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Little London Big London…Time to hit the cities > Brighton & London

DSC_0697Everything was beginning to feel like a novelty, having good spontaneous fun each week, weren’t we lucky. Jumping on the train we decided that Brighton was best visited without a car – parking was expensive and plus it was a good excuse to have a day off driving and enjoy a tipple or two with my beau. Puzzle books had become a tradition upon travelling and this time teamed with the last drop of Roger’s cider we were set for the day.

31301732_10155746066399737_844817537387462656_oWalking a few metres from the train station in Brighton you hit the music venue and pub The Prince Albert, famous for its now ‘protected’ Banksy artwork on the outside wall. A great representation of the acceptance and open-minded gay culture associated with this little London.

DSC_0522It was great visiting these spots midweek and a pretty windy gloomy day made it quiet everywhere, we didn’t mind at all whilst hanging out with Wookie in the Star Wars themed garden. The winding paths of the lanes host some of the best shops in the city, including the famous Choccywoccydoodah cake shop which has it’s own TV series. The Brighton store is the original Choccy shop and feels tiny and a bit awkward in it’s elaborate and garish décor. The cakes are pretty spectacular though and so in the café we treated ourselves to a rich, but lush, lump of chocolate orange.

DSC_0527Booze and cake, so far we were doing well…

I had to show Hendrik the military shop too, I say shop, it’s far more like a museum. Hendrik commented that the shop housed more treasures than the entirety of the Wellington museum in NZ. Sadly we didn’t have a spare £10,000 laying around to purchase the samurai armour he so desired. DSC_0528Winding in and around the shops we made pit stops in quirky pubs and enjoyed a particularly nice mango gin. Hendrik managed to score a decent collection of vintage beer coasters to fulfil his collecting needs, there’s always something decent to come away with in Brighton.

DSC_0531We did the traditional wander around the pier which is fairly average really, the silhouette of the original burned out old pier on the horizon draws the attention more than the 2p machines. A wonderful Harry Potter shop (even if you’re not the biggest fan) a Thai meal, and whiskey later and we were ready to head home from this eclectic buzzy place.

DSC_0583London, the capital city was a must see on our itinerary, the tricky part was condensing it into a 3 day event. A few months prior on a cold wintery evening I booked 2 tickets to the Arcadia festival, or more commonly known as the giant flashing DJ spider famous for its stint at Glastonbury Festival. The spider was doing a dance event in London’s Queen Elizabeth Park this year celebrating its 20th year. This was the perfect chance to build a weekend of sightseeing around it.

P1010406Back on the train with excitement growing as landmarks like the shard began to come in to view – I could sense the excitement from Hendrik as he gazed out of the window. This would be a good opportunity to do a little tour guiding but also like every trip away, we were sure to include things that were a new experience for both of us. We’d booked a hop on-hop off bus thinking this would save our legs, but didn’t really need it. When we did actually catch one of the buses the architecture from top deck was pretty fantastic, but it didn’t offer much more for us to be honest – making our own way out and about on the tube was ideal. London is the ultimate for sights and sounds and extremes and on this beautifully sunny weekend we were in for an (exhausting) treat.

DSC_0571Starting at Trafalgar Square, we headed to Hyde Park and Kensington Palace, stopping at the New Zealand war memorial along the way. We decided long ago that we’d have a trip on the London Eye and the view was really decent on this clear day. Heading along the South Bank various festivities were happening and the buzz really was in the air. Buckingham Palace was pretty and Big Ben was, well, hidden in scaffold. We had to cram a couple of museums in didn’t we? A whistle stop tour of the Natural History Museum including the wonderful vaults full of precious gem goodness, we also managed to see the Egyptian delights in the British Museum which were high on Hendrik’s list. DSC_0591 Unlike most of our trips food wasn’t our priority this time around (mainly due to monies) but a lovely wine and sarnie in Covent Garden was just what we needed, sitting beside two couples that were sharing bottles of champagne (who likes champagne really anyway?!). As if that wasn’t enough for one day we even managed to meet up with friend Beverley for a tipple! What an awesome day. 

We stayed in a rather dodgy Air BnB (but hey we had more money to spend on goodies) and we were in East London’s Whitechapel, an area I hadn’t visited before. Brick Lane was nearby offering a host of treats including the BEST CHOCOLATE shop and a half decent hotdog stand, we played around trying on vintage clothing, thinking up occasions to sport the clothes.

DSC_0608The main draw for Arcadia other than being an awesome giant dancey laser beam spider, was that Leftfield were performing the best (it really is) dance album – Leftism. I’d introduced the album to Hendrik when he was still in Apiti and he was dead keen when I got tickets. It was also a chance to do a DJ dance gig which I haven’t done much of other than at festivals and of course Glastonbury itself.

DSC_0613After our stroll through Brick Lane we took the tube to the gig, greeting the awesome spider as we managed to sneak in hip flasks in our pants (it turned out to be a far longer walk to security than we had planned!) expensive boozing tokens bought, topped up with our spirits we settled in to the rhythm of the day. It was much too hot to do a great deal other than drink and laze in each other’s company until the thumping beats progressed, tempting us to dance. Everyone was on laughing gas rather than alcohol, wandering around like zombies with balloons hanging out of their mouths, the floor a wash with canisters and a distinctively putrid smell in these areas. We picked a decent spot and witnessing a spectacular feast of creepy human driven spiders crawling back and forth on the great spider, her eyes alight with laser beams and pyrotechnics galore, it was stunning. Leftfield offered up Leftism to an excitable crowd from the body of the spider, it was very surreal and a great escapism, we loved it.

DSC_0712Sunday chill day. I wanted to walk Tower Bridge and gaze over at the Tower of London, knowing full well there wouldn’t be time or energy left to go inside on this occasion. We lucked out witnessing Tower Bridge sounding it’s alarm to raise both arms allowing a sailboat to pass through. DSC_0727The remaining plan for the day was a treat meal at Shaka Zulu in Camden (a secret booking from me for that one). We sampled the tasty and curious African delights and most of all enjoyed the stunning restaurant décor. DSC_0737 We were exhausted, desperately hot in a massively busy Camden, but what a fantastic few days we’d had – London done.

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Soundtrack Leftfield – Leftism (album)

 

             

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Earthskin Muriwai

Creativity is about living life as a journey into seeing and communicating the extra-ordinariness of the simplest, most every day acts. It makes life infinitely interesting and fulfilling.

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And so I arrived. The only confirmed plan I had for my New Zealand trip this time last year was the art residency I was selected for at Earthskin Muriwai.

This was going to take some time to sink in, after a very steep drop down the driveway I began to see the yurt and 3-storey house that was to be my base for the next month. I’d lusted over living in a yurt for many years, sparked by an amazing experience whilst art-working on the band The Levellers first ever music festival when I was 17. In the drizzly rain I was greeted by local artist and musician Judy who showed me around the beautiful Grand Designs-esque house, open plan, full of windows and curiosities and situated outside were my very own 2 chickens to take care of (I was quite pleased to have chickens around again!). img_20160908_145952There was a lovingly created vegetable garden using resourced flora from the surrounding Nikau palm trees and forest. On the lower level housed the studio fit for painting and wood chopping and gardening tool area complete with enough webs to house approximately 3000 spiders. The trees around the back of the house took you on a path through Wiggley woods through pine, Nikau and wonderfully enigmatic Pohutukawa trees, also known as Christmas trees from their seasonal red flowers. The walk leads you down to wind-swept Muriwai Beach famous for its iron rich black sand and rugged good surf.

p1080914This was to be so much more than an art residency, it was a month for quiet reflection and restoration, as most of the time was spent on my own. Earthskin isn’t over-looked, it is a portal that lies deep in a forest channelling some pretty strong energy. Two days in and I received a call from a neighbour asking if I’d like to meet him and his family over tea and scones. After a couple of days to nest and form a routine and familiarity with the surroundings I welcomed this offer with open arms and was greeted by Pipi, Robin’s daughter and family dog Danny. Robin had taken it upon himself to form a link from the artist in residence to the local community of Muriwai. A wonderfully friendly and interesting older chap who has lived and still lives a life full of adventure. He was OIC of the weather station on Campbell Island 1966/67 as well as leader at Scott Base, Antarctica 1968/69. He has run many marathons and triathlons and managed Turoa Skifields on Mount Ruapehu for 8 years, not forgetting he has 7 children ranging from 9-53! His energy and attitude was inspiring.

I began somewhat of a routine each morning of tending to and collecting eggs from the chickens- providing a tasty breakfast, a session of yoga on the sunshine deck then down to the studio to start some paintings. I’d often wander off to break from the concentration, luckily the surrounding landscape was so inspiring I had a good balance.

dsc_0929Over the first weekend I had an impromptu visit from lovely Apiti chum Hendrik. The anticipation of touching base with a good friend and being able to show him around my lovely abode was such a pleasure. I found myself fantasising about the house being mine as most elements were just as I would like for my own place one day. Hendrik rocked up in his super-cool Ute and didn’t take long to feel comfortable and inspired by the lush surroundings. We walked down to the beach, back through the forest, cooked a heart-warming meal and listened to great music over red wine. The evening wasn’t complete without a log fire burning away in the yurt with incense and candles, a perfect moment. img_20160907_125613

Short and sweet, I was on my own again, and ready to get tucked into some work, I found the next few days hard, feeling a pressure to produce outstanding work because I’d finally been given the idyllic place and time for it, and felt judgemental about everything I had created. I felt very distracted and spent far more time gardening and wandering around to try and gain some clarity. An out-of-the-blue phone call from owner of the property Nancy put me back in to shape- an inspiring and deep conversation discussing the changing shift in energy when you are in such a place and how often after a week you begin to understand where you are, and then the work starts to come easily, a natural process. A creative person allows themselves to be their true self, without worrying about being judged. Creativity becomes ingrained in your very essence as an individual and your creation is a projection of you and your deepest thoughts, translated into a beautiful work that adds to the value of not only your life, but also that of others.

dsc_1119The following weekend I was joined by Southampton chum Luke, which I knew would make for an enjoyable and restful few days. I felt particularly happy that he decided to visit as he needed a break from his work and location, and boy, did it do him good! It was as though people who visited were somehow cleansed and rejuvenated- powerful stuff! We jammed on guitar, had a dance and fair few drinks over a game of truth or dare, simple wholesome pleasures. When you know that you needn’t rely on external factors for mental stimulation, it is a major personal triumph. When you know that you are living up to your true potential, you are truly happy.

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Every once in a while I’d meet with Robin and his family for a meal (they were so hospitable) and other times I’d just hang out with the kids and go on a bit of an adventure. Pipi, Bene and Thaddie showed me this sites of Muriwai Beach, including the huge gannet colony and incredibly powerful rock formations, blow holes and surrounding caves. This wasn’t a place to mess with.

p1080928I did have a reasonable structure to the residency in that the following Sunday I had an open invitation for locals to come and visit me at the house for a discussion and an informal presentation of my work (with cake). I gave a talk on my background, inspirations and work produced in Muriwai as well as throughout my (almost) year in NZ. It turned into an inspiring afternoon of likeminded creatives and lovely souls having a good yarn- a nice boost as sharing is such an important element in the creative process, something I miss about my old studio at The Sorting Office. img_20160925_112040

The locals kids and I wanted to go on one last adventure before I left and their idea was a hike through Goldie’s Bush. A 9km hike through Kauri forest, taking in the impressive Mokoroa Falls, it was quite the challenge at this time of year! The water was rough and deep on the 20+ river crossings we needed to make, but we managed it as a team, and Pipi and Bene couldn’t have been better company. At the local Muriwai Surf Club Robin and Pipi were lifeguards (Pipi at 14yrs still in training but nearly fully qualified!). Robin had a monthly supper club with lifeguards past and present and I was kindly invited along to meet them all. Some true characters, a wholesome meal and a stunning sunset rounded off the day perfectly.

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On my final day at Earthskin I was greeted by new resident artist Sam Heydt from New York. A big ball of energy (despite her tiredness from travelling) we spent a fun evening together chatting over a drink until I tucked myself into the yurt for my final night. We were both involved in a community event happening in Muriwai the following morning, called the Fun Palace. Myself alongside 30+ other artists/performers/creatives were offering free workshops with anybody who wanted to join in. It’s a great initiative that was started in the UK and is an ongoing campaign supporting culture at the heart of every community. Danielle the organiser and all-round great sort did a wonderful job-it was super busy and buzzing.

Leaving Muriwai on a high, in the quiet reflection of the drive onward I felt changed by this place. Plans outside of the residency were starting to fall into place for me, an exciting new door had opened…I was too curious not to venture on in…

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Soundtrack: Type O Negative – Cinnamon Girl, Led Zeppelin – Going to California, Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon

 

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Driving the Coromandel Peninsula

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After advice from the wwoofing family in Rotorua I decided rather than drive south I would drive north and explore the Coromandel Peninsula. The Coromandel boasts pristine beaches, native forests and a laid back atmosphere, and with the sun beaming down seemed like a perfect idea to explore. I was heading towards a different wwoofing location, which was actually way up north the peninsula so it was going to be an interesting road trip and real test of my car’s strength and my driving skill. I love a good road trip, the freedom of exploration and usually driving a bunch of friends to a festival or a mini break-always remind me of good times. Rather than take the quicker, easier west road up towards Colville I went east to explore the many beaches it had to offer on this seemingly perfect beach day. I did a little research into the must see spots such as Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, also knowing I would find my own ideallic settings along the way, far away from everyone else. P1060159First stop was Whangamata beach, time for a bit of lunch and beach exploration. This beach was empty, I pulled up on an unassuming road, wandered a little looking for the beachfront and POW there it was! absolutely stunning, and NO ONE there. There are obvious tourist spots in New Zealand but also an incredible amount of finds that are real hidden gems. I know if this beach was in the UK it would be rammed day and night. After a short walk around, enjoying the solace I headed up to hot water beach. Now hot water beach is famous for the curious way you can dig yourself into the sand and bath in your very own hot water pool, a pretty cool and great way to spend a day. I didn’t do this however, as it was a flying visit but again just the odd surfer was on this tourist hub of a beach, needless to say so many of the beaches in New Zealand are great for surfing.  The road north takes you to a the famous Cathedral Cove, a picturesque site to see, but too busy for my liking! All roads were pretty decent so far, then I hit the 309. The 309 crosses 22km through the backbone of the peninsula, mostly unsealed, it showcases spectacular scenery as it winds through lush farmland, pine forests and extensive areas of beautiful native bush.

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Some say they named the 309 for the number of bends, while others say it’s the number of minutes the horse-drawn carriage used to take. It was my first proper New Zealand road driving experience, and not in a 4×4 truck, with a reasonably powerless automatic Mazda it was quite the drive. Loose gravel everywhere (loads of the roads are like this, thankfully  I don’t have a spotless car to destroy paintwork on) changing weather conditions, adding slippery and dusty additions to the drive, and of course hills, resulting in me talking to the car gently and willingly to get us through it. I finally reached Coromandel where after turning my silver car to a nice shade of brown I met with the lady I was to spend the next few days with on a solar community site, started in the late 70’s.  Now my blog’s are obviously personal and pretty detailed, but in respect of the next wwoofing site, it’s values and respecting privacy I want to give a glance at my experience rather than the intricate details. The road north of Coromandel took me through the last stop for…well… anything, at Colville. P1060205I continued the drive and around 20 minutes from here they were all quite tricky gravel roads to my Almond Hut cabin in the middle of nowhere. The cabin was handmade, basic, but full of character. Overlooking the river I went down for a wash and to cool off. It was a real thoughtful and inspiring place that just made one want to create. The community was born out of protest and rebellion in the late 70’s, searching for an alternative way of life -valuing nature, love, music and yes it was very hippy. In preparation for a big celebratory party the place seemed like it was preparing for Woodstock festival. Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young songs running through my head, it’s as though I’d been dropped into a groovey time warp. P1060169The lady looking after and directing my wwoofing jobs was very artistic and we had a connection in this and our love of music. She was very motherly and good fun to chat too, I made a frame for a sign as well as mailbox painting, generally tidying up the overall aesthetic. Everything was lovingly made and gathered, the houses all different but common in ethos. I was served healing manuka honey and Kawakawa tea to try and mend my recurring sore throat, which sadly cut my stay short as I needed antibiotics to clear it up. Highlights were definitely meeting my wwoof host, playing Bob Marley on the Marimbas with her in the bell tent, and sharing a lush stone baked pizza with a group of her friends, including 2 cool biker dudes with an interesting Australian/Dorset hybrid accent. P1060193 I feel there’s a good chance I’ll return here later in the year. I headed back down towards Waihi beach after taking a night to mend in Whitianga, and watched What We Do In The Shadows (bloody funny) and thankfully the drugs were kicking in. Waihi ‘Heart of Gold’ is notable for it’s thriving gold and silver mining. I took a walk around the ‘pit rim’ overlooking the incredible scale of the working gold mine. I’ve always been particularly interested in the process and history of gold mining, the incredible effort that is undertaken (especially back in the day) to extract the most precious of treasures. I can also blame Mario Kart, Zelda and Donkey Kong and various other computer games I grew up with for their fun mine cart inspired imagery! P1060234

My next family in Waihi were husband and wife living in a big house not far from Waihi beach. Christine, writer and EFT practitioner showed me her world of many toed cats (one of them gave birth as I was there!) DSC_0153a fun belly dancing class, and daily vinegar based liver cleansing drinks, and yes, that takes some time to get used to. Husband John liked to share his incredible experiences, many unfortunate accidents and knowledge of a wide range of areas. I also assisted in painting, gardening and advice for realistic model airplane painting for John.

Jack of all trades? Maybe not, but I’m certainly gaining tons of knowledge and experience…

 

 

Soundtrack: Joni Mitchell – Woodstock, Crosby Stills Nash & Young – Winchester Cathedral, Bob Marley – Stir It Up

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Heading South – The Islands ~ Into the Sea

Wow, so it’s HOT down south, and a different feel completely, things are more expensive and tourists are everywhere – but I can see why..

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I took a flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket and stayed in a lovely hotel called The Blue Pearl 10 minutes away from Kata Beach. Everywhere was buzzing with life and there were Bob Marley themed bars on every stretch lining the beach. This is the life. After time on the beach soaking the sun and time to recuperate it was time to take a tuk tuk towards Patong and prepare to meet the group for the next tour at The Sawaddi Resort. DSC_0643 This tour was a 9 day island hopper west, around the picturesque South of Thailand. I met my cool room mate Sandy from Canada and continued to meet the other 34(!) people on the tour. To say I was a bit overwhelmed was putting it lightly! It was a group of 18-35 year olds mainly from Australia and America, Canada and 3 South Africans. I was starting to realise that this tour was about partying and couldn’t have differed more from the intimate, back to basic Chaing Mai trek. I work so much better in smaller groups and take quite a while to get to know people so this felt very tricky for me. Most of the group were there just for the tour and then home and I felt a little isolated.

 

After an evening of feeling sorry for myself I spent the following morning on the beach, wandered around and had another painful/massively great Thai massage (I swore/she laughed). I’ve never had anything quite like it, it changes from unbearable pain to feeling sublime. I made my way towards the hive of activity which is Bangla Road  (which was badly affected in the Tsunami, although you’d never know). I was trying to locate the Siam Guesthouse, specifically the owner called Tuy. My friend Ian from back home stayed there a few years back and befriended him. He was a really nice guy, full of information and loved his music, which is always good.

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The tour plan was roughly 3 days in each location with one planned activity in each place, with travelling days and ‘me’ days scattered around these. The following morning I decided to take an excursion to the Big Buddha and Wat Chalong which was great because it gave us chance to get to know each other, particularly in the crazy tuk tuk ride there. The guys plugged their phones in so we had ‘young person dance music I’m really out of touch with’ ha, no it was fine- it suited the mood. I couldn’t quite help wondering what they would’ve done had I put some Black Sabbath on.

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As we approached the temple the same standards were expected-no shoes and covering of most of your skin, which was really tricky in the heat. Incense and candles burned and at the side of the road a chimney type structure suddenly erupted with firecrackers-P1050667thankfully not gunshots as we all thought at first!

My roommate Sandy took time out this day, as along with the big group had been out all night drinking, watching ladyboys and a ping pong show, if you don’t know what that is, tough, google it.

Painfully for her, she suffered from a hangover and sunstroke which was a reminder about taking care of myself, everything seems heightened in Thailand – particularly the sun, the spice and the hangovers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soundtrack: Bob Marley – Could You Be Loved, The Cure – Hot, Hot, Hot