Chez l'abeille

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


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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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The Streets of London: Thames Path, Tower Bridge to Greenwich.

Leaving Tower Bridge

It’s almost exactly a year since I’d walked along the north bank of the Thames from Tower Hill to The Isle of Dogs so a stroll along the south side seemed the perfect thing to be doing on a late spring Sunday. Having lived in Southwark for over 20 years now I thought I knew my bit of London quite well but there were still surprises in store.

Heading along from Tower Bridge the first signs of history started to appear around St Saviours Dock. The tide was out and the Thames mud glistened in the sun, rippled with algae like some noxious ice cream recipe.

Dickens apparently described this area as “the filthiest, strangest and most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London.” I don’t know if he would recognise it today as the many warehouses and storerooms along the old Bermondsey Wall have gradually been converted into expensive apartments.

Just along Bermondsey Wall East is a collection of brass statues, dedicated to Dr Alfred Salter and his wife Ada. Both Alfred and Ada Salter worked hard to change the lives of the poor in Rotherhithe. His pioneering work lead to the establishment of a comprehensive health service in Rotherhithe, long before the NHS. He also went on to become the Labour MP with Ada becoming the first female mayor of Bermondsey Borough Council. His daughter’s cat sits on the wall watching carefully!Dr Salter's dream

From here the path turns towards old Rotherhithe, that bit of Southwark that thrusts into the Thames and loops it northwards. It also takes you back in history again to The Mayflower Pub and St Mary’s church across the way. In the pretty little church garden I found a monument to Christopher Jones, the Captain of the Mayflower who started out for the New World, with the Pilgrim fathers, from a mooring nearby. Through the churchyard, in the garden of the St Mary’s Rotherhithe Free School and Watch Tower I also discovered a delightful hidden cafe. As it was now time for a cup of tea it was a most welcome find and I was also able to do a bit of research into the school next door. It was founded in 1613 by Peter Hills and Robert Bell, two Elizabethan seafarers, to teach the sons of local sailors. You can see two children wearing their bluecoat uniform above the doorway. Free schools are seen as a rather modern phenomenon, but in a time when universal access to education was not an expectation, the money gifted for children’s schooling would have been a precious gift indeed.

The next surprise along the way was The Brunel Museum. Obviously with my Cornish heritage I have a fairly good knowledge of things Brunel – or so I thought. This is actually connected to Marc Brunel, father of the possibly more famous Isambard. He built the first tunnel under the Thames, an endeavour that took from 1805 to 1841. The tunnel is in use today but not as a foot tunnel as he envisaged. Nearby is the partner ventilation shaft to the one I saw at Shadwell, keeping the Rotherhithe road tunnel aired.

It was getting rather hot by now so the next stop along the way was the rather splendid Cafe at Surrey Docks City Farm. As a former Southwark teacher I’ve probably brought hundreds of children here for educational trips over the years but as a consequence, I don’t think I’ve ever had the time to sit and enjoy their cafe! The farm was full of squealing children and baby animals and it’s great to see that it is thriving despite the times of austerity we live in.

The farm is on the East side of the peninsular and from here you cross over from Southwark into Lewisham. This part of the docks was severely bombed during  WW2, but also played a major part in building the “Mulberry Harbours” used in the D-Day Landings, named after Mulberry Quay. Many of the docks were named for their role in seafaring life. The Greenland Dock, Ordnance Wharf, Canada Wharf and Columbia Wharf all give you a clue as to where their ships were destined.

Deptford Strand Pepys Estate

Passing through The Pepys Estate, the path turns into Deptford Strand, where a gated set of steps stand rather forlornly, heading down into the mud and debris of the foreshore. However, they once marked the site of the Tudor docks of Deptford, and are where Sir Francis Drake, newly returned from his circumnavigation of the world on the Golden Hinde, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth 1st.

Much of the Deptford section of the Thames Path is inland, so I was mostly weaving through the back streets until I passed into Royal Greenwich onto the Thames riverbank again and the Cutty Sark hoved into sight. First though I had to walk past the rather bizarre statue of Peter the Great.

Between 1697 and 1698 Czar Peter 1st of Russia came to Deptford for four months to study shipbuilding. The statue shows Peter the Great with his court dwarf and his favourite travelling chair. A large group of Russian tourists were busy placing flowers at his feet, so clearly Peter is still an important figure for many.

Arriving at Greenwich

Greenwich was busy with a Bank Holiday/school half term air so I didn’t linger long. The sky had also turned from glorious sunshine to a rather ominous grey; It was time for home after a day of local history and some great cups of tea along the way.

Tower Bridge to Greenwich: Approx 6.5 miles/10.5 kilometres

©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


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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The Art of Observation

I bought my most recent camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC GX7, in October before I headed off to Iceland. I wanted something that would take the pictures I could see and my long standing point and shoot just wasn’t cutting it any more. I thought I was fairly au fait with the workings of a SLR based camera, having used my beloved Pentax for years, but the ease of the totally automatic button has left me doing little more than, well, pointing and shooting.

P1000810

The roof top gardener

So last Sunday morning I headed off through early morning London to meet my friend Kathy on the roof top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. If you haven’t wandered up the yellow concrete stairs to this little urban oasis I heartily recommend it. Currently the South Bank Centre is running a series of Sunday photography workshops with photographer Ollie Smallwood – this was the reason for getting up early! Ollie has been photographing the garden and the team of volunteers who look after for a while now, which meant he was well placed to get the best out of our ideas.

The group was small so we had time to talk and share ideas, experiences and cameras, which ranged from mobile phones to high end digital SLRs! What I loved most was that we didn’t spend a lot of the 2 hours taking pictures, which might seem odd, but in the end made perfect sense.

Our first task was to walk around and simply look. We were encouraged to think carefuly about what we wanted to photograph before whipping our camera from pocket or bag. Freed from the view through a lense, I felt more able to focus and open to the nuances of the space around me and the endless possibilties for pictures there were.

“slow down and value each picture you take”

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