Sunday in East London

Monday, 29 August 2016

It's a rare occasion that Ainsley and I get a day off on the same day and both feel like venturing into London from our now suburban house! However, this past Sunday both of these conditions occurred and we decided to go for a jaunt around our old stomping grounds in East London. First up was Columbia Road Flower Market, which was so packed we barely shuffled along the road and back in two hours, and had to take a break for soy coffee and orange juice. 

Once the crowds had cleared a little, we picked up some sunflowers and headed down to Brick Lane with the promise of vegan fried 'chicken' from the Temple of Seitan, and a vegan brownie donut plus peanut butter brownie from the Peanut Butter Bakery (both highly recommended) for Ainsley... and a punnet of strawberries for me. Walking through to Aldgate East, we popped into the Whitechapel Gallery to have a look at Keith Sonnier's Light Works, bought some postcards, and hopped on a bus from outside our old flat near the East London Mosque. Our final stop was the beautiful Sugarhouse Studios of pastel-tiled Instagram fame, which was just as well because they're taking the tiles down shortly! 

It's been nearly two years since I moved out of East London and I'm still homesick for it - the wail of ambulances, the constant colour, the never ending queues outside Tayyabs, buying fruit from the market, the street art, the late night bagels, cycling back from Brick Lane on rainy roads, making quick banoffee pie in the early hours of the morning for my flatmates. I love our house now, but I'd still move back in a heartbeat (minus the extortionate rent, crooked landlords and current epidemic of soulless high-rises).

Post-apocalyptic & Dystopian Reads #2

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

THE DROWNED WORLD
J. G. Ballard
Today's reality, the melting of the polar ice caps, has come true in Ballard's 1962 tale of disaster. In a now-underwater London, the army and a scientific unit sent to survey the changing area are soon going to be forced north - apart from those who choose to stay behind. The environment, now in a kind of New Triassic period overgrown with vegetation and exotic creatures, is encroaching not just onto the cities but into our protagonists' psychology. The novel took me a little while to get into, but once I did I couldn't put it down. J. G. Ballard builds a world which whilst subject to the expected post-apocalyptic violence, is also beautiful and entrancing.
★★★★☆

I HAVE WAITED, AND YOU HAVE COME
Martine McDonagh
McDonagh has described this novel as 'mid-apocalyptic', a quiet exploration of a near future in which climate change is slowly plunging British society backwards - 'the worst is yet to come'. Living alone in a falling down mill, Rachel tries to maintain her self-imposed isolation whilst dealing with attention from an unknown stalker. I had some mixed feelings about this book; the writing just feels a little thin in places and some unanswered questions irritated me a little. However, I Have Waited puts a little twist on the genre which I found interesting, and kept me on my toes in terms of how I felt about the characters.
★★★☆☆

THE SCARLET PLAGUE
Jack London
Published in 1912, the Scarlet Plague is a fairly early short, simple post-apocalyptic tale. James Howard Smith, the last survivor with memory of the era before the Red Death swept the USA, recounts his story to his grandsons sixty years after the collapse of civilisation. It is certainly a product of its time, and I just couldn't get past the hand wringing passages about the 'savage' working classes, who are somehow the real villains in the collapse of American life.
★☆☆☆☆

CALIFORNIA
Edan Lepucki
The wealthy have retired to Communities guarded by guns; the poor are stuck in the now hellish cities; others are spread out throughout the wilderness, trying to eke out an existence from the land (or perhaps joining gangs like the Pirates). Frida and Cal have abandoned a decaying Los Angeles, moving to Northern California to fend for themselves. California explores the meaning of relationships and community to ordinary people in desperate situations. I felt the book was slightly oddly paced at times, and I was frustrated at the lack of story-building in terms of the events which led to the situation Frida and Cal find themselves in, but generally it was an enjoyable and engaging read.
★★★☆☆

THE HANDMAID'S TALE
Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale is perhaps one of the most well-known dystopian novels of the twentieth century, and for good reason. In a totalitarian Christian America, women no longer have recognised rights; they are divided into differing classes according to their roles in relation to men. Offred, our protagonist, is a handmaid kept by the 'Commander' and his wife, her sole purpose to provide them with children. This book is one of my all-time favourites, re read at least once a year (I've previously posted about the illustrated Folio Society edition), and the cause of my eternal fascination with Atwood's work. It's beautifully written, perceptive, frightening and imaginative.
★★★★★

The 100 Day Project

Friday, 19 August 2016

Ever since taking part in a few of Laura's colour challenges (you can see mine at #LBweekofcolour) and following along with Tasha's famous #100DaysofTriangles last year, I'd been keen to test myself a little more with a longer term creative challenge. Still, the 100 Day Project was quite a daunting prospect to commit to. The pressure of having to figure out a theme to post, of looking for an image every day to post, seemed a little too much - but I thought I'd give it a go, even if I didn't end up finishing. I decided on a rather unglamourous topic: London's public transport system. It wasn't an obvious choice, but after noticing a few interesting details on my commutes I thought it might be an interesting way to explore an environment which so many of us use but completely overlook in terms of design.

Within a week or so of starting the project, I ended up taking on a new contract, upping my working week to four days on top of my Master's degree, so things got a little more hectic! With a little encouragement (thank you Tasha!) and a couple of days where I had to catch up (I was surprisingly reliable at taking photos every day, but less so at remembering to post) I managed to complete the full one hundred days on time, with what I think is a pretty creative set of images, which I've rearranged into rainbow order for this recap... because why not.



Prior to starting the project, I had fallen in with a strict grey colour scheme on my Instagram. Much like in my wardrobe, my natural inclination is to avoid colour. I can never deal with coordinating colours, and on my Instagram when colours didn't sit well together I often ended up deleting or not posting images which were otherwise solid, but didn't quite fit. Just before the project started, I broke my grey streak with a shot of bright yellow bananas - and the change from grey was swiftly noticed! I lasted a few hours before deleting it and sinking back into the comfort of grey. 

Embarking on the 100 Day Project, I knew that maintaining a no-colour rule wasn't going to be easy - perhaps impossible. In fact, I swiftly realised that it would negatively limit my project and probably make it a lot less fun. I was forced to let go of (a bit of) my anxiety towards colour... with a compromise of one colour image per one grey, white or black image. It ended up working out perfectly: my final image (a black and white tiled 'OUT' with an arrow) wasn't planned, and I would have been a little sad if Day 100 had ended up being a colour day!

I'm really pleased that I stuck with the project, even if some days it was a bit of a struggle. I saw my commute in a totally new way, looking for little details which likely get overlooked by the thousands of people who hurry past them every day. I also learnt a lot about the design history of the transport system, bolstered by my first visits to the London Transport Museum for their exhibition Designology and their first Friday Late (where I made my YouTube debut in Tasha's vlog!) I also attended the Acton Depot Open Weekend, which I'll be sad to miss this September - I highly recommend it if you're a design fan.

Congratulations to everyone who finished the project, and everybody who gave it a shot!

Check out my project #100DaysofPublicTransport on Instagram & all of the many other great projects at #The100DayProject.

Iceland Road Trip: Reykjavík to Vík

Sunday, 7 August 2016





It's a long time since I went to Iceland; nearly two years, in fact, and I've actually never shared any of the images I took during my sixteen day journey around the island. Digging around my hard drives I found the folders upon folders of waterfalls and lakes and landscapes which had gone unprocessed and neglected. Whilst they don't quite capture watching icebergs wash up on a black sand beach, or feeling the spray from a huge waterfall, or climbing around in a cave full of steam, they suddenly reminded me of all of the amazing things I saw there. 

Our first few days didn't go exactly as smoothly as we'd hoped. The local teenage boy transporting us from the airport remarked that the weather was unusually cold, that a storm was probably on its way. In Reykjavik that afternoon, we stocked up on bottled water, granola bars and trangia-suitable food, and checked our equipment. We barely took a look around the little city before we collapsed into bed ready for an early start, the first day of adventuring - which was a little more adventurous than planned.

Setting off the next day, we set our course for the stripy earth mountains of Landmannalaugar, heading eventually onto one of the 4x4-only highland F roads and into a landscape which looked like it had been transported straight from Mars. Many of these roads are closed for much of the year (road closures aren't to be taken lightly in Iceland), and we were on the brink of the winter season, so we proceeded carefully along the track. Miles passed; we rattled cautiously through lava fields and fjords. Snowbanks started to appear, but tyre tracks seemed to indicate that others before us had found the track passable. And then our car suddenly ground to a halt, and refused to budge any further. After taking a look, it became clear that we weren't going anywhere fast. Ice, thrown up from the snow we'd driven over, had coated the axles and built up, freezing solid. The storm that our transfer driver mentioned seemed to be brewing over the tops of the hills of the valley we'd found ourselves stuck in; the wifi box we'd bought flashed its signal bars at zero, as did our phones. It was tens of miles back to the larger road, and we'd passed no houses or cars.

Small (large) moment of panic over, we decided to get on with getting ourselves out. My tripod received new purpose as an ice pick. Out came the trangia to heat up water to melt the thickened ice: this is where we discovered that the language barrier in the camping shop where we'd bought fuel had been an issue after all, as flames shot continually up the sides of our pan. My tripod became a multi tool for dealing with fire as well as ice. I fashioned a funnel from a plastic folder to transfer hot water back into bottles to squirt underneath the car. Two hours of rolling around in the snow under the car later, I watched in anticipation as the wheels slowly moved free of the bank and hurtled in reverse to safe gravel.

Soundly beaten into submission by our first Iceland experience, we decided to call it a day and head back the way we came, back to the more well trodden roads of the tourist spots for a smoother introduction. By dusk we made it to Seljalandsfoss, the incoming rain driving off the other visitors for an early night. Looking out from the ledge behind the falls, we spoke to another photographer who planned to sleep there, happily dusted by the spray of the falls all night. We were also due to be setting up our tent, but the driving rain and winds which seemed to hope to force our car from the road saw us sheepishly seek out a bed in Vík instead.

The next day we started slow with a visit to another classic tourist spot, the thundering Skógafoss. We muddled about, climbing the grassy sides of the falls to find a specific shot we'd seen, failed, but still marvelled from the mid way outcrop at the power of the water, my boots and my now ice-battered tripod placed carefully on the narrow ridge. A further scramble had us gazing down the two hundred foot drop to the churning water below, crowds forgotten. As the weather grew steadily worse, we decided to head out to a spot marked on many photographers' maps: the wreckage of a US Navy plane which crashed on Sólheimasandur in 1973. We thought a plane wreck on a vast expanse of otherwise empty black sand might not be tricky to find, but even following the path marked out with little flags by the landowners, we'd almost given up finding it until it suddenly appeared in front of us, previously hidden by the dunes. It was truly surreal - the carcass of the craft left beached like a whale, slowly picked apart by the wind and the sand. A man there had made the plane his home for the previous evening, watching the aurora borealis through the gaps in the metal. We offered him a lift to Vík, but he told us he'd rather walk.

On our way back to the village, we made a final stop at Reynisfjara beach to see the Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks. The wind whistled straight through my jacket and chilled my bones while I looked out at the sea churning from where I'd climbed the columns on the beach. Right at the end of the afternoon, the clouds cleared just enough in the west to give us a view of the sun lowering itself behind Dyrhólaey as we drove towards Vík and the campsite we should have been in the previous evening. Darkness rapidly descending, we hurried to pitch the tent and get settled in before nightfall. Unfortunately, our tent had other ideas. Scrambling around in the gloom, it just would not come together - toggles wouldn't match up, the inner lining wouldn't hang straight, and the bag's boast of a seven-minute pitch time seemed like a cruel joke. Years of putting up tents, and a two man tent had me foiled, sitting in the car watching 'how-to' videos for where I'd gone wrong. A wind-snapped pole later, and our camping plans were well and truly out the window, and we retreated for a second time back to the cheapest hotel in the village.

A Weekend in Bath

Saturday, 23 July 2016

I don't think I've ever been to somewhere quite like Bath. Living somewhere like London, you get used to the city being very obviously made up of a huge variety of architectural styles - a skyscraper next to a Victorian pub, or brutalist concrete surrounding a Gothic inspired church. It's interesting and exciting, but it's also lovely to go to a place where so many of the buildings have survived in a single style. Bath is densely populated by beautiful Georgian terraces with the traditional golden Bath stone for the facades.

Probably the most obvious place to visit is the ROMAN BATHS. The ticket price is expensive, but you get a lot for your money - the museum exhibits and audioguide are extensive and extremely informative. The hot spring under the city created an ideal site for a Roman bath complex and temple, and there's more Roman remains being found all the time. I visited in the day, but the Baths are open until 10pm and I can see them being beautiful all lit up at night. The imposing Grade I listed BATH ABBEY, founded in the 7th century, is a great example of Gothic architecture (with beautiful 'fan' vaulted ceilings) and is easy to pop into on the way to or from the Baths. 

Next on the essentials list is the ROYAL CRESCENT, the half-circle set of Georgian Palladian townhouses built mainly for the wealthy to stay in during their visits to 'take the waters'. If you want to have a look at what Georgian life was like for the wealthy, you can visit No. 1 Royal Crescent, which has recreated the townhouse as it might have looked during the period. Round the corner on a little street called Margaret's Buildings there are a few little independent shops, including the rather eclectic OFF THE WALL ANTIQUES and several secondhand bookshops which are worth a visit. Uncharacteristically for me, I missed out on the Bath museums, but on my list for next time are the HERSCHEL MUSEUM OF ASTRONOMY (where the controversial planet Uranus was discovered), the FASHION MUSEUM, and the MUSEUM OF BATH AT WORK. Aside from the centre of the town, the canals that weave through the town are lovely for an evening walk past the narrowboats and locks; you can even follow the KENNET AND AVON CANAL PATH if you're feeling adventurous.

Food wise, you're spoilt for choice: Bath is well known for its independent restaurants and cafes. We had some great pizza at THE OVEN, and also made a trip to the Saturday morning BATH FARMER'S MARKET, where we picked up some freshly smoked mackerel, rosemary and potato bread, local cheese and chutney, and fresh apple juice for lunch. Also deserving a mention is THE REAL ITALIAN ICE CREAM COMPANY, which finished off our weekend perfectly.