Summer walks: The new battle of Hastings


The historical town of Hastings and its rather quiet seaside fairground


I visited Hastings about 10 years ago to see the the historical site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. This time, I joined a walking group and visited the town for the first time. Like many other British seaside towns, the glory days of Hastings was long gone. Despite being awarded an £8.5 million grant from the government last year as part of the regeneration scheme to help and revive Britain’s coastal towns, the outcome is yet to be seen.

Personally I have some nostalgic memories of British coastal towns because I spent two years of my early teenage years studying and living in a remote and gloomy coastal retirement town in Somerset. I didn’t like it at the time, but I have vivid memories of skiving off Sunday church services and hiding near the seafront with my friends on many windy days. I have never been back since but many images and impressions stayed with me until today.


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Main: Butlers’ Famed Emporium opened in 1888, is now a shop that sells vintage and collectible items for the home


In Hastings, our walk was mainly within The Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve, and it was a wonderful one, covering woodland, heathland, grassland and 3 miles ( 5km) of dramatic cliffs and coastline. It was not an easy hike as there were many slopes to climb, but with the sun finally shining in the afternoon, the effort seemed worth it.




As much as I enjoyed the walk esp. along the coast, I was bothered by what I saw while walking through the town centre and along the seafront. First of all, hardly anyone was at the seafront on a mild Saturday morning seemed rather odd to me, then later while walking back towards the station, we saw rows of emptied shops facing the seafront accompanied by many homeless people sleeping outside. My walking companions and I were shocked by what we saw, and suddenly I thought of Mary Portas ( known also as the Queen of British high street) and her effort to revive the other run-down coastal town, Margate. I started to wonder how many Mary Portas are needed to revive all these towns?




It does make me feel slightly sad to see an interesting and historical town such as Hastings in such a run-down state, why isn’t it bustling like Brighton or even Portsmouth? But most importantly, why are people staying away from these seaside towns even though many of them are within two hours’ train ride from London? Being the most deprived area in the South East region, is the government’s funding for regeneration really going to boost the local economy and help the poverty-stricken? There are so many questions but few answers… Only time will tell.


Fine cell work

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I was not aware of the organisation Fine cell work until my friend brought me to their one day exhibition/ sale in Hampstead. And I was quite genuinely surprised by what I saw at the event.

The showroom was set inside a lovely house in Hampstead with a beautiful garden. We were greeted by the welcoming hosts and were invited inside the house to view the wonderful and skillful home furnishing products handmade by prisoners across the U.K.

Fine Cell Work is a social enterprise/ charity that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework, giving them opportunities to create highly-crafted cushions, bags, and patchwork quilts. I think the idea is a brilliant one because not only it provides the prisoners new skills for the future but it also allows them to focus on something creative while they are serving their sentence. It’s hard to believe that the detailed embroidery is done mostly by men! Shamefully, all I can say is that embroidery has never been my specialty…


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You can visit the website ( here) and buy their products online, or find out more about the organisation and testimonials by the prisoners.


Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013

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This year, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is designed by multi award-winning Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, and it is quite different from the previous pavilions.

Since its opening, it has been receiving high praises from critics and I also think it is one of the best that I have seen in recent years. Even though I did like Jean Nouvel‘s bold, striking and slightly imposing pavilion in 2010 ( see below) , I think this pavilion works better overall because not only it blends well with the environment ( which is the architect’s objective), it also feels spacious and comfortable whether you are sitting inside or out. A very sharp contrast from last year’s!


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I was very disappointed by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei‘s pavilion last year, it was very dark inside and boring to look at from the outside. I guess I expected much more from two of top contemporary working architects and the provocative artist. I actually felt that it was one of the least successful pavilion since the project begun, but that is just my opinion.


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Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei’s pavilion 2012


As always, architecture can be very subjective, but from what I observed at the site, people interacted very positively with the structure. Some were eager to explore ( both adults and children), some were happy to just sit on the steps and read, while others enjoyed the rather pricey coffee or tea ( catered by Fortnum & Mason) inside with their friends. Yet the most ‘entertaining’ part was when a Mainland Chinese photographer ( yes, I can tell) brought two ‘models’ and made them pose on the structure. One of them was wearing pink from head to toe, unsurprisingly, her sharp outfit made all heads turn. As it turned out, the pavilion is also a wonderful backdrop for aspiring fashion photographers!

Love it or loathe it? See it for yourself…


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Jean Nouvel’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2010


The temporary pavilion will stay open until 20 October 2013.


Souzou: Outsider art from Japan


The Economically Booming City of Tianjin, China by Norimitsu Kokubo ( 2011)


I don’t usually like to use outside sources ( i.e. photographs) for this blog, but since I wasn’t allowed to take photographs at this exhibition, I will make an exception. I am aware that this exhibition has been going on for a few months now and has been written by art critics and other bloggers, but I still want to write about it!

I didn’t expect much before the visit ( usually the best way), but I was so inspired by what I saw at the Wellcome Collection’s Souzou: Outsider art from Japan exhibition that I feel like I need to return again before it ends on 30th June!

The meaning of ‘Souzou’ is described at the exhibition as follows: “Souzou is a word which has no direct equivalent in English but a dual meaning in Japanese: written in one way – 創造 – it means creation and in another – 想像 – imagination. Both meanings allude to a force by which new ideas are born and take shape in the world. In the context of this exhibition, Souzou refers to the practice of 46 self-taught artists living and working within social welfare facilities across Japan.


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Untitled by Shota Katsube – twist ties art ( 2011)


The work shown here is not refined nor polished, and it’s not supposed to. Walking around it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend recently who is suffering from anxiety disorder ( I don’t like the word ‘disorder’ because I think almost everyone has some kind ‘disorder’ anyway including myself). I told her that I believe that the most effective therapy ( backed by published research that I have come across) for mental disorders is to express creatively whether it is through art, music, design, writing, dancing, cooking, making etc. I think humans are born to create and in doing so, it will help us to explore our full potential as well as to express the emotions or suffering that we are unable to express in our daily lives. And after seeing the work by these amateur artists who have been diagnosed with some kind of mental disorders or illnesses, it has only confirmed my belief.

At the exhibition, there are some pieces of work here that can only be created by people who are quite ‘obsessive’, which is also part of its appeal. But most importantly, these artists are working from their hearts, following their intuition without thinking about the trends or market. It makes me wonder how ‘sad’ are the ‘sane’ population because we can’t even live our lives in the most honest and authentic way without worrying about the images we created for ourselves. Instead of discriminating against or isolating the mentally unwell people, perhaps we need to start learning from them, and try to understand or develop more compassion towards them.

The exhibition is full of wonderful and inspiring work, but I have picked some of my favourites by the following artists:

Hiroyuki Komatsu – For those who often tease daytime TV watchers, they probably never expect to see ‘art’ inspired by it! Komatsu is a fan of morning TV/ soap operas, and his work contains all the key characters from different popular series with airing dates and time. The work is not so much about the artist’s drawing skills but his perspectives and obsession, which make his work very humane.


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Morning TV series drama, ‘Tsubasa’ by Hiroyuki Komatsu


Norimitsu Kokubo ( see above) is the youngest artist ( only 17!) in the show, he creates fictional cityscapes of real cities that he has never visited via sources from newspaper and internet. His 10-metre scroll piece, “The Economically Booming City of Tianjin, Chinais yet to be completed, and so far it has taken him 2 years to reach 8.3 metres! The piece is made up of detailed drawings including skyscrapers, cars, train tracks, people and even space ships and tanks! The style is not consistent, which makes it more fascinating…

Shota Katsube ( see above) – It’s impossible not to love Shota Katsube‘s detailed and colourful miniature twist ties action figures. The 300 on display are all different and are skillfully made by hand, it only shows how creative you can be with an everyday object that we often oversee in our busy daily lives!

Keisuke Ishino – There is something very primitive and childlike about Keisuke Ishino’s simple yet intriguing paper cartoon figurines. I watched a short video at the exhibition showing the artist making these figurines and an interview with his mother who seems quite puzzled ( and slightly amused) by her son’s persistence and productive energy. Sweet.



Girl by Keisuke Ishino


If you are interested in similar art work, check out Outside In, an arts agency providing a platform for artists who find it difficult to access the art world either because of mental health issues, disability, health, social circumstance or because their work does not conform to what is normally considered as art.

Currently there is also an Outside In: On tour exhibition at the Royal Brompton Hospital ( free entry, until 14 August) showcasing around 80 works by artists from the margins.

This also coincides with the Creativity and wellbeing Week which is currenly taking place in London until 22nd June. The aim of this event is to make people be aware of the positive effect can have on people’s health and wellbeing through engagements in the arts and creative activities. There are still a few days left to enjoy the free events taking place in the city.


The coolest and quirkiest… Cibo Matto

I rarely write about music on this blog but in fact, music has always been essential in my life. I don’t buy many CDs now ( like everyone else, I have switched to downloading online) because I am running out of space for them; having bought over 700 ( a rough estimation) in the past ranging from pop to world, rock, electronics, jazz, instrumental, bossa nova, Cuban, tango, soundtrack and classical.

Recently, I found out that the New York-based band, Cibo Matto ( with two main Japanese members) has reunited and will be releasing a new album, I was quite excited and immediately searched for their first album, “Viva! La Woman” from my collection. It’s still refreshing to listen to this album again even though it was released in 1996. It’s almost hard to categorised their genre because it seems to be a fusion of trip hop, indie and Shibuya-kei, but the lyrics are often fun and slight bizarre.

Then I got even more excited when I found out that they will be playing at Meltdown festival curated by Yoko Ono at the Southbank Centre. Finally last night I went to see them play live which made me love them even more! The energy and vibe at the concert was superb, the audience stood up and danced to the music after some encouragement from the lead singer, Miho Hatori.

The big surprise of the evening was to see Sean Lennon ( who was also a band member) and Yoko Ono who came on stage for their last song of the evening, “Know your chicken”. By this time, the place was roaring with excitement, and it was hard to believe the legend dancing and singing on stage is already 80 because she seemed so much younger and so full of energy. Shocking.

Now I am really looking forward to their new album and will happily add it to my CD collection!


Live at Meltdown festival at Southbank Centre


Here are also two music videos from their first album, Viva! La Woman including the super cool “Sugar water” directed by the well-known French director Michel Gondry:


“Sugar Water” from Viva! La Woman directed by Michel Gondry


“Know your chicken” from Viva! La Woman


Souvenir from Asia

A long-overdue entry on some interesting finds I bought while I was traveling around Asia…



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Fun 3-dimensional cards from Japan


In my previous entries on Kyoto and Tokyo ( click here to read), I have included some stationery and cards that I bought from specific shops, but here are some others including a washi paper card holder, botanical illustrated writing paper and A4 plastic folders from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.


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Top left: washi paper card holder; top right: botanical illustration writing paper; Main: different sizes of plastic folders, great for travel!


The Japanese are well-known for their beautiful packaging especially when it comes to food. Hence it is hard to resist the temptation even when I have no idea what the food inside tastes like! In the basement underneath the rather complex ( and overwhelming) Tokyo station, there is a food and dining area called Gransta where you can eat at a wide range of restaurants, or buy bento boxes, snacks and souvenirs for your onward journeys. Here I found some chocolates and mints with lovely packaging that are designed especially for the opening of Tokyo station’s Marunouchi building.

Besides food, their books are also full of beautiful illustrations, and even though I tried not buy too many books when I travel, I bought a Kyoto guide book ( in Japanese) full of illustrative maps and nice photos, and “Retelling old patterns for a new world” ( with Japanese and English texts) on the Norwegian textiles designer/ artist, Inger Johanne Rasmussen.

Last but not least, a cute umbrella with a rabbit-shaped cover, which I am sure will cheer me up on many of the rainy days in London!



Top left and right: chocolates and sweets packaging; Middle left: New Mints packaging that celebrates the opening of the renovated Tokyo Station; Middle middle: A cool notebook with pen designed by D-Bros; Middle right: A Kyoto guide book: Bottom left: Retelling old patterns for a new world; Middle left: Rabbit umbrella



Aside from contemporary designs, traditional handicrafts and letterpress cards can also be seen in many shops in Taiwan. Previously, I have written ( click here to read) about two stationery shops in Taipei, Mogu and 324 print studio, and they both sell wonderful letterpress cards ( see below). The slightly pricey but lovely card from 324 print studio even includes 2 metal types in the pack. Cool!


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Top left: Mogu letterpress cards; top right: a traditional handicraft gift from a friend in Kaohsiung; Main: The cute letterpress postcard inspired by Turkish folk dance handmade by Yang Jung-Ming from 324 print studio


At the Suho memorial paper museum in Taipei, the small shop area sells a range of paper made products, books and even CDs. I bought a cute set of stickers that illustrate the process of paper-making, a box containing 100 pieces of floral paper lamp decoration ( a collaboration between Suho and Taiwanese design studio, Biaugust) and an intriguing and meditative CD produced by an ethnic-minority Chinese musician. The music ( without much lyrics) reminds me of nature and wild life, which is suggested by the songs’ titles… mysterious and yet powerful.


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Top left: An A4 plastic Doraemon folder bought from the “100 years before the birth of Doraemon” exhibition in Taipei; Top middle: Flip stickers by Feteme studio; Top right: paper-making stickers from Sohu paper museum; Bottom left: “A flower” paper lamp decoration by Sohu paper museum and Biaugust; Bottom right: Nature-inspired music CD bought at Sohu paper museum


In Kaohsiung, I bought various bamboo handicrafts and a colourful and practical nylon bag for less than £1 ( after some effortless haggling) from the bamboo street ( click here to read). I also bought some natural and organic bath products from Teasoap, a factory that specialises in handmade natural soap since 1957 ( The factory is also open to the public with regular DIY soap making workshops available).

I couldn’t leave Taiwan without buying their well-known Hakka floral fabrics ( popular in the 1960s and 70s but now making a comeback). Even though I already have piles of unused fabrics at home ( collected from my travels), I am sure I will make use of them one day.


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Top left: Various natural bath products from Teasoap; Top right: A nylon bag from Kaohsiung; Main: Various bamboo products from Kaohsiung’s bamboo street; Middle left: a fish-shaped oven glove; middle right: Hakka floral fabrics from Yongle fabric market in Taipei; Bottom main: Stamps promoting traveling within Taiwan


Hong Kong

It is not always easy to find locally made designs in Hong Kong but at Kurick cafe and bookshop in Yau Ma Tei, there are many wonderful products and stationery made by local designers and artists including a range of greeting cards by Hong Kong artist, Furze Chan.

When you step into the shop inside the Hong Kong museum of art, it is easy to dismiss it and assume it is a touristy souvenir shop, but surprisingly, there are some interesting stationery and books that are hard to find elsewhere. I discovered some unusual wrapping paper here, a porcelain-inspired paper by a local design company Sze’s Creations and two folk style and graphical ones by a Chinese company Red Lantern Folk Art, selling stationery and products that feature peasant paintings produced by amateur painters from Tianjin.


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Top left: Furze Chan’s greeting card design; Top right: Wrapping paper by Sze’s Creations; Bottom left and right: folk style wrapping paper by Red Lantern Folkart


After 2 pairs of broken headphones from JAYS, I have decided to switch to a different brand. After some extensive online research, I discovered a Hong Kong brand Sound Magic that has had amazing reviews from both experts and customers. I decided to go for their highly rated E30, the sound quality is great especially for the price ( HKD $300/ £24), and I like the fact that they are proudly made in China! I sincerely hope that they will last longer than my last two pairs!



My new Sound magic E30 headphones 


Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2013

With so many film festivals taking place in London all the time, it’s hard to keep up with all of them. I recently found out about the Terracotta Far East Film Festival despite it is already in its 5th year.

The festival showcases a range of current films from different parts of Asia with a special spotlight on Indonesia this year, as well as a special memorial section honouring the two Hong Kong superstars, Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui who both passed away 10 years ago ( Rouge is a daunting love story with outstanding performances esp. from Anita Mui, who subsequently won several best actress awards for her role in the region).

Last night, I attend the first UK screening of Sang Penari (The Dancer) with a Q & A with the director Ifa Isfansyah. I am not familiar with Indonesian films, so this was an eye-opening experience for me especially to learn about its traditional culture and dark political past. This beautiful, brave and engaging film was inspired by rather than adapted from ( as the director said at the Q & A) an Indonesian trilogy novel by Ahmad Tohari titled ‘ Paruk Village’s Ronggeng’ (or Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk). The film was not a box-offfice hit in Indonesia and many scenes were cut due to its political subject and sexual content. Despite this, the film received critical acclaim and received several top awards at the 2011 Indonesian Film Festival. Here is the trailer of the film:


Sang Penari (The Dancer)


There are a few more Indonesian film being shown until 15th June, so don’t miss out on this rare opportunity to see more films made from this part of the world.


Clerkenwell Design Week 2013

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 Top left: Map of Clerkenwell; top right: The Farmiloe building; Main: Ewan Gallimore for Jaguar; Bottom right: Nicholas Alexander & Alexander Mulligan’s The Herd installation at J+A cafe


The last trade/ design event of the season was Clerkenwell design week. I have been attending this for the last few years and it seems to be getting bigger each year. I was quite busy during the week, so I only had one afternoon spare but I ended up spending about six hours in the area!

The main exhibition area took place at Farmiloe building, The Order of St John ( a former church) and House of Detention ( a former Victorian prison), but there were many other showrooms and shops participating, hence the area was bustling for three days.


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Top left: How do we communicate design talk by Design Museum; Top right: The order of St John; Main: Mobile Studio’s Mirare Maze Folly; Bottom left: The hanging gardens of Clerkenwell by Elisa Pardini


There were several interesting outdoor installations including:

Mirare Maze Folly ( see above) designed by the London-based Mobile Studio.The studio revisited the classical garden maze and reinterpreted it through plays on light and refraction. The walls were made of clear acrylic, retaining the idea of permeability yet allowing the setting to permeate through the walls of the maze.

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Top left: Textile hut by Architecture for Humanity; Top right: Green hut; Middle left: The Heart of Architecture by Giles Miller; Middle middle: Water hut; Middle right: Remakery hut; Bottom left & right: Tetra shed by Innovative Imperative


Architecture for Humanity is a global network of building professionals and aims to build a more sustainable future through architecture and design. And this year, they launched The Huts with four themes in different locations:Green Hut (clad with edible plants), Water Hut, Textile Hut and Remakery Hut (using objects from the Brixton Remakery centre), all reflecting the organisation’s spirit and ethos.

Outside of St James Church, there were some interesting looking sheds called the Tetra shed® designed by British architecture practice Innovation Imperative, Weproductise and Amorim Isolamentos. The shed is a new modular building system which, as a single module, has been designed to be a modern garden office and it is made of cork!


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The Cloud Leopard by Nahoko Kojima at Craft Council


One of the most mesmorising work I saw on the day was The Cloud Leopard by Nahoko Kojima. This paper-cut sculpture was cut by hand and it took the artist 5 months to complete. It is a stunning and delicate piece of work!


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Top left: Fluoro Vases by Shake the dust; Top middle: Swing table by Duffy London; Bottom left: Jaime Hayon for Se London; Hush day bed by Freyja Sewell


One design that drew a lot of attention at the event and from the press was the Hush day bed ( see above ) by Freyja Sewell. The hand-sewn biodegradable felt pod can be used as a chair or be opened up and turned into a pod for users to crawl into for work or rest. Interesting.


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Top left: The Revitalizer by Merve Kahraman; Top right: KaiGami lamps; Middle middle: Glade lamp by James smith designs; Middle right: Rosa at Luminosity Import; Bottom right: Daylights by Philippe Malouin


This year, I noticed a lot more new lighting designs, of which many were quite exciting. I especially liked the simplicity of James Smith Design‘s handcrafted Glade lamp made up of hundreds of willow strands held together through the steel brackets ( which apparently took a few hours to thread through).

I was also captivated by London-based Canadian designer, Philippe Malouin‘s ( one of this year’s W hotels designers of the future)Daylights are clever and refreshing. The set of tangram-shaped wall lamps that resemble plantation shutters are apparently inspired by London’s gloomy weather! They are lined with LEDs replicating daylight and give the impression that a real window lies behind the slats. Cool!


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Top left: architectural drawings in the basement; Top right: Aria and Avia lamps; Middle left: Kuki Chair; Middle middle: Louis Vuitton Icone bag; Bottom left: Kapsarc Relief; Bottom right: Cirrus


Last but not least, I visited the new Zaha Hadid Design Gallery, which showcases the furniture, jewellery, lighting, sculptures and architectural drawings by the internationally-renowned architect. I remember when I was still a design student, I was a fan of the architect simply for her conceptual designs and futuristic architectural drawings ( since none of her projects were realised at the time). Yet now I feel that she has become a global brand like Louis Vuitton or Apple, her presence is everywhere and somehow the magic has disappeared ( for me anyway). With so many architectural and design projects happening worldwide, I wonder if she even has the time to oversee every project? I am glad that her talent and achievement has finally been recognised but I am also sadden by what is ‘lost’ in the process…

Her new gallery should make her fans happy, but I feel that the furniture is placed quite randomly and without much information ( apart from a flimsy leaflet)… I was quite disappointed but then again maybe I have been disappointed for quite a while now.



Rickmansworth Festival 2013

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Floating band and canal boats in Rickmansworth


It is amazing what I keep discovering here in London… I have never heard of the Rickmansworth Festival ( nor Rickmansworth for that matter) even though this year was its 20th year! I only found out about it because I was taking the special vintage tube journey organised by London Transport Museum ( see my previous entry) on the day.

Arriving at the station, we waited for the free heritage bus to take us to the site of the festival. I was excited to see a green RT, the predecessor of Routemasters which has been beautifully restored. On the way back, I got to ride on a red routemaster with a conductor giving us free tickets via his vintage machine. It really brought back memories and it made me realise how much I miss the good old days when I could jump on and off those buses so easily!


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Free heritage bus services provided by London Transport Museum Friends which included conductors on board giving out tickets from the vintage ticket machines


I had no idea what to expect at the festival, but I was quite pleasantly surprised by the showcase of canal boats there. I have always wanted to go on a canal boat holiday in the U.K. but somehow never had the opportunity, so this was a good chance to see them up close.


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It was intriguing to see many beautifully painted and restored canal boats and the engines inside as well. It seems a shame that canal boat art/ decoration is not more recognised because I could see a lot of effort have been put into decorating the boats ( inside and out) and each one has its own unique style. The more traditional style is similar to folk art from Russia/ Eastern European with roses and castles as the main theme and motifs, but there were also some non-traditional style including a Mexican one! I walked past a lady/ boat owner selling hand-painted ceramic ware and I bought an item simply because of the cheerful colours!


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The festival took place near the Rickmansworth Aquadrome local nature reserve where there are two lakes, Batchworth and Bury. While stroll along the lake, I saw people water skiing, camping, fishing and a family of ducks and ducklings, which was lovely!

My day had been more enjoyable than I expected and it triggered my interest to find out more about other festivals that take place near London. Summer is the best time to explore and take part in outdoor activities, so I will look out for fun events in the coming months!



 Rickmansworth Aquadrome local nature reserve

Tube 150 anniversary celebrations on the Metropolitan line

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The beautifully restored 1938 Tube stock train


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the London Underground and the London Transport Museum has organised various events to celebrate the world’s oldest underground railway.

I am not quite a train geek, but I do love trains and train journeys, especially vintage or heritage ones. Hence I bought tickets for the two train journeys when I found out about the events.

The first was to take the Art deco 1938 Tube stock train, a newly restored A stock from Harrow to Amersham via Rickmansworth ( in conjunction with the Rickmansworth festival). The train has been beautifully restored inside and out, and everyone on the streets looked as excited as the passengers on the train itself!


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The art deco interior with humourous advertisments


The Metropolitan Railway was the first Underground line that started in 1863, which was primarily catered for commuters who have moved to the suburbs/ north-west London due to London’s booming population. This area became known as Metro-Land, a name created in 1915 by the Metropolitan Railway’s publicity department to promote the suburban lifestyle.


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The newly restored Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1


The second journey was to take another newly restored Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 from Amersham to Harrow. The steam train was noisier than I expected but it was not too bad once inside. Unfortunately, I did not travel in the 120-year old restored Metropolitan Jubilee Coach, instead I was in the rather ‘bland’ ex British Rail coach from the 1950s! A slight disappointment but it was fun overall.


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There will be more train journeys coming up in the summer, so watch out for more events on the London transport museum website.