Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Visiting London's Iconic BT Tower

The BT Tower, viewed from Fitzroy Square

Dominating London's skyline for the last 50 years, the BT Tower has been closed to the general public since 1980!  In this 50th Anniversary year, there have been several opportunities for members of the public to gain access into the now Grade II listed building once again.  Last month, I was lucky enough to be one of the 4,000 people who were allowed in to visit this year. 

From when it was built until 1980, the Post Office Tower (as it was originally named) was the UK's tallest building.  Today it occupies the place of London's 11th tallest building, beaten by newer constructions including the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, One Canada Square (Canary Wharf) and of course the Shard.  During the 1960's and 1970's, it was the venue for fine dining and cocktails in the infamous revolving 'Top of the Tower' restaurant.  It was the Burj Khalifa of it's day - welcoming around 4,000 visitors per day.  Alas, following a bomb in 1970, extensive building works were carried out to repair the damage and in 1980 the restaurant closed and in 1981 all public access to the building closed.

As you enter the reception of the BT Tower, you're treated to a fantastic projection that quickly sums up what the building is all about.  I made a nifty little time-lapse so you can see it! 

The entrance to the BT Tower creates a fantastic ambiance - the heritage and the prestige of the building is all laid bare, iconic symbols of BT's past are cleverly worked into modern art pieces to help visitors really understand the importance of the building.  The obligatory airport style security screening heightens the excitement!

I register with the reception team and I'm issued my very own lift pass!  There are a few tell-tale hallmarks of tall buildings, and the BT Tower absolutely had them: Lift Pass: Check! Iconic Signage: Check! Lift Graphics: Check! 

Obligatory tall building lift pass! 

Loving the iconic signage

My inner geek loved the lights illuminating as we ascended and de-luminating as 
we descended!!

Classic red phone box reworked into BT's new colours and made over into a funky sofa in the reception area.  Above BT Sport (which is transmitted from the tower) plays behind me.

A selection of phone boxes have had makeovers and now reside in the reception area of the BT Tower.

The foyer area has been made over to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the BT Tower.  As with the reception desk, a cool projection was set up to create a bit of a wow.

As a fan of architecture, I felt that my visit lacked the architectural geekery that I craved.  The tour really allowed for a good look around the ground floor public space and the viewing deck which was the restaurant with revolving floor.  We were lucky enough to experience a full revolution of the viewing deck (it takes around 30 minutes), but the formica finishings made me feel as though I had stepped back in time.  I couldn't help but feel I'd stepped into a part of London's history, which made me kind of sad.  With the advent of fibre optics and new broadcasting technologies, the tower's future is perhaps less pertinent than its past.  Looking towards the city and all the shiny new skyscrapers, I felt a bit sorry for the tower.  Having received a bit of a makeover and some new furniture, the interior felt muddled.  

Cocktail stools and chrome & glass tables jar with the beige formica that lines the walls, leaving the restaurant feeling a bit like a BHS cafe

Ok, so I've done a full intro to the building, and I'm sure you're keen to know the important bit: what's it like at the top?!  Well, in honesty, the building has amazing views of London.  I mean breathtaking, and different to the views you'll get from other tall building experiences in London due to its location.

At the end of the hour, when the floor stopped moving, we were invited for another ride in the lift, back down to the ground floor and back out onto the streets with a whole new appreciation for this magnificent city, brought about by this formidable building.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

My Week With The Sea Gypsies of Borneo

Borneo is the world's third largest island, home to Kalimantan (Indonesian Territory), Malaysian states Sarawak and Sabah and nestled at the top is the Kingdom of Brunei.  "Borneo" conjures thoughts of the exotic and the wild, the island is home to one of the world's oldest rainforests.  It has amazing biodiversity, with new species being discovered all the time.  Borneo is known as a melting pot of different cultures, with its inhabitants having Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, Orang Ulu and Jadazan-Dudun ethnicities.  There are also many indigenous people based on Borneo and it's outlying islands.

If you go to the far East of Malaysian Borneo, and then pop off on a boat for an hour or two, you'll find yourself propelled into another world (as did I).  The Bajau Laut, a nomadic tribe, traditionally reside at sea and have lived in the region for hundreds of years.  I'm unsure what changed for these Bajau who've settled, on land, in Malaysian Borneo as undocumented immigrants though are said to be from the Philippines.  Their presence isn't welcome (with the government) and basic domestic infrastructure just doesn't exist in their camp.

A Bajau fisherman returns home with his catch - his journey home requires him to dodge the carrier bags and                                   loose human and animal faeces which dominates the shoreline.

The homes have no toilet facilities and the camp has no sanitation.  It's usual to see residents defecating on the beach or in plastic bags which are then left on the beach.  The beach stank, with rotting human waste all around, it's fair to say, I watched my steps and made sure to wear closed in shoes.  I was told a few days after my arrival that the camp had recently been affected by a Cholera outbreak - hardly surprising.

A typical family home within the camp.  Houses are stilted as they are on the beach and susceptible to monsoon flooding.

  The limited diet of fish and one or two types of vegetable found readily on the island can't sustain the population.  Children                          can be seen wandering with large packets of crisps, yet they still display clear signs of malnutrition

The schools on the island aren't allowed to take in the Bajau children - they don't have any identity papers and the government won't fund their education, or healthcare or anything at all.  A lack of education is clearly to the detriment of this community - from basic health and hygiene education through to simple literacy and environmental knowledge, this group lack skills in these areas.  They burn chemicals, dump plastics in the sea and participate in damaging and illegal fishing practices such as dynamite fishing and illegally trade protected species - such as shark fin.

               Dynamite fishing and the harvesting of endangered species takes place to stock the shops on the island.

The time I spent with the Bajau was really special to me.  The people of this community were hardworking, creative and had a fantastic spirit.  I wonder what will become of them in the future?  It seems unlikely that they will return to the sea or even to the Philippines - given that many have lived their whole lives in Malaysia.  Local tourism businesses support the tribe as best they can, partly due to their great humanity and (one would gather) partly to minimise the dangers of operating a business next door to such a camp.  Doctors, vets and dentists are periodically brought over to carry out some pro-bono work and treat the whole village during their stay, facilitated by the local businesses.  It keeps serious harm at bay.  Local dive businesses have to fight to keep the neighbouring areas of beach clean.  A school for the children has been set up, although it is still in it's infancy and the community - in particular the older members - need convincing of the value of such an education.  The school is aptly named School of Hope, which is what I have in my heart for this community.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

How Joey & I Got So Close!

Joey & Me

Joey was the strong silent type, so I didn't fancy my chances, but, well, I'm chatty and ever the one meeting new people, so I thought never say never...

I visited Brisbane and heard you can get up close & personal with some of Australia's most iconic animals, so I snapped up the chance immediately to hang out with the elusive wildlife that Australia is teeming with but is mostly a bit anti-social.

Of course, I used that age old tactic "the way to a man's heart..." and diligently purchased a nice bag full of animal feed pellets.  It broke the ice, but I got the impression he'd rather I'd whipped up something fancy (story of my life...).  I may have wooed him with tasty pellets, but thankfully I kept him with my charm & witty repartee!   After I'd built a little trust, I was able to pet him and just hang out really.  He was a good sport, but I have to say, his breath wasn't too nice so we parted ways.

I later went on to hold a koala!!  A KOALA!!! Those guys are really camouflaged, you don't really notice them in the wild, not like you do kangaroos.  Koala's are kind of mystical, like little leaf munching living teddies! So cute!  Or so I thought...  The up close and personal experience with koalas wasn't as fun loving as my time with Joey - we'd built a rapport and I got the impression he really liked me (or my pellets) - but koalas are tough customers, you know, your nan's cat when you're a child who just wants to love it!

Aah, Unrequited Love!

It's all a bit strict the whole koala holding shebang.  Somebody stands and poses you (towards the camera, hands folded & fully extended) and then the handler brings you the little chap & he attaches to you.  Mine seemed happy enough, and I thought, I'll make his day (mine more like) and reposition a little for a cheeky hug!  He seemed a bit grizzly, like the newborn being passed around the new relatives for a cuddle...  The picture's pretty cute though.

So, riding high on the success of hanging out with awesome animals, I tried to get plucky and hang out with an emu, but I think I was too chicken for it!

Trying to make friends with the Emu. Be Afraid, Be VERY Afraid.