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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In which I go to Crete. Part 3: Rethymnon

Rethymnon (2)

It’s a few weeks since I got back from Crete but since then I have been trying to recreate some of the flavours I experienced there. It’s not so easy to track down Cretan wine in London, but having discovered a rather delicious wine from Peza in the local Oddbins and coupled it with a home made filo pastry, spinach and feta pie, today I’ve come reasonably close!

There was much eating and wine drinking in Rethymnon too. It’s a busy old town but small enough to get around comfortably on foot. It’s also brimming with restaurants. My favourite spot was Raki Ba Raki where I finally found horta, the steamed or boiled cretan greens (or weeds as I’ve seen them described) which are delicious when drowned in olive oil and lemon. The closest similar plant I have found back home is dandelions, so I might have to wait until I go back to try them again. I have read that the greek word for vegetarian is “hortofagos,” which apparently means “weed eater!”

Sitting above the narrrow streets of the old town is the fortress or fortezzo. This Venetian bastion has been around since 1580 and was designed as a place of safety against Ottoman attack. This plan failed in 1646 when the Ottomans besieged the city and the Venetians surrendered. Inside the grounds there is a mosque and an orthodox church, giving testament to the varied history of the island. The views are magnificent from the parapets and it’s easy to see how this spot would be chosen to defend the city behind it.

At the foot of the Fortezza is the Contemporary Art Museum, which has a variety of shows throughout the year.  I wasn’t too engaged with the work by the artist Nikos Viskadourakis that was on display when I was there. Through intensely worked pieces, using a limited acrylic palette of reds, blues, blacks and ochres he explored the myth of Odysseus in Hades – I guess you might need more than a passing aquaintance with book XI of Homer’s Odyssey to really see what was going on. However the building is worth a visit and in the heat of summer the aircon would be delicious.

Walking around it’s easy to see where the Venetians left their mark in other ways. The Rimondi Fountain lies at its heart, providing drinking water for animals and the people alike in times of drought. Equally the old harbour provides a lovely sheltered spot for some people watching, especially after church turns out on a Sunday morning. Despite the touristy air, there’s also a relaxing, homely atmosphere in Rethymnon, which made it a great place to finish my Cretan soujourn.

©Chez l’abeille  2017


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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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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

 

 


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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.

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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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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


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