Celebrating 2,500 Days Since I First Started Photographing London’s 120 Postcodes for ‘The State of London’

18.3.19

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Today is the eighth anniversary of an event that triggered the creation of my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, and last Friday marked a milestone worth remarking on in the history of that project: 2,500 days since May 11, 2012, the first day I began cycling around London taking photos on a daily basis for the project that initially had no name, but that I soon called ‘The State of London.’

The eighth anniversary, today, is of when I was hospitalised following two months of serious agony as two of my toes turned black, but GPs and consultants failed to work out what was wrong with me for quite some time — only eventually working out that a blood clot had cut off the circulation to my toes — and also failed to prescribe me adequate painkillers. After I returned from a trip to Poland at the start of February 2011, for a short tour showing the film I co-directed, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’ until I was hospitalised on March 18, I was rarely able to sleep for more than five minutes at a time; almost as soon as I fell asleep, I awoke in agony. There was, I thought, something ironic about someone who campaigned for the rights of people suffering all manner of torments in US custody — including sleep deprivation — also ending up suffering from sleep deprivation, although in my case it was caused by my own body waging war on me.

After two days in Lewisham Hospital, where I was finally given morphine to take me beyond the pain, my wife figured out that they didn’t really know what to do with me, and so pushed for me to be transferred somewhere that they might have a clue. That somewhere was St. Thomas’s Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament, where I spent the next nine days, as consultants worked out that attaching me for five afternoons to a drip that pushed what felt like cement into my arteries might open up the blood supply to my toes, thereby saving them. 

They were right. My toes were saved, and, as blood experts at Guy’s Hospital then took over my case, it emerged — in 2012 — that I had developed a rare blood disease — Essential Thrombothycemia, if it’s of interest, which is under control through medication, but only so long as there’s an NHS. My account of my experience, written at the time, is here, and if you check out the articles that follow it you’ll see what I managed to come up with on morphine in St. Thomas’s, where I refused to stop working and found a wi-fi connection in a corner of the building that I proceeded for make my own. 

Back at home, finally cured of the cigarette addiction that had gripped me for 29 years (and which I gave up eight years ago today while waiting to be admitted to Lewisham Hospital), I gave in to my sweet tooth and started piling on the pounds, eventually figuring out that I needed to take up a regular form of exercise, and that cycling might be the best option.

I’ve actually been a cyclist since before I can remember. I think I started at the age of four, and it has been a major part of my life ever since. As a child, growing up in a large village outside Hull, I used to cycle none-handed for whole afternoons, turning left at every junction to avoid having to touch the handlebars while waiting for traffic, and ending up miles from home. I continued cycling throughout my adolescence, and also at university, and in London I had some very particular bursts of cycling activisty — in the early 90s, for example, when I used to cycle from Brixton to Islington, where I worked in a telephone market research centre, and back, often after spending the evening in a variety of pubs playing pool, which I became magically very good at while very drunk.

Photography had also been part of my life since adolescence, when I remember having an Instamatic, but most particularly from when I was 18, when I got a Pentax ME Super, and developed a particular enthusiasm for night photos, using an ISO 800 Kodak film and tripod, and taking photos of Hull at night.

My interest in night photography continued at university when I used to stay up all night, and sometimes cycled along the rivers and canals at night — the only time that my love of cycling and photography had previously come together until 2012.

In the early 90s I ended up without a camera for some time, but when I met Dot in 1996, and we started travelling out of London, my attention soon focused on ancient sacred sites, as I became fascinated — or perhaps obsessed would be the most apt word — with the ancient remains of Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain (and, on a few occasions, Ireland, Brittany and Malta), and I began taking photos again.

In 1997 and 1998 we undertook a number of walks through the ancient landscape of southern England, which I photographed and also wrote about, with the biggest journey being a sinuous 80-mile, eight-day walk I created, ‘The Stonehenge Way’, which connected numerous ancient sites in Dorset and Wiltshire, and ended up at Stonehenge, and others involving Stonehenge’s extraordinary neighbour, Avebury.

The accounts I wrote didn’t end up being published, although they did feed into a related project that became my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, a counter-cultural history of Stonehenge, published in 2004 — and its follow-up, The Battle of the Beanfield.

Then, however, after a couple of summers touring festivals, the fates chose me to chronicle Guantánamo instead, a life-consuming project I began in 2006, when I basically stopped doing much cycling, or photography (except for the photos I took of my family and our holidays) until, in 2012, the two came together again in ‘The State of London, a keep-fit project that has become another obsession.

I haven’t quite been out on my bike in London every day for the last 2,500 days, but the total tally isn’t far off. Every year I’m away for Christmas, for around 10 days in the US in January, and on various other family holidays, but when I’m in London I generally spend at least a couple of hours a day out on my bike, and sometimes many more hours than that — four, five, six if I make a trek to some far-off part of the capital from my home in Brockley, in south east London.

Many of those days — a slim majority, I’d say — have been spent in south east London, particularly involving circuits through Greenwich and Deptford that I  undertake regularly, but also along the River Thames, and to the city and the West End — the heart of London the capital city, and London the banking behemoth — through, in various permutations, New Cross, Packham, Walworth, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey.

I also make regular trips to east London, usually through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and then up through the Isle of Dogs, often then travelling on along the Regent’s Canal, through Hackney to Islington and Camden, or up the Limehouse Cut and the River Lea to Stratford and beyond — although I do sometimes take trains to give me a head start.

Just as I have disproportionately covered south east London, the City and the West End and parts of east and south west London, my most neglected areas are in the west, north and north west, but I have visited all 120 of the capital’s compass-based postcodes (those beginning EC, WC, SE, SW, W, NW, N and E), which I completed in September 2014, although I very much hope to pay repeat visits to some of the more far-flung postcodes this year, which, in some cases, will be only the second or third visits I have made. I have also made sporadic visits to some of the outlying postcodes, covering the vast expanse of Greater London (near me, for example, the BR postcodes for Bromley, and CR for Croydon).

As a result, 2,500 days since I began this project — and 677 days since I first began posting a photo a day on Facebook — I now have a spacial understanding and an overview of London as a whole that might be along the lines of what traditional black cab drivers get through “the knowledge”, although perhaps more metaphysical. 

Every time I post an article marking some anniversary or other of ‘The State of London’, I struggle to try to express what the project has done to me over the last six years and ten months, and will no doubt struggle again, but here goes:

I do genuinely feel as though, in some way, I now embody London, that I move about it like some sort of independent observer, unconnected to its commerce (unlike cycle couriers, for example), free — unlike so many of its inhabitants — to soak it in, to record it and to assess it without having to do so through being compromised in any way.

My journeys record the fabric of the city in some detail — with much having disappeared in the last seven years — and also reflect my particular interests: politically, the rise of the idiotic phallic towers for foreign investors that are a specific manifestation of the greed of those with power, and the failures of their imaginations after their banking racket collapsed in 2008, and — sadly often allied — the cynical destruction of council estates, which stand on land that is worth far more to developers if their residents’ inconvenient lives are moved elsewhere and their homes destroyed. This is a particular brutal form of 21st century politics, in which everyone is caught up, as budgets are strangled by Tory austerity policies, but politicians on all sides can’t really be bothered to fight for the right of London’s poorer inhabitants to have homes.  

These two aspects of modern London — one, I think, particularly triggered by the hubris and false pride that came with hosting the Olympics, in the year my project began, and the other based on cannibalistically consuming the poor as the entire capitalist edifice crumbles — may well come to define this period in London’s long history.

However, I’m also aware that, in terms of sensation, my journeys around the capital also deal with the more fundamentally experiential aspects of life — the weather, the seasons, the elements — and with nature: the trees, parks, rivers and canals whose co-existence with humanity constantly reinvigorates me when, as sometimes happens, the relentless pressure of London’s human inhabitants becomes too much.

If you’re not already part of ‘The State of London’, I hope you’ll join me. This year I intend to revive my website, which I had designed several years ago, but haven’t had the time yet to populate with photos and text, to put on an exhibition, and to publish a book. They’re worthy aims, but perhaps unattainable without outside assistance, so if you can help in any way please do get in touch.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Eight years ago today, I was hospitalised as a result of a blood clot that had turned two of my toes black. The wonderful staff of the NHS saved my toes, and have been looking after me ever since – and my illness also had another unexpected knock-on effect, as, a year later, I began a keep-fit regime that turned into a photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’, which is still ongoing today, and which involves me, every day, cycling around London’s 120 postcodes and taking photos, chronicling how the capital has become overrun with greedy developers, how its politicians no longer care for those who live in social housing, and also recording its nature, its changing light, its changing seasons, and its hidden corners that are always such a source of delight. Thanks to everyone taking an interest!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Símon de Souza wrote:

    Thanks to you Andy for raising awareness about a very important issue through great photo journalism. 🙂

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the support, Jason. It’s greatly appreciated!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Claire wrote:

    This is a remarkable record of today’s London. Andy captures, in photos and the stories behind them, the complexities and contradictions of the city that was my home for so many years. Please follow him, you won’t regret it.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the lovely supportive words, Sue!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Meena Sharma wrote:

    You are amazing Andy..what a passion and dedication.. 🙂

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the supportive words, Meena!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jackie Gardiner wrote:

    Goodness me, you live a very interesting life!!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I suppose that’s true, Jackie. I hadn’t really thought of it like that; I thought I was just telling the story of what happened. 😉

  10. Tom says...

    It’s great that you can make the time to keep working on this. Suggestion. Keep track of what happens as 3/29th happens.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s what keeps me sane, Tom. Even though it’s infuriating cycling around London and being a witness to the cynical destruction of people’s homes (on council estates), and the eye-slapping greed of developers making bigger and bigger towers full of unaffordable apartments, roving around London frees my mind and keeps my body working.
    But Brexit is ever-present – although I honestly cannot quite comprehend completely every twist and turn of this sorry saga, and I genuinely cannot see how, as the date approaches, Parliament’s suicidal impulses, in service of “the will of the people”, will be thwarted. I hope that, on the 30th, I am not writing to the world from the first nation in living memory to have consigned itself to economic disaster for no good reason at all.

  12. Tom says...

    One thing that I hope doesn’t happen? Parts of the UK secede due to no Brexit agreement. I know that it’s a staple of Question Time for the PM to have a go at the SNP leader with her “ungrateful ______ Scots” body language. But the last thing May wants is to go down in history as “The PM Who Destroyed the UK with Brexit”. No agreement will damage the country both short term and long term. May says she wants a 3 month (possibly longer) extension from the EU. Why should the 27 other members approve that considering what’s happened up till now?

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    The thing is, Tom, the Brexit nonsense is galloping out of control to such an extent that it now seems quaint to remind the Tories that they used to be the party of the Union; that, in fact, preserving the Union was one of their most significant and permanent policies. In some ways I think it reflects the changes in society – now everything is about short-term gain – as well as the Conservative Party’s own transformation, since the time of Thatcher, into a party with only two primary aims: to privatise everything, and to cut taxes for the rich. Those twin obsession end up making politicians stupid, as we’re seeing now.
    I honestly don’t know what the EU is going to do about Britain. We want an extension – but with no sign of what to do with it. The phrase “flogging a dead horse” might well have been specifically invited for May’s notion of bringing her deal back to MPs for the third time, and then, if that fails, for the fourth time, and so on. She’s like a broken robot. But politically, when you fail so persistently, you have to give up, i.e. resign or hold a general election.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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