Bobo happenings: Mind expansion, ‘Angel Headed Hipsters’, Paris flower punch and beautiful old bird ladies.

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

It certainly seems to be a really bubbling time in London with many interesting happenings coming up this month. I’m definitely feeling like there’s a strong undercurrent of creativity and inspiring occurrences on the horizon and am going to do my damndest to participate in them all!

The grand opening of the Idler Academy in West London on Tuesday 1st March has left me feeling quite heady and is a victorious occasion for the curious minds of the neighbourhood. A mix of an ’18th Century coffee house’ and a ‘good dose of the 1950s grammar school’ (need I say more?!) this is the place to go if you want to E X P A N D your mind. There, other than good coffee, you can pickup pointers on how to start your own cottage industry, listen to Parisian bobette Anne Pigalle speak on erotic poetry, make your own books, learn Latin and much much more.

A merry and anarchic magazine, The Idler, was set up by Tom Hodgkinson (a self proclaimed ‘professional loafer’) and I first came across it when my hubby S gave me a beautiful ochre fabric bound copy of their 2010 annual hardback entitled ‘Back to the Land’. Filled with essays from a range of luminaries including artist David Hockney and writer/environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth – they are treasured leaves growing on my bookshelf.

We flew with Angel Headed Hipsters at the National Gallery last weekend, enjoying an intimate exhibition of Allan Ginsberg’s personal photographs featuring Jack Kerouac, Neil Cassady and William Burroughs as well as other influencers in the Beatniks wider circle. My favourite photo was that of poet Gary Snyder at his forest woodshed. Highly recommended, the free exhibition runs until the 20th March and seems to be part of a wider Beats fever hitting the capital with the release of Howl, a movie about Ginsberg’s poem of the same name and ensuing obscenity trial as well as Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ later in the year. The Pilot Light Theatre Company is also staging ‘Visions of Kerouac’ at The Half-Moon pub in Herne Hill until the 19th March.

Rodchenko fans should head to Art Sensus this weekend where many of the artist’s formerly unseen photographs from the communist era will be on display. A Parisian import (known as Orel Art), my polish heritage predisposes my to be inquisitive to discover this interesting gallery which promotes Russian and Eastern European artists.

All this followed up with a Paris Flower Punch at the new and delightful Folly, an indoor secret garden north of London Bridge. Clearly a nature-deprived city dweller, the sound of a beehive-inspired drinkery, tree dotted eaterie and Borough market sourced delights has me hooked before I’ve arrived. There is also a deli, wine and flower shop on site and bundles of décor inspiration with the space cocooned in Sanderson wallpapers and Harlequin fabrics. What’s not to swoon over?

Tonight, I’m heading home for a peaceful night in, but lamenting finishing a marvellous book by the English born darling of Mexico’s art scene, Leonora Carrington. Entitled ‘The Hearing Trumpet’, it is about a dear old lady banished to retirement home by her offspring ~ which turns out to be the true beginning of her adventures and that which ensues can only be summarised as a heady surrealism with an eccentric cast of mad or sane fellow-interned colourful-charactered ladies. I may well reread it tout de suite, but in the spirit of getting older in body but more imaginative and childlike in mind, I will be filling the book’s void by watching ‘Turning’, a BBC film short by Karni and Saul which was nominated for the Bafta’s Best Short Film this year. I’m always enticed by anything featuring Flamingos, but old lady crossed Flamingos, eating cake off vintage crockery and telling magick tales of emperors without skins?! That’s sure to take one somewhere else. You can watch it here: Turning



February 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just back from Paris and bubbling with inspiration. Tonight I’ll be dreaming of  slate fish scale domes, giant street lanterns, lion-headed door knockers, and porthole windows…teleport tunnels to mystic lands.

Virtuous Bread

February 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

It is a Sunday evening and I’m contentedly sitting at home enjoying a steaming bowl of kale and onion soup from a bowl potted by Rob Bibby (a warmly received wedding gift from a dear friend) and munching on a very delicious slice of buttered homemade courgette and sage spelt bread. Homemade, that is, by ME. The first loaf of bread that I have EVER baked has turned out remarkably well and truth be told, I do feel a little virtuous.

But niggling in back of my mind is perplexion as to why I have never attempted it before, what with being nearly 35. Bread has always been an integral part of my life – as nourishment but also in how it relates to my polish heritage. Brought up in West London as part of a strong polish community, the bread on our table (usually rye) was sourced from one of the many local polish delis and its symbolism, in particular for my father, born in Krakow, was in its ties to our homeland.

Despite its importance, the skill of actually making bread was never passed down to me. Luckily, in the spirit of reclaiming the artisan craft of baking, I was given the inspired present of a bread baking lesson with Jane Mason, founder of Virtuous Bread and my endearing and infectiously enthusiastic demystifier of ‘the loaf’. Thanks to Jane, I have achieved something I have been wanting to do for years.

Last Saturday morning, I broke out of NW6 and headed south under a crisp blue sky, over a bottle green Hammersmith Bridge and in to Jane’s home in Barnes to cash in my present. Below is a photo diary of the day – make sure you scroll past if for more about Virtuous Bread!

Our day started with a welcome cup of tea, chat about the neighbourhood and life by the river ~ Jane clearly connects with her locality through her bread as reflected by her unique knowledge of the area . The kitchen balcony flung open, river flowing and starboard stroke rowers sweeping peacefully past us, we set to work. Deciding upon spelt, rye and wholemeal as our preferred flours, we added water, yeast and salt and then a pause and chance to quiz our teacher with bread related questions – as Jane says, the brilliant thing about making bread is that there is a lot of time when you don’t have to do anything because the bread is doing something on its own. 15 minutes later, our yeast active, we got to kneading…by far my favourite part of the day and from witnessing my mother and sister’s technique…the first demostration of why each loaf of bread is different! There are so many factors that contribe to the the final product from kneading to oven temperature to the amount of down time that you give your dough ~ each loaf is as individual as its maker.

More down time. Whilst our dough rose, we sank ~ into comfy chairs where we feasted on a delicious lunch and chin wagged and daydreamed about world bread domination. Jane not only runs courses but bakes in schools, hospitals, prisons and is also in the process of finding a site for a pop-up DIY bakery where anyone can come to use a communal oven and create their own masterpieces. Virtuous bread also supports ‘Bread Angels’ who want to set up their own home baking business and the website is dedicated to providing a knowledge bank of all things bread, demystifying the baking process and creating a community of likeminded bakers. In her own words, “ gives back to society and forges the link between eating well and doing good by using bread and bread events as catalysts for social change. Baking and baking bread brings people together. It is an act of creation that is quickly shared and always appreciated, feeding us in every way.”

The next stage was all about stretching, folding, rolling, stretching, folding, rolling and finally rolling into a tight sausage to beautifully fit into a greased tin – one I had prepared earlier of course. Baked for 45 minutes in Jane’s beautiful swedish oven, our loaves emerged picture perfect and warmly received.

Most of us will have read about the intensive processing of industrial bread on supermarket shelves or mock high street bakeries – packed with additives and fat in order that the production line may be sped up and shelf life extended. Known as the ‘Chorleywood process’ even its name sound like some distopian nightmare and this alone should inspire everyone to take up the mantle of making their own bread at home or with an excellent teacher such as Jane.

Our bounty in hand and brimming with pride we said our goodbyes with promises of following up on all the ideas we had come up with during this wonderful day. In all the excitement we forgot the bananas Jane offered us from her surplus, but I’m sure with her enterprising skill and imagination she put them to good use somehow.


February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

The discovery of a bundle of yellowed dog-eared letters and postcards in an empty Paris apartment in the 6th has cast a spell over me. Enchanted by spidery scrawls and scattered sentences, their sense disjointed by missing pages, I have been trying to weave together these found fragments of correspondence between two beings I shall never meet.

Driving me, I think, is my lament at the loss of handwritten letters in my own life and the stories that their missing presence will keep eternally hidden. Call me sentimental, but there is a lot about the good ole’ times that I miss.

If you are familiar with french, you may know the word griffoner, meaning to scribble or scrawl and a griffonage is therefore an illegible scrawl. If like me, you feel the need to bring some griffonage back into your own life and reawaken that slumbering cursive hand, then here is some inspiration to set the scene!

Griffin and Sabine: An Extrordinary Correspondence’ is the first of a trilogy {followed by Sabine’s Notebook & The Golden Mean} penned by Nick Bantock, about a lovelorn postcard artist in England and the mysterious Sabine, a lady from the South Pacific who can see Griffin’s work in her mind’s eye. Filled with mythology and symbolism the story tells of their correspondence and sometimes wavering belief in each other’s existence which spans across different dimensions. The books are filled with surreal postcard images and envelopes containing actual letters that you can take out and read a la voyeur. I discovered these books 15 years ago and remain enchanted every time I reread them.

Present and Correct, if you don’t already know it, is my favourite source of handmade, vintage and beautifully designed paper goods and desk accessories. I’m obsessed with it and in particular, these pretty scandinavian writing sets.

Dempsey and Carroll of New York city have specialised in engraved stationery since 1878. You can find their classic cotton fibre writing paper at Ben Pentreath’s wonderful curiosity shop off Lambs conduit street.

Fans of grid paper might prefer Rhodia – the french paper merchant does a nicely presented box set.

Colour heads like me should check out heritage label G. Lalo Verge de France who do a pretty range that is also good for minimum bleed if using a fountain pen.

For recycling and reusing envelopes I find these japanese paper tapes indispensible to reseal and decorate. (Brilliant for wrapping with brown and newpaper too!) You can get them at Papermash, another excellent online stationer that sources indie paper goods from around the world.

My first letter of the year is addressed to Mr and Mrs A Greenman, treasured but long lost friends.


Theophilus Thistle

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

After hearing many glowing recommendations, last week we found ourselves in 1930s London listening to the King’s Speech. With the Kilburn Tricycle Cinema our tardis, we settled down to watch an endearingly eccentric Geoffrey Rush attempt to teach a marvellously uptight, superbly stammering Colin Firth to sift thistles.

In what is my favourite film of 2011 thus far, Lionel Logue attempts to cure King George VI of his speech affliction and as delighted as I was with their performances from the outset, I quickly refocussed on Production Designer Eve Stewart’s stunning set which, having read a little about the film, I now know was created on a shoestring.

Our first guess at the filming location of Logue’s theatrical office was St Paul’s Artist Studios or ‘the windows’ on the A4 out of London. I know many of us curiously stare up at them en route to Heathrow or Harrods, wondering what bohemian secrets hide behind their magnificent cheval-glass windows. Well, on this occasion, it is not a stammering King! It appears that our King preferred the Westend to battle his demons, the actual site being 33 Portland Place, an 18th century townhouse architected by Robert Adam.

Sunburst art deco wallpaper, burnished surfaces and evocatively distressed walls all lie behind todays inspiration – and my wonderings at how to recreate the interior walls of roaring 1920s & 30s London. Although I couldn’t find the the beautiful yellow and green sunbursts above, here is a selection of what I did discover….

Harlequin’s 1930s inspired Arkona collection features the ‘Deco’ paper and at £35 a roll, it’s my winner.

Cole & Son’s ‘Feather Fan

Osborne and Little’s ‘Folie’ from their 2005 Boheme Collection

Bradbury & Bradbury’s handprinted ‘Volute‘ in Champagne Pearl

Adelphi Paper Hangings produce ‘historically accurate block printed wallpapers’ which they supply to museums and historic houses as well as homemakers. ‘Spiral Willow‘ caught my eye in this historic yellow colourway.

Farrow & Ball’s Arts & Crafts inspired offerings include ‘The Lotus Papers‘ – and they come in a generous palate of colours. Exquisite!

Second Hand Rose in NY sells original vintage wallpaper. I spotted the below but they are one-offs so you have to be quick!

If shipping wallpaper from the US doesn’t appeal then ebay is always a good place to look but my hot tip is Portobello road. Halfway up the hill there is a theatrical Madame selling vintage fabric and ribbons on her stall. If you ask nicely, she’ll pull out an old brown trunk containing precious early 20th century wallpaper samples that she discovers in the South of France. They are not cheap but 100% authentic, a good size and she has an extensive selection.

Recreating the distressed plasterwork on stone look probably requires an experienced decorator but Osborne and Little’s ‘Oratorio‘ is an excellent illusion and alternative.







p.s Theophilus Thistle, the successful thistle sifter, Is sifting a sieve of unsifted thistles… and I didn’t even stammer!

Tom Dixon at Portobello Dock

January 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

When it comes to finding new and inspiring spaces, be they restaurants, venues or delightful emporiums of whatnots, I often find myself disappointed in situ. But I am finding it very hard NOT to be excited about that which has blossomed at Portobello Dock over the past year. The development has demeurely sprung up at the no mans land end of Ladbroke Grove and added a much needed bolt hole/focus for design inspired and creative minds of the area.

Housed in a beautifully converted wharf building on the site of a former victorian good yard, this box of delights can be discovered at the lost end of Ladbroke Grove. (The unassuming entrance is easy to miss with many visitors I’m sure, flying over the Grand Union Canal headlong into Harrow road chaos and the edges of ‘edgy’ Kensal Rise). Tom Dixon has chosen a brave and interesting location for his new home which houses his collection and a carefully curated selection of other talented designers of all ilks.

At the Dock Kitchen, now a permanent fixture,  diners can enjoy an excellent menu created by Stevie Parle (ex Petersham Nurseries, River Cafe and Spotted Pig) whilst seated under Tom Dixon signature copper shades and surrounded by the ghosts of punk rockers who left their hearts and hopes in the former Virgin recording studios. I can’t think of anywhere else where so many energies, present and past, collide and conspire to create such an excellent eaterie and inspiring shopping experience.

Favourite pieces include Tom Dixon’s Etch candle holder (£30)

Tom Dixon’s Bronze Copper Shade (£285)
The ridiculous but divine Dada candle from Cire Trudon, Europe’s oldest candle maker. With notes of eucalyptus buchu leaf, tea, mint and chamomile, it comes exquisitely presented in absinthian green hand-blown glass. The scent is inspired by the artistic literary and surrealist movement Dadaism, but I like it for being handcrafted from a secret blend of palm oil, rice, soy and coprah, and being 100% free of petrochemicals. (£47)

Bella Freud’s Ginsberg is God jumper (£200) (This reminds me how excited I am to see ‘Howl’ about the American poet, which comes out in the UK on the 7th January 2011 – you can catch it at the Curzon Soho on the 25th February.)

You can buy many of these items online, but I would recommend aesthetes go to Portobello Dock for a hedonistic hit of kaleidescopic colour and eye candy – there is more to discover here than these tantalising finds!

Portobello Dock formalises a design direction in this formerly non-descript and curious part of Ladbroke Grove that has never really known what it is. Not only with the kudos of Tom Dixon in residence but with its role as a space for ideas generation and inspiration. An easy target for labels of pretention, it does what it does well. It is an evolving space so worth keeping and eye on especially at Design Festival time 2011.

December outing

January 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of my favourite December evenings was spent at the Grade II listed Union Chapel. Peter Broderick humbled us with an ever spine tingling, echoed performance laid bare in the flickering shadows of a cave in the deep earths of some nordic land. That is what the Union Chapel and Peter Broderick do to me.

Aside from James Cubbitt’s unparalleled Victorian Gothic setting, excellent acoustics and programming schedule, the Chapel has a hidden, dimlit, lowfi drinkery of the kind you might find in a German Schloss. Cracked wooden-floored, black-beamed and warmed by an inviting hearth, it is a space made for odes to performing musicians over spiced mulled wine and seems to exist for those who should have lived in another time.

The cafe also serves great home cooked food and by supporting it, you are indirectly helping them fund the chapel restoration which although supported by lottery funding and the like, is conditional on the community raising a considerable sum itself.

Highbury and Islington only becomes a reality when you stumble out at midnight to catch the last train home.

As for Peter Broderick … he is remarkable and I wouldn’t dare to assume that I could find words to describe him! Listen and you will see: