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Sausage Rolls and the City

Bank Holiday Monday in London was drab, dreary and at times downright dreich. I'd set this aside as a day to travel into the City to photograph the offices there that I had worked in. I really wanted a day with better light, but like most of this August in London it was grey. Undaunted, I went ahead with the trip and having walked most of the way to my local tube station, I realised I'd left home without my phone - my primary photographic device. That almost put paid to the expedition, but such was my determination to do something in relation to art this week, that I walked home and set out for the station once more, this time on my bike, with my phone firmly secured in my pocket.

I'd chosen a bank holiday as this would normally mean empty streets in the city. This was generally true, except it was an Extinction Rebellion day of action and while I did not cross paths with the protesters, there were significantly more police and private security personnel on my route. And a helicopter hovering permanently overhead.

My first subject was the Wallbrook Building - I'm not sure if it goes by any other name. It's a low slung, jelly mould of a building covered in aerofoils that takes up the whole of one side of the street, Wallbrook. The other side of the street is also taken up by a single building - the Bloomberg Building which was still being completed when I worked opposite. This building houses the Mithraeum - the reconstructed ruins of a Roman temple of the cult of Mithras which is far more fascinating than either building - and also an exit to Bank tube station.

I settled down on a bench on the corner of Cannon Street and Wallbrook and took a couple of photos using my camera obscura attachment. At this point the helicopter sounded as if it was directly above me so I took the opportunity to record the sounds around and above. This was not my end of the building so I headed up the street a bit. Wallbrook is very narrow and it is difficult to get far enough away to capture the building in full, even with the very wide angle that the camera obscura affords. I had not been aware of the tube station entrance in the Bloomberg Building before and even through it was closed it provided enough of an alcove to get another metre or so back from my target.

It was at this point I noticed a couple of security guards, one in uniform and high-vis, the other in a suit, watching me and it did not take long before high-vis approached me and asked could he help me. This seemed an odd way of phrasing "what are you up to sonny?", which was obviously what he meant. He then went on to ask if I was with the demonstrators - now we were getting somewhere. I feigned ignorance at this point, not wanting to commit either way and he explained that there was a march of 1000 people just behind the building coming our way and thought I may be part of it. I explained that I was an artist taking photographs and that I had used to work in the building that he and his colleague were guarding. With this, he returned to the other side of the street where I could hear him explaining with some bemusement to his comrade that I was an artist. At this point I thought it might be a good idea to move on - I'd never really felt welcome in this building. I moved here just after my company's last merger and this building had belonged to the other company. I never knew where it was okay for me to sit, my security pass only seemed to work some of the time and the network was not properly adapted for us to use. As I was about to do now, I jumped at the first opportunity to leave.

I bought and ate a Greggs' sausage roll as I headed north from Wallbrook. The sausage roll was at an exact temperature that transported me to a playing field, which I think was in Girvan on the south west coast of Scotland, where we had gathered for a Sunday school picnic. I cannot remember how frequent these events were, or how many I attended, but I have such a vivid memory of this one purely based around the food, which was all provided by a local baker - probably Neil Bell. We, the children, were all furnished with a paper bagged lunch of sandwiches and cake and then vast bakers trays of sausage rolls were produced from somewhere in the baker's van (or had they come on the bus with us). It was to the smell and taste of those sausage rolls to a 7 year old that I was returned as I walked, sausage roll eating, alongside the Guildhall. There was also something of a Scottish summer's day in the weather.

For many years my partner worked at the Guildhall as an archivist, but she had moved on elsewhere by the time that I was in an office so close by. The office to which I was heading, One Aldermanbury Square, was a stones throw away from the archive reading room where she regularly sat, and had she still been working there when I was at this office, I would have been able to see her from the meeting rooms where I spent much of my time.

Things were much quieter up here, but I was a bit concerned when I saw another high-vis jacket opposite the building I wanted to photograph and was relieved to see when I got closer that is was someone sweeping leaves.

I had liked this building. It was solely occupied by my company and had been refurbished for us at the time we moved in following being spun off from the parent company, It was bright, the desks were all adjustable height - it was possible to work standing up, it had weird lifts that only had buttons on the outside so that once you were in you could only go to your preselected floor. It was a very short walk from the nearest tube station and it had a roof terrace which I was occasionally brave enough to venture upon. Today, the building unlike many others in the City, identified its occupants - although it was not clear whether some of the dilapidation I could see meant they were no longer there, or perhaps it had just had an encounter with protestors.

By now the light was very poor and a light drizzle had begun. I took a few photographs and moved on.

My next and final stop for the day was 88 Wood Street - just 20 metres away from Aldermanbury square through a gap in the building on the west side of the square. 88 Wood Street is, I think, the most notable building in which I have worked. Designed by Richard Rogers, it bears some of the same features of the Pompidou Centre in Paris - most obviously the ships funnel air conditioning vents and the almost entirely visible structural support.

I first worked in the building in 2009 attempting to renew a contract with a long-standing and difficult client and most of my early associations with this office are of returning here in the evenings after frustrating meetings with our client, only to continue working well into the night. This contract renewal really highlighted for me everything I hated about my work, we were not in competition with anyone else to win the contract, but the client was determined, for some reason, to make the process as difficult as possible seemingly to satisfy the ego of the person leading the process from their side. In my company, the senior management should have been walking away from the business as it was loss making, but were determined to retain the client. It was one of the most dismal periods of my working life. My boss recognised this, but showed a remarkable lack of insight by thinking that as a reward, having spent 10 months with virtually no home life, that I should go to Las Vegas for our annual sales conference for a week. I did go in the end, but not after some considerable reconciliation at home.

After this my work location shifted to Bracknell and it was not until a few years later that I was able to negotiate this as my primary work location. I had some more rewarding times working here with some amazing highly motivated teams, but generally it was pretty much a downward spiral form this point even though I was progressing in seniority and responsibility.

There were no protesters here either, just a handful of skateboarders taking advantage of the unoccupied street. I tried not to get in their way as I circumnavigated the building attempting, in the poor light, to capture its exposed structure and brightly coloured extrusions. I like the abstraction I've achieved in some of these photographs - without context, what are they? However, the lack of light means my camera captured them at a much lower resolution that I would have liked making them useless for large prints. It's all research though and I will return on a sunnier day.

This has been a very dry subject for a blog and does little address my feelings about my work. and what it meant to me - what are the great truths about being shackled to the man? I imagine some of the Extinction Rebellion people demonstrating in the City today have a view on that. Most people I worked with seemed to love it... they seemed to enjoy being constantly on the road, or being in situations of competition and conflict. Perhaps they put. better face on it that me, or at least did not loathe and fear it as much as I did. There were very few occasions where it would be discussed - did I mention this was at least an 80% male environment... maybe that's getting to the heart of it.

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