Monday, 24 September 2018

Hitler's Hospital

Tentatively stepping past the strange woods where trees marry metal fences, the overgrown grass submerges the concrete pathway underneath my feet. Suddenly autumn has been switched onto 11, the leaves are golden and raining delicately around me, yet the sun is shouting down creating gorgeous colour pallets.

Every now and then, you hear movement, but it never shows. The brambles shake, a voice worms through the air. It's that sensation you are being monitored. A small glacial ripple slithers across my skin.

As I continue forwards, the branches part reluctantly like unveiling the curtain to the red and yellow bricked beauty that lies beneath.

There it stands. Just. The red roofs and towers still tall, the distinctive 19th century architecture crumbling but still standing. Just. It is hard to imagine Heino Schmieden, the famous German architect, seeing his creation now. Watching his magnificent construction, once proud and grand, now decaying and withering away.
The corridors are peeling, sometimes only lit through the shafts of escaping sun bursting through the gaps between the boarded up broken windows. The curling broken wall paper and paint cast beautiful artistic patterns. Walls are fractured and often adorn disrespectful scrawls of past visitors. The floors are a spongey lottery of support. Every step can be rolling a dice. Either beneath you or above. Ceilings gape open, lights swing noose-like above. Hopefully you will win this dice game.
That familiar dank smell of years of dust and rust; a cornucopia of disintegration hangs around you. Sometimes you catch a waft of chemicals. Animals. Decay. Dirt and grime. Sometimes you think you catch a stench of mortality, but I move away too fast to discover more.

Ignorance is a dangerous kind of bliss.

Occasionally you stumble upon small glimpses of life. Of the people that came here, sick, wanting to be cured. Their lungs struggling, you can imagine them lying on their beds staring at the soothing greenery outside. The ghosts of past patients still take a dip in the bath pool, the tall domed ceiling above their heads. A shoe here. A hair brush there. Items lost amongst the ashes of forgotten. Things. Structures. The bread oven rusting slowly; it will no longer bake any bread. The wash rooms, starved and dehydrated. The vast dining hall, now a famine of nourishment. The surgery wards, desolate and carnage ridden - they need surgery themselves.
The structures are empty and gaunt. Yet they are obese with memories, full of emotions, captured in the sinking bricks and rotting interiors.

Once a lowly German soldier attended this hospital, wounded at the Somme, sent to recover. This ordinary mundane person, nothing of note. For this short period, this building helped incubate a murderer. Bricks and mortar sometime contain more stories than living bodies. That icy shiver sweeps by my skin again.

Why is all this dilapidated corrosion so alluring. Why is the haunting uncomfortableness so beautiful.
The rotting building is life itself; a giant still life growing mouldy and fading away. We are but all fleshy crumbling bricks, forgotten in time.

Full set of photos from my trip to Hitler's hospital, Germany.

Thursday, 10 May 2018


The gate of iron, the outrageous lies;
That work sets free, yet in truth? All dies.
Endless horizon, eyes become sore;
Claws of barbed wire, for ever more.

Red brick, red brick; a sickening trick.
Row after row, all the same;
Horrifically normal; even mundane.
Reality hits, slapped out of slumber.
Terror, fear; it’s more than a number.

Mountainous items- bags, clothes, a bowl;
Each different shoe, belonged to a soul;
A life that sang, laughed and cried;
A life so taken, cruelly, and died.

Wrong indeed, and without cover-
To believe one life, more value than another.
Cannot un-see; it won’t be rid;
Tattooed right into, your closed eyelid.

But atrocities we, cannot spurn;
Even though it seems, we never learn.


I recently visited Auschwitz and here are the photos I took:
  Auschwitz Birkenau

I am still processing the experience. It was unlike any other. Something in the pit of my stomach was gnawing the whole time; I think the place surprised me in ways I was not expecting. The sheer scale of Birkenau shook me - an endless sea of concentration camp. Wave after wave of barbed wire and outlook posts. It was mammoth - and yet conversely, made me feel so very claustrophobic. The mundanity of Auschwitz surprised me too - it felt like a slightly old fashioned industrial estate, and was in better condition than I was expecting. The ordered red bricks, in their inherent normality, chilled me beyond my worst nightmares.
But it was the personal items of those who lost their lives that will live with me forever. The mounds and huge piles. A number is just a number and can be arbitrarily extrapolated away from emotional connection. Seeing the items destroys this; it makes it real. These were people. They had things like us. This could have been you.

I still do not know how to describe Auschwitz, which is why I wrote this poem. I might never know. I wasn't sure if to take photos, and definitely if whether to post them. I decided in the end to do both. I have long been fascinated with the idea of documenting stories and the past somehow - and I felt this was even more important in this case. It is not comfortable, but unless we face these past histories, we risk repeating the same atrocities. God forbid, we may already be doing so, which makes it more important we talk and discuss and share - so that we will never forget.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Cardiff and Buildings Past

Architecture is one of my main loves. For someone who adores trees and countryside as much as I do, I find the aesthetic of buildings and structures as beautiful and intriguing as pieces of art.

Cardiff has never interested me architecturally like other cities and places do/have done. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Cardiff was ugly and unremarkable even to a child.

Wandering through the city centre in 2018, which I do pretty much daily, I am always struck by the changes this small but sturdy Welsh capital where I was born and raised has undertaken. Rumblings began in the 1990s; a shape-shift exercise. The rugby world cup final in Cardiff in 1999 saw one of the main new developments - a brand new 74,500 seated stadium slap bang in the heart of the city. A spikey ship masted-like structure (with a retractable roof which sometimes reminds me of a giant bread bin); it seemed so space-age and giant. A burst of new bars and hotels subsequently opened - and as an sixth form student at the time, all this was particularly exciting. I cringe a little at the naivety of this exuberance at the time, but it was what it was - the rawness of a mid-size town beginning to hit with the big boys.

The developments have continued into the 21st century, as Cardiff has matured and evolved into a place where world events are held. It is great, of course - more choices, more things to do.

However, I pine for the old structures. The shadows of the past that told stories now lost in a city where barely nothing old remains - the swarms of students tapping their laptops in bland generic coffee shops (which are boringly the same anywhere in the world) in Cardiff Bay may not have any appreciation that they are sitting on top of a place which was, at one point, the busiest port in the world. And in fairness, why would they. Barely nothing remains of these remnants amongst these soulless chains.

Beyond this, there are particular buildings I personally yearn to stand beneath one last time, and appreciate their wonder.

The demolished national stadium - a mammoth concrete of a clenched fist. A concrete brutalist lover, I didn't fully appreciate at the time just how beautiful this concrete beast was. The claws of concrete was a comforting grasp of the heart of the city - a place where the country would unite over sporting joys and woes.

It was demolished in 1997 - I was at the last game there, where Cardiff RFC beat Swansea RFC in the cup final (this was before regional rugby of course). The stadium was outdated and needed change - there was nothing for facilities and there was the huge uncovered stand enclosure which after Hillsborough, always terrified me. But I miss those concrete claws that for most of my childhood had had gripped me tight, and when they went, so did the grip the sport had on me.

To build the new Millennium stadium, the Empire pool, another building I miss, also had to be demolished. The Empire pool stood on Wood street - a large red brick building with a distinctive curved roof, housing an international size swimming pool. 

It seems forgotten now that Cardiff hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1958 - and the pool was built for these games. In primary school, we were trooped onto old buses and shipped to the pool for swimming lessons. The place terrified and fascinated me. It seemed the largest building in the world, and the diving boards were the tallest structures I'd ever seen.

It was a cold, old fashioned and harsh structure, and yet I liked it - the walls with diving moving figures - ghosts of all the people that had competed in the games all those years ago.

The third building no longer standing that I would love to gawp at one last time, is the old national ice rink. Another large building, but without the 1950s charm- it was built in the 1980s, and was typically styled of that decade.

With the large distinctive yellowing panels and the epic typography for the sign, it was an oddly designed building, but I do so love that retro style. I didn't even go ice skating that often, but I loved looking out for the distinctive panels. It was replaced with John Lewis - admittedly a much prettier structure.

Cardiff's new library is just a stone's throw away from John Lewis (or the ex-ice rink site) but this replaced the previous "new" library on St David's Link on Frederick street, which had been built in 1988. Concrete and very much of that decade - this was a building I crave and miss massively. 

It had beautiful green typography lettering for the sign, and was another retro 1980s haven. Inside it was all typically pastel and beige. It was like a pair of chinos a male leading protagonist would wear in a 1980s sitcom. I spent many hours here trawling (raiding) the CD library as a student, or the amazing archives rooms right at the top of the building - sifting through old newspapers or microfiche with my dad, researching history about various different things. One time it was Welsh Titanic passengers. This was where I knew I loved history. And nothing beats researching through old newspapers - it beats the Internet every single time. 
The building was demolished in 2006 to make way for the the new St David's II development.

These buildings are long gone, and the city has made many improvements since. I am nostalgic of course, but at the same time, things must change and grow - this is life and it is a good thing. I just think it is important to remember and respect the past. And I wish I could see these buildings one last time. And take photographs. Many, many, photographs.

As an aside, I found this wonderful old video of Cardiff. Enjoy how it used to be. 

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year, New Blog

As I have just stated, I don't really believe in new years resolutions, but as I am a hot, steaming pile of hypocrite, my new year's resolution is going to be to write more. So I have decided to start a diary/blog on this shiny new sister blog to my other ramblings here.

I was reading some of the wonderful Alan Bennett's diaries over Christmas, and rather like the idea of writing a diary again (something I haven't done since I left high school, mostly ramblings about how miserable and misunderstood I was - so no change from now really). Rather than write every day, Alan Bennett will write when he chooses on topics he finds instigates a curiosity from within - and that is what I am going to attempt. Therein ends the only comparison I would ever dream to make with the legendary national treasure of uber treasures that is His Royal Highness Sir Alan of Bennett (he really should have those titles). 

And then reader, we began.

Saturday, 31 December 2016


I'm not sure why I am writing this, neither am I entirely sure who will read it (and indeed, if I even care). But I have to be honest.

It is the last day of 2016, and I am tired. New year always brings self reflection. And this year is the same. However, every year always has ups and downs, good and bad, and we are misguided if we ever think any different.
But the tiredness I feel is an indescribable cacophony. Its the type of tiredness that no amount of sleep will ever cure, even if you could sleep for multitudinous decades. I am drenched with fatigue. And its the exhaustion of being me.

This 'me' doesn't even feel like me anymore. Someone has stolen my being and sold it off cheap on eBay like a broken piece of brick-a-brac. I don't even know who me is. Making the mistake of looking back on that digital BEST FRIEND! Facebook, I was dumbfounded. Was I that? Was I this? Social media lies and masquerades; a deadly online menace. Even I start to get fooled. The pixelated versions don't show the pain, the darkness, the terrifying anxieties. The hatred. The reminders of constant failures.

Maybe my inherent need to be busy, to be occupied, to be overly-exerted comes down to a single thing. I'm running away. And I think I am trying to escape from who I am, who I have become. A poor imitation copy of a person that won't even end up on the 'novelty' section of antiques roadshow; a Margaret Thatcher-esque-haired expert grinning inanely scoffing patronisingly that the carcass isn't worth a penny but 'is tremendous fun' as if 'fun' is a synonym of 'stupid poor person things'.

My body & brain is riddled and disintegrating. My enthusiasm is the cardigan I once spilled photography chemicals over; eventually browning and shrivelling up like a rotting apple. I forget things. I sometimes can't get out of bed. Coming to terms with losing who I was is the most upsetting. Am I grieving? It is utterly ridiculous to write this and not scold myself for sounding such a melodramatic odiferous pillock. But I am that too.

Some writers describing depression and decline, say the terrible disease creeps up on you. I can relate to that. In some respects it is the small shadow tied to your boot laces that somehow expands up like a bloated sponge. But for me, it has been more like that bathroom tap with the dodgy leak: drip, drip, drip - fine at first, until you realise it's 18 months down the line, and you're submerging in a room full of water. There's nothing more lonely than drowning in your own self doubt.

In the summer, I was at Barry Island and sat watching people play the penny slots. They're glued to these seedy structures, feeding in coin after coin like robots. So much effort, for such little gain. That's how I feel I have existed for too long - a worn out dismaland penny machine that should've really paid out more by now, but has a few springs missing and is just waiting to be replaced by a newer model.

So here we are. Stuck in the hard shoulder whilst the world flies by picking up speeding tickets. I still do not know why I have written this. But things are very difficult. Very difficult indeed. And I apologise to anyone who actually has to endure me. But at least you can walk away. I miss who I was, and the life I used to have, but I'm not even sure I know what any of that was.

Maybe I just need to pull my socks up. But buy new ones first.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

A bug in the code

Processing power, gradually slowed,
Hardware and wires, begin to corrode.
Memory leakage, renders in vain,
What once was strong, is now on the wane.
Bright lights that were a glittering zone,
Now grey and dark, the pixels are blown.

There's a wretched bug hiding in code,
Contaminating; nothing will load.

Spiralling icons spinning and pending,
Churning and twisting, so never ending.
A tiresome flailing nonchalance,
Waiting response.

An Epidemic of bugs velcroed in code,
And my own sad self, won't try to load.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Visiting Chernobyl

There are a few places in the world that just by name, conjure evocative reactions. Often these are areas where, unfortunately, tragedy has struck - places where events unravelled that have sent tremor waves of shock felt across the globe.

One such location has been a fascination of mine for a long time. And that place is Chernobyl.

Photographing decaying and derelict buildings has long been an obsession of mine, something I've written and blathered on about many times. I yearn for it. I crave the ability to traipse through stale, dank crooked structures; rotten walls, peeling paint. Their ghostly existence crying out to be photographed - the documentation of manmade decline as nature engulfs it.

Photography lends itself so well to capture these haunting scenes, the emptiness, the decay - which never stops, never pauses - only within the four walls of the photograph.


Visiting Chernobyl had become a dream of mine. I had dreamed of seeing Pripyat, the city near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, where nearly 50,000 people had lived between 1970 and 1986. On April 27th 1986, the day after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the city was evacuated, what is left is a ghost town. Buildings not used in thirty years; roads not been driven on, the swimming pool not swum in, the kindergarten cots not slept in.


This July, I was lucky enough to finally visit Chernobyl. The two day tour was probably one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I have explored many derelict buildings over the years, but apart from Imber, the small English village taken over by the military during WWII, I had never before had the chance to visit an entire ghost town - a cornucopia of abandoned treasures.

Trips to Chernobyl, have been allowed since the area has been deemed more safe, but there are still many precautions one must take when visiting (and quite rightly so). We had been given advice on what clothes to wear, and told to not touch things, or step on certain things. Moss for example, is particularly good at absorbing radiation so is likely to emit high levels of radiation so you are warned to not walk on it. You can imagine how difficult it becomes trying to avoid doing so whilst exploring Pripyat, trying to take in everything around you.
It is also strictly forbidden to remove anything from the exclusion zone. Entry into Chernobyl requires passport control, and the area is heavily guarded. You are not allowed to eat or drink whilst walking around Pripyat - and you can only do so whilst on the bus which would transport us around parts of the city which we could not travel by foot. During our stay in the Chernobyl hotel, there is a curfew by evening and no one is allowed outside after 8pm. You are screened regularly, having to stand in these bizarre 1970s sci-fi film-esque machines, that check you for any radioactive contamination.

When faced with these rules and regulations, the reality of where you are visiting very much strikes you. This is not a game, not a jolly. This is something that must be treated with respect, as you risked putting yourself in grave danger otherwise.

The trip began as we were taken to a kindergarten. The walls were seeping with branches and foliage and peeling crusty paint. What was left was a tragic reminder of the young lives who frequented there - dusty broken shoes, toys, torn books. So many items that looked like they had just been dumped. Rotting dolls like something out of a Stephen King film, and rows of skeletal wire cots that resembled an odd communal prison cell.


The personal items strewn across the decaying floorboards conjure so many questions - who wore this small shoe? Who did they grow up to be? Did they survive? Who clutched the teddy bear and dropped it that day in 1986, not realising they would never get to return to fetch it?


We were taken to many buildings and various areas in Pripyat. The culture palace, with a theatre and its stunning broken backstage.
Backstage at the theatre
It was a myriad of lighting rigs and grids of wires, now spookily silent, patiently waiting for the next performance that will never come.

The culture palace as it is today from the outside:

As the same culture palace as it was originally:

We saw one of the vast empty swimming pools, looking gaunt and hungry without its water; bright light streaming down onto white tiles through the huge windows - bizarrely striking against the dirt and graffiti that was building up. The suicidal looking diving platform still proudly erect, angular and defiant.
swimming pool
swimming pool

We explored a school. Pripyat had around 20 schools for the 5,000 children who lived there.
The school we visited was a zombified grange hill. So much of the ghostly remains resembled memories from my own school days: the corridors, the small chairs, books, science labs - yet these were all decomposing and decaying - vast broken rooms filled with empty dying desks, crumpled text books, written work books in perfectly scripted Russian/Ukrainian which was still legible. The poignancy was striking - when a child had worked so hard and taken so much care on this work I was stood near, little did they know it would one day be dirt ridden and lying upon a decaying floor, as part of a strange time capsule fodder for photographers.
School book
Communist propaganda posters still hanging from the walls - Lenin, workers, anti-west diatribe. Cold war teachings. Something that seemed to only exist in history books I had seen in my own school - here they were for real.
It was in the school which I saw one of the most incredible sights I have ever witnessed - a sea of decaying gas masks. Gas masks themselves always look so alien and menacing. This surreal scene was an infinity ocean of cold war atomic nightmares. It churned your stomach, it made you gulp. The black holes for eyes, they resembled deformed leathery skulls. Gas masks, war. The threat. It was, of course, a reality for daily lives for the people of chernobyl.
School room

One of the most impressive structures in Chernobyl that we visited was the  'woodpecker' - an incredible mammoth duga radar structure. It derived its nickname due to the sound it broadcasted - sharp, repetitive tapping noises, very much like a woodpecker.
There were many conspiracy theories over to what the radar tower's purpose was - with many insinuations and allegations of spying, and even mind control. Of course, none of these were ever proven. Now, the structure still stands proud....just eerily silent. Standing near it, you marvelled at its sheer size and formed beauty. Climbing the tower, scrambling up wobbling ladders you got the overwhelming sense of how minuscule you were. You were just an insignificant entity. The machine was the dominate power.
Inside the duga buildings, a control room contained warnings of attack, yet with oddly crude posters which almost resembled school drawings of nuclear rockets. It had a beautiful naivety, yet the science it was representing, was very much contradicting this.  

One of the most famous areas of Pripyat was the fairground. It was meant to be opened on the May day celebrations - the disaster, of course, scupper these plans. The fairground that never was. The huge abandoned ferris wheel has become one of the icons of Chernobyl. Walking up to the area, the ferris wheel suddenly poked through the trees, its yellow carts so recognisable looming on the horizon. It made my skin prickle and the hairs on my arms stand up.
The fairground had languishing dogem cars, rusting away waiting to be driven; empty swing boats waiting to swing. Still. Expectant but dead. No sounds of children happily playing. Just static rusty structures waiting to die.

(For a peak at what the fairground looked like shortly before the evacuation - here is an interesting photograph of the ferris wheel)

We climbed 14 floors of stairs to the roof of a defunct crumbling residential building, and saw the incredible view across Pripyat. You could see for miles into the horizon. One side there was nothing but trees, the other side, the nuclear reactor stuck out into the landscape like a curved silver beast, glinting in the glorious sun shine. The reactor looked so close. The reactor *was* so close. You could imagine how quickly the radiation would have spread to the city....

Reactor from roof of residential building

And yet at times, as I gazed into the horizon on the gloriously sunny day, it felt so peaceful. So quiet. It was almost tranquil. Such a contrast to the thought of what had happened there.
View into nothing from the top of the residential building

We were taken to a shop, a factory, cafeteria, the hospital and the cinema. All places of such mundane daily routine, of pastimes, of work, or places of social interaction - now dying and deteriorating; signs hanging off, rubble strewn, windows broken, ovens caked with rust not baked goods. Vending machines. Beds. Random items abandoned - a pepsi bottle, a hard hat, pill bottles, an old vinyl record, a torn sofa. Objects of life, signs of life, yet there is no life.

The beauty of these broken items sometimes took my breath away. The huge cooling tower. The light against the beautiful broken glassed windows of the cafeteria, crystalloid patterns that could be in another life, hanging in an art gallery. The creepy children's camp - set in the forest and evocative of as many woods horror films you can imagine. The stunning and oddly satisfying athestic of peeling paint - the crusty curls clawing out of the walls as if their bony fingers were coming alive. The dark rusty signs or faded red propaganda posters; beautiful in their colour and form. The emptiness of an abandoned room, now useless in its initial purpose, dripping with this tragic well of loneliness.

It was all quite overwhelming. And sometimes macabre.

Nothing was more a deadly wake up call of the dangers in chernobyl, than the sight and sound of the Geiger counter alarm, approaching one of the most radioactive items still left in Pripyat - the claw. The Geiger counter was brought out at various times during our trip. Sometimes it was unnerving (but also sobering and important) to how suddenly you would be near an item that was setting the alarm off on the counter. Radiation - the silent and invisible assassin. There is something more frighting about a deadly threat that you cannot see, cannot smell, cannot hear.

'The claw', however, was off the scale. You are not allowed close to 'the claw' - a terrifyingly industrial metal claw that was used to clean up nuclear waste after the disaster. Our guide placed the Geiger counter near, and we watched in awe as the alarm spiralled into high pitched cacophony. This was real. This was dangerous.

We slowly crept away.
the claw - used to clear up after the disaster. One of the most radioactive machinery pieces left

One morning of the tour, we visited the house of a chernobyl resident. An odd experience, one that I was not sure I was comfortable with. She welcomed visitors regularly, showing people around her home and land.
Money was no use to her, instead, we brought her items such as sugar and salt. She spoke to us via an interpreter, explaining that she had worked in the reactor, and had been evacuated the day after the disaster, but had returned to live a year later and had lived there ever since.
She grew many crops, and these were all tested safe for consumption. Her house was primitive, her life was basic. She lived alone with her dog and cats. Whilst she made us feel very welcome (she gave us her own homemade moonshine and bread), I felt intruding, I felt as if I was patronising her by just being there.

It was a reality check to how some people live in the world, something I am far too often blinkered to - her oven was a hole in the wall, the sanitary conditions extremely basic. My life back home seemed as far away as the moon. It was like going back in time. Yet she seemed at peace; content with her lot. In some ways I left her house with almost an odd pang of jealousy.

An unfortunate turn of phrase, but Chernobyl gets under your skin; the connotations of what happened there, the horrors, the tragedy. I have thought about what I saw, what I experienced, every day since. Did it happen? Did I really experience the sheer surreal of having lunch in the actual reactor canteen?
It is all a lingering spectre. Now, whenever I am in woods or see moss, I am suddenly wondering if it is safe to step on. The empty sadness of chernobyl shrouds you at times. What is left is a snap shot of a different time. Like many tragic events, it is a reminder of the human condition, both the bad side but also the good - let us not forget the heroic efforts of the firemen who sacrificed their lives and went into the reactor at the time of the disaster. Their selfless actions saving the world of a larger catastrophe.


Sometimes I feel I am drawn to derelict buildings because I often feel a little empty inside, as if I am a derelict well, or as if large pieces inside are missing. But sometimes I think derelict buildings call to me so that the silent walls and objects can somehow tell their story, reveal their secrets and histories. One day we will be nothing ourselves, one day we will become these empty shell structures and nothing will be left of us but an old shoe, left languishing in the dust. And I would want someone to spot this remnant, and capture it, to speak for me when I cannot - 'look, I was here. I lived'.

You can see my full sets of photographs documenting my time at Chernobyl in my flickr albums - Chernobyl, Pripyat, Duga Radar, Exclusion Zone house visit, the Children's Camp, and Pripyat hospital.

For a fascinating before the disaster comparison, images of life in Pripyat can be viewed on Photos of everyday life in Pripyat before the disaster.