Tuesday, 27 October 2009

to tax or not to tax...

Births, deaths and taxes.

Three things I was told you can be sure of in life.

Of the three, only one could be described as even vaguely positive, so when someone pops up to recommend an increase in taxes, well, they are not going to be popular.

But what if it is argued that these taxes could decrease our carbon emissions, thus aiding our environment? Would we agree? Would only the staunch dark greenies agree, or would we all be up in arms screaming that we cannot pay any more for our energy as we can't blinkin' afford it in the first place?

Would people be afraid to keep themselves warm in the winter for the fear of the letter plopping through the door with too many noughts to be funny?

But on the flipside, would we have increased renewable energy development and a strengthening of the whole green energy market through larger consumer support and increased tax breaks and government grants?

A very large argument with many different points. Read a little more about it here.

Friday, 23 October 2009

a birthday in brighton part 2...

And so my birthday continued in the weak autumn sunshine in my beautiful Brighton.
After exiting the surprise street art exhibition we crossed the road (easier now the area has been landscaped to prioritise the pedestrian), walked past the Corn Exchange, the old Brighton Library, and through the heavy gates into the grounds of the Pavilion.

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery (Hove has it's own museum actually)- once small and dated, is now much larger than I remember it being in my youth, and holds an impressive variety of collections from local studies to Ancient Egypt.
We started off in the ceramics room, and looked at the history of salt and pepper pots and oddly shaped teapots and vases, including once which was a tiger eating a man.

Then we trotted into the Brighton room - a whistle stop tour of the history of Brighton, landmarks that have come and gone, those which still survive and those which have been appropriated for another use. An interesting mix of histories are told, from the Regency foundations to Pride, Fat Boy Slim's notorious party on the beach when the whole of the UK descended onto the pebbles to dance till they twisted their ankles and the Mods and Rockers affairs.

Across the hall the history of Brighton continued but in a much more personal and everyday way - clubs, football teams, dairies and even a rescued shop front from the old arches which sold cork and closed in 1983. I felt a little bit of nostalgia when we came across an old turnstile from the old Goldstone Ground - the former home of Brighton and Hove Albion. The little card told the story of the last game played and the result - I remember because I worked at the Goldstone in the catering areas at the time and I could not believe the stuff that people were ripping up to take home as a souvenir. I even got an offer for the tea urn I was carrying across the pitch.

Ancient Egypt next where I wrote my name in hieroglyphics and was transfixed by the beautiful blue scarabs and mini mummies which turned out to be cats, ibis and a crocodile leg. Incredible.

The centre of the museum told a (very) brief overview of design, and I was sad to see that the Mae West lips sofa is no longer there, along with the Salvador Dali lobster phone.
I had also forgotten how beautiful the tessellated tiles and stairs are. Wonderful.

Upstairs we visited a very interesting collection of costumes and stories from people of Brighton and further afield before entering the main exhibition at the moment - The Land Army Girls.

I have a particular love for the forties and fifties - the pain and suffering I can of course never understand, but the pride, resourcefulness and adaptability of people is beyond inspirational.
The new found loves of thrift, baking, growing your own, knitting etc is nothing new, with the forties and fifties being the foundation of much of the current trends.

I have often said that if I was in my twenties in the war I would have either flown a plane (unlikely though given that I am female!) or been in the Land Army.

The new exhibition examines the progression of one lady from typist to land girl and features many Brightonians who worked the fields on the Downs - photos, diary entries and video interviews. One lady I know, and it was incredible to see her story and images from her youth. It was truly inspiring and humbling.

The Land Girls exhibition is on until March 2010, and is completely free - please visit if you can.

The last visit was to the Fabrica Gallery in Ship Street, which is bang in the centre of town. 'Chameleon' is an installation by Tina Gonsalves and examines emotional transference between people in a crowd.

A darkened space, you enter to see a series of hanging double sided screens filling the void - each one with a projection of a still face. Periodically, these faces awaken to portray an emotion to the viewers, but the REALLY clever bit is that these awakenings are triggered by the viewers own emotions. Highly advanced face and emotion recognition software has been developed to let the installation 'read' you, then alter according to your own emotions. Incredible.

I made a man start to scream, which was a little worrying - did I look like I needed to scream? Did I look frustrating? I then of course looked worried, which made someone else smile to make me feel better....

An amazing exhibition, which I am sure will be heightened if there are lots of visitors - we were two of only four people at the time, and I felt a little uncomfortable with the 'team' in the depths of the shadows on the perimeter of the room - was I being watched and recorded by them as well???

But again - great - and free once more. Visit until 29 November.

So, after feeling very cultural, I went home, had a fantastic and immense Mexican meal with my family and celebrated the turn of my next decade.

Monday, 19 October 2009

a birthday in brighton...(part 1)

That's it. Gone. Goodbye sweet twenties. Hello thirties, which I am told is the new twenties.

Now, I try not to get myself too bothered with the whole 'age' thing - I never feel any different, and don't think I really will change too much more (character wise) for the rest of my days, but it was quite nice being in my 'twenties'.

No more.

So to celebrate the supposed passing of my youth, we spent the day in my wonderful home town of Brighton, doing the sort of thing you never do as a resident - visiting art exhibitions, galleries and museums. It was fantastic, so here is the first in two installments of how our day panned out...

First up was the wonderful and highly sentimental The Booth Museum of Natural History. Situated on the outskirts of Brighton, The Booth is a Victorian based collection of taxidermy animals, birds, skeletons, butterflies, moths and insects. It is dark, smells a bit musty and is very old fashioned - no high tech interactive displays here.

But this is exactly why I like it. I remember spending hours as a child sitting on the floor sketching the birds captured in mid flight and gazing at the drawers of butterflies.

It may seem cruel now, but The Booth is a piece of history that is to be treasured, as it shows the basis of much of our natural history knowledge. The fact that such a large collection is still together is wonderful, and truly is awe inspiring, if not a little nostalgic.

Next, we headed into Brighton and had a wonder around the lovely Jubilee Library in centre of the city - the best piece of contemporary architecture we have had in a very long time...

The third visit of the day was an incredible and unexpected find - a temporary exhibition in the old music library. Once a gloriously regency styled building, the old music library fell into disrepair as more music was available online and the collection was finally moved and integrated into the Jubilee.

Once divided rooms were knocked through into one large space, with paint, paper and fittings gradually falling onto the bare timber floor as time progressed. It was very sad to see this lovely building decline, as again, I remember fondly trips into town to borrow classical music scores and tapes when I was studying music and playing in orchestras.

But it is now occupied once more.

A temporary exhibition of graffiti and street artists has taken residence in the sad old space and given it a new lease of life.

It showed the very fine line between what people would consider art and what people would see as vandalism - massive spraypainted dead crows and cockroaches, multicoloured panels and sculptures made from bits of dead furniture.

The main street level had a good 'get people in' view, but it was the upstairs and basement space that really got me excited.

On approaching the stairs you are confronted by a massive recycled timber arm and hand, punching through a hole in the ceiling to greet you on the top handrail. Then you see the immense rat and the giant dead crow, perfectly framed in the curved recess of the room. (ROA is a genius and definitely wins the face off with BestEver, which is the basis of the ground and first floors)

The basement was a little less impressive with its contents, but the atmosphere was incredible. Dark, bare and secret, with illuminating punches from bare bulbs and an oddly fitting chandelier - a nod to the grandeur of the past with the reality of the current disrepair.

Please go and see this exhibition if you are anywhere near Brighton. It is wonderful.

Next time - faces, the land army and mummified cats.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

poetry of my youth...

As it is National Poetry Day, I thought I would share my favourite poem with you all.

This poem I had to learn off by heart when I was young for a recitement in a school assembly, and I remember it all - word for word - to this day.

Here it is in full...'jabberwocky'

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought --So rested he by the Tumtum tree, And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy!O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.
The most wonderful assortment of nonsense and whiffling is still a favourite word of mine. Thank you Lewis Carroll.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

good grief - how remarkable...

I have covered the wonders of recycling and upcycling in a series of other posts, and I promised that I would complete a raft of articles highlighting fantastic and innovative examples of upcycling at its best.

This promise has taken a little while to come to fruition, but, as I try to be true to my word, here is another posting in the series I like to call upping the upcycling.

I always loved going back to school in September every year (yes I know - how sad), partly because we were given the opportunity to visit the local art and stationery store to purchase a new pencil case and fill it with a bunch of jewel like pens, pencils and other office and school consumables.

As a budding designer and artist from a very young age my pencil case was always crammed with different grades of pencil, thicknesses of pens, rubbers and types of ruler.

Looking back, this was not the greenest way to go back to school.

But now, there are many green options for the yearly pre-school stationery shop (and office for that matter). Pens can now be easily found which are made from a high percentage of recycled plastics, many refilling options are available, and even the iconic Post It note is available in a 100% recycled format.

But there is one company who really would have made my eyes pop in excitement had they been around when I was at school. They really are Remarkable.

Not only do they create a brilliant range of stationery from a variety of recycled objects, they tell you what they were in a past life, thus educating and reminding you of the waste we create and the possibilities for the most unlikely of candidates.

Creative upcycling to allow us to create further. Remarkable.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

greenpeace, wine and naked French people...

I love the way the French deal with a problem as large as climate change - especially when it threatens wine...

Would us Brits do the same for something so close to our heart?

Monday, 5 October 2009

back to the future...

September was a very busy month.

As well as the wonderful period we spent in Malvern at the Autumn Show, we also spent a fantastic (if not very short) spell back in the last century...

Goodwood. As a Sussex lass, a place very close to my heart, and the setting for the immense undertaking that is the Goodwood Revival Festival every September - a celebration of classic cars, engineering and fashion.

As a self certificated eco obsessive, many of you will wonder why I adore a festival that praises the motor car, and motor racing...

Well, the sheer fact that a lot of these beautiful cars are still running is testament to the fact that THINGS WERE BUILT TO LAST. Our own 1962 Morris Minor has her grumbles, but she looks stunning and does the job she was built to do - nearly fifty years after her birth. How many of the new cars rolling out of the factories will be able to do that, whether they are well maintained or not?
Also, a lot of the cars had small engines and ran incredibly efficiently - the Morris Minor again being one of them.
Ok - a lot of them have taken a massive amount of work and cannot be put into the 'efficient' category (the cobras for starters), but we should celebrate our design and engineering history, lest we forget how good we were (and indeed are) at making thing in the UK.

History is also something that can be learnt from - the ideals of thrift were of course brought about by the needs of the war and are as important now as they were then, albeit in updated manners.

Another element that I love about Revival is the intricate attention to DETAIL - something that I am also passionate about as a designer. Tea wagons were not those terrible plastic affairs that you usually get at shows but beautiful, original vehicles and service transporters, security people were dressed in vintage Police uniforms and even the contractors emptying the bins wore brown overcoats reminiscent of 'open all hours'.

Visitors are also encouraged to dress up and the crowds wore a throng of vintage outfits, service uniforms, prom dresses and sharp suits. It really was a sight to behold - a 40's serviceman talking to a bare footed hippy. Plus, those who had NOT dressed up were in the minority.

I wore my full circle 1950's dress I had made to an original pattern last year, a cardi and pearls, topped up with matching shoes, bag and gloves and back seamed tights. A slick of eyeliner and I was complete...

Entertainment was period based and varied, and I enjoyed shopping for vintage dresses whilst listening to a fantastic lady singing Vera Lynn and playing a ukulele.

There was also a man dressed as a comedy dog, who made me jump then laugh so hard I nearly fell off my heels. Fantastic.

My little meeting at the festival went well (hopefully more of this at a later date and thank you to those at Vintage), and I had a wonderful afternoon people watching.

Stick it in your diary for next year - believe me - it is really worth it.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

growing urbanism...

Growing food in the city is thankfully no longer an alien concept, with huge nationwide waiting lists for allotments, guerilla gardener escapades and tomatoes springing off balconies and windowboxes in abundance.

This is to be celebrated in all forms, and we at the ecospot were delighted to find a link to the MetaboliCity site recently.

The little description on the site is short and sweet, but sums up the aims wonderfully:

'A vision of a city that metabolizes its resources and waste to supply its inhabitants with all the nourishment they need and more'

Who can possibly argue which this as a mission statement (regardless of whether you agree with 'mission statements' or not)?

And in celebration of the current London Design Festival, you can do a little tour of some of the urban growing sites - have a look here for more info on times and locations.

Friday, 2 October 2009

an Autumn abundance...

Firstly, apologies for the incredible lack of bloggage over the month of September. Despite how much I prepare, plan and pack, the showgarden upheaval always renders me somewhat unable to blog

So - what occurred over the bright and sunny month of September in the studio?

Well, amongst other things, we went to Malvern. As there is SO much to report, this will take the form of a series of posts...

Even though Autumn is my favourite season, I have a particular love for the wonderful Malvern Autumn Show at the beautiful Three Counties Agricultural Showground, and it was here that we tootled in the middle of the month to create two projects for the event.

The first was our small and quite conceptual showgarden, The Honeybox. Based on a series of concepts around beekeeping, the garden took its form from bee communication behaviour, its planting from good bee stock and featured a modern beekeeper's folly based on the idea of a large 'exploded' hive (three modern National hives were also included).

We were quite happy with the garden, although I was not happy with the planting at all. I had one of those nightmare times when you get completely fed up and try and find something else to do instead of tackling the problem head on. After a rejig I was happier, but I was the first to admit, it was not my favourite scheme at all. This is probably because the colours were a lot brasher than my usual palette, but 'taste' was somewhat secondary with the scheme - the needs of the bees and educating the viewers being more pressing in my mind.

That said, there were some combos that worked really well, and ones that were duly photographed for future use. The wildflower turf against the neat turf path was one element I really was pleased with - the rawness of the long grass with our perception of a 'perfect' lawn was very interesting. The beautiful oak fencing also set the garden off fantastically - thank you to Quercus...

The second project we were undertaking at the show was the Good Life Pavilion stage itself. We discussed at great length the concepts we wanted to base the stage on, and we were delighted when the Three Counties Agricultural Society approved our ideas.

As the concept of the 'good life' is pretty broad, we wanted to include many elements on the stage rather than concentrate purely on the grow you own side, but the stage was awash with fantastic plants from both Hooksgreen Herbs and Rebekah's Unusual Veg.

So, the stage itself was the hub of container growing, with an island unit sprouting from a raised cabbage filled bed and apple crates and florists buckets filled with herbs and edible flowers. The next 'ring' was a small reclaimed brick wall which mirrored the shape of the stage (an expertly built by James Steed and his crew) and represented 'plot' growing, being filled with veg and herbs. The final ring was the foraging area, where wild turf was interplanted with readily available and recognisable UK wild herbs.

Apple crates filled with fresh bread, apples and vegetables, beautiful knitted and corn dolly sculptures, a beehive, hops, a 'wine' demi john water feature and reclaimed glass bottle screens completed the scheme. Seating was also linked to the stage, with two rows of straw bales being placed in the pavilion for visitors to park themselves on.

We were REALLY pleased with the stage and were delighted when we were presented with the Best in Show Award for a Feature from The Three Counties Agricultural Society.

And the garden? We got a Bronze, which was a little frustrating given that some of the key concepts were not completely understood by the judges, but hey ho, I agreed with a lot of the comments on the planting...

A massive thank you goes out to everyone who assisted with both the garden and the stage, for those who came and helped, and to those who came and said hello.

Now for the recovery - and planning for Spring...