/expose on, half press, recompose, full press. 90% of the time, the thing you want in focus is the thing you want exposed correctly. In more tricky circumstances I knew that all of the G12’s controls would be right under my fingers, now even moreso with the appearance of the additional wheel next to the shutter release.

You have to work quickly at weddings and automatic settings on any camera are a godsend. This can of course present various issues, but if you know how and when they will arise, you can make sure you’re ready and react accordingly.

Next thing was to make sure the flash was off and didn’t mysteriously switch itself on. On-board flash is a truly horrible thing. I’d been tempted to take my Speedlight (compatible with the G12 hotshoe) and cable, but this was not in the spirit of the challenge and I have a habit of traveling light when possible. Typically at a wedding I shoot reportage parts of the day using available light but sooner or later the flash needs to go on. At this point you pray that the venue has white ceilings: point the Speedlight straight up and get a very flattering, diffused light. Compact cameras do not have a reputation for performing well in low light levels and with the G12 in hand, I was relying on recent technological progressions that have reduced grain at high ISO settings.

The G12 did an excellent job under the circumstances. On the odd occasion lack of light or a reflective surface would confuse the autofocus. If I did ignore its ability to focus, it still seemed to do a pretty good job. Its massive depth of field means that it’s tricky to mess it up completely.

This depth of field is also one of its disadvantages however: it’s an inevitable aspect of any compact camera unless you’ve got a spare five grand lying down the back of the sofa and you buy yourself a Leica M9. The smaller sensors in compact cameras mean that you don’t get the gorgeous differential focus that you get with an SLR. This has its advantages (greater likelihood that your shots will be in focus) and disadvantages (can’t use out-of-focus regions for artistic emphasis).

Most wedding photographers will keep an eye out for any small details that make a wedding distinctive: flowers, table decorations, the bride’s corsage, the groomsmen’s button holes, etc. With an SLR, getting close and/or zooming in narrows the depth of field considerably which means that some regions will not be in focus. Sometimes this can be effective but often it means taking a number of versions to ensure that you can then pick the best one during post production. An option I will now consider is shooting any close-ups with the G12 as, yes, it will flatten the subject but it will mean that I can rule out differential focus when I don’t want it.

The G12 really impressed me when it came to shooting strongly back-lit subjects. Light creep was surprisingly controlled and even when I was careless with my initial ‘half-press’, it still made the right decision most of the time. Clever stuff.

Shooting at low light levels was impressive but I did run into a few problems that I hadn’t considered beforehand. Typically when shooting hand-held on a DSLR, your shutter speed can’t be allowed to drop below 1/60th of a second unless you’re in a situation where you can burn off a number of shots in the hope that you’ve held the camera steady enough in at least one photograph to be acceptable. Because of the physically smaller lens on the compact, slower shutter speeds are possible and I happily shot all the way down to 1/30th of a second without any camera shake blurring my shots. However, subjects’ movement became an issue and in my ‘keep everything auto’ approach, this was one occasion where I had to override, switching to AV mode to ensure a slightly quicker shutter speed.

The other massive difference is the lag on the shutter release. Weddings are about moments that convey emotion and not being able to rely on my own instinct was a frustration at times. The G12 comes with a ‘Quick Shot’ mode whereby the LCD is switched off and the lag between shutter release being pressed and the image being taken is dramatically reduced. This means relying on the viewfinder – not something I was prepared to do, especially wearing glasses. It also means that the autofocus and auto-exposure can’t be locked by half-pressing; instead, it readjusts constantly. I would have preferred some half-way house whereby I could focus and expose, trigger Quick Shot mode (ie, disabling the LCD) and shoot when the moment was right. All of that said, I was able to get used to the lag and get some half decent action shots.

Shooting the compact format of 4:3 as opposed to the SLR format of 3:2 was not a problem at the time but it’s something that frustrated me a little in post production as it just didn’t feel right. I massively prefer the 3:2 format but it seemed ridiculous not to use all of a compact camera’s sensor. Something I will get used to, no doubt.

The battery was superb. I took a spare but didn’t pack a charger and was a little apprehensive about my decision. As it turned out, I didn’t even dent the first battery despite shooting and reviewing over 400 shots.

Gruth_and_john_381iven its price you are likely to wonder whether it’s worth the investment; these days you can buy an incredible, entry-level DSLR for a very similar price. For me it is a great way to be able to chuck a camera in a bag full of other stuff, grab spontaneous, non-intrusive photos and still have a huge amount of control over what’s in my hands. I could easily have bought a smaller, less expensive compact but there’s something about the G12 that makes me feel more like a photographer.

 

So will I be shooting any future weddings with the G12? Probably not but it will certainly be in my bag.

The One Thousand

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Chalk. Bananas. Superglue. Protein powder. Finger tape. Flapjacks. Music. Nail clippers. iPhone. Lucozade. Guns. Resolve?

On Saturday 11th December, a small number of hardened athletes from Parkour Generations gathered at a gymnasium in south east London to find out if something was possible: one thousand muscle ups. Each.

Staying for only the first 8 hours and completing a mere 300 muscle ups, I can’t pretend that I had much more than a brief a taste of what the guys went through that day, but what I experienced certainly had a distinct and lasting flavour. Blane talks of the dark places visited by those who took part. My recollection of the day is a little broken, and so are these words. If you take them and magnify them tenfold, it will perhaps give some indication of what happened.


 

“Do we start together and finish together?” asked Stephane as we gathered for a quick chat before our start. I think he was only half joking; whatever encouragement we could give each other, this was going to be a very lonely journey. The mood was light but, in the minutes before we got underway, we each went very quiet as we contemplated the task before us. Like the others, my smile disappeared and my eyes glazed as I turned to have a conversation with the only person who could get me through this: myself.

And we began. Each of us had different approaches; some had trained hard in preparation whilst others rested and as we got underway, every rhythm was unique. Methods varied; some counted up, others down. Some kept pen and paper tallies, others tapped their iPhones. Some movements were dynamic, others were grinding from the outset. Each of us had our fight.

I started with 2 muscle ups every 2 minutes, a countdown on my phone ringing a bell to make sure I was sticking to a rhythm. I mixed protein shake with Lucozade. Not the tastiest, but easily digested amongst the flapjacks and fruit. Despite our gradual progress, the task did not seem to become any less daunting and whilst on the surface the mood remained positive, my sense of what was happening was becoming slightly disjointed.

In our dark gym, time moved strangely. The usual markers of a day’s passing were absent: daylight and meals did not exist and the clock on the wall did not seem to make any sense. My stopwatch was marking the passing hours, each batch of ten prompting me to scribble down some record of my progress, but time’s progress felt warped and surreal. Minute by minute was counted, and whilst each muscle up became a fight, hours passed in the blink of an eye.

At one point, Naomi, there to lend moral support through smiles and cups of tea (a godsend), asked if I wanted anything from the shops. It took me a few moments to answer, my brain struggling to comprehend that, outside this cold, badly lit room, there was a world experiencing a normal Saturday in December. My world was my chosen section of scaffold, my iPhone’s countdown timer, the failing skin on the palm of each hand, and the knowledge that in less than a minute’s time I had to get back on the bar and hope that the next muscle up would be better than the one before.

Naomi came back with chocolate. I remember her leaving. I remember her returning. I have no idea how long she was gone for.

After one of my reps I remember dropping back to the floor and kneeling over my scrap of paper. I stared with confusion, trying to figure out whether I was trying to add a vertical stroke next to a block of three, or a horizontal stroke through a block of four.

Between every muscle up I asked myself what I could do, when I should rest, how much I needed to hold in reserve, and how hard I could push myself. The answers were far from clear. And even if an answer was close, it was too late; it was time to do another muscle up and then ask myself the same awkward questions all over again.

Looking back, I realise now that the isolation of our gymnasium combined with a need to remain so finely tuned in to what my body was telling me – constantly assessing its feedback, repeatedly focusing on the precision of my technique – created a strange detachment from reality. It was focus, a method of coping and making sure I had the means of doing what needed to be done. It was like the zone that your mind enters when preparing for something big, but less distinct and drawn out over many hours.

Because of commitments back in the real world, I had to finish early. I had pushed myself to reach 300 before leaving and perhaps if I had seen out the night, I could have reached 400, perhaps even 500. Maybe I was lucky to have escaped before my spirit was broken or my elbows destroyed, but a part of me was disappointed at losing this opportunity to find out where my limits lay. The others were committed in a way that I was not. Next time, perhaps.

I learnt a lot from my experience, about what it means to challenge myself and how hard I can push myself. I know now that what I have called “The One Thousand” was not about one thousand. There is no magical number, and there is no magical technique, rhythm or method. There is just the continual question of whether you can do one more.

Empty Elephant

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The housing estates at Elephant and Castle have been a favourite training location for London’s traceurs for several years. During its early stages, Parkour in the UK was often focused in city centres, both in training and in media representation. In my experience, it’s not that Parkour ever left the housing estates but perhaps got temporarily distracted by the shiny city, before realising that the best terrain is residential, not commercial. Better obstacles, less private property, fewer police, no security guards, and many more playgrounds.

Residential housing has often been experimental, and mistakes were made during the 60s and 70s as cities expanded rapidly and populations grew, becoming increasingly dense. What was once regarded as visionary is, a few decades later, regarded as an unpractical eyesore that compounds society’s ills. Many were hastily constructed – some even collapsed – and it’s ith hindsight that the disadvantages of these Le Corbusier-inspired housing projects are fully understood.

A bit of Googling will teach you that the Aylesbury and Heygate estates at Elephant and Castle are due for demolition, and have been since 2004. A huge regeneration project has been dogged by seemingly endless delays and has created something quite surreal: near emptiness.

There are a handful of enormous blocks, each up to eleven storeys in height, each with a mere handful of occupants. For the most part, residents have been relocated (more than a thousand), but this is inevitably a problematic process; some have no desire to move, some refuse the suitability of their new homes, some claim to have been harassed and intimidated by the team attempting to rehouse them.

Being virtually empty, there is no self-policing through the vigilance of its own residents. As a result, patrols are sent around in an attempt to keep gangs, drug addicts, alcoholics and the homeless at bay. A team of litter pickers visit daily, collecting the rubbish left behind by the random collection of visitors and the occasional resident dumping unwanted, bulky belongings as they move elsewhere.

Metal panels cover every empty flat, and the floors that are completely empty are sealed off with more metal fencing, keeping squatters out. (London is a haven for squatters due to some strange quirks in English law.) Each piece of metal is welded into place to prevent it from being unbolted and stolen. The expense must be phenomenal.

For parkour practitioners wishing to train there, it’s quite peaceful, if a little strange. A few remaining residents can be found passing by and for them, Parkour is a familiar sight, to the point that local children create miniature versions of the movements amongst the walkways.

This gallery of images is selected from what I took during a morning spent wandering around the estate.

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I’ve just had quite an interesting day. Nothing compared to some, I grant you, but I hope some find this worth reading.

I heard the news (at my flat in Stepney Green, a 20 minute walk from Aldgate East) when I finally crawled out of bed this morning at about 9.30am. I had just ignored a call from one of my flatmates who is up in York and was ringing to check on my situation. Unfortunately, by the time I learnt what was going on and tried to call back, the phone networks were down.

I sat on irc (ircnet, #london) with the radio next to me and kept track of everything that was going on, periodically trying to check on my flatmates, one of whom was due to take a train from Kings Cross this morning. I finally got through to them both at around midday. (I hate watching breaking news on television – it’s a frustrating experience and you can learn a lot more a lot quicker online.)

Shortly after noon I received a text message from a friend who had arrived in London from Birmingham this morning for a job interview. She doesn’t know the city at all and sent me a slightly worrying message that simply read “I’m somewhere in central london and really scared. call me as soon as you can.” Of course, with the phone networks down I then spent 20 minutes trying to call her.

Eventually I got through and managed to figure out that she was somewhere near Picadilly and a little confused. She heard one of the blasts go off this morning and didn’t have a clue what was going on.

I packed a rucksack and set off into central london on my flatmate’s bike. The rain was chucking it down. I passed by Royal London hospital where ambulances were pulling up, being closely tracked by various news crews. Then on, past Aldgate East and Liverpool Street, having to continually check my route and cut south to get around the road closures. The police were calm and incredibly helpful.

The roads were empty of cars. Lots of people were walking around the strangely quiet, wet streets, and occasionally a couple of police cars and bikes would fly past me, sirens blaring. The bars and cafes were pretty full with people watching the breaking news. I made my way along the river and cut north at Embankment. The usually busy streets around Trafalgar Square were empty, save for the occasional emergency vehicle. The weather was improving and on tracking down the right Cafe Nero at Picadilly, I caught up with my poor friend, Flick, who was quite relieved to see me. She couldn’t get in touch with her Aunt in Greenwich with whom she is staying tonight.

The atmosphere then was a little strange. From what I saw, away from the bomb sites, things seemed to be rapidly returning to normal – en route I had seen tourists piling onto their coaches parked up on Victoria Embankment. At Trafalgar Square, where we sat for lunch, people were gradually going back to doing regular weekday stuff, taking photographs, chatting, having lunch. The only difference was the lack of traffic and large numbers of people walking everywhere.

After lunch we wandered down to Charing Cross to see the situation with the trains. Hundreds of people were flooding into the station and it will take some many hours to get home tonight. Continuing east along the river, I put my friend on a ferry to Canary Wharf where hopefully she can get the DLR to Greenwich where she’s staying with her family.

One of the strangest moments occurred at around 4pm when suddenly O2 (who appear to have been worst affected) returned to 100% and delivered 7 voicemail messages. Various friends and family had been calling me this morning and had been unable to get through.

The cycle ride back to Stepney Green was surreal. The traffic picked up as I approached Tower Bridge and turned into a mixture of empty and then gridlocked streets as I approached Aldgate. I assume that the police were having to hold off traffic so that emergency services could get access to wherever it was they were going. I have no idea what sort of incidents they were responding to or where they were headed, but a few convoys of emergency vehicles screamed past me in both directions along the empty streets, and squeezed through on the busy ones.

I stopped next to the cordon near Aldgate East and listened to a news reporter talking about the traffic, trying to find out some information as I hadn’t heard a news report since leaving the house. He was saying that the roads were empty but traffic was starting to pick up. He was right in that the road he was stood on was empty, but two streets away, the traffic wasn’t moving.

A guy handing out religious leaflets was not having much luck.

All the roads around Liverpool St and Aldgate East were cordoned off and there was no view of what was happening from where the police line started. I didn’t hang around, preferring to get back and catch up with what was going on. Heading east along the A11, the traffic was being carefully controlled – emergency vehicles were still moving about and I assume that the flow had to be monitored to ensure that police and ambulances were able to move around freely.

The A11 was empty eastbound as I cycled along. The traffic was stationary in the opposite direction. I have no idea why people were trying to head towards the city centre. I passed people waiting at bus stops and told them that there was very little heading east. People will be standing at bus stops for several hours. The 25 bus to Ilford is overloaded at the best of times, so unless people start walking, I don’t know how some of them will get home.

I passed the Royal Hospital again. A few ambulances were pulling up as I passed, and a few news crews were still there. I assume they continued to film those being carried off ambulances.

It’s amazing how calm the city was and how quickly it seemed to be getting back to normal – bar the huge number of pedestrians. I’ve never seen so many people walking across Waterloo Bridge, even during rush hour.

I’m back home and wondering whether to try and make it to the gym tonight.

In all likelihood, I will be having beers in the west end tomorrow evening and I will be down at London’s South Bank on sunday, training just like last week. There’s no point living in fear or changing what you do. Be vigilant, yes, but don’t let the terrorists affect how you live.

Of course I’m no expert on security operations or emergency responses, but the impression that I got from the police was that (as much as they could be) things were under control and there was no cause for alarm. I’ve heard people praising them for their work today and I would like to express my thanks also.