Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A first look at Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival 2017

Oooh, pretty colours. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but I'm a sucker for a good light festival. London's latest offering is Canary Wharf Winter Lights. 30 light installations have been dotted around among the skyscrapers -- and they're free to visit.

Put yourself in the wings and halo, and have a picture taken of your most angelic side:

This egg appears to be floating on water. There's a floating pathway through the middle of it, and every so often, smoke appears. Mystical.

The glow in the dark benches which featured in Lumiere London last year are back -- and they're now a permanent feature in Canary Wharf:

Head downstairs in Crossrail Place for the indoor exhibits (and to warm up):

Look familiar? This installation was commissioned by the Natural History Museum for the Colour and Vision exhibition. Now the exhibition's over, it's been passed on: recycling at its finest.

Westferry Circus is home to one of the most hypnotising, calming things I've ever seen. Hundreds of spherical lightbulbs perched on sticks, twinkling and changing colour in time to the music, gradually speeding up and slowing down. Mesmerising:

One for fans of all things colourful:

As much as I'd like to say I spent my evening watching Trump dissolve, this was one of many words that rained from the sky. The letters are created from water droplets and cleverly illuminated -- it really is a work of art. I freaked out a bit when my surname appeared, until I realised that the words being generated were from current news trends, and this had happened.

Intrigued? Check out this video for more.

Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival is on daily, 4pm-9pm, until Friday 27 January.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The 5 best things about shopping in charity shops

In recent years, the very act of buying things in charity shops has done a complete about-turn, going from something you wouldn't admit to for fear of becoming a social pariah, to something quite fashionable. If you're not yet convinced that trawling around charity shops is for you, here are my five favourite things about buying things -- mainly clothes, sometimes books or DVDs -- from them.

1. It's cheap

Obviously. Cheap is good. Cheap is your friend. Cheap means you can buy that second-hand dress and afford to feed yourself for the rest of the month. Crucial. Or, you can buy two dresses instead of one. Sometimes that's crucial too.

2. It's for a good cause
Again, an obvious one. The clue's in the name, but you'll enjoy wearing your new jumper even more knowing that the money you spent has gone to helping the homeless/elderly/abandoned animals, rather than lining the pockets of a high street retail boss.

3. It make you stick to your own style

Walk into any high street clothes store and you'll be ambushed from all sides by whatever's in fashion at the moment; Animal print. Neon. Bodycon dresses. We've all done it -- bought something that we don't particularly like, or that doesn't suit us, just because it's on trend (or it's literally all that's in the shops at the moment).
Charity shops don't bow to trends. They're indifferent to fashion. Instead, their volunteers create displays out of whatever they have in stock (and most of the time, it has to be said, do a mighty fine job of it). This means you won't be seduced into buying that leopard print jumpsuit just because leopard print is everywhere. It forces you to look more closely at what you're buying, not to decide whether it's on trend, but to decide whether it's you.

The same goes for books. No more being tempted into shelling out for tomes that are top of the bestseller lists, purely because they're displayed beautifully at the entrance of the store. Take the time to read the blurb and see whether it appeals.

4. They're less busy

While the masses are doing battle with pushchairs, shopping trolleys and lord knows what else in Primark on a Saturday morning, in pursuit of their next cheap fashion hit, you can practically have the charity shop to yourself. Have a wander round, no need to queue for the fitting room, try on eight different things, go to the till and pay, have a chat with Mavis the volunteer, and you'll still be out of the shop and home with your new purchases before the Primark devotees have even reached the changing room.

5. No-one will be wearing the same as you

It's a Monday morning. You bought a new coat at the weekend. You're strolling along in it feeling pretty dandy... until you count no fewer than eight other people wearing the same coat before you've even reached your office. True story (shout out to everyone else who bought the M&S beige mac with black piping from the AW14 collection. You have excellent taste.).

Rarely do you get that when buying second hand. Even if the items you buy came from a chain store, they tend to be a few months, if not a few years, old by the time they've gone through the rigmarole of sitting at the back of someone's wardrobe for months, being turfed out to the charity shop, passing time in the charity shop stock room and finally making it out onto the shop floor. By then, everyone else who bought the same thing from Topshop has forgotten they even have it.

What's more, it somehow feels less sacrificial to edit a garment that's already been used for the purpose for which it was intended. There's something satisfying about giving a second-hand item a bit of a makeover -- and if you mess it up, hey at least you didn't pay full brand new price for that pair of jeans you've just cut a hole in.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Climbing Forest Hill

Phwoar: as Wetherspoon's pubs go, this one's a looker.
They weren't messing about when they named Forest Hill. On the day of my inaugural visit, back in early 2016, heavy rain had transformed the eponymous peak into a fast-flowing river, sweeping up everything in its path and hurtling it towards the Overground station waiting at the bottom to swallow it all like a ravenous, open-mouthed monster. My boots never recovered from that particular incident, but my explorer's spirit did.
Fortunately the weather was marginally better for my more recent visit, a grey but mild Saturday afternoon in January -- but the hill wasn't any less steep.

Most people arrive in Forest Hill via the aforementioned Overground station. From here, it's a quick hop across the ever-lively South Circular (sounding romantic already, isn't it?) and the main hill is ahead of you. If you've got time, head south along Dartmouth Road and take a wander around the independent shops and delis before returning to the South Circ to tackle The Hill.

The Sylvan Post, a pub that used to be a Post Office, makes full use of its remnant features. It's an Antic pub, naturally.
Just a little way up the hill, take the time to veer off to the right on Havelock Walk, a mews-style back street where old meets modern, cobbles overlap with tarmac, old brick warehouses marry with modern, concrete studios. You'll still hear the rumble of the South Circular, but the combination of cobbles and street art makes it hard to tell whether you've stumbled down a north England street in the 1960s (think Billy Elliot) or the most hipster of 21st century Barcelona barrios. Different music tumbles out of the windows of each of the studios, as each artist works to their own rhythm. Best of all are the cherubs, each decorated to a different theme, hanging off of balconies and out of first floor windows of almost every property on the street,uniting them in a way that their varying architecture cannot.

A stroll down Havelock Walk
The Teapot offers a delectable (and highly Instagrammable) range of cakes, but I'm not here to tell you where to eat in the area -- there's a fab article here that does that (#cheekyplug). Worth a mention for the architecture, though, is Wetherspoon's -- The Capitol. I'll leave you to make up your own mind about the culinary offerings, but this hulking beast of Art Deco magnificence (top picture) opened as a cinema in the 1920s. The inside stays as true to its cinematic heritage as the outside does, short of having an actual cinema screen on the bar. If you like the look of it, make haste -- it may or may not be closing soon.

Onwards and upwards .Shortly after passing Sainsbury's on your right, the hill seems to plateau out, but don't be fooled -- the climb continues around that bend ahead of you. You'll pass an Esso garage should you need refuelling of a different kind, and then you'll see it. The clock tower. The holy grail. The Horniman:

The museum sits at the peak of the hill.
 The Horniman Museum is the gem in Forest Hill's crown, and is one of my favourite London museums for several reasons; it's free (although donations are encouraged); it has all manner of animal and natural history artefacts; it does wonderful temporary exhibitions (dinosaurs and nature photography being two of my recent favourites); there's an excellent farmers' market on Saturdays; it's only 30 minutes walk scaling the sheer cliff face from my flat; but best of all are the grounds. Fields and manicured gardens and farm animals all blend together in a little pocket of nature overlooking London. It's like perching on a fluffy, green cloud, looking down over the city and beyond.

The bandstand sits at the centre of the Horniman's gardens; note the London skyline to the left.
Ever been to Forest Hill? Know somewhere decent that I've missed? Let me know in the comments.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Beauty product review: Bleach London The Big Pink hair dye

Anyone who has had so much as a sniff around the rest of this blog knows I'm not a beauty blogger. My make-up is done in under 60 seconds each morning (and yes, you can usually tell) and I'm certainly not one for buying expensive hair or beauty products. But I fancied a change for the new year, and that change came in the form of a new, slightly out-there (for me, anyway) hair colour.

I've had a hankering for candyfloss pink hair for a couple of years now (think Amelia Lily in her X-Factor time) but it's a tricky one to pull off. I certainly couldn't cope with a full head of it -- I'd be feeling the need to skip down the street and sing songs from the musicals as I went about my business. So I decided to take the dip-dye approach, and when the post-Christmas sales turned out to be disappointing, I consoled myself with a bottle of Bleach London The Big Pink hair colourant (£5, Boots). It claims to fade out in 2-10 washes, so if it wasn't right it didn't matter - it wouldn't be hanging around for too long.

The product was gloopier and less runny than expected, and a rather flourescent pink when it came out of the bottle. The bottom three inches or so of my hair was doused in the stuff, as per the instructions, and then began the 15 minute wait - a shorter time than other dyes I've used in the past. When the rinsing out came, the water was a shade of pink that would put Bagpuss to shame.

Time for the big reveal:

Well, as you can see, not quite the result I was hoping for. My hair has a slight pink hue if you look at it in the right light, but other than that, a disappointing result. I guess my hair was too dark to start with, but I'm reluctant to get into bleaching my hair. If anyone knows any other products that will turn medium-brown hair a candyfloss pink, please let me know in the comments below.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, 26 December 2016

My 2016 in Instagram posts

I won't bore you with all the details of my year -- you can scroll back through the blog for that -- but here's a quick round-up of my 2016 through the medium of Instagram (you can follow me here if you're not doing so already).

January bit of a slow starter, mainly involving hibernation, good books and hot chocolate:

By February I was sunning myself in a warm(ish) Lanzarote -- and getting friendly with 400 camels:

Later in February, I went to Paris for a long weekend with some friends. Cue eating, drinking and sightseeing.

March was a trip to India the opening of the new Gir Lion Lodge at London Zoo. The Queen was there and everything. Fancy...

April was mainly spent exploring my new local area, Peckham in south-east London. Any regular Instagram followers will have noticed my floristry obsession by now, and this little gem is a florist in Nunhead,

Dreams came true in May when I finally made it to Venice, somewhere I'd always wanted to go. I learned a trick or two while I was there.

June saw one of my best friends get married, and as one of her bridesmaids, I had the honour of sitting at the top table. You try not to spill gravy when you've got 80 people watching you eat your dinner.

July was a case of being in the right place at the right time to capture this sunset over central and west London.

Friendsfest came to London in August and I found myself hanging out in Monica's apartment:

In September I spent 10 days in the Algarve, and took the opportunity to revisit Vilamoura, a resort I visited on a family holiday when I was around 7 years old.

I rarely post photos of myself on Instagram, but in October I got to spend the day working as a
zookeeper at London Zoo. Perk of the job, and also an occasion when my worlds collided in the form of my past and present jobs. Still, I made friends with this dude:

In November I finally made it to Marrakech, somewhere I've always wanted to go. It's the most terrifying, exhilarating place I've ever been. It was fascinating being led to the Dyers' market by one of the local traders, and watching the way the skeins of wool were dyed. See more of my Marrakech photos here and here.

December peaked pretty early when I went to Winchester with a friend and ended up tucking into this beast of a hot chocolate at a deli-cafe called Josie's. Yes, that is butter toffee popcorn on top. No, no regrets at all.

What was your 2016 highlight?

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Marrakech in photos: part two

Since returning to grey, chilly London, Marrakech seems not only like another place, but also like another time. I won't say it's a calmer pace of life -- it's not, it's got a ferocity to it that makes the City of London on a Monday morning seem like a meadow of tranquility. But it's more colourful and more vibrant, and as that's something we could all use more of on these chilly November mornings.
(The first lot of photos are here - stick the kettle on and catch up before you read on).
Donkey carts used to transport goods outside the city centre. 

There is greenery in Marrakech. This was taken looking up among the trees at Jardin Majorelle, the gardens outside the city centre that were redesigned by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Jardin Majorelle is known for its bright colour scheme.

A peaceful spot in Jardin Majorelle

Spice stalls are everywhere - more often than not, shopkeepers try to reel you in by asking if you know what the spices are as you pass.

Marrakech has some really beautiful signs (if you're into that sort of thing).

A colourful stall just outside the spice market in the Jewish Quarter, to the south of  Bahia Palace

This'll give you some idea of how close the slaloming motorbikes and mopeds get to pedestrians, sometimes in alleyways no more than 5ft wide. It's unfathomable how often you feel one pass you, yet not once did we see an accident.

The calming rose petal fountain in the oasis of our riad.

Men in these costumes tend to gather in the main square - I'd love to know what they are/what they're doing. Answers in the comments please!

A typical Marrakech shop

Another donkey, this one much closer to the central souks.

Monday, 21 November 2016

The UK's best winter lights and lantern festivals 2016-2017

Lumiere London 2016. Photo: Laura Reynolds
In January 2016, London was lifted briefly out of its post-Christmas, freezing weather, no money slump by Lumiere London. Lumiere London was a light festival on a huge scale, taking over the city for a few days, closing streets to traffic and sending Instagram into a veritable frenzy. Everyone was talking about it. I can say without a doubt that it's my favourite event ever to come to London (and dealing in London events is my bread and butter), and I now get quite excited every time I hear about another light festival.

Sadly, it doesn't look like Lumiere is coming back to London this year, but there are plenty of other light and lantern festivals taking place in London and across the UK. Some are family-friendly, others lean more towards the romantic spectrum, so choose your companions carefully. Can't make it along to any of these? Follow the venues on Instagram to get the best of the pretty lights without battling the cold weather.

Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House

The previous Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House. Photo: Magical Lantern Festival
For its second outing at Chiswick House in south-west London, The Magical Lantern Festival takes on a Silk Road theme. Lanterns will represent themes from the route the Silk Road trade route took between Europe and China. The other entertainment on offer at the festival is rather eclectic, ranging from fun fair rides and a synthetic ice rink to virtual reality games to play.

Oddest of all, bearing in mind the festival takes place in January and February, is the Santa's Grotto. Makes sense that the guy in red would be less busy at this time of year, but surely that's just asking to have overexcited kids on your hands for 11 months?

The Magical Lantern Festival, Chiswick House. Adult tickets £16-50-£20. 19 January-26 February 2017.

The Festival of Light, Longleat Safari Park

Photo: Longleat
Beatrix Potter fans are in for a right treat as the author's animal characters are brought to life in light form, among more than 2,500 lanterns. There's also a Beatrix Potter exhibition in the Great Hall.

Longleat's famous pride of lions is also immortalised in light, as are some of its other residents, including elephants and gorillas. It's all part of the safari park's 50th anniversary celebrations.

The Festival of Light, Longleat Safari Park. Various ticket prices, 11 November 2016-2 January 2017.

Tunnel of Light, Norwich

Photo: Norwich BID
You only need to head as far north as Norwich to experience the Northern Lights this winter -- sort of.

A 45m long tunnel of light, made of more than 50,000 LEDs will be set on Hay Hill, as part of the City's Christmas celebrations, in what it's claiming is a UK first.

Tunnel of Light, Norwich, 17 November 2016-5 January 2017.

GLOW, Eastbury Manor

For two nights only, National Trust property Eastbury Manor House in Barking is taken over by local organisation Studio3arts. The house and grounds will be illuminated with events including a fire garden and fire sculptures, illuminations in patterns representing the building's Tudor heritage, sound installations and a model solar system. If ever there was a time to head for the end of the District line, this is it.

GLOW, Eastbury Manor, Barking. Adult tickets £5, 25-26 November 2016

Winter Lights Festival, Canary Wharf

Photo: Canary Wharf
Move over suits and briefcases, it's playtime in Canary Wharf. In what is probably the most interactive event on this list (and free -- yippee!), Winter Lights Festival is back.

30 light installations will be dotted among the east London skyscrapers, with work by artists from four continents. Visitors to last year's event could hook up their smartphones to control some of the lights in what appeared to be a 21st century form of witchcraft. Expect similar this year.

Winter Lights Festival, Canary Wharf. Free, 16-27 January 2017.

Dulwich Winterlights, Dulwich Picture Gallery
Photo: Dulwich Picture Gallery
The world's first purpose-built picture gallery steps elegantly into the 21st century with a pre-Christmas illumiation festival. The 19th century building and impressive grounds will be lit up and decked with lanterns by the same people behind Christmas at Kew (see below). As you follow the trail, enjoy the accompanying music, which include live roaming choirs.

Dulwich Winterlights at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Adult tickets £12, 6-18 December 2016.

Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park

Photo: Steve Newton/Enchanted Woodland
South-west London's Syon House is a sleepy place most of the year, but it comes alive for a few weekends before Christmas when it transforms into the family-friendly Enchanted Woodland.

A colourful, illuminated mile-long trail through the trees and around the lake is enough to enchant adults and kids alike -- and it's worth keeping your eyes open for little touches like fairy doors in the trees. Booking in advance is a must, but even then be prepared to queue to get in.

Enchanted Woodland at Syon House. Adult tickets £9, 18 November-4 December 2016.

Christmas at Kew, Kew Gardens

Christmas at Kew 2014. Photo: Laura Reynolds
Inevitably, gardens lose their appeal in winter, but those clever people at Kew have found a way to keep the visitor numbers up; Christmas at Kew.

The light trail winds around a corner of the sizeable garden, taking in the dancing fountains in the lake, a Five Gold Rings themed fire garden, a light tunnel and much more. There's also a Victorian funfair, food and drinks stalls and more.  In short, it's an Instagram addict's heaven.

Christmas at Kew, Kew Gardens. Adult ticket £16-£20, 23 November 2016-2 January 2017.

 Magical Lantern Festival, Leeds and Birmingham

The people behind the Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House (above) are also lighting up Leeds -- Roundhay Park to be precise -- and Birmingham's Botanical Garden.

Tip: while you're in Leeds, it's also worth checking out the Leeds Christmas Market.

Magical Lantern Festival Leeds. Adult ticket £12.50-£14. 25 November 2016-2 January 2017.
Magical Lantern Festival Birmingham. Adult ticket £12.50-£14. 25 November 2016-2 January 2017.

Lumiere Durham 2017

While they may not be gracing London with their much-missed presence this year, there's a rumour that Artichoke  Arts are bringing Lumiere Durham back in 2017. At time of writing, the link on the website isn't working, but it's something for light fans in the north of England to keep an eye on.

What have I missed? Add any other events to the comments below or tweet me @scribbling_lau and I'll add them to the list.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Travel tales: The Sunday surfers of Armacao de Pera

Way above our heads, the old church bells rumbled into life, demanding attention like a petulant child. The din drowned out the crashing of the waves, shaking the small town from its Sunday lie-in, and the effect it had was quite a spectacle.

Knowing that the heat of the burning Portuguese sun would render any exploration impossible by 11am, we’d headed out straight after breakfast to acquaint ourselves with the town of Armação de Pera, situated just west of Albufeira on the Algarve, and our home for the next ten days.

Strolling down the pedestrianised promenade, the glistening blue waters of the Atlantic were already tempting at this early hour, and the sandy town beach already full of sunbathers. On the other side of the promenade, an eclectic mix of tourist shops fought for the attentions of passers by, their Mickey Mouse towels, beach footballs and picture postcards hanging from every nook. Shop owners switched seamlessly into the native language of each and every passing tourist in a bid to sell their wares.

Rounding a corner as the promenade juts out into the sea, the landscape changed. The beach view was blocked by a colonial-style, raspberry pink house, different to any other building in town and almost grand enough to be called a mansion, teetering alone on the cliffs. Its foreboding perimeter walls and intriguing gated entrance distracted us so much that we barely noticed what stood behind us.

A church, petite but unapologetically beautiful. Entirely whitewashed with a tiled roof and stained glass windows, it wouldn’t have looked out of place on a small Greek island, serving a parish of five, yet here it was in a town square, slap bang in the middle of the Algarve. The tall, slim bell tower cast a shadow over the dogs sleeping in the square, but the most eye-catching part of the building was the pointed arch around the door, livened up with blue flowers which, closer inspection revealed, were each delicately handmade from crepe paper.

And then it happened. The church bells sprung into life, announcing the arrival of 10am and almost instantly people appeared from all corners of the petite square, making a beeline for the door of the church, as if they’d been lying in wait.

The intricate arch was immediately swarmed with parishioners. The cacophony as they greeted each other in Portuguese was astonishing, their conversations expertly timed to finish just as they reached the wooden church door, allowing them to enter the building in a respectful silence. Sunglasses and eccentric sunhats were removed at the entrance, giving the impression of a town on pause from sunbathing for as long as the service would take.

They poured in from the town centre, many with shopping bags from the local market, bananas and carrots peeping out of the top. Some came loaded up with umbrellas and surfboards, treating the church trip as a minor pit stop on the way down to the beach.

Behind us, they came from the beach, many still wet and with sand stuck to them as they climbed the rickety stone steps, no time to think about appearances. Mothers clucked around with towels in an attempt to make children look respectable. Some wielded picnic baskets, their culinary contents too valuable to be left unattended on the beach for this brief encounter with God. Others came completely empty handed, as if they’d dropped everything when the bells beckoned.

We were in awe. How were this many people fitting into such a small church? How were there even this many residents in Armação de Pera, a small fisherman’s town which relies heavily on the tourist industry? From our vantage point – we had been rendered immobile both from a desire to watch the spectacle, and from fear of being trampled – we could see that it was standing room only at the back of the church, and yet still they came. Finally, the wooden doors of the church were drawn shut from the inside, and the square was still again, left in the hands of tourists once more. 

See also: 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

In photos: A weekend in Marrakech

From a photography point of view, Marrakech is an incredibly frustrating place. It's colourful, vibrant, worthy of photographic excellence, and yet it's impossible to stand still for even a second to focus or align your shot.

Pedestrians, motorbikes, mopeds, carts, donkeys and more all battle relentlessly for space in the alleyways, some no more than 4ft or 5ft wide. If that's not enough to keep you moving, any slowing of the pace results in locals gathering round you to offer you (incorrect) directions, or attempting to lead you into their shop to show you their wares. You catch on pretty quick that stopping is not an option.

Nevertheless, here are some of the photos I took on my recent trip to Marrakech:
Inside the Bahia Palace

Outside a spice shop - even the containers are beautifully decorated.

Beautiful architecture + shabby chic paint + eye-catching tiles + motorbike = Marrakech
Street art in the Souks

A babouche shop in the Souks

A man making wool felt by hand in the dyers market.

The dyers market, an area that most tourists overlook entirely.

Skeins of freshly dyed wool hung out to dry.

The pigments and dyes used to colour the wool.

Wares for sale.

A closer look at some of the signs for sale.

A Moroccan Banksy?

Dentists are surprisingly common, especially considering the number of people who seem to lack teeth altogether.

Colourful street art on an otherwise dull street.

Looking down on an alleyway from the roof of our Riad gives an idea of how narrow some of the thoroughfares are.

The view towards Bahia Palace from our roof terrace.
A lantern stall in the main square, Jmaa al Fna, at night.