Raising a glass to the end of summer

September again! Not quite autumn but definitely the end of summer…

So we wanted to share a memory from our travels – one of the most stylish bar interiors ever. The outside is bright pink with a neon sign but this is the inside of El Floridita, in Havana:

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It was a favourite of Ernest Hemingway (who knew a thing or two about bars) and is supposed to be the birthplace of the daiquiri. (You can see the phrase “la cuna del daiquiri” – “the cradle of the daiquiri” – written behind the bar.) There is even a life-sized statue of Hemingway at his favourite spot in the corner:

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The current decor dates from the 1950s, so slightly later than period in the 30s and 40s when he was a regular. It’s been updated with the odd coat of paint from time to time (and now displays the giant glass used in 2012 to make the world’s largest daiquiri) but still reflects the glamour of the 50s when all the leading Hollywood movie stars popped in at one time or another.

Thanks, summer 2015, you’ve been great. Can’t wait for next year. Cheers!

Norton Folgate update

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You remember a little while ago we posted about the campaign to save Norton Folgate? It’s a historic area of London just to the north of Spitalfields where British Land, one of the largest property development and investment companies in the UK, wanted to demolish 72% of the buildings on the piece of land that they own, all of which is in a conservation area. In their place, they wanted to build a collection of office blocks 11 – 13 storeys high. It would have meant not only the loss of historically important buildings, but the destruction of the character of the area.

After an impressive campaign by The Spitalfields Trust, including a human chain around the threatened area, Tower hamlets Council has rejected the British Land proposals. Interestingly, it wasn’t just conservationists who opposed the plans, but also the local businesses – creative and technology businesses who feel that they gain not just from the location near the City, but the vibrant and mixed nature of it.

So a beautiful piece of Georgian London with an interesting history has been saved. Good news!

A visit to The Kelpies

A kelpie is a Scottish water spirit, who usually appears as a horse. But Andy Scott’s Kelpies are a pair of sculptures that since April 2014 have stood 30 metres above the entrance to the Forth and Clyde Canal in Falkirk, Scotland. You can glimpse them from the road nearby, but that doesn’t really do them justice. Up close (and you can walk right up to  them and even, on a guided tour, inside them) they are spectacular.

Andy Scott is a Scottish sculptor who specialises in public art and his work can be seen in England, Northern Ireland and Australia as well as Scotland. The Kelpies’ maquettes (smaller, preliminary works – in this case 1:10 scale) have also been exhibited in the US, most recently in Bryant Park, NYC. Interestingly, he was given the title ‘The Kelpies’ to work with right at the start of the project, rather than it being something decided retrospectively. Andy then developed the idea from its beginning in mythology to something which encompasses the idea of the horse as the driving force of the early industrial revolution – including of course the heavy horses that pulled the canal boats when the canals first opened. (Two Clydesdale horses called Duke and Baron were the actual models.) Each sculpture weighs 300 tonnes and is made of 990 stainless steel plates.


The Kelpies are not without  their detractors. Jonathan Jones writing in The Guardian (22/4/14) called them ‘banal and obvious’, saying that they are ‘neither well observed nor powerfully imagined’. But if we may be so bold (and you know that we are not usually controversial), we think that he is missing the point as he sees them as sculptures of horses.  But they are not horses, they are kelpies and they say something  about our relationships with water, earth and industry. We think they do it very well indeed.



We’re not usually big fans of graffiti. That’s partly because although everyone has the right to self-expression, everyone else has the right to a) not be interested and b) not have their property damaged. And it’s also because for every Blek le Rat there are a gazillion people who aren’t making urban art statements, but just have a spray can.

But a few weeks ago some uplifting graffiti appeared near us – like the example above. And this one:

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And this one:

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People have been noticing them and smiling, which is always a good thing. And there’s something else. As you can see, the writing is in chalk, which is very easy to wash off. But they have all been up for a couple of weeks – which, we like to think, means that the owners of the buildings they appear on have chosen not to do so. Instead they are leaving these little messages where they are to make people smile as they go about their business.  And although, as we said, we are not big fans of graffiti, it’s difficult not to see the good in that. And who can complain about this one?

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Dennis Severs’ House

Dennis Severs House façade, 2010, photographed from Folgate Street
By Alanwill (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
 Last week we posted about Norton Folgate and the campaign to save it from the proposed British Land development. (And here is just a quick reminder that you can find out all about it and how to protest on The Spitalfields Trust website.)

This week we want to tell you about the place where we first heard about the campaign – Dennis Severs’ House at 18 Folgate Street. It’s a house in a quiet Georgian Street with rooms decorated in styles mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, but it is not a museum or a stately home. It’s been described as a still life drama or a time capsule and is probably the closest that most of us will ever get to time travel!

Dennis Severs bought the house in 1979 and set about restoring it in an idiosyncratic manner. He wanted to live in the house in a similar manner as the original inhabitants would have done and to give visitors the experience of entering into a painting. When he died in 1999, the house passed to The Spitalfields Trust who maintain it in the same spirit today. The idea is that the house is occupied by a family of Hugeunot silk weavers called Jervis. Visitors never see them, but they are clearly nearby – probably just in the next room. There are fires in the hearth and food on the table. The beds have just been slept in and personal possessions are scattered about. Personal papers and little notes lay around. The only light is from candles and the visitors (who are only admitted in small groups) must be silent. Visitors are also unable to take photos so that’s why this post is rather visually lacking – which is a huge irony given how much there is to see in the house! (Although the combination of candle light and our photography skills would probably not do it justice). There are some wonderful pictures on the Dennis Severs’ House website so do please have a look at it. We’ve also put some pictures on our Pinterest boards.

And one of the most intriguing things is that there seems to be a mystery, or maybe even mysteries. Why is there a cup smashed on the floor? Clumsiness or temper? Was it just the collapse of the British silk industry that lead to the Jervis’ losing their fortune or something else? And we have a theory. About Sophie. But it seems indelicate to talk about it…

The house’s motto is ‘you either see it or you don’t’ and if you do see it, it’s the most amazing experience – unlike anything else. Even if you don’t get the magic, there are some wonderful interiors and the whole effect is indeed like inhabiting a painting.

Clever lighting, distilled

A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to go to the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, for a tour and the chance to make a bottle of our very own, customised gin! (You can imagine how excited we were about that, right?) The distillery is in the very centre of Edinburgh but as it’s only been open for a few months, and as they only make small batches of gin (inspired, they say, ‘by the majesty, marvel and mischief of Edinburgh and its inhabitants’) it’s not too well-known yet. It’s also underground and we were inspired by the clever lighting that’s been used – based on the copper pipes of the stills themselves. It’s in keeping with the theme and also gives a lovely glow.  Just in case you are not quite sure what a gin still looks like, here is Edinburgh Gin Distillery’s Caledonia still: P1030613 And here are some examples of the clever lighting. This is a cosy seating area with a freestanding lamp made from copper tubing: P1030618 - Version 2 Here copper tubing has been used to make a wall lamp that looks like a floor lamp: P1030617 Two examples of wall lights: P1030614

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P1030615 But enough about the lighting, what about the gin? That’s very good too – and the lovely people there were keen for us to sample it. We tried the Canonball, Spiced Orange, Edinburgh’s Christmas Gin and the three liqueur gins (elderflower, raspberry and rhubarb & ginger). All of them were delicious but the biggest treat was making our own. The base flavours are juniper, coriander, angelica and orris – but then we got to choose the other flavours from a wide array. We chose bitter orange, pink peppercorns and fennel seeds – luckily we had help from the lovely distiller who was able to add just the right amount of each. By the time we’d had a tour of the distillery and a gin and tonic, our bottle was ready. Cheers! Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 16.54.13