Myddelton house garden

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Back in July when the sun was out almost everyday, I was stuck indoor working in front of the computer until I decided to leave my work behind temporarily and headed outdoor one day. I wanted to visit a garden but not in the city centre, so I started to look for places on the outskirt of London. Then I discovered the newly restored Myddelton house garden in Lea Valley (Enfield), I was very intrigued as I have never heard of it before and was keen to find out more about the story behind this historical garden.

I packed my camera and sketch book, and started my mini adventure on a very hot day. The train journey from Seven Sisters took only about 15-20 mins, but I felt quite excited as the train headed out into the suburbs.


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The 8-acre garden is about 15 mins walk from the train station, and entrance is free. The house and garden was built and created by Edward Augustus Bowles, one of Britain’s most famous self-taught horticulturalist, artists, writer and expert botanists. He was born here in 1865 and lived here all his life until his death in 1954. He dedicated much of his life to transforming the gardens with his love of unusual and exotic plants. However, the garden was left neglected for decades and parts were in danger of being lost forever, before Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, backed by nearly £500,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, set about restoring the garden to its former glory. After two years of restoration work, the garden reopened in May 2011 by the Duchess of Cornwall, who was previously married to Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, the great-great nephew of E A Bowles.


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The garden has a small museum, a tea room with a lovely outdoor courtyard. I had a quick lunch here and began to explore the garden afterwards. I have been to the bigger and grander gardens before, but this one is quite special because it is full of unexpected surprises. Although it is not very big, there is much to explore and everything is very well thought and laid out. I especially love the shady seats scattered in various parts of the garden, they are slightly ‘hidden’ and yet offer fantastic views of the surroundings.

The garden also contains many eclectic artifacts that Mr Bowles collected, and one of them is The Enfield Market Cross dates back from 1826. The cross stood in the market place in Enfield Town until 1904 when it was dismantled and almost turned into rubble. Luckily, Mr Bowles rescued it and placed as the centrepiece in his rose garden. It’s approximately 3½ feet shorter now as the upper section was possibly damaged in the dismantling (see above).


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One of the most interesting aspects of the garden is the variety of exotic plants here, which includes the highly invasive Japanese Knotweed, yellowroot, agave, aloes and different types of cacti in the greenhouse and newly built conservatory.


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The few hours I spent here flew by very quickly and it was time for me to head home. Reluctantly, I walked back to the station but at the same time, I felt incredibly uplifted after spending my day at this enchanting and tranquil garden.


The garden is open all year round and the nearest station is Turkey Street (zone 6) on the Liverpool Street line.



London’s immersive theatre trend

The jetty

‘The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face’ at The Jetty, Greenwich Peninsula


I am always grateful that I grew up and live in a part of world where cultural arts are highly valued, respected and accessible to everyone. I would not be the same person if I did not get the opportunities to study art and music at school, and be exposed to world-class art exhibitions and theatres at a young age. Surprisingly, I still have a vague memory of “An Inspector calls”, a play that I highly enjoyed when I was 15 years old.

If you are a theatre-lover, then London (not New York, according to a recent report in FT) is the theatre capital of the world. We have countless of West End and off West End theatres, two opera houses, open-air theatres at Regent’s park and Shakespeare‘s Globe ( tip: avoid going when it’s over 25 degrees), fringe festivals, and site-specific theatres.

Although I have enjoyed many West End plays ( I am not a musical fan), I often find them to be overpriced and over-hyped. Personally, I prefer smaller and quirkier theatres where the settings are more intimate and you can see the performances up close. One of my favourites ( a well-hidden secret) is the 45-min long Lunchbox theatre at Bridewell theatre near Fleet Street. Set in the derelict swimming pool hall ( a rather small one) of the St Bride Foundation Institute, the theatre offers an eclectic range of plays, musicals and ballet at lunchtime and in the evenings. Not only prices are low, the place is never too busy nor touristy and best of all, you can have your packed lunch while watching the performances.


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Left: Regent’s park’s open air theatre; right: Shakespeare’s Globe theatre


In recent years though, immersive theatre has become a big trend in the theatre world thanks to companies like Shunt, Punchdrunk, You Me Bum Bum Train, as well as the highly successful Secret Cinema. Instead of sitting in their seats quietly watching the shows, audiences are called to take part and even interact with the actors directly. In one of my previous entries, I mentioned about Rift‘s 12-hour long Macbeth that took place at Balfron tower this summer (tickets were all sold out very quickly). And this concept is elevated even further at Pamela and Sharlene’s Tack-On Tours, where their architectural walking tours are merged with immersive theatre.


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Pamela and Sharlene’s Tack-On Tours: ‘The ugliest buildings in London’ walk


As part of the London’s festival of architecture, I attended the two hour long ‘The ugliest buildings in London’ walk with the two artists in June and had a blast. Yes, it was awkward, embarrassing ( we all had to wear fluorescent orange safeguard high-viz vests and listen to them via a megaphone around the West end) but highly entertaining and captivating at the same time. Participants are asked to take part in different ways and it is unlike any other walks that I have attended before. I spoke to the artists after the walk and they told me that the concept arrived as a result of their passion for acting and architecture. Our walk was their second one and they have already had to handle participants who resisted to engage in the act ( there is always a party pooper at every party). I thought they did a fantastic job and the walk enabled me to miggle with other participants and we ended up having drinks together after the walk!


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Left: ‘Eat’ at the The Camden Fringe; Right: The well-hidden Phoenix arts club


Having attended some shows at the previous The Camden Fringe festival, I was keen to see some performances this year. Yet with over 200 productions, it was a challenging to select just a few to attend. I randomly picked a few and as it turned out, they were all immersive performances where audiences would either take part or be involved somehow.

Since my Italian friend was in town, I thought it would be a good idea for her to experience something unique in London. I picked ‘Eat’, an immersive play about food, family and love produced by a new company called Angry Bairds at Lov’edu Gallery in Camden’s Stables market. The setting is a dinner party where actors would sit amongst the audience and interact with them (like their guests) at the same time. Each person has a plate of strange-looking but edible food in front of them, and we are encouraged to eat it. The intimate setting makes the audience feel like they are at a dinner party with a group of strangers, which is fun and a bit awkward at the same time. The acting by the cast members is convincing and it is particularly interesting to see how they interact with the audience throughout the play. My friend and I enjoyed really the show and it got me excited about the upcoming shows to be followed.

The second show I attended was ‘Reality Abuse’ created and performed by critically acclaimed magician and mind reader S1L3NC3 at the Dublin Castle. A group of about 12 people are lead into a dark room and are seated at a table with the magician, and throughout the interactive performance he does not say a word. Although slightly confusing at times, it is an unique and strange experience as you have no idea what to expect. There are mind tricks and illusions, and if you love David Blaine, then you are certainly going to enjoy this.

The last show was ‘Le Jet de Sang’ inspired by Antonin Artaud’s The Theatre of Cruelty at the Phoenix arts club. Directed by London Fringe Award winner, Mike Miller and performed by the newly formed theatre group composed of five female. As the audience enters a cabaret style setting, the 4 masked actors are already seated by the tables with glasses of drinks on some of them. The audience would pick their seats and the performers would move around the room interact with the audience throughout the show. It is hard to follow what is going on because there is no narrative and the acts change frequently without much notice.

As much as I want to like this, I found it hard to engage and enjoy the performance, and I am not even sure why. Perhaps it is to do with the disjointed style or acting method but something was lacking for me and I could not get into it. As always, experimental arts are never intended to be crowd pleasers, just like Shunt‘s latest work, ‘The boy who climbed out of his face’ at The Jetty in Greenwich…


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Being the pioneer of immersive theatre, Shunt‘s new work is all about the multi-sensory experience. Not much information was revealed before the show except for the location of the performance, which is within some shipping containers on a jetty in Greenwich.

My friend and I had a bit of difficulties locating the exact position as there are few direction signs until we reached the pier. But as we were approaching towards the location, we were immediately impressed by the setting. And when we finally got past the ticketing area, we were told to wait in the outdoor bar area until our number has been called ( stamped on our hands at the entrance). Then we were told to take off our shoes and socks and put them into white shoe boxes (which we had to carry throughout the performance).

So what happened next? I am sure that every participant would have their own view and interpretation on this but if I can summarise it, I would say the experience brought back memories of me walking through a haunted mansion at an amusement/ theme park when I was a kid. Yet what I saw reminded me of the dream scenes in ‘Twin Peaks’ as I was almost expecting a dwarf in red suit to suddenly appear and dance in front of us!

This show is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, because not only it has no narrative, it is disorientating, awkward and uncomfortable. Being barefoot allows the participants to feel the texture and temperature of the ground in each room, which includes pebbles, sand, plastic, TV screens, concrete (or something similar) and artificial grass etc. If you want to make sense out of this, well, you can’t and you are meant to either. This is probably difficult for many people because the search for narratives and meanings are so ingrained in us that we perpetually seek to label, analyse or make sense of our experiences and the people we encounter. The show challenges us to abandon this habit and allow our sensations, feelings and emotions to take over.

The rather short and surreal experience inside the containers ends very abruptly ( I assume it is intentional), and it is followed by a finale outdoor… After the mellow last act, my friend and I had drinks and snacks at the pop-up bar (blankets are provided) and then took the Emirates air line (our first ride) to enjoy the beautiful view of the area from the top. I guess for those who are not fond of experimental theatre performance, there is always the cable car ride to compensate for the ‘trek’ to this part of London!

The boy who climbed out of his face‘ is on until 28th Sept, with 5 performances every night from 6:30 onwards.


Art bookbenches in London

Theodor Seuss Geisel (artwork) Created by Jane HeadfordSir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment

Main: Theodor Seuss Geisel (artwork) Created by Jane Headford; Bottom: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment


If you have been out and about in London this summer, then you are bound to have come across one of the bookbenches somewhere in the city. There are 50 different benches designed by local artists and they will be exhibited until 15th September.

These art benches will be auctioned on 7th October to raise funds for the National Library’s Trust to raise literacy levels in the UK. If you want to find out more about the artists, designs, events and even download the trails, you can go to Books about Town website.


Ian Fleming's James Bond stories by Freyja DeanAgatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane by Tom Adams (artwork) and Mandii Pope Marple Helen Felding's Bridget Jones' diary by Paula Bressel

Top: Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories by Freyja Dean; 2nd row left: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane by Tom Adams (artwork) and Mandii Pope Marple; 2nd row right: Helen Felding’s Bridget Jones’ diary by Paula Bressel


P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster by Gordon AllumOscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest by Trevor Skempton Fiona Watt's That’s not my meerkat… by Rachel Wells (original illustrations) Jenny Hilborne (design) Painted by Sarah Jane RichardsGeorge Orwell's 1984 by Thomas Dowdeswell

Top: P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster by Gordon Allum; 2nd row left Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by Trevor Skempton; 2nd row right: Fiona Watt’s That’s not my meerkat… by Rachel Wells (original illustrations) Jenny Hilborne (design) Painted by Sarah Jane Richards; Bottom: George Orwell’s 1984 by Thomas Dowdeswell


Digital Revolution at Barbican Centre

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There are many excellent summer exhibitions in London this year but if you are looking for one with a wow factor, you need to visit the immersive Digital Revolution at the Barbican. It is nostalgic, futuristic, interactive, fun and entertaining!

If like me, you are able to recognise (or even owned) the games and products in the first ‘archaeology’ section of the exhibition, then you would probably feel prehistoric! There are Pac-man, Pong,  Apple’s original Macintosh (which I once owned) and handheld video games like Nintendo’s Game & Watch and Game Boy (which I also owned), so playing Tetris and Pac-man at the exhibition really brought back childhood memories.


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Beyond the nostalgic section, there are 12 other sections including an off-site one. One of the section, Creative Spaces showcases the visual technology of blockbuster films, Inception and Gravity. Another one, Sound & Vision features a special installation ‘The Pyramidi’ made for the gallery by global music artist and entrepreneur in collaboration with London-based Japanese sound designer Yuri Suzuki. You can watch part of it in the short video below, but it does not capture the 3-D and sound effects that can be seen and heard in person.


The Pyramidi by and Yuri Suzuki


Another hightlights at the exhibition is Chris Milk‘s The Treachery of Sanctuary, a large-scale interactive triptych: a story of birth, death, and transfiguration that uses projections of the participants’ own bodies to unlock a new artistic language.

And in the last section of the Curve gallery space, there are intallations by DevArt, a celebration of art made with code, using technology as the canvas. Some of the world’s finest interactive artists Karsten Schmidt, Zach Lieberman, and the duo Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet are commissioned by Google and the Barbican to create large interactive installations including ‘Play the World’ Piano, ‘Co(de)factory’ and ‘Wishing Wall’. You can watch a video of the concept and making of Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet‘s wonderful ‘Wishing Wall’ below:


Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet’s ‘Wishing Wall’


Another impressive installation, ‘Umbrellium Assemblance’ is located below in the Pits theatre where you it is pitch dark with only three-dimensional light field where you can collaborate with others to shape, manipulate and interact with the light source from above.

And finally visitors can even spend time at the Indie Games Space and play games created by cult indepenent game devlopers.


Chris Milk's The Treachery of SanctuaryThe Pyramidi by and Yuri SuzukiCo(de)factory

Left: Chris Milk‘s The Treachery of Sanctuary; Middle: The Pyramidi by and Yuri Suzuki; Right: Karsten Schmidt’s Co(de)factory


Like many people (generally people born before 1984), I have a complex and conflicted relationship in regards to digital technology. It is essential for what I do, yet I want to see it merely as a tool to enhance my life/work rather than being taken over by it or becoming too dependent on it. However, it is harder to find that balance these days unless we make very conscious to not let it become intrusive or discruptive to our lives.

The exhibition reveals how digital technology has shaped and changed our lives in the past 30+ years, and it would be interesting to see how it continues to evolve. Yet it is also disconcerting to think that the older generation (like my parents’ generation) who is not familiar with the digital technology is now being isolated or marginalised. If advancing digital technology is meant to enhance and improve our lives and future, then is it fair to neglect the computer-illiterates in our society? Not only it makes them feel powerless, it also means that they would need to depend on others to get simple tasks done for them.

My mum often complains and says,”The world is moving too fast and I can’t catch up.” Well, to be honest, neither can I.


Hampshire’s heritage railway line

No, I am not a trainspotter! Sadly, I don’t have the knowledgeable nor am I geeky enough to be one. However, I have always loved trains, especially the heritage ones and whenever possible, I would choose trains over planes as a mode of transport. I think it is a shame that many people nowadays would seek the quickest and cheapest options to travel, yet these journeys can be so stressful that you would probably another holiday to recuperate! The longest train journey I took was from Los Angeles to Portland via Amtrak’s Coast Starlight which lasted 29 hours in total, a daunting thought to many but it was the most memorable ride that I have ever taken.

In UK, train travel is overpriced and often not very pleasant. Michael Portillo‘s BBC documentary series Great British railway journeys are delightful but in reality, commuters would often have to experience delays, chaos, overcrowded coaches, disgusting or blocked toilets… not to mention the high prices. It is no wonder that many Brits would rather get cheap flights to Europe than to take the trains and travel within the UK. Former Guardian journalist Matthew Engel‘s light-hearted book, “Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain” somehow reveals a more realistic account of the British railways.


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New Alresford station 


Heritage railway though, is a different matter. I have never taken a heritage train in the UK before, so I was quite thrilled when my friend who lives in Hampshire suggested a visit to the railway stations that serve Hampshire’s heritage railway line, Watercress line.

We first visited the New Alresford station, which opened in 1865 for the new Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway and later became the Mid-Hants Railway. Since watercress has always grown wild in the chalk streams and ditches in and around Alresford, the opening of the station meant that watercress could be transported to London and the Midlands within a day. And even today, Hampshire is still the main producing area in the country and for the last ten years, an annual Watercress festival would take place in Alresford, attracting many locals and visitors from far .

The nostalgic-looking station has been wonderfully restored, and being there made me feel as if I have been transported back in time. Just as I was getting excited, my friend assured me that the best was yet to come…


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Ropley station where you will find Thomas the tank engine and the famous King’s Cross footbridge, Handyside Bridge


We left Alresford and headed towards the nearby Ropley station, which also opened in 1865. The main locomotive shed and workshops for the Mid Hants Railway are located here and so you can get up close to the locomotives (including Thomas!) and see preservation in action. Another attraction here is the famous iron wrought Handyside bridge at King’s Cross station, that featured in the Harry Potter films. Due to the redevelopment of the station, the the Grade 1 listed structure was donated to Ropley station in 2011. The bridge fits in well at its new home, and it provides a premium vantage point of the beautiful South downs.


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New Alresford – Main: The 13th century riverside Fulling Mill Cottage; Bottom left: The Grade II listed Old fire station; Bottom right: Another historical timber and brick house


Sadly, my short trip in Hampshire had to come to an end but I am sure I will be back again very soon.



Winchester – England’s ancient capital

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Winchester Cathedral


It is so easy for us Londoners to be absorbed in our lifestyle and become London-centric. We forget that London is not the centre of the world and there is ‘life’ beyond the city. Sometimes I am shocked to hear that many foreigners who move to London for work have never ventured outside of the capital. It’s a pity that when they don’t explore cities and rural countryside outside of the capital because there are many wonderful and historical places in Britain that are worth visiting.

My good friend from school has been living outside of Winchester for many years, and so I have had the opportunity to get to know this historical city. This year, I was again invited to stay with her and her family in their new house, for me it was just lovely to spent some quality time with her and her family, and to explore the city and the beautiful Hampshire again.


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The Great Hall and the Queen Eleanor’s Garden 


Most of the foreign visitors I know who come to the UK would visit popular destinations like Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, Canterbury or even Brighton, Winchester though, is not very high on their lists. Yet this ancient capital of England is steeped in history and it is only an hour’s train ride from London, so I am surprised that it is still under the tourist radar.

The most famous sights in the city is no doubt the magnificent Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in England. Originally founded in 635 as the first Christian church in Winchester, it was replaced by a new Cathedral in 1093, but it was in early 16th century that much of the Cathedral we see today was complete. One of more recent attractions is Antony Gormley‘s life-size statue of a man contemplating the water held in his cupped hands located in the Cathedral crypt, which floods during rainy months.

Another popular historical attraction is The Great Hall, home of the famous Round Table and remains of the 13th century Winchester Castle. Although many originally believed that the 13th century Round Table is the table around which King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table met. Scientific research proved that this Round Table is not the original but was made some six centuries later by Edward I and later painted by order of King Henry VIII.

There is also a wonderful Queen Eleanor’s Garden here, a re-creation by Dr Sylvia Landsberg, of an enclosed medieval garden. In medieval times gardens offered pleasure, repose and refreshment to the senses as well as food and medicine. Queen Eleanor’s Garden is an accurate example of a medieval garden which features turf seats, bay hedges, a fountain, tunnel arbour and many beautiful herbs and flowers of the time.


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Top right & bottom row: City Museum; 2nd row left: The Buttercross; 2nd row middle & right: art bollards can be seen on the streets of city


For those who want to learn about Winchester’s history, the free City museum is a good place to start. The museum is not very big but there are many interesting historical artifacts dating back to the Iron Age up to the present day. Being the fifth largest town of Roman Britain, the museum also showcases some fascinating Roman mosaic work including a well-preserved floor design, as seen above.

Walking around the city, I also noticed many painted bollards, and it turns out to be a project funded by the Winchester City Council as part of its wider contribution to the refurbishment of The Square. There are 16 in total created by the team at The Colour Factory, which includes principal artists Jenny Muncaster and Rachael Alexander, took inspiration from some of the world’s greatest painters.


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Architecture in the city centre including the 16th century Eclipse Inn (2nd row left)


A range of architecture style can be in Winchester’s city centre, but one that stands out is The Eclipse Inn from 1540, one of the oldest inns in the city. The building has had many uses including a rectory, private residence, ale house (around 1750) and from the nineteenth century an Inn. The inn is also rumoured to be haunted by The Grey Lady or Dame Alice Lisle of Moyles Court who was executed nearby in Winchester Market Place in 1685.


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Top & 2nd row left: Jane Austen’s final home in Winchester


Hampshire is home to one of the most famous English authors, Jane Austen, who died in Winchester in 1817 at the age of only 41. A year before she died, she moved to Winchester’s College Street (next to the Cathedral) to get medical assistance from a celebrated doctor at the newly established Winchester Hospital. This also explains why she was buried in the Winchester Cathedral and not in Chawton where Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life. Now passerby can still see the commemorative plaque outside the yellow house (now it belongs to Winchester College) where she spent her final days.


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 The Chesil Rectory


Often voted as one of UK’s most romantic restaurants and one of the best in city, The Chesil Rectory is my friend’s favourite in the city and I can see why. Situated in a 600 year old grade II listed Medieval house, the restaurant is charming and cosy (probably even better to visit in winters). The restaurant lost its Michelin star when the it changed ownership/chef, but now the restaurant has a younger vibe and serves locally-sourced produce in a more contemporary style. The place was almost empty when we visited at lunch time, so my friend and I were happy to indulge and enjoy our ‘bargain’ set lunches in a wonderful and relaxing setting.


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 Wolvesey Castle (Old Bishop’s Palace)


Located next to the Cathedral is the Wolvesey Castle (Old Bishop’s Palace), a 12th century palace ruins of the Bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois (grandson of William the Conqueror). Although it is largely a ruin now, you can still see the scale and imagine how luxurious the palace used to be. It also reveals the wealth and power of the bishops in the English church, as well as in national politics back in the medieval period.


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 The hospital of St Cross and its church and garden


About 15 walks from Wolvesey Castle along the river lies The hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, founded by Bishop Henry of Blois between 1132 and 1136, and it is said to be England’s oldest charitable institution.

The Hospital was founded to support thirteen poor men, so frail that they were unable to work, and to feed one hundred men at the gates each day. The thirteen men became the Brothers of St Cross. Then, as now, they were not monks. St Cross is not a monastery but a secular foundation. Medieval St Cross was endowed with land, mills and farms, providing food and drink for a large number of people. The medieval almshouse is not only the largest but it is the oldest in Britain.

The site is a hidden gem, not only it is extremely tranquil, it is also very well maintained. There is also a beautiful garden with a large pond and plants introduced from America into England during the 17th century. Unfortunately, our time here was limited by the parking metre and it was starting to rain when we were strolling around. I think this garden would be perfect for those who want to enjoy nature and peace within the city.


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Properties are well sought-after in Winchester because of their attractiveness and proximity to London


The habit of diary writing

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Gongjang’s eco Balance diary


A few years ago, I was doing some decluttering at home and I found an old diary written by me at the age of seven. The diary was about a holiday with my family and the ‘dilemma’ that I was facing then. Of course what bothered me at seven seems trivial now, but it made cackle because it was silly and sweet at the same time. Unfortunately, I stopped writing after the holiday, so the diary was left mostly blank.

This diary, however, reminded me that I was told to keep a diary when I was a child by either my teacher or parents. Why? No idea, but this turned out to be one of most beneficial habits that I still keep (on and off) decades later.

I did not write consistently over the years but there were certain periods of my life when I did write quite obsessively. The first period took place in my mid to late teens, and it certainly wasn’t all about my study… it contained a teenage girl’s insecurities, fantasies, desire and disappointments, a bit like the female equivalent of Adrian Mole. Every night, my room mate and I (we were boarding at the time) would write before we went to bed, it was like our daily ritual! Some of these diaries even have locks… in total I must have written about 6 diaries over a two-year period; I had no intention to read them again, so I locked them all away about 10 years ago.


eco balance diary


When keeping a diary, one is often anxious about the possibility that someone may accidentally find it and discover all their hidden secrets. I sometimes think that too, but at the same time, I want to be honest with myself, so occasionally I would use codes to disguise people’s identities. Is it necessary? Probably not, but it is part of the fun of diary writing. Yet why keep a diary in the first place? For me, I see it as an outlet to express my feelings, emotions and anxieties. Sometimes I would be emotionally affected by an event, but it is only when I write things down that I become fully aware of my subconscious thoughts and feelings. And when I experience personal crises, writing becomes a cathartic tool. For me, diary writing is not about reminiscing because I would seldom read them afterwards; it is more to do with giving myself the time to record and articulate my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I also see the act as a self-discovery/ personal development tool.

Unlike writing blog entries, I never know what I will be writing beforehand, it’s spontaneous and words would flow as I put my pen down. I don’t need to check spelling or grammar, and sometimes I would be so sleepy that words would slant off the lines. And since there is no audience to consider, I can allow my deepest and darkest thoughts to emerge. Honesty is essential for diary writing.

Perhaps the reason why I continue to stock notebooks and diaries is because I know that like myself, there are many people who would prefer to write with a pen than to type in front of a computer. There is also something psychological comforting when you hold a pen and write on a smooth piece of paper, the experience is totally different from pressing your fingers onto a cold metal or plastic keyboard.

If you don’t keep a diary, I urge you to start one today because I guarantee that there will be plenty of surprises in store for you.


New designers 2014 Part.2

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Bottom left: Kai Venus Designs‘ The cabinet of curiosity; Bottom right: Best stand award went to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee


The last design graduation show I attended this year was New Designers 2014 Part 2 at the Islington Business Design Centre. From my past experience, I know that it would be hard to check out all the work in one go, so I signed up for the ‘meet the design award winners tour’ in order to meet the award winners directly instead of wandering around aimlessly for hours.


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Top left & middle: Alex Daniels, New Designer of the year award runner up; Top right: Dan Brooks, winner of Wilko Award for Innovation; Bottom left: Emilie Osborne, winner of the One Year On award; Bottom right: Elizabeth White, Mars award winner


One of my favourites at the show was the Designer of the Year runner up, Alex Daniels‘ “Fuse”. Alex’s walking aid design addressed an un-glamorous design problem for the elderly or people with walking difficulties. The walking stick can split into two parts so it can be used as a pair of crutches for both hands or a walking stick for one hand. Simple and yet very practical.

Another innovative design that I really liked was Numa, designed by Dan Brooks, winner of Wilko Award for Innovation. Numa is a heatless clothes dryer that aims to bridge the gap between static airers and tumble dryers. It can dry up to 5kg of wet clothing 3 times faster than an airer and costs just 5p an hour to run. It has a top mounted fan that provides a constant flow of air around the garments and a dehumidifier that extracts moisture from the surrounding air. I would love to see this product being available in shops sometime in the future.

Mars award winner, Elizabeth White‘s “Grow” is a clever plastic sandal design where the sandal grows and adjusts in length and width with the child wearing it, using a loop system and detachable straps. The design answers a clear issue of children outgrowing their clothes and shoes too quickly, leaving parents to purchase new ones on a regular basis.


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Top left: Camilla Lambert, the Not on the high street associate prize; Top middle: Douglas Pulman, 100% Design winner; Top right: Graham Friend, winner of Procter & Gamble Award; Bottom left: Kit Shadbolt, John Lewis award winner; Bottom right: Camilla Lambert’s Musical Interlude


Winner of Procter & Gamble Award, Graham Friend has designed “Skypouch”, a smart solution to children’s travel. The ‘Skypouch’ consists of a waist component that is worn and adjusted by the adult prior to sitting down. The pouch itself once unfolded provides a seat for the baby and is secured to the parent’s waist. This removes the need for the parent’s arms/hands to be continuously occupied supporting the child.

Although we did not get to meet Camilla Lambert, I was drawn to the beautifully crafted acoustic iphone amplifiers by the Not on the high street associate prize winner. I also like her playful Musical Interlude (see above), which seems like a fun bench to sit on!


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Top left: Joanna Mannix‘s Snug Collection; 2nd row: Peter Iveson’s “Study Bright”; 3rd row left: Oliver Richardson’s Kitchen Totems; 3rd row middle: Sense of making by Clare Evans; 3rd row right: Lou Lo’s “11g of ground, 22g of ground”‘; Bottom left: Wael Seaiby’s Plag collection; Bottom right: Marjorie Artieres’s “Note by Note”


Elsewhere at the show, I was also intrigued by Peter Iveson‘s “Study Bright” (see above), a low cost alternative lighting solution for developing countries which allows children to study in complete darkness.

For those who love kitchen gadgets, Oliver Richardson‘s Kitchen Totems would certainly appeal to them. The sets of kitchen utensils can be stacked into totem-pole arrangements in the order they are likely to be required. Each of the Kitchen Totems are designed for kitchen rituals that take place at different times of the day. Besides the primary functions, the beautifully-crafted set would not look out of place in any modern kitchens.

For futuristic kitchen gadgets, Marjorie Artieres ‘s “Note by Note” offers a new laboratory for those passionate individuals who seek a theatre for cooking. It recaptures the heritage of true cooking by combining the physicality of the analogue with the precision of the digital. His set resembles apparatus from a chemistry lab than kitchenware, will this turn us into alchemists in the future?

Three designers who use waste innovatively to create new designs are Clare Evens, Wael Seaiby and Lou Lo. Clare Evens‘ has created a range of household products and glasses frames using the smallest ‘micro bead’, tiny particles of plastic found in exfoliating beauty products that end up being washed down the sink probably ending up in our seas, combined with the more obvious discarded sea rope or plastic bottles that are found in the sea or washed up on the shoreline.

Meanwhile, Wael Seaiby‘s “Plag” collection aims to challenge that notion by delivering a line of hand-worked vessels that are reminiscent of glass or ceramic craftsmanship using HDPE from recycled plastic bags. The vessels are evocative of the bags from which they stem; their smooth finish, along with their distorted shapes, are directly inspired by the physical aspects of the crinkly plastic bags.

Last but not least, Lou Lo‘s “11g of ground, 22g of ground” is designed to target the current disposable paper cup waste issue. The average cup of coffee uses 11 grams of coffee ground, and this is what the coffee ground turns into- “11g of ground, 22g of ground”. It is an alternative to the current system that saves up to 80% of paper. By making use of organic materials in the process, they are 100% biodegradable. “11g of ground, 22g of ground” also enhances the coffee drinking experience by its desirable features such as the distinctive coffee smell and the attention to detail in the design.


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Top: Beth Fox-Fuller’s ASDA packaging; Bottom: Robert Cooper


On the packaging front, I was attracted by Beth Fox-Fuller‘s fun ASDA “Count on me” packaging with cheeky slogans like “I’m a great catch” for smoked mackerel and “Bring me home” for bacon. The minimalist labels and catchy slogans create a personal touch between the consumer and the products, and I think they would most certainly ‘upgrade’ the image of ASDA.

Robert Cooper‘s Chocolate Airfix packs for Cadbury’s looks similar to a model aeroplane kits but actually it uses hollow-wafer technology to fill the shaped wafer sheet with chocolate. The pieces, which come in four different packs, can be stuck together to create a plane, a car, a horse or a dinosaur. I can imagine this being sold in supermarkets and being loved by kids. I wonder if Cadbury will consider manufacturing this or not? We shall wait and see.


Charles Holden goes west

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Sudbury Town understand station


Last year, I attended an architectural walk organised by London transport museum to explore English architect, Charles Holden‘s iconic art deco underground stations (click here to read the blog entry) on the north east end of the Piccadilly Line. This year, I attended another walk (which was also part of the London festival of architecture) that explored the north west end of the Piccadilly Line.

I love these walks not only because of the architecture and design, but it is immensely fascinating to learn about the history of London. When I visited these stations which were built almost a century ago, I felt like time has stood still and that I was transported to a different era. When you look at these photographs, you can see that good architecture and designs truly stand the test of time because every detail is well thought out and is still functional after all these years.


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Many original features including signage can be found ar Sudbury Town understand station; Bottom right: small garden at Rayners Lane station


Housing developments in the early 1920s around Richmond, Hounslow, Harrow and Ealing meant that the Piccadilly line had to be extended to replace some of the District Railway services. And three men who were in charge of this project were Charles Holden, Frank Pick and Stanley Heaps.

The tour started at the Grade II listed Sudbury Town station, the first tube station that Charles Holden designed for Frank Pick, built in 1929 and completed in 1931. Holden described this as “a brick box with a concrete lid”.

At the station, the station conductor was keen to provide us with his knowledge of the station and he even let us into the original ticket booth for a bonus tour! Like most other stations designed by Holden, this station is symmetrical, spacious, bright, with wide entrance and has no architectural ornament.

The original signage can still be seen at this station and the typefaces used are the standard London Underground ‘Johnston typeface’ with ‘petit-serif’, which was developed by Holden and Percy Delf Smith. I especially love the blue barometer on the wall, but sadly no longer works (there is an identical-looking clock on the opposite side of the hall). Now the barometer’s hand is stuck at ‘change’, which is very accurate of what our weather pattern these days.


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 Alperton tube station and bus garage


Our second station that we visited was Alperton station, which was built in 1931 and completed in 1933. The station is similar to Sudbury Town station and has a block-like ticket hall with high ceiling, large windows with plenty of natural light.

Next to this station is the Alperton bus garage, one of the very few built for Central Bus operation in the 1930s.


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Park Royal station


Although the Grade II listed Park Royal station was not designed by Charles Holden, it evidently influenced by him. The art deco station was designed by Felix. J. Lander from Welch & Lander in 1935 and was completed in 1936. I love the art deco exterior and the tower is a prominent feature that can be spotted from afar.


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 Hanger Hill estate – Top main: Hanger Court; Bottom left: Hanger Green/ Royal Hill Court; 2nd & bottom row right: Park Royal Hotel


Not far from the Park Royal station is the locally-conserved Hanger Hill estate, a ‘superior suburbia’ developed in the 1930s by Haymills Ltd. This was a large commercial development with houses, flats and public buildings, and the team of architects involved in the project included Welch & Lander and Cachemaille Day. Many art deco architectural elements can be seen in this area, but I found the derelict Park Royal Hotel especially intriguing. Originally I thought this was a theatre because of the unusual twisted brick columns on its facade, but when I did my research online, I was surprised to find out that it used to be a hotel. However, I could not find much more information on it, it is a pity that this fascinating-looking hotel is left neglected while thousands of cars drive past it everyday without even noticing that it is there!


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Hanger Lane station


After exploring the estate, we walked over to the nearby Hanger Lane station, which is situated in the middle of a roundabout on the busy (and rather gloomy) North Circular Road. Back in the days when I used to drive, I drove past this station many times as this is one of the most popular routes to get to Heathrow airport. Yet I never knew that in the underpass tunnel underneath the station there is a superb display of vintage Underground posters. Who would have thought that this underpass is actually a poster gallery for the Transport of London?


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 Acton Town station


Our last station of the walk was the Grade II listed Acton Town, an important example of Holden‘s mature work for an interchange station. Designed in 1931 and completed in 1933, all the Holden‘s signature style and materials are used here. The notable features include the art deco lighting in the ticket hall and brass railings that can be seen throughout the station.


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Mill Hill park estate


Our last optional tour was a visit to the nearby Mill Hill Park estate developed from the 1880s by William Willett and son. Many houses here are influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, which was at its height around the turn of the century. Each house here is unique and very well maintained, and like the Hanger Hill estate, this area is a local conservation area with special architectural or historic interest.

London is a city full of surprises and hidden gems, and once again, I have discovered something new about this city in just a few hours. Like Samuel Johnson said, “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” I think the best bits about London are often hidden, and so if one is tired of the city, it is because they haven’t looked or dwelled deep enough.


Contemporary Chinese culture at The Floating Cinema

It’s not an exaggeration to say the ‘dilemma’ that faces many Londoners is not the lack of entertainment/consumption choices, but the overwhelming of choices available. And when it comes to cultural events, we are just spoiled for choice and it’s hard to keep up even if you are subscribed to hundreds of e-newsletters (because you still need to time to read them all)!

I have long wanted to attend events organised by The Floating Cinema, but somehow never got round to it. Finally, when I found out about the Contemporary Chinese culture events curated in partnership with the Manchester-based Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, I was eager to sign up for some events that took place on the canal boat.

The boat was parked by the Granary Square in Kings Cross for the weekend. The outdoor canalside steps are ideal for the outdoor screening of several Chinese films. Due to the boat’s limited seating, most events were full and I managed to book myself onto two events.


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Main & bottom left: The Floating Cinema in Kings Cross; Bottom right: Yan Wang Preston


The first event was “Both Sides Now“, a collaboration between Jamie Wyld from Video Club (UK) and Isaac Leung from Videotage (HK). The screening included new and historical documentaries and animations created during the 1980s-2000s from China and Hong Kong exploring the impact of three decades of cultural and societal development. The screening was also followed by a discussion and Q & A session.

Some of the videos shown are quite political sensitive, hence they cannot be shown in China. The artists in the programme include: Ellen Pau, Linda Lai, Anson Mak, Kwan Sheung Chi, Lee Kit, Tse Ming Chong, Choi Sai Ho, and other 11 artists from Hong Kong.

For those who are aware of Hong Kong’s current political climate would know that it is far from rosy. The city’s largest pro-democracy rally in a decade took place on 1st July, with around 510,000 protesters participating and it made headline news across the globe. Whenever there is political and social unrest or even economical downturn in a state or region or country, it is also the time for creativity to emerge and blossom… this unsettling period may be a tough time for Hong Kong’s citizens, but it has enabled a new breed of talents to make their voices heard.

One of the most memorable video/animations at the screening was the last one by Hong Kong artist, Wong Ping. His “Under the lion’s crotch” is bizarre, grotesque, graphical and disturbing, but it is also dark and humourous. The animation is the artist’s interpretation of the current situation in Hong Kong and it won an award at the 2013 18th IFVA festival in Hong Kong. Here is an extract from the artist’s website about the work:

“Under the Lion Crotch”
Here comes the end
Our land is brutally torn apart by conglomerates
Redevelopment swept across the city
Their thriving business had left us homeless
Rotten city, rotten crowd
Luxury clothing won’t conceal the stench
Top yourself and throw a curse
Fill the streets with our merry hearses
Is the world going to end
as we’ve been longing for?
Destroy us all together with the chaos
Set us free like
the ashes in the wind

*Beware of the graphical material in this video!


No One Remains Virgin “Under the Lion Crotch” MV from Wong Ping on Vimeo.


The second event I attended was a talk by an award-winning Chinese photographer and visual artist, Yan Wang Preston. Her talk was on her long term artistic and research project, Mother River, which she has been working on since the end of 2010. Initially driven by a personal desire to reconnect with one’s Motherland, the project focuses on China’s most iconic waterway: the Yangtze River.

The artist also wanted to investigate the impact of the controversial hydroelectric dam that has had on the environment and the local people. The dam was built to prevent flooding and generate power in the local areas, yet the construction also flooded important archaeological and historical sites, displaced some 1.3 million people, and caused significant ecological damages to area.

The artist epic journey across China began from the source of the river (in Tibet) and photographed the 4,000 mile long Yangtze River with a precise interval of every 100 kilometres and 63 fixed points in total. Yan spoke about the difficulties she encountered during her journey, but despite all the mishaps and re-shoot, she finally completed the project earlier this year. Yan‘s photographs of China are fascinating, but what touched me most is her passion, courage and determination. Feeling disillusioned by the ‘new China’ and horrified by what she saw during her first research journey of the damage caused by the construction of the dam, the project became her personal quest to reconnect with her roots, heritage and culture. And the result is an admirable achievement that she should be very proud of.

Here is a video of a symposium given by Yan in 2012 about her work:


Yan Preston – Land / Water Symposium 2012 | Water Image from Land Water on Vimeo.