Thursday, 29 June 2017

On making a big life decision

As the green trees and endless fields gave way to housing estates and electricity substations, an unshakeable feeling of intense panic gripped me. More than anything, I wanted the train to stop, to reverse back up the track the 80 odd miles I'd just covered and take me back to where I'd started an hour ago. That was when I knew I'd made the right decision.

Crossing the M25 back into London, the six lanes of roaring traffic below a mere blur out of the train window, I realised that I wouldn't be leaving the confines of the M25 again for at least a fortnight. London's orbital motorway was suddenly my cage, keeping me trapped within. After a nourishing weekend in Clacton-on-Sea, filled with family, sunshine and laughter, returning back to my flat in London felt like a punishment to be endured rather than something to enjoy.

I recently made the decision to move back to Kent after nearly a year and a half of living in London. Several things, which I won't go into detail of, contributed to this decision. Had any of these factors alone reared their head, my decision may have been different. Their combined force, though, was pushing me in a south-easterly direction.

I still love London, and not because my job all but contractually obliges me to do so. I love the fact that there's always something new to discover, or see, or eat, or explore. I love living so close to world-famous landmarks (and in the case of my last flat, being able to see them out of my kitchen window). But I don't love London in the right way to live in London.

I am aware that it's partly a case of the grass being (literally) greener outside the M25. There were things I didn't like when I lived in Kent before: the long commute to work, the difficulties getting home late at night, the fact that the nearest Mexican restaurant is goodness know how many miles away. I know that none of this will have changed when I move back. I'm looking at Kent with those cliched rose-tinted glasses, and yet I know as soon as I leave, my rear view mirror looking back at London life will be rose-tinted too.

At first, my decision to leave London felt like a failure. Plenty of my friends have settled into London and made it work, and here's me, slinking back to where I started, unable to cope with the capital. I felt weak, silly and embarrassed - nervous to tell people about my plans in case they laughed in my face.

But then I realised - this is the right decision for me. It's not failure to do what's right for you, to follow what makes you happy, to go against the crowd. What would be failure is sticking with a life that wasn't right for me out of the fear of what other people would think, or because it's what I thought I should be doing. Some people are London people, and some people are not. I am the latter - but I don't in any way regret this year that I've spent giving it a go.

At the moment, I feel sick when I see The Shard piercing the distant landscape, or the cluster of City skyscrapers huddling together. One of my earliest memories of coming to London as a child is of reaching London Bridge station, and the last few minutes of the train journey between there and Charing Cross, the excitement of heading into the big city reaching a crescendo. It's a journey that Deserter has covered in some detail here - albeit in slightly different words than I would have chosen - and, all joking aside, for years afterwards, I'd get that same feeling of excitement as I approached London. I was no longer a ten year old, bouncing up and down on the train seat - I was a twentysomething, making her daily commute into work. But inside me, that 10 year old was still bouncing up and down with the thrall of being in London.

I don't get that feeling anymore. The fun and excitement and thrill has been sucked out of London for me.  I want to fall in love with London all over again, and I can't do that if I live here.

I'll still be working in a London five days a week, in a job that requires knowing the ins and out of the capital, so you'll still be seeing plenty of London-centric blog posts on here, and photos on Instagram. Just expect to see a few more castles and lakes and flowerbeds in there too.

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.