Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


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Chihuly Nights

Dale Chihuly is one of my favourite artists and I have written about his exhibitions on several occasions. The most recent was my trip to Kew Gardens in the spring. Seeing the pieces in a natural environment, unhindered by the confines of a gallery space was something I didn’t think could be bettered. But I was wrong.

Kew is known for its Christmas lights but I’ve never been to see them. When I saw adverts for a night time visit to the Chihuly exhibition, literally seeing the works in another light, I was straight onto it. Tickets booked, friends organised…we were in!

We arrived around dusk and after a short wait to enter we were off on a magical walk. At first the paths seemed a little crowded but as we walked on into the nighttime, guided only by fairy lights and music playing among the trees we often found ourselves alone. Kew in the day is fabulous but at night it becomes more elemental. As you tread closer to the heart of the gardens the air gradually cools. Shadows tumble around you and it starts to feel like another world entirely. Add to this mix the illuminated sculptures, which  glow like jewels in the darkness and it is simply magical!

My favourite piece from the day time trip was the water lily house. Once again I was captivated by this installation and the reflections created by water and light was perfection.

Second place went to the indoor pieces which also cast otherworldly shadows across the walkways.

We were among the last people to leave the gardens that night and left full of plans to finally book for the Christmas lights this year…if it is half as good as this experience, I think it will become a regular calendar event!

©Chez l’abeille  2019

 


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The Streets of London: Chihuly at Kew Gardens.

During the Easter break we were fortunate to have some extraordinarily unseasonable weather – the sun shone, the sky was a bright summer blue and the thermometer rose – so this seemed the perfect opportunity to see an outdoor glass installation by a favourite artist.

The Dale Chihuly Exhibition, “Reflections on Nature” at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is a sequence of artworks, both indoors and nestled within the famous glasshouses. It took a couple of hours of gentle strolling to see them all and to spend time really looking at these beautiful works within the natural environment.

Enjoy!

As well as seeing the installations in the garden, we visited the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art (located inside Kew and included as part of your ticket). There is a large exhibition of classic pieces by Chihuly, some of which I already knew. However, I particularly liked seeing his drawings, which detail the swirls and undulations of the final pieces with an immediacy that is fascinating.

As I write this post, the weather has turned into Storm Hannah, wet, cold and far more like April. However the spirit of these wonderful works is continuing to keep a warm glow inside me. Later in the year there will be the chance to see them lit up at night. Something tells me I’ll be going!

The installation will be at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew until 27th October 2019

©Chez l’abeille  2019


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In which I go to Kerala: Part 1. So near and yet so far…

Of all the things I thought might cause havoc on my way to Kerala, the one I really hadn’t considered was fog. The weather reports for Heathrow were clear. The threats of snow had remained largly in the North. I was on a plane and heading for Cochin…until fog  brought the carefully scheduled Christmas plans of several hundred people crashing down into one spot: the transfer desk in Abu Dhabi airport. FOG! For the next three hours I queued and finally achieved two things: I found one of the other two people who were travelling to Cochin to join my holiday group and I got a flight out of Abu Dhabi 14 hours later, with a hotel room thrown in for good measure.

What to do then when your body clock is screaming stay awake and you’ve got several hours to kill? When The Louvre has just jointly opened a multi-million pound gallery on its own island, the answer was a no -brainer.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Opening in November 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first in a proposed group of internationally linked, cultural spaces on Saadiyat Island (the island of happiness). Designed by Jean Nouvel, the building is a collection of spaces interlinked under a dome of layered latticework, reflecting the traditional use of palm leaves for roofing. Light filters through this intricate structure and dapples the internal courtyards, creating a harmonious mix of light and shade. Unlike many of the other buildings in Abu Dhabi, the building sits low down on the island, close to the water’s edge; its full beauty is slowly revealed through a screened walkway. We were so entranced by the exterior that it did take us some time to finally make our way inside to view the collection!

And what an amazing collection it is. Spanning every medium, pieces are carefully curated to tell the universal stories of humanity. Linked by brass inlays that guide the vistor from space to space, glass cases present artefacts with a simplicity that is mesmerising. Play, work, food, family, love, war, art: all the great themes are explored and presented as shared experiences across times and spaces. Many works have been loaned but the museum has a very healthy aquisitions budget too, leading to a growing permanent collection. A surprisingly comprehensive collection of 20th Century and current artists was also a treat, with several much loved impressionist works on loan from the Musee D’Orsay. The galleries lead finally out into the covered courtyard where sculptures create focal points under the shady dome.

Getting stuck in Abu Dhabi was a pain, but without it I doubt I would ever have been able to visit this delightful, cultural oasis. Although we arrived a full 24 hours late for our Keralan adventure, the holiday had already started.

©Chez l’abeille 2018

 


The House of Dreams.

Step through this gateway and you will find yourself in The House of Dreams.

Front garden (9)I could try to describe the house and tell you all about Stephen Wright, the artist who has created and shaped this amazing work, but I’m not going to. Instead, as a tiny snapshot of this world apart, I’m going to show you some of the photographs Stephen very generously let me take before the most recent open day got underway.

Then I’m going to invite you to make a cup of tea, take some time out and let Stephen explain his work to you personally. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. So go on – open the gate and step into the courtyard…

Now go through the front door and into the hallway. Memories surround you: Personal thoughts and immense feelings laid bare.

Peep through the archway – colours and textures draw you inwards. Assembled words and objects create something new from the lost and dispossessed detritus of the world.

The studio floor and walls bridge the space towards the back garden.

In the world of Forensic Science it is often said that “every contact leaves a trace”. The cherished fragments of lives lived and lives living infuse each space and become the very DNA of the house. Challenging, comforting, personal, intimate, human.

This is the House of Dreams.

Many thanks to Stephen and Michael for letting me get in the way while their final preparations for the open day were underway.

You can visit the House of Dreams in East Dulwich on the last Saturday in September or October – Tickets can be purchased via Stephen’s website here.

©Chez l’abeille  2017


The Streets of London: Frieze Sculpture 2017

Anyone who has read my last post and got as far as The Royal Docks may recall me telling you that there was now only the one sculpture there, where there were previously several. It was a surprise to find one of the missing pieces this week, amongst the 25 works that make up the 2017 Frieze sculpture trail in London’s Regent’s Park. Somehow this event had failed to register on my “what’s currently happening” radar, but thanks to some more in-the-know friends and with a sunny staycation day in hand, I was able to cross from south to north to have a look.

‘From the playful to the political, these 25 works explore contemporary sculpture’s material and technical dexterity, together with its social role and reflection on the human condition and our environment’. (Clare Lilley – Yorkshire Sculpture Park Director of Programme and Frieze Sculpture curator)

See what YOU think!

I was most excited by Alicja Kwade’s piece, Big Be-Hide (2017) – unfortunately it would appear that something (or someONE) has managed to crack the mirror and it had been health and safety – ed to the max. I managed to take some reasonable pictures, but to see it in its full glory you need to head to https://frieze.com/article/frieze-sculpture-2017-0

 

Frieze Sculpture is free and is open from 5 July to 8 October in the English Gardens, The Regent’s Park, London.

 

©Chez l’abeille  2017


The Streets of London: Pullens Yards

It started with a tweet by a publisher I follow. A mention of Pullens Yards, an open studios and a postcode intrigued me; I like to think I know many of the studios around my area but this was new to me. I had a few hours to spare before an afternoon of volunteering at a local theatre and as I had to pass through SE17 on the way I thought, “why not?”

I already knew that behind the Walworth Road in SE London there are many Victorian streets, full of original housing stock, but discovering some beautiful Victorian artisan workshops was a complete surprise.

Pullens Centre Sign

Pullens Centre Sign

The yards sit within the Pullens Estate. This was built between 1870 and 1901 by local builders, James Pullen and Son. Included in the estate design were four yards, of which three remain, Iliffe Yard, Clements Yard and Peacock Yard. The Yards were purpose-built workspaces, designed originally as a work/live spaces, something that is still seen today in several locations around Southwark.

It was a great day to visit – the sun was out and London was basking in a kind of post-election lethargy. As it was quite quiet when I arrived many of the artists were happy to chat. I spent some time in the studio of David Cowley, who seeks to capture his responses to music and literature in his paintings. His work was fascinating and I could have spent all morning chatting with him about art and synaesthesia, but there were three yards to get round so I had to move on.

The yards are a celebration of everything you know about Victorian building. From the wrought iron gates and the cobbled roadway, to the worn out staircases and arched doorways they are the epitome of the attention to detail that the builder brought to a project. Today they continue to house a wide range of artists, from Royal Academicians to lute makers, photographers, jewellers, potters…the list is endless.

I was keen to visit Tiny Owl Publishers who are based in Peacock Yard. This publishing house focuses on books which aim to bridge cultural experiences, creating the most beautiful books about love, friendship or freedoms. I had a lovely conversation with co-founder Karim, who took time to show me their latest publications and the themes they focus on. If you are a fan of picture books that really say something then have a look at their titles. You won’t be disappointed.

Back in the 1970s the workshops and surrounding flats were heading for demolition. Thanks to the far-sighted campaigners who saved them in the face of bailiffs and police, the area was saved and is now a sought after place to live. As we see the shape of the Walworth Road and the Elephant and Castle changing on an almost daily basis, I hope these small-scale spaces remain as a creative hub, continuing to bring a little beauty to our lives.

Peacock Yard

Peacock Yard

The Yards host an Open Studios event twice a year in the Summer and at Christmas. Details can be found via their website http://www.pullensyards.co.uk/

©Chez l’abeille  2017


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In which I go to Crete. Part 2: Heraklion

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I was a little apprehensive about my time in Heraklion; having finally read my guide book (on the bus), I was expecting a city full of fumes and dirt. Instead  I found a delightful “Old Town” that is easy to walk around and full of  comfortable cafes and bars where I could sit with a glass of cretan wine. It also has one of the best museums I’ve been to in a long while.

Day 3: Heraklion

Arrival in Heraklion from Chania is at the imaginatively named Bus Station A. I’d deliberately picked Hotel Lato for two reasons: proximity to the bus station and the roof top bar. It was an excellent choice on both counts and I was soon checked in and heading back out again to visit the Archaeological Museum before it closed at three.

For someone who loves beautiful pottery, this museum was like being stuck in a veritable sweet shop. From the moment I entered the first room I was hooked: each and every case is crammed with stunning Minoan treasures. It was hard to focus on each one because there was always another, more attractive looking item, glimpsed from the corner of my eye! The main ground floor rooms focus on the Minoan civilization, which flourished in Crete from about 2600 to 1100 BC. Just looking at these finely considered art works gives you some idea of what was important to the people who lived on the island in this Bronze Age world. A few hours just wasn’t enough and closing time came around far too quickly.

Day 4: Knossos.

There was a surprising number of athletic types hanging out at breakfast and some probably not so subtle stalking around the cheese pastry buffet, revealed that Agrotikos Asteras F.C. were in residence, for a Greek football league match against local team OFI. So I lingered over my tea and toast for a bit until only the coaching and physio team were left and set off for the days main appointment.

Bus Station A is also the starting point for bus route 2 , which handily heads directly to the ancient palace of Knossos. This is not so much palace in the traditional Buckingham sense, more a labyrinthine township tumbling down into the valley below. I knew Knossos is bound up in the Greek myths of King Minos, Theseus, the minotaur and the labyrinth but I didn’t know that it was also linked to Daedalus of the wax wings and Icarus fame. He was apparently the architect of the labyrinth before he turned his hand to flying. As in all legends there is probably a grain of truth in the mythology and walking around the site it is not too difficult to imagine how complex this site would have been, layered up on the floors below to create a maze of buildings, rooms and terraces. Highlights were the underground clay water pipes which are very similar to the ones regularly exposed by Thames Water around my street and the “Royal Apartments”  with their hidden doors, designed to give both warmth and ventilation as the user required.

Around the site some replica murals and painted pillars help give some idea of what this site may have looked like, yet so much about the Minoans is pure conjecture. What isn’t in doubt is the sheer size of the place and the sense of culture that existed here nearly 5000 years ago.

20170406_182151Back in Heraklion it was time for some excellent stuffed squid at Ippokambos, some more home grown wine and then a stroll through the old town market area and the El Greco Park gardens back to the waterfront and my hotel where the roof top bar was the top spot for a nightcap.

Day 5: Heraklion and the bus again

The Agrotikas boys were all back at breakfast but they couldn’t hold a candle to my destination du jour – I had time before my bus to go back to the museum and catch up with the rooms I hadn’t seen already! After my day in Knossos I really wanted to see the original murals.Original fresco work from Knossos  Once again the Minoans didn’t disappoint. The ochres, reds, whites and blues which they made from the plants, minerals and shells they found around them, are still as vibrant as when they were painted onto wet plaster somewhere in the palace. Only tiny fragments remain but the restorers have managed to fill in the gaps so you get an idea of just how beautiful these walls would have been.

Time was racing by so rather reluctantly I was tracking back down the hill to Bus Station A and off to the final stop on this trip – Rethymnon.

©Chez l’abeille  2017


A brand new look…

“It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new.”

                                                                                 Tony Visconti
The cover of January’s “Which” magazine was asking a rather big question recently: “Which brands stand the test of time?”
I guess we only have to open the kitchen cupboards to answer this. A quick survey of my kitchen reveals Birds custard, Tabasco Sauce and Bournville cocoa powder, all longstanding familiar brands from childhood to today. However the best place for a stroll through your own sensational history is definitely the Museum of Brands.
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Museum of Brands –  Ladbroke Grove

There’s something rather fabulous about stepping back into your own past. To walk through the “Time Tunnel”, where the museum’s extensive collection is displayed, is also a walk down the collective memory lane.
My main reason for going to the museum was to see the collection of jigsaw puzzles, but in fact I was totally absorbed by the retro packaging and designs. As I moved into the sixties and onwards, sensations were continuously triggered. Memories of sweet tastes or vile ones, good times or bad; the objects created a shared cultural experience that got visitors talking and swopping personal stories. I had a hilarious shared moment with some Australian visitors over the Sixties food packets and memorabilia on display.
The museum has two main parts – the Time Tunnel which walks you through design and branding by decades, from the 1800s to the present day and an exhibition of designs which traces the evolution of very well-known packaging.

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Where the bee sucks…

Picture the scene. There we were, standing under a huge latticed structure, a wooden spill clamped between our teeth whilst poking it into a small hole in a tall pole.

The Hive Kew Gardens external view

The Hive Kew Gardens external view

This was all part of a beautiful structure called “The Hive”, designed by Wolfgang Buttress and currently installed in Kew Gardens. The reason for our rather ungainly interaction with the “bone conductors” was to hear the clicks and chirps made by the busy bees in two hives co-located in Kew. It was a most eerie sensation to hear without hearing, as the sounds were transmitted directly into our skull. As researchers believe honey bees are deaf, this gives us humans a way of experiencing vibrations in the way the bees might.

Even more interesting was the diversity of bee communication – something I am particularly interested in at the moment having completed a picture book story about a bee called Bea!

The same vibrations were in action in the upper part of The Hive, where they are converted into lighting effects. The lights glow more brightly and in an differing range of colours, depending on the intensity of activity in the linked hives. Standing inside the 17 metre structure, watching it glow and listening to a beguiling sound scape was quite a mesmerising experience.

“The Hive represents the important relationship between bee and human, bringing together beauty, science, sound and landscape through a multi-sensory experience.”

The whole structure and experience highlight once again the importance of bees to our future food security – a very similar message to the one which underpinned my recent visit to Gosnells Mead brewery. Bee populations are suffering declines globally, from habitat loss as well as parasites and disease. Alongside the installation, researchers at Kew have been exploring the relationship between plants and their pollinators. Research like this is crucial if we are to protect both our own food sources and the tiny pollinators who play such a large part in our world.

As the bees might say – when they go, they’re taking us all with them.

Louis Masai - Save the bees mural Hackney Road

Louis Masai – Save the bees mural Hackney Road

©Chez l’abeille  2016


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Mirror, Mirror

Sometimes things just happen. That, I guess is what constitutes a happening. The arrival of a mirror maze in Peckham for one weekend only is always going to be a happening. Add that it’s in the Copeland Park/Bussey Building’s achingly hip enclave and it is always going to be up there in the zeitgeist.

I’m not going to write a lot about the background to the work – there’s a really decent article by Creative Review, which tells you everything you need to know. Briefly, the work is by Es Devlin who has a background in stage design. It’s exploring scent, memory and identity. It’s created in partnership with i-D and Chanel to celebrate creativity from women in arts and culture aross the world.

What it actually is: a really fabulous, immersive, mesmerising artwork!

I’m glad I went down early on the opening day as I think visitors would be queuing round the block by the end of the weekend as word spread. By the time this post goes out it will all be over, but that I suppose is what makes it the best kind of memory – a transient moment of total magic.

©Chez l’abeille  2016

 

 


1666 and all that.

There’s always something to commemorate in London and we always seem to be able to do things in some style. Most recently this has been the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, documented so comprehensively by writers of the time, notably the extensive diarist, Samuel Pepys:

“I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places, . . .and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side . . . of the bridge. . .”

Samuel Pepys 2nd September 1666

Having been to one Fire Garden, I definitely wanted to go and see another flaming, after- dark art installation. It was rather wet and drizzly, but the flames leapt and warmed us as we wandered around the Tate Modern grounds. The illuminated vests hanging amongst the silver birches were weird and compelling in equal measures.

As a primary teacher I have spent many years helping young children craft their own 2d and 3d models of London in 1666, so one of the installations that I wanted to see was the huge wooden model of the city, before it was destroyed by fire. I didn’t have time to go and watch it burn later that evening but luckily for us all, it was filmed!

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So yet another triumphant collective of history and art combined to make London the exciting city we know it is!

©Chez l’abeille  2016


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Vegging out.

If you really, really want to know what’s out there in the zietgeist then there’s one sure fire way to find out.

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Love Lambeth

Yes – that would be the Lambeth Country Show and you KNOW where that leads: straight to the carved vegetable competition.

I actually thought there was a queue to get into the Flower and Produce tent but it turned out the judges were just being all judgy. A quick jaunt up to the jousting and the canvas flaps were lifted. We were in and there was a definite first day of the sales type scrum to get pole position around the carved veg entries.

So what’s hot in the world of veg carving in 2016?

First there was American presidential hopeful Donald Trump in triplicate:

I thought Donald Trumpkin was particularly inspired, but the butternut squash should be commended for genius use of beetroot. Continue reading


Testing, testing…

Once more I have embarked on the endless project known as “Fixing Chez L’Abeille”. I’ve not had the energy to do anything since the last epic dust storm but the time has come to bite the bullet once again. However, what I thought would be a few days upheaval whilst some simple adjustments to decor and plug location were completed, has turned into a need to rewire my poor old house so everything has ground to an unplanned halt. It’s a situation that is definitely testing me!

Thus, as the sun came out over London town for what seems the first time in months, I was desperate to get out and see something more stimulating than bare plaster walls and holes where uplights once lived.

I was headed for the newly opened Tate Modern extension but halfway there I was waylaid. In fact that really should be weigh-laid because the never visited Kirkaldy Testing Museum was open, so I looked in.

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Now if you’ve ever looked up in Southwark Street, you may have pondered over this inscription:

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The motto “Facts not opinions” gives you some sense that this was a place of science – and as soon as you step through the door you are whisked back to 1874, when David Kirkaldy set up the testing works at No.99.

As a result of the Industrial Revolution many new materials were developed, but their weaknesses were not always understood, resulting in major incidents such as the 1879 Tay Bridge Disaster. Setting himself up as an independent consultant, Kirkaldy designed and built his own testing machine to investigate and check the strength of many different materials used in building and industry.

The museum houses this enormous machine along with many other examples of testing equipment. I wasn’t in time to see it in action but I can only guess how impressive this is, given the size; the bolts alone are the size of my hand!

I did get to see the Charpy machine working – this tests the brittleness of materials and determines the energy needed to break them. This test was invaluable during the Second World War when the hulls of many Liberty Ships  cracked under the extreme conditions in the North Atlantic.

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The Charpy Machine

Visiting this museum I was struck by the sheer brilliance that a combination of human ingenuity, determination, passion and scientific application can achieve. The tests developed in the 19th century out of the Industrial Revolution are still pretty much the tests used today, albeit with probably more health and safety legislation attached to them. So despite the things I need to fix, those Victorians built me a home which is still standing over 100 years later.

As we move forwards into uncertain times and another form of revolution, I hope that some of those truly British characteristics will surface.

The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is open on the first Sunday of the month


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Finding Charlotte.

“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.”
Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre
Those words seem remarkably prescient when you consider Charlotte Brontë died at the young age of 38. Her life in many ways seems small yet in that short time she achieved so much. Most readers will have tackled her partly autobiographical novel “Jane Eyre” but her passion for writing began at an early age.
There is much more about Charlotte Brontë that appears small. Visitors to the Brontë family home in Haworth, Yorkshire are drawn to displays of her incredibly narrow waisted dresses and her impossibly petite gloves and shoes. Their murmurs of disbelief and amazement are constantly  heard in her bedroom, where these objects are displayed. Tiny too, are the books she and her siblings wrote for each other as children, covering minute pieces of paper with even more miniscule writing and drawings. It is believed that Charlotte ruined her eyesight by working on such an impossibly small scale.

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In which I go in search of an ideal home.

In 10 days time I will have lived in my little house for exactly 20 years. I was pondering on this fact the other day whilst also considering what to do for phase 3 of my repair and update programme. Long time readers may recall the building work I had to put up with a while ago and the idea of going another round with the destructive forces of Victorian dust has made me prevaricate in a major fashion.

I have always thought that there are some people who have grown up homes and then there are those that have, well, not grown up homes I suppose. I’m not sure what actually constitutes a grown up home but I guess it consists of one where:

  • There are no areas that are referred to as “the student zone”
  • Curtains actually hang on proper curtain rails rather than a spectacularly Heath Robinson affair using old blind rods, requiring a metre stick to open and close them
  • Soft furnishings all go together in an organised and clearly thought out colour scheme
  • Dust is invisible
  • There is NO WOODCHIP WALLPAPER. ANYWHERE.

Now that may, or may not be the definitive list of things that make for a grown up house but they are certainly things that would make me feel that I was on the right track. Albeit 20 years late.

So, with this in mind I have begun to gird my loins for “Return of the Builders part 3: The Home Owner Fights Back”. This time I am determined that I will be clear about my plans and decisive in how I want the remaining spaces to look, as I stumble my way towards grown up home status. The trouble is I have only vague notions and rather sketchy plans. Hurrah then for the freebie ticket to the Ideal Home Show 2016 at Olympia that fell into my inbox. Surely this will give me the inspiration and clarity that I need to create my own ideal home of true grown upness?

It is somewhat surprising to me that despite living in London for over 30 years I have never been to the Ideal Home Show. I think the usual timings have always been in school term time, which may explain why not but with the ridiculously early Easter holidays this year I found I was a) free to go on a weekday,  b) in possession of said freebie ticket and c) able to get to Olympia via the Overground on two easily connecting trains.

So what to say about my first foray into the world of ideal homes?

Here are a few of my favourite things!

What I hadn’t expected was the sheer size of the show – it’s immense! Continue reading