Thursday, 15 June 2017

The lowdown on Emerald Street Literary Festival 2017


I wasn't going to blog about Emerald Street Literary Festival. After all, it's just a lit fest - there were books, there were talks - what more is there to say? But I had such a fantastic time that I thought it worth a share (and, to be honest, I wanted a chance to use some of the photos I took of the day).


I was fortunate in that I'd managed to book onto one of the earlier sessions. It gave me a chance to explore the festival set up, and the gorgeous venue of the Royal Geographical Society, before it got busy.

As soon as I entered the courytard, right opposite Kensington Gardens, I knew it was going to be something special. Welcomed by a vintage bike, decked in wildflowers I stepped inside to be greeted by even more welcoming staff.

The building itself is beautiful, dripping in history and pomp, and really fired up my inner London geek. The wooden floorboards and sweeping staircase of the entrance hall gave way to the tea room, a gorgeous, cosy space with floor to ceiling windows and stylish chandeliers. Through another set of doors was the garden, and down a set of worn stone stairs, the highlight of the festival; the marquee.


From the outside it was like any other marquee, but inside was something really special. The decor was a classy mishmash of vintage chic furniture; gorgeous armchairs, oversized lampshades, stacks of board games, and more of those gorgeous flower arrangements.


Confession time: This was my first lit fest. I love books, adore reading, am rarely found without my snout in any tome I can get my hands on. But I'd rather just enjoy a novel than analyse it to death. Read it, enjoy it, move on. For this reason, I avoided book related talks, and booked on to the writing centric events instead - one about longform journalism, and one about travel writing.


Following my first event, and being there on my own, I had planned to pop over to Hyde Park and bask in the sun for a couple of hours before my later session, but the free Aperol Spritz included in the ticket persuaded me to stay for a little while. Drink successfully acquired (in the delightful map room nonetheless) I headed back outside to the marquee to enjoy the sunshine and find somewhere to drink it. All the seats in the marquee were now taken, by people sitting in two or threes, laughing and chatting. Some sat on their own, their noses stuck in books. 


Either way, the atmosphere was a congenial one, and as the afternoon wore on, people began chatting to strangers - lubricated, no doubt, by the Aperol Spritz. Strangers were approached and conversations struck up by the books that people had in their hands, the events they'd attended, or the need for a Scrabble partner.


That set the tone for the rest of the day. For my first lit festival experience, it wasn't at all what I anticipated - a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, rather than the stuffy, impenetrable affair I had expected. Hats off to the guys at Emerald Street for pulling off such an inspiring, fantastic and Instagrammable event.


Emerald Street Lit Fest 2017 took place on 10 June. Hopefully there'll be another one next year - give them a follow on Twitter and subscribe to their excellent newsletter to find out.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The brightest spot in East London

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

"Are you getting enough?" glares one sign, while "God save the Queen" screams at you from another direction. An arrow points one way for "thrills", another way for "happiness", and a different direction entirely for "beer, girls, porn".

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

To describe God's Own Junkyard as 'chaotic' would be an understatement. It's a visual cacophony of lights, colours, and tongue in cheek humour, spewed out in a captivating neon overload.

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

God's Own Junkyard is a neon light gallery in Walthamstow, east London. Set in a bog-standard warehouse on an industrial estate, the exterior does no justice to what hits your as soon as you walk in the door.

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

It was founded by Chris Bracey, a neon artist who created works for Hollywood film sets, Soho sex shops, and celebrity collectors. Sadly, he died in 2014, and his family now runs God's Own Junkyard, allowing the public to still see his captivating and eclectic works. There's also a Just Giving fundraiser in his name.
All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

It had been on my London to-do list for well over two years (it's at the very end of the Victoria line, so y'know...) before I finally got round to visiting.

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

Of course, I'd seen photos of the place on social media, filtered up to the hilt to make it as colourful as possible - or so I thought. Turns out, it really is that colourful and bright, no filter required.

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

The whitewashed walls take on a pink hue from the neon overload. Along with the ceiling, floor and tables, they're are covered with neon signs of different shapes, sizes, colours and styles. Some are carefully arranged, others hang haphazardly, squeezed into any space that can be found.

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds
As well as the light attractions you'll find knick-knacks dotted around the place, from shopping baskets from an old Woolworths store, to various garish statues of Jesus.

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds
Tucked away in the corner is the Rolling Scones Cafe (see what they did there?), which I  didn't have time to try on my whistle stop tour. It'd be easy to complete miss the small fire exit style door at the back, which leads out onto a small, concrete garden area, an extension of the cafe's indoor seating.

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds
A word of warning - they're very strict on photography. Camera phones are allowed, but standalone cameras are not. It's understandable really - if I'd whipped up somewhere this incredible, I'd be doing everything I could to protect my copyright too. There is a small shop on site where you can buy postcards of some of the artworks, as well as other bits and pieces.

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

All artwork copyright of God's Own Junkyard. Photo: Laura Reynolds

God's Own Junkyard, Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, London, E17 9HQ. Entry is free, but consider donating to that Just Giving page.

All neon artworks shown here are copyright of God's Own Junkyard (photos by Laura Reynolds).

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


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The enchanting alleyway of Battersea Flower Station


What is it with garden centres and railways in south London? Dulwich Pot and Plant Garden runs alongside North Dulwich station, the eclectic Nunhead Gardener thrills customers from inside the railway arches, and the fantastically-named Battersea Flower Station has rejunevated an alleyway running alongside the railway tracks between Imperial Wharf and Queenstown Road.


I am loathe to use such a tired cliche, but a wander through Battersea Flower Station really does feel like stumbling upon one of London's best-kept secrets. Wandering north on the eerily quiet Winders Road, you'll find yourself wondering if you're in the right place at all. The tarmac gives way to cobbles, and you'll pass under a railway arch so thin, the street's been pedestrianised at this point.


That railway arch is the clue that you are in the right place. Immediately through the arch, an unmissable pair of bright blue wooden gates appears on the right, wide open and thoroughly inviting, promising pots, plants, flowers... and magic (their words, not mine)
.

Through the gates, you'll be greeted with rainbow bunting, and a plethora of hanging lights, creating something of a festival atmosphere -- Wyevale this certainly isn't, and it's all the better for it. In this cobbled, well-to-do area of Battersea, it could come across as a futile attempt to appeal to the young, hipster demographic, yet it works - whether you're 5 or 95, you'll be enchanted by this narrow slice of the urban jungle.


The alleyway can only be 5ft wide at its broadest points, and yet there's so much to see. All manner of plants are laid out on tables on the left, a wall of greenery tickling its way along the towpath. It borders on overgrown, so that exploring the alleyway feels almost clandestine.


On the right hand side, a mishmash of breezeblock buildings and outhouses, each one painted a different, bright colour, line the base of the railway tracks. Each specialises in something different - seeds, gardening equipment, plant pots.


The occasional train rattles past on the tracks overhead, but for the most part the hustle and bustle of the place comes from the staff, who zip around attending to various plants, helping customers and handing out advice.


It's a tardis of a place, really. Just when you think the alleyway must be coming to an end, another string of psychedelic bunting appears among the fronds of greenery. Knick knacks appear left, right and centre, making it hard to know where to look when you're reluctant to miss anything.



The end of the alleyway is punctuated by a florist and gift shop, catering for the less green-fingered but equally keen punter. As with the rest of Battersea Power Station, it's beautifully presented, all rustic signs and colourful blooms.


Suddenly, you're back out on the hectic Battersea Park Road, emerging from this little haven as buses thunder past and pedestrians dash by. Most of them barely notice the floral goodness nestled between two buildings - it's as if you've stepped out of a whole other world that no-one else can see.

Battersea Flower Station, 16 Winders Road (other entrance next to 318 Battersea Park Road), SW11 3HE

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

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

On the trail of the Chelsea Flower Show: Belgravia in Bloom 2017

Ebury Street
I've already told you about Chelsea in Bloom, the free flower festival taking place in venues around Sloane Square this week. Now, meet its more sophisticated sibling, Belgravia in Bloom.

Like Chelsea in Bloom, Belgravia in Bloom consists of a series of floral window displays in local shops, bars and restaurants. The theme here is children's books, with four pop-up installations dotted around the area.
Belgrave Square

Again, you can print off a map before you go, and be prepared for a lot of walking, as it's fairly well spread out. If you're not a purist about it, you could cut out the first 18 stops on the map and begin your trail at the corner of Ebury Street and Elizabeth Street - the stops prior to this are a bit underwhelming.
Motcomb Street

At the Ebury-Elizabeth crossroads, though, things get interesting. More specifically, things get very pink thank to Peggy Porschen's display. It must be one of the most Instagrammable spots in London right now - but might be too saccharine for some tastes.
Ebury Street

According to the map, the first pop-up installation -on a teddy bear's picnic theme - should be around here somewhere too, but it's nowhere to be found, so head on up Ebury Street where you'll find a few more floral shop windows, and then a long walk until you reach the Hari Hotel. Although it's not one of the official pop-up installations, the Mr Fox display outside the hotel (and in the windows) is one of the highlights of the festival, and is well worth stopping by for.
The Hari Hotel

After this, head up to the corner of Lowndes Street and West Halkin Street, briefly taking in the Mary Poppins arch. Now you'll have to do a bit of doubling back on yourself, as West Halkin Street and Motcomb Street are both worth seeing
Lowndes Street
On the former, florist Neill Strain has unsurprisingly gone all-out with a vibrant floral arch over the shop door. On the same street, Mosimann's has gone for a candyland theme, with a lollipop and candy cane garden, and a gingerbread man garden over the entrance of the former church.
West Halkin Street

Round on Motcomb Street, La Stupenderia has gone for floral garlands on the railings and around the shop door. It's a simple idea, but the colour combinations used make it one of the most effective installations on the trail.
Motcomb Street

Now head back down past Belgrave Square to find the pop-up installations. The Alice in Wonderland tea party is in Belgrave Square itself, on the western side - but it's in a private, residents-only garden, so the rest of us have to make do with peeping over the fence. Nonetheless, it's beautifully executed, a lilac table dressed for a picnic, draped with flowers and surrounded by Alice characters.
Belgrave Square

Head down to Eaton Square and you'll find Peter Rabbit doing his thing in Mr McGregor's Garden:
Eaton Square

As for the other two installations - teddy bear's picnic and The Secret Garden - they weren't forthcoming and I never managed to find them, despite trailing round and round the area marked on the map. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I was visiting in the evening - perhaps they're in shops or businesses that are only open during the day. Either way, it was a disappointing end to Belgravia in Bloom 2017.
Pimlico Road

Ebury Street

Elizabeth Street

West Halkin Street

West Halkin Street

Belgravia in Bloom 2017 takes place 22-27 May 2017, and is free.

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

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Things get wild at Chelsea Flower Show

Jimmy Choo on Sloane Street

Every year, the events around Chelsea Flower Show seem to get bigger and bigger, from with events in local (high-end) shops, floral cocktails on local bar menus... and near-lifesized model elephants in Sloane Square, thanks to Chelsea in Bloom.
Duke of York Square
The free floral festival takes place in the area around Sloane Square. Shops decorate their windows and doors with some impressive flower displays and arches, and floral sculptures on a certain theme pop up in public spaces. Naturally, there's a marketing element to the whole thing (#cynical) with special events going on in store and branded hashtags to use on Instagram if you're so inclined. Otherwise, it's just a pleasant, unusual, photogenic (and free!) thing to do for a week in May.

Duke of York Square
This year's theme is floral safari, a theme which succinctly combines two of my favourite things; wild animals and floral displays.

Kiehl's, King's Road

If you're heading out on your own floral safari, it's worth downloading yourself a map from the Chelsea in Bloom website. It'll give you a rough idea of where to head - but don't rely on it for 100% geographical accuracy.
Symons Street
Following the trail on the first evening of the festival, I found it to be very hit and miss. Some stores had gone all out, while others had a paltry flower or two in the window - and others still seemed to have nothing special at all, despite being marked on the Chelsea in Bloom map. It's probably best going when the shops are open, but as the festival's only on for a week, that's not an option for many Londoners.
Symons Street
Numbers 6 (Jimmy Choo) and 40 (Annoushka) are marked in the wrong place on the map and take some persistence to find, and I didn't manage to find number 51 (11 Cadogan Gardens) at all.

Pavilion Road

The trail is quite spread out - fine if you've got plenty of energy and time, but if you're short on either, cut out anything west of Kiehl's (#37) on King's Road), and don't head north of the zebras on Sloane Street - it's not worth it.
Pavilion Road

If you're really short on time, I'd recommend sticking to Sloane Square and Duke of York Square, making a quick detour up King's Road to Kiehl's, and briefly hitting up Hackett and Jimmy Choo on Sloane Street.
Sloane Street
The shop windows are hit and miss, but the centrepieces of the festival are the giant floral animal sculptures. An elephant, a crocodile and a hippo sit slap bang in the centre of Sloane Square, while a pair of zebras cause drivers to do a double take on Sloane Street. Lions take pride of place in Duke of York Square, and a wooden rhino stands proud on Pavilion Road (again, don't rely on the map to find the rhino - in reality, he's right behind Peter Jones).
Hackett, Sloane Street

Sloane Street
It's worth pointing out that Chelsea in Bloom is raising money for charity, with the large floral sculptures being sold off in aid of conservation charity Elephant Family.

Sloane Street

Sloane Street

Sloane Street
Corner of Sloane Street and Sloane Square

Sloane Square

Sloane Square

Sloane Square

Sloane Square

Sloane Square

Lower Sloane Street

Chelsea in Bloom 2017 takes place 22-27 May 2017, and it's free to take part in the trail.

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