Chez l'abeille

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


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The streets of London: Ghost Signs #3. Bermondsey and Borough

This post is a bit of a mash-up really. It combines two of my favourite things here at Chez L’abeille: walking around London and spotting ghost signs.

What, I hear you ask, actually IS a ghost sign? Well let me tell you. According to Mr Ghost Signs himself, Sam Roberts, it is a “painted sign, fading on walls.” Should you wish to read Sam’s academic research and argument for this definition look here. I’m happy to accept the word of someone who has done an immense amount of research and what’s more is very happy to walk you round and show you. I’ve followed Sam and his work on ghost signs for quite a while, more recently on twitter and through contributions to an earlier crowd sourced flickr album, where ghost sign hunters around the planet shared their passion. He also leads walks in London so a few weeks ago I signed up to follow him in real life and headed over to Bermondsey Street to meet up outside No 55.

Chadwick Road ghost signI’ve actually got a couple of ghost signs near me. The best one is the marvellous Cutts and Co. Printing Office sign on the corner of Chadwick Road, but there’s also a completely washed out expanse of white paint high up on another wall in Bellenden Road. I’d not given this one much attention but after spending a few hours walking around Borough and Bermondsey with Sam I’d learned a thing or two. This seemingly pointless expanse of whitewash has scalloped corners. This means it was once a sign! There’s nothing left but white paint so I can go no further with it but wherever you look around London those fading painted signs are lurking, sometimes where you least expect them.

It was a pretty grim day with a cold easterly wind so walking was quite a good idea and stopping for a long time was freezing which meant our small band of hunters went a quite a pace. Having spent years working in and around the Borough I thought I knew most of the signs, but it turned out there were some surprises in store. I’m not sure how I ever missed the Bermondsey Wire Works but there it was, as big as a Victorian warehouse facade!

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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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8 Essentials For A Successful Blog (or 8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started).

As Chez l’abeille headed towards its third anniversary I found myself musing on where it might go. You know – beyond a readership that is primarily family, friends and a few like-minded unknown followers to something that is recognised by name alone. Around the same time I was heading home one day, idly reading a discarded copy of The Guardian, when the words “How to create a successful blog” caught my eye. It was an advert for a masterclass with Niamh Shields of eat like a girl and Julie Falconer of a lady in london. Successful! Blog! Masterclass! I signed up immediately.

Niamh and Julie were fascinating as they talked about their journey from starting a blog to making it a platform for their full-time occupations. Although both had a different tale to tell, each shared common themes that are key in making a blog stand out from the rest.

So here are the 8 top tips I gleaned (in no particular order) for creating a successful blog. Apparently this is a listicle and a v. good thing. More on that later.

1. WHAT’S YOUR HOOK?

Aha! I know all about hooks, so this is a good place for me to start. Your hook is the thing that defines your blog and sums it up in a few well-chosen words. Think elevator pitch. Having tried to define the hook for each and every one of my, as yet, unpublished picture books I can tell you this is NOT EASY!! I didn’t really think about this when I started blogging – it was more of a vague “I’ll write about the things I do”. Now Chez l’abeille is about culture, travel and writing. It says so in my title. Although there’s a bit of London too…and maybe art…

Chez l’abeille success rating: 7/10

2. NAMING YOUR BLOG.

All blogs have a name. However, it’s important to think of a name that will work in the long-term and will grow with you. “My blog about things I did on Monday 12th December” is clearly not going to deliver on that. It’s also a good idea to check you haven’t thought up the best ever name that is actually already in use elsewhere; whilst it might bring you loads of unforeseen traffic, someone else is going to be very cross indeed.

I searched for Chez l’abeille when I got home. Phew! It’s all mine. But does it fit my  target audience? Hmmm. Firstly, it’s in French. Clearly I’m not French, bien sûr. Secondly, hands up all the beekeepers out there? On the other hand it does reflect a bee (me!) returning home with tales for the hive. It’s staying.

Chez l’abeille success rating: 6/10

3. YOUR DOMAIN.

When I started my blog I hadn’t got a clue and my domain has been an irritation ever since. Let’s be clear – all the best blogs have their own domain. There are all sorts of domains now; .com, .co.uk, .london, .blog…I on the other hand have a crazy mashup of my email address and WordPress. This will have to change.

Chez l’abeille success rating: 2/10

4. BRAND CONSISTENCY.

Social media is very useful as you build your traffic and can be used to create interest in your blog. Curiously, as I was heading towards the masterclass I was hit by a moment of clarity; why were my blog, Twitter and Instagram all named differently? Eagle eyed followers might have spotted the sudden alignment across platforms. Your brand is the thing that makes readers remember you and also helps take you to the top of your “category”. Who do you think of when you think of a food blogger or a travel blogger? And if you don’t say Chez l’abeille when you think of your top 10 culture, travel and writing blogs I shall be very upset.

Chez l’abeille success rating: 7/10  

5. BLOG MUST HAVES.

Firstly a theme. Blog platforms will let you have these off the peg with various levels of personalisation available. You can have your own imagery developed but whatever you do, make sure your blog reflects you. Very big banner headers are a bit passé apparently.

Secondly, some key pages help. An “About” page is essential, as your readers are curious and will want to know a bit about you. A contact page is also a useful thing for when those offers of affiliation start flooding in.

Thirdly, use images. A blog is a visual thing and images help – make them as high quality and as big as you can! It is very important to check out copyright and permissions if you intend to use an image that is not yours. I failed to take any pictures at the masterclass, so here’s a rather jolly phone pic of one of the Guardian’s colour coordinated christmas trees as a seasonal bonus.

Chez l’abeille success rating: 8/10

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Christmas at The Guardian

6. CONTENT

Edit, edit and edit again. Spell check and then do a bit more editing.

Consider your “evergreen” posts; those that stand up to the test of time and won’t fade into obsolescence like a listicle, where you share your top tips for example! It can also be useful to return to and update an old post as this is where all things Google creep in. Traffic to evergreen posts helps build your search rating and what do ratings mean? That’s right, visibilty! However, whatever you write, you are aiming to inspire your readers. Remember every reader is important and they must trust in you and your authenticity which means being transparent when you are working with a brand and not compromising your content. Quality is everything. Which probably means not having random images of Christmas trees. We shall see.

Chez l’abeille success rating: 6/10 (until this listicle hits evergreen status and I’ll bump it up to 8)

7. TIME.

I try to publish something twice a month; that’s not enough according to the pros. Again the googly tentacles that push you higher in the ratings need to see you are alive and publishing. I find making time to write so hard but it’s true, the more you do, the better you get and the more will happen. There’s also quite a bit of time involved in getting out there and meeting other bloggers, reading other blogs, keeping up with social media and just making yourself visible. One way to manage this is to keep anything from a little list to a full editorial calendar. Readers, I promise I will do better.

Chez l’abeille success rating: 4/10  

8. BE BUSINESS MINDED.

Because your work is worth it. When those offers of affiliation, co-working and general excitement start to flood through your “contact me” page you will need to organise yourself to manage their demands. Work out your costs and rates. Don’t do something you are not happy being associated with – does the offer fit with your blog ethos? So far I’ve had the grand total of one query which bagged me a bottle of champagne, but who knows? Better to be ready!

Chez l’abeille success rating: 1/10  and that’s pushing it

So there you have it. 8 top tips from 2 of the top bloggers around! Start writing those evergreens.


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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Oh, Honey Honey.

Bees feature rather a lot in the world of Chez L’abeille. This is a good thing because they are rather an important part of our world generally and in some cases are in rather a perilous situation. Even today a friend has shared an article about bees going onto the endangered wildlife list in America. I was intrigued then, when I heard about a very local supper club  event hosted jointly by Gosnells Mead and Bee Kind and Dine, who provide sustainably sourced meals, which aim to engage more people in the issues within our food systems. Bees, food and drink all rolled into one evening – why not?

Firstly some info about mead. I have to admit, the first (and last time) I drank the stuff was on Lindisfarne. It can’t have made too much of a lasting impression because I haven’t gone out of my way in the intervening 20 or more years to seek it out. But this is 21st century Peckham, so it came as no surprise that there is an actual mead brewery about five minutes from my doorstep.

This, however, is modern mead – still made from honey and water but blended to make an entirely surprising, light and exceedingly tasty beverage. During the course of the evening we sampled drank several bottles of the current Gosnells’ range. (And admired the exceedingly lovely labels!)

The London mead is a delicately flavoured mead with a subtle sweetness and was a refreshing opener for our meal. Our second bottle was the hopped mead which had more strength but still maintained the honey notes of the drink. My favourite (not least for its fabulous label) was the citra sea mead which will be finding its way into my fridge asap! For this limited edition brew, honey is combined with lemon peel, tarragon and hops then blended with sea water as a surprise ingredient. The lemony, tangy flavour went particularly well with my monkfish main course. We rounded off the evening with the winter mead – not bottles this time, but more measured tumblers. This one is definitely worth savouring over desert.

Our accompanying supper was equally delicious. As we arrived the potatoes were cooking outdoors on a large open grill which whetted the appetite nicely. The flavours of honey were threaded through the menu in our appetiser and desert, but my favourite dish was the perfectly cooked Cornish monkfish in lieu of pork belly. As you will also see below, the cuttlefish, tomato and polenta starter disappeared before I remembered to take a picture!

Information, fabulous food, conversation and mead all combined into a very entertaining meal. I for one will be round to the nearest Gosnells’ stockist (also five minutes away) with a new admiration for this very old drink!

©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