Chez l'abeille

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

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

The streets of London: If you go down to the woods…

If you live in SE London you’ll have some awareness of the remnants of the Great North Wood – that swathe of oak forest that contributed much to Britains maritime history, providing oak timbers to build ships at the Royal Dockyard in Deptford. Ancient names litter our geography: Gypsy Hill, West Norwood, One Tree Hill, names from the past which still inhabit our present.

Some small pockets of the Great North Wood still exist and can be visited today – one of these is Sydenham Hill Woods, home to a multitude of animal and plantlife, including the Brown Long-eared Bat

As part of the recent Dulwich Festival, Artist Louis Masai painted a large mural of these distinctive bats, which inhabit the woods and roost in the abandoned Victorian railway tunnel.

Brown Long eared bats artwork in Sydenham Hill Wood by Louis Masai

Brown Long eared bats artwork in Sydenham Hill Wood by Louis Masai

The bat is one of several that are found in the woods and use the tunnel to roost. Adding to the body of work that make up the Dulwich Outdoor Gallery, this is a beautiful piece of contemporary art, that sits perfectly in the midst of such an ancient place.

©Chez l’abeille  2016

Seeing in black and white #2

Back out with the Pentax again – during my walk around Brick Lane some of the things I captured needed the full on colour of my digital camera but other images cried out for black and white film.

After the varied outcomes of the first roll and the mystery of the randomly unexposed frames, this time I had a few randomly over exposed frames…still working on that issue but so far no real clues. However, despite the fact that I now have to manage a viewfinder plus varifocals alongside the manual focus, I’m slowly rediscovering seeing the world in black and white, the feel of a manual camera, and the patience needed for slow photography!

©Chez l’abeille  2016




The Streets of London: Here’s looking at you

So. It was a sunny Sunday after a rather grim Saturday. What to do with a day with no prior engagements?

Inspired by recent postings by Inspiring City, I decided to go for a street art focused wander along Brick Lane towards Hoxton, armed with a digital camera and the trusty Pentax.

Having used up my camera battery and an entire roll of Ilford film which is now waiting to be processed, I discovered that most of the images I photographed today were faces. Large faces, small faces, skeletal faces and famous faces.

Here’s looking at you.


©Chez l’abeille  2016


Seeing in black and white #1

36 years ago as a rather penniless student, I made one of the most expensive purchases I had ever made til then – my much loved Pentax ME SLR camera (special edition, brown body, not black). This little camera travelled the world with me and took thousands of photos over the years, until more modern digital cameras pushed it off pole position.

“Black and white are the colors of photography.” Robert Frank

Recently, on a whim I had it re-conditioned and have been testing it out. I have realised how used to instant pictures I have become. The art of slow photography; not wasting a shot, filling up a full roll of film and then patiently waiting for the results, good or bad, has become rather passé. These days we carry cameras on us permanently, taking pictures on our devices in a moment and instantly deciding to delete or keep. With a 35mm camera you set out to look for pictures. So camera in hand I have been taking odd shots over the past few weeks to see how it still works.

First up: Nunhead Cemetery again. My favourite gothic gloom and headless angels. The light was very low as it was damp and dusky when I went there, so they are a bit grainy, but I think this suits the subject matter.


Cornishman Charles Simmons’ grave Nunhead

Angel, Nunhead cemetery

Angel, Nunhead cemetery

Nunhead cemetery

Nunhead cemetery

The second foray was to Broadgate Circus in London for lunch. Here I was looking at the tones, structures and shapes of the buildings. Continue reading


In which I go to Brussels (but fail to notice world events)

Brussels: centre of the EU and scourge of UK market stall holders (when is a pound not a pound? When it’s a kilo). It’s the word on everyone’s lips after our Prime Minister, David Cameron, went there at half term and returned waving a bit of paper saying  peace in our time saying “here’s a few things I’ve agreed so please can we stay together”.

Alternatively it’s the rather lovely Belgian town I also visited at half term, whilst completely failing to notice major world events taking place just down the street. I have no real view yet on how I will vote in the upcoming Brexit referendum but I do quite like Brussels!

I really didn’t know much about the place before I went there and I certainly had no idea that it is such a treasure trove of Art Nouveau architecture and art. After some speed reading on arrival, a visit to the Horta Museum was swiftly identified as a must see and I can honestly say it is one of the most magnificent buildings I have ever been in. From the entrance hall to the glassed over stairwell roof it is a symphony of sycamore and lyrical curves in every room. Unfortunately photography is not permitted inside so here’s some exterior shots to whet your appetites!

I kept tripping over and falling off pavements whilst I was there – not, I might add, from too much beer (which was plentiful and delicious) but because so much beauty was above our heads. Continue reading


The Streets of London: “Lumiere London”

The sudden plunging temperature and a general sense of January malaise had descended over Chez L’Abeille when out of the ether came a glimmer of light – Lumiere London.

For four chilly winter nights the street of London have been bathed in neon lights and beautiful projections. I went along with three equally layered up friends to the Piccadilly, Regent Street and Mayfair section on the Thursday opening night. We were  completely enchanted by both the lights and the convivial atmosphere. On this near freezing mid-January night, London behaved like it was on holiday. Everywhere we walked, people helped each other with hard to find locations and just chatted about the artworks. How unlike our usual grumpy selves we all were; there was clearly magic in the air.

Luminéoles by Porté par le vent

Les Lumineoles floating in a musical dreamspace

The main roads around Piccadilly and Mayfair were closed which meant there was lots of space to stand and wonder at the spectacle and beauty of the installations. My particular favourites were KeyFrames in Regent Street and Les Luminéoles in Piccadilly. Both were mesmerising for different reasons. Les Luminéoles is a floating, dreamlike piece, using more traditional puppetry skills and human operators (who battled well in the brisk wind that was freezing us half to death!). KeyFrames on the other hand was just funny; a story told through the antics of the animated stick people, who danced, somersaulted and chased each other across the Liberty House facade with increasing complexity. Continue reading


The streets of London: Art attack!

I was a bit early for a hair appointment in Chalk Farm so I wandered down towards Camden to kill some time. Just around Hawley Street I came across an explosion of previously unseen street art.

The “Made for Instagram” stencils by Dotmasters were a real favourite.

Suffice to say I was a bit late for the hair appointment!

©Chez l’abeille 2015

Urban Art 2015 Brixton sign


Urban Art 2015

Martin Grover Urban Art notice

Martin Grover Urban Art notice

Today’s trip out and about started with a flier. It came from another favourite artist of mine, Martin Grover and in his usually witty style, this flier stood out from the mish-mash of stuff that generally arrives through the front door. I’ve never been to the Urban Art event in Brixton, as it has usually coincided with the annual Lambeth Country Show (as you may know, carved vegetables are a speciality art form which cannot easily be passed over) so a date shift made 2015 the year to go along and visit Josephine Avenue, SW2. Continue reading

Ghost signs #2: printers, paper and paint.

I was sorting out some old photos recently and this gouping of ghost signs organised itself rather neatly. I can’t claim to have photographed all of them as the Lewes ones were sent to me by a friend who lives there, who knows I like this kind of thing.

I can’t find any information about Cutts and Co, but I like the way the last letter of the Co seems to loopback under it forming an arrow. The sign also seems to be a second one painted over an earlier one. It is a bit of a local landmark amongst all the more modern artwork in the Bellenden Road zone! I recently saw this sign featured in a Photography Graduates show, in a rather good collection of prints focused on ghost signs in London – I’ve lost the photographers name however, so can’t give you any more info on that score either.

I like the Lewes signs, especially the painted one partly because it creates a capsule around the words, just as I do when highlighting important notes in my diary! I’d love to know what could be used instead of genuine turpentine, if anyone has any ideas let me know! White lead was pretty ubiquitous in Victorian times and a cause of death for those working in the white-lead factories. The descriptions I read here sound pretty gruesome indeed.

The Thomson Bros sign is less fancy and easily missed as you wander down Bermondsey Street SE1. It tells us the company was establised in 1857 but little else than the enigmatic word “paper”. I can only assume they did exactly what it says on the sign!

©Chez l’abeille 2015


A festival of cans and fierce women.

March 8th was International Women’s Day and also the Femme Fierce: reloaded street art festival, in support of Plan UK’s “because I am a girl” campaign. The whole of Leake Street’s underground tunnel became a riot of spray can colour and international artists, who also happen to be women. I’d been to the original Cans Festival back in 2008, but must admit I’ve not been to Leake Street, sometimes known as the Banksy tunnel, since then. I got there pretty early in the day, but the air was already thick with the smell of paint and the walls were gradually being re-imagined with vivid and compelling designs.

As I’d arrived early, I got a chance to see some of the processes that are used to create these rich, vibrant images. Paste ups and stencils play a part, but there is also a lot of freehand technique, painting directly onto the wall or using the spray can to achieve different effects. I watched this piece by the appropriately dressed Zabou grow gradually whilst I was there.

Now Leake Street is pretty long and the space was rammed with artists working on every available surface, but I’d spotted my favourite the minute I got there – no contest really! It wasn’t the largest or most political piece but if you’ve ever owned one of these iconic vehicles you’ll understand why.

Femme Fierce 2CV Mo2ramI didn’t get to see many of the pieces in their finished state, but watching the creative process was just as interesting. However, should you want to see more you can either go visit, or have a look at Inspiring City for some great shots of the finished pieces.

©Chez l’abeille 2015