Chez l'abeille

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


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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

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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 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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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

 

 


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


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