The window

Let me start this by saying I had an awesome Saturday last weekend. It was filled with some of the things I love best – literature, history, discovery and most of all, London.

I had spent a fascinating hour at the old Roman House and Bath on Lower Thames Street right opposite the Billingsgate Fish Market. The City of London is an area I’ve explored over the last few years through walking tours (In Shardlake’s Shoes) but it’s not on my way to any frequent haunt so adventures tend to be a result of turning left instead of right, peering around unbidden corners and just venturing into open doors.

With some time to kill before heading to the Kings Place Festival, rather than head directly back to Monument Station, I let myself meander aimlessly along cobbled lanes admiring the architectural mix of old next to new.

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I had ambled up St-Mary-At-Hill toward Eastcheap when I saw this off to my right.

The window (small)

Intrigued, I headed towards it, the street silent and shaded against the warm afternoon sun. As I drew closer, I looked up and spied a steeple chalked against the blue of the sky.

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The sunlit window beckoned and as the cobbles turned left into Idol Lane, it became part of something much bigger. The tower in front of me rising up to unite the disparate parts of steeple and window into one glorious whole.

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St-Dunstan-in-the-East – all sweeping curves and delicate green. A little piece of history tucked just a few steps back from the dust and traffic on Lower Thames Street. I smiled and I could feel the warm anticipation of discovery growing inside me. The black iron gate was open so I edged through, curious and quiet, as though not to disturb the peace of the garden.

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I wandered along the leafy paths drinking in the beauty of this patch of nature and history entwined. Each turn revealed a stunning view, each door a different aspect to behold.

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The delicate shapes of the old walls reached up amidst the modern cut of the City, softening its edges and somehow showcasing the modern skyline. There’s a mix of old and new that I love about London – the way that each seems to compliment, even enhance, the other. I don’t think anywhere does it better.

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My breath caught over and over again as I gazed around me. I was moved, wanting to absorb each moment and imprint it into my mind. At the same time, I wanted to share the fullness of it. I found myself retracing steps, phone in hand hoping somehow to capture a fragment of what I was feeling in order to pass it on.

I typed my first draft of this post an hour later, sitting on the floor of Kings Place waiting for the event I’ve booked in for to start. It was a download I couldn’t stem, a rambling deluge of words and feelings for such a short space of time that had become so large and urgent in my memory.

Now I reshape it, ordering it, adding the photos which speak to my heart the most. There’s joy in revisiting the photos I took. They return me to places I stood – the central garden where the wiry black boughs framed by gothic arches were misted with emerald leaves, the far reaches of the path where I could see the red piped curves reaching from the bricked corner of the building next door – and the things that I felt – the warm sun on my face, the cool sweat on my back that made my t-shirt cling to the place that my backpack had been.

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And I smile again. It feels like the same smile as when I first set eyes on that black iron gate. And I feel grateful – for the moment, for the discovery and for the opportunity to live in this magnificent city I am lucky to call home.

To my mind, that’s not bad for a Saturday.

Not bad at all.

4 days in Stockholm: Changing the world

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This is the Nobel Museum, housed in the old Stock Exchange building right in the shadow of Storkyrkan‘s baroque steeple. It is right in the heart of Gamla Stan, looking out over the cobbles of Stortorget just a short walk up the dappled lanes from Vasterlangaarten. In the bright morning light of my last day in Stockholm, it stood still in the quiet of the square, understated with hardly a hint of the inspiration within.

I entered the cool dark hall, the gentle flow of past laureates above my head and glowing pillars forming a gentle arc around the atrium to honour this year’s winners. Come November they will join the parade of banners overhead to be replaced with a new batch of those deemed to have made the most significant difference over the last twelve months.

The original ideas man

Alfred Nobel was born in Sweden in 1833 and had a well-travelled life. He spoke four languages even as a child and throughout his adult life, spent his time most notably in St Petersberg, Stockholm and Paris. He was a descendant of Swedish scientist Olaus Rudbeck and it would appear that invention flowed down the bloodline with Nobel’s father, Immanuel being the inventor of modern plywood and an alumunus of the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology. Alfred himself had a mind that constantly sought solutions and he had 350 international patents awarded in his lifetime, the most famous of these inventions being dynamite (1867), gelignite (1875) and the predecessor to cordite, ballistite (1887).

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His legacy is twofold. He built an international business empire with interests as far-reaching as Australia, Japan and North and South America as well as closer to home in Europe and Russia and it lives on in numerous companies world-wide. (Heard of chemicals giant Akzo Nobel?) Needless to say, Alfred Nobel left a considerable estate upon his death in 1896.

The Nobel Prize was defined and instructed through Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament. His vast fortune was to be held in secure investments and used to fund five prizes each year celebrating…

“…those who, through the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit upon mankind.”

The five prizes, in areas that held the most fascination and interest for Nobel, were to be awarded by the institutions he held in the greatest esteem. The Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry were to be conferred by The Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Peace Prize by the Norwegian Storting.

However these organisations were unaware of Nobel’s final wishes and it took the creation of the Nobel Foundation and a further five years before the first prize was awarded in 1901. In 1969, a sixth prize was awarded – the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel – but while conferred by the Swedish Academy of Sciences at the same ceremony as the other prizes, it is funded by Sweden’s central bank and is not deemed a Nobel prize.

Nobel endeavours

I wandered from room to room, watching interviews and footage of just a small number of prize winners. Between 1901 and 2014, 567 prizes have been awarded to 889 laureates who, in leaving their particular legacy, have allowed mankind to continue to fashion its future. The soft click overhead heralds the breathy release of a prize winner’s banner on the cableway –  each glides noiselessly around the ceiling of the exhibition hall before joining the others again. It’s an ingenious way to make sure that every laureate can be honoured here yet with plenty of space for those still to come. A video installation, shrouded in diaphanous white folds, explores the future with 19 laureates – what is their hope? – and the importance of passing something on.

Exploring ideas has laid foundation after foundation for the discoveries of today and underpins our society’s progress and it is an awesome thing – that one man’s passion for ideas and his belief in human creativity more than one hundred years ago lives on in celebrating those who exemplify his credo in their work, their commitment and in the people who inspire them. My two and a half hours here left me feeling humbled and moved by people’s extraordinary-ness and I emerged from the cool semi-lit hall into the afternoon sun quiet and contemplative.

I sat in an outdoor cafe, reading the small booklet about Alfred Nobel that I’d purchased on my way out and as I finished and moved to close the back cover, I noticed the words that lay below the image of that legendary golden medal:

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The Nobel Museum – ideas changing the world

Long may it continue, I thought.

Long may it continue.

If street art ruled the world

Yesterday I went on a street art walking tour through London’s East End.

Inspired by the discovery of Hosier Lane in Melbourne during my visit with loved ones Down Under, I’ve been keen to explore more on this side of the world since my return in January.

At 10am on a lovely sunny Saturday in London, about twenty-five of us met our guide, Dave, at the Goat Statue at Spitalfields market. This is the goat, not Dave…

The Goat Statue

As we meandered towards the church, Dave gave us a bit of an introduction to street art/graffiti and the emergence of London’s street art culture. He also explained that given the temporary nature of street art, the myriad of stickers on lamp posts and other street furniture can serve as a handy guide as to who’s been contributing to the urban art scene in the area at any particular time – a bit like passport control for those in the ‘street art’ know.

The example below shows the iconic winged figure of well-known artist D*face in sticker form in Brushfield Street and then his installation in the Old Truman Brewery Complex.

DfaceWe turned right at the church then took a left into Fashion Street and that’s when things really started to happen…here’s Dave introducing us to three different styles and artists – more on some of these later.

Dave in Fashion Street

I did find the bike image stenciled onto the road particularly amusing in this picture – the urban art scene rails against the things that the establishment tells us we must do (like staying in the bike lane?).

This is probably a good point to address the questions of ‘what is street art’ and ‘how is it different from graffiti’.

According to Dave, the definitions are many and varied but for him, graffiti (below left) is created for the appreciation of the urban art community who can, for example, really appreciate the intricacies of a tag. Street art (below right) is created with a wider audience in mind – Dave told us to “think of images you might consider being on a t-shirt or as a piece of art in your home”.

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Both might consist of painting, stickers, paste ups or other types of ‘installations’  and both can be done with or without permission. But after seeing a few works in progress, I was left with the over-riding premise of street art/graffiti being both temporary and accessible in nature despite permissions granted – check out the works in progress below.

WIP

We wandered along Fashion Street, learning about different techniques as we went. Below are some examples of paste-ups – where the artist has completed the image elsewhere prior to pasting it on the walls. The top left image was created using screen printing for the main image with the coloured smoke added in situ.

Paste Ups

You can also see the temporary nature of urban art at work here with the later addition of the ‘cat chariot’ to the bottom of the original piece, a practice we saw a lot throughout the tour. Another common practice is for artists to spread their work in an area to make their mark – we saw two more of the ‘cat chariot’ further along Fashion Street and more scattered along our walking route.

An artist currently distributing himself throughout the area is Gregos. He’s a French sculptor who creates painted molds of his own face. He has installed two batches of these in London so far.

Gregos

We saw these three on our route, ‘stayers’ from his last batch of fifty earlier this year. (Dave assures us that having met Gregos, this really is his face.)

Speaking of sticking things on the wall, there were loads of other things to find if you kept your eyes peeledStuck on

The piggy you can see in the photo top left is part of a series by Love Piepenbrinck. We found them in all sorts of places and while we thought they were cute, it would appear that the urban artists themselves are quite enamoured of this idea. We found a number of works had been created around the little sculpture, leaving the ensconced piggy right where it was – maybe Piepenbrinck’s piggies will mark an era of (semi-) permanence?

The other pictures are just different examples that appealed to me: Eeyore perching gloomily amongst a frenetic background, the mirrored cloud that changed depending on my angle of reflection (pardon the pun –  couldn’t help it!) and the urban tweetie attached to a council sign.

This next image was quite stunning and really struck me with all of its purple and turquoise hues. Dave confirmed here that the artist had been granted permission (by the owner of the wall, not the council) to paint here.

Purple woman

However, what was even more amazing is that this was all painted with spray cans. Can you imagine trying to create this kind of delicate imagery with a set of spray cans? (I probably couldn’t even manage it with a paint brush). It gave me a new appreciation of the talent of these artists. Here are some more ‘girls’ I particularly liked…

Women

One of the elements of street art is the speed and ‘furtiveness’ required as most is completed without permission. One of the techniques used to aid this is stenciling (Banksy is a well-known exponent of this). The image on the right is painted on the door of a barber shop and so whilst the artist had probably obtained permission, this intricate portrait was still created using a whole series of stencils.

We saw some great commemorative art as well. Joe’s Kid (below left) actually runs the coffee shop that owns the wall and Charlie Burns (below right) ran the business whose shutters are right next to his image.

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The Charlie Burns image also embodies the dripping effect evident in much street art – let’s face it, if you’re trying not to get caught, you don’t spend time dabbing at the drips! In this case the artist, Ben Slow has used it to effect on the left hand side of the image and then merged into photo-realism as he moved towards the right.

And the piece below – just off Bethnal Green Road – is by Citizen Kane (CZK) and commemorates the suicide of his son in 2013.

Citizen Kane

Street artists are also known for their strong anti-authority philosophies and these next two are great examples of taking a humorous and well-aimed poke at the establishment.

Ronzo is a German artist and his style is typified by the bulging eyes and the tombstone teeth of his monsters.  We saw the rainbow image earlier in Fashion Street. On the right you can see Crunchy, The Credit Crunch Monster, Ronzo’s mascot for the global financial crisis, in the Old Truman Brewery complex while the City of Ronzo crest was on the railway bridge at the top end of Brick Lane. This guy gets around…

Ronzo

Frenchman Clet Abraham is another exponent of thumbing one’s nose at authority and uses his witty imagery on existing ‘displays of authority’ (street signs) to make his particular mark.

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Nathan Bowen is yet another using his art to make a statement. Using marker pens in his signature style, he makes this plea for peace in Syria below.

Nathan Bowen

Conor Harrington‘s work also appeared in a couple of different places along the way…

Conor Harrington

…and he also worked with U2 on Crystal Ballroom, part of their Songs of Innocence project. (He’s the artist in the video.)

No street art tour – of London anyway – would be complete without Banksy so we snuck through the gates of Shoreditch nightclub Cargo to see this…

Banksy

Yes, it is behind perspex but while not in the temporary and accessible spirit of street art, I’m pretty glad I got to see a real Banksy. And yes, his real identity remains a mystery, even to Dave. (There’s more street art in Cargo – even another Banksy so might be worth popping down to Rivington Street.)

There was so much more on this almost 4 hour tour and it gave me a new appreciation for both this pocket of East London – about which I knew very little – and the urban art scene – about which I knew even less. I didn’t like everything – probably only half of what I saw really appealed to me but it’s interesting how with a little bit of background, the whole genre opened up and became absolutely fascinating.

And let’s face it, if street art ruled the world, there’d be a whole lot more of this…

Coloured walls

…and for my part, that just adds some welcome colour to a day.

If you are in London and fancy a bit of urban art for yourself, check out Shoreditch Street Art Tours – Dave is obviously a guy ‘in the know’ and for just £15, it makes for a pretty cost-effective and entertaining education!

Play time

Since my visit Down Under for Christmas last year, I must confess to a renewed addiction for jigsaw puzzles. I’ve always loved them and a big part of family holidays when I was growing up was commandeering some large flat space, spreading out a thousand odd pieces and then hunching over them between sun-kissed beach sorties or for a whole day at a time if the rain was drumming a monsoonal metre on the roof.

But like most things in this day and age, jigsaws have moved on-line and I have developed a bit of a penchant for finding an hour or so to puzzle on my tablet.

I do love a puzzle. As a child travelling between parents and grandparents, a crossword/puzzle book was always tucked alongside my ‘book of the moment’ and these days, between a spot of Lumosity brain training or Words with Friends on my daily commute and a more leisurely pen-in-hand meander through The Times MindGames on a Saturday, it would really seem that puzzling has become the habit of a lifetime – well mine anyway.

This week, in scanning through some business reading at work, I came across another childhood habit that seems to be storming into the pantheon of grown-up amusements – colouring, or more specifically colouring books.

Euromonitor reports that sales of adult (no not THAT adult) colouring books are soaring and no longer content to dip into the annals of their offspring, grown-ups are looking for our own expression of creativity…and a little bit of stress-relief. The Secret Garden colouring book has sold more than 1.5 million copies and with the likes of Crayola, Bic, Faber-Castell and Staedtler coming to the party, Euromonitor postulates that this may become a phenomenon to rival the juggernaut that was – and is – Harry Potter.

And the nostalgic play trend doesn’t end there. Tonight, Channel 4 (UK) will feature a behind-the-scenes look at Lego. Yes those building blocks of childhood are every bit (see what I did there – every bit?) as ubiquitous today and one could argue that Lego’s position at the top of the toy-maker league table has been a result of an ability to extend their appeal beyond the young to the young-at-heart.

There are many studies and opinion pieces out there about the benefits of creative play for kids but as we get older, downtime like this is valued less and less (although one could argue that the absence of it in our lives makes us value it more – just consider how excited we get about going on holiday to ‘relax’ and ‘do nothing’).

But just as we might train physically to improve our muscles, puzzles and creative pursuits build different muscles, those of the brain. Brain training company Lumosity talks about its approach being grounded in neuroscience and more particularly neuroplasticity, explaining how the brain is ‘built’ to rely on previous patterns of behaviour (or neural pathways). Without challenging these patterns, our brain can lose its power to adapt.

I am no scientist but as we’ve already established, I do love a puzzle and luckily at the end of each of my commuting brain ‘trains’, there’s a little top scores list and an overall brain summary to chart my progress and offer any encouragement in improving the lower scoring areas.

One such example is that of spatial awareness. I maintain that Australia has so much space per person that the development of this ability in my early life was somewhat moot but in London I have developed a reputation for falling over (without the influence of alcohol) or pondering when exactly I bumped into something to produce an emerging ‘mystery bruise’.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of dancing and yoga which has helped this but indulging in a bit of sashay step or downward dog on the tube each day will probably raise a few eyebrows…and definitely tread on some toes. So Lumosity’s Penguin Pursuit continues to be my nemesis but as long as my scores improve, I will continue to work on it and enjoy the few minutes of fun that my three different games each day affords me on my commute.

So finding space to play, to ponder, to puzzle appears to be gaining momentum in a society seeking mindfulness and balance. And I think it’s a good thing. The watch out will be if it becomes a chore, another should in the long list of things we should be doing to have a happy and balanced life.

So let’s create, build, run amok, let loose and blow those cobwebs off our childhood…and just play.

The equality emporium

I am typing this from the BA Lounge at Heathrow Airport, waiting for the flight that will take me across the pond to Seattle-A and her boys for a glorious 10 days of ‘hanging out’.

As with all airport journeys I leave plenty of time to allow for a) North Circular and Heathrow spur traffic b) a less than fast Fast Track and c) breakfast and a spotty reading of the Financial Times. Today there was no traffic and Fast Track lived up to its name so I have plenty of time to dash off a little post.

This one is inspired by something I saw on Springwise.com yesterday and got me thinking about that equal pay question. You see this was about a pop-up shop called 76<100 where you ‘pay what you’re paid’. So if you’re a woman and you buy something in this Pittsburgh emporium, you pay only 76% of the price because that’s the gender pay gap in Pittsburgh. (Springwise reports that the plan is to expand this concept to New Orleans next where the store will be called 66<100 – you do the maths. You can find out more at http://www.lessthan100.org.)

I’m reading all sorts of things in the media about women ‘issues’ – after all the suffragettes won the right to vote here in the UK a century ago and the general theme of all of these rallying cries is that we have not come so very far. The use of the word feminist is emerging in common parlance again after years of being tarred as the ‘other F-word’ and an election would not be an election in the UK without most of the parties bandying ‘women issues’ about as part of their appeal to the swinging voter (anyone see Labour’s pink campaign bus – I mean REALLY?)

For the most part it just sounds like noise to me and while I accept that there is still a gap to bridge, I just think that there are so many of these bridges to build and for so many of us. The problems of women’s representation on Boards and equal pay – while I do acknowledge their importance – pale when I think about the things I read, that I have never been exposed to – rape, ostracision, FGM, beatings and other torments seem a much greater problem to fix. And not just for women but for all groups who are at the ‘skinny end’ in the balance of society’s power.

And then last night I read the latest post from fellow blogging friend, Travelling Penn (travellingpenn@wordpress.com). We worked together a long time ago – she has since retrained as a communicator for World Vision and travels to far-flung places to support aid efforts for the world’s poorest and most powerless. She has been posting on Facebook recently about the power of global aid efforts to help those affected by the earthquake in Nepal. Anyway, in her post she shared some numbers – 60 million people facing an humanitarian crisis, 36 million of those children.

It puts the notion of equality into a different light doesn’t it?

It is an overwhelming set of numbers and my friend writes about remembering the face of each child she has helped to avoid despairing as she tots up the columns. And I thought to myself, whatever the crisis of equality – whether it’s gender, sexuality, poverty, race, religion…the list goes on – the difference we make is really person by person and moment by moment.

So when next I am admonished to ‘step up’ and ‘lean In’, I will do just that. Because while I’m just one person, so are all of the people I come into contact with each day. And with a little extra from all the ones, I have to believe that it is possible to make a difference.

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On transformation

It’s been busy on the extra-curricular front lately and I’ve experienced such an extraordinary trio of events that it’s actually taken me a while to shape all of the amazing stuff I’ve seen and heard into something more than a rambling discourse.

Let me start at the beginning.

I love Flamenco. I’ve loved it ever since the moment I first set eyes on it in Seville in 2002. I love it deeply and passionately, like the spirit of the dance itself. And a little over two weeks ago I was in the audience for Flamenco Gala, the event that marked the opening of the London Flamenco Festival.

It was an hour and 45 minutes of pure transformation. Each piece was filled with its own essential character: intense sensuality, sartorial elegance, youthful impertinence. (And that was just the three ‘leading’ men.) There were no stage sets and no props, each performance needing only the cast of dancers, musicians and singers to capture its essence and cast it out into the audience. I reached out to grab it and never wanted them to stop.

These people transformed Sadlers Wells with their passion and fierce charm, drawing us in and holding us in their thrall until the very last compás. As the last note faded, the theatre filled with woops and bravos and cheering and my arms ached from clapping for so hard and so long. It was utterly thrilling (and may have had something to do with my insomnia that night).

The following week I went hear Thomas Heatherwick speak on surprise, ingenuity and transformation. This is the man who has hit the headlines here in London with his new London bus design and who alongside Joanna Lumley, has been inspired to transform Londoners’ relationship with the Thames through the Garden Bridge proposal. He is also the man who, during London’s 2012 Olympic Games, transformed the Opening Ceremony: an extraordinary moment in Olympic history that showed how the true spirit of the Games – a coming together of 204 nations in a single endeavour – could be epitomised in the lighting of the flame.

He has been doing many other things and for just over 2 hours, talked passionately about transforming our urban environments through a unique blend of redefining the brief and solving ‘the problem’. I didn’t love every project he showed us but I had a strong opinion on each and for me, that’s what sets this catalogue of innovative design ahead of the rest.

And then last Sunday I went to see an interview with novelist and academic Howard Jacobson. I’ve never read any of his books but I had read articles he’d been quoted in and was curious to hear what he had to say. His new book J, imagines a dystopian future where many ‘Js’ are banned – no jokes, no jazz and no Jews.

The discussion became less about the story itself (excellent, no spoilers!) and more about ideologies and the human need for argument to keep such ideologies alive. Being Jewish himself (the interview was part of Jewish Book Week), he particularly talked about the notion of Christian/Jewish argument being at the source of each of these ideologies and that without one, perhaps the other would not exist. He posed the question that if the opposing view just disappeared and there was no need to defend a position, would an ideology simply run out of steam? I thought about that all the way home.

The theme that has so enchanted me about these three events has been their ability to transform, whether in bringing a passionate past to life, a striking twist to an urban landscape or a thought-provoking version of a possible future. I love that these experiences stimulate my imagination and for days afterwards, I felt inspired creative and somehow emboldened in my day to day endeavours.

And it seems to me that these people and others like them – who keep exploring the what ifs about our world – are the ones who, with every step, design or idea will inspire us to break out of our comfortable cocoons and strive for new horizons.

monarch-butterfly

Old places, new faces

I spent a couple of weeks in Melbourne with family over the Christmas/New Year period and one of the things that I love to do (and miss) is hang out with my sister. There are the things we girls traditionally do – shopping, manipedis and generally hanging out over coffee (and I was reminded once again that Melbourne has the best coffee in the world) – and then there are the moments of ‘inspiration’ subject to how we are feeling at the time.

We were off to partake in a musical favourite of mine, Grease. I know every word and every song (having played Frenchie in our high school production) so I was looking forward to an afternoon of energetic A-Wop-Boppa-Looma-A-Wop-Bam-Boom-ing. And it was on the way to the theatre that I stumbled across a distinctly different face of Melbourne.

Hosier Lane is a cut through between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane alongside the Forum Theatre. It is an unexpected riot of vibrant colour and expression in the midst of the area’s architectural melting pot of gothic (St Paul’s Cathedral), Moorish Revival (Forum theatre), French Renaissance (Flinders Street Station) and contemporary (Federation Square) styles. I could not stop myself from whipping out my phone in an attempt – let’s face it, these things are never as good ‘on film’ – to capture its brilliance.

Hosier Lane 1

We made our way along the alley, the air littered with ‘ooohs’, ‘aaahs’ and the subtle snap of selfies. My head swivelled touristically from side to side to admire each urban canvas and as I meandered along the cobbles with the other Sunday strollers, what struck me most was the how vividly the character of each of Hosier’s painted residents had been brought to life.

Hosier Lane 2

Are any of you old enough to remember this young lady from The Wacky Races

Hosier Lane 3

…or youthful enough to know this ‘lovable’ pair from Monsters Inc.?

Hosier Lane 4

Hosier Lane 5

I have been told that shoes hanging from a light indicates where one can score a fix…or is this just an urban myth?

Hosier Lane 6

I would not like to meet this dude in a darkened alley, alone or otherwise…

Hosier Lane 7

…although the location nearby of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, could be considered fortuitous.

Hosier Lane 8

And last but certainly not least, a look skyward evoked the spirit of Australia’s indigenous past.

Hosier Lane 9

Street art continues its emergence as the next ‘big thing’ and a quick google on the way home from the theatre yielded both a list of sites to visit and the hows and wherefores of getting your particular expression of self into Melbourne’s urban spaces.

Unfortunately, we did not get to any of the others during my sojourn Down Under but it has inspired me to look for even more of this in London having browsed Brixton’s backstreets last year. And it would appear – according to a range of stuff-to-do sources that drop into my Inbox on a fairly regular basis – that East London is the current jewel in this city’s urban art crown.

So stay tuned…Shoreditch, here I come!

How does one become a butterfly?

Yesterday I went to see the movie Selma. It’s about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement’s defining march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery in 1965. It was hard to watch in places – the barbarity of humankind is a confronting thing to see – but at the same time, I also learned a thing or two and was particularly inspired by LBJ‘s involvement in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1968 through Congress. I had no idea that he actually did this thing that made such an enormous difference in his time as President of the United States (1963 to 1969).

Earlier this year, my boss confirmed that I had been selected to participate in our Leadership Development Programme and this week, I received a couple of books to read on Go MAD thinking (MAD stands for Making A Difference) as part of the preparation. Having arrived home from the cinema feeling somewhat sober and reflective, reading something called Go MAD: the art of making a difference really hit the right note.

So I’m reading Principle One: Have a strong reason why you want to go MAD, and on page 38 I read this:

How does one become a butterfly?

You must want to fly so much,

that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

It pulled me up short. I let my gaze hover over the words and felt my heart swell. It made me think of another quote I read years ago (attributed controversially to Guillaume Apollinaire) that over the years, I have scrawled on the inside covers of notebooks and scraps of paper at speaker events and conferences. It goes like this:

 Come to the edge, he said.

They said, we are afraid.

Come to the edge, he said.

They came.

He pushed them…and they flew.

There’s something about ‘flying’ that provokes feelings of being free for me. I jumped out of a perfectly good plane once – albeit attached to the front of someone more expert at it than myself – and during the exhilaration of the free fall, experienced an overwhelming sense of freedom and peace that I never wanted to end.

You could argue that I did this – flew that is – at least once more when I left my comfortable life in Australia and built this one here in London that I love so much. Strange accent aside, some might not see so many changes but deep down I know myself very differently from the 34-year-old who left Melbourne in 2004.

So how does one become a butterfly?

The butterfly doesn’t know exactly how the world outside its chrysalis will be. It just knows it needs to spread its wings to survive and thrive in whatever lies ahead. Over the last 6 months, I have also had a sense of a change coming. I haven’t known quite what this might be – a bit like the butterfly – but my gut is telling me to be ready. And by ready I really mean being open – to new ideas, ambitions and possibilities.

I’m calling this the Butterfly Principle – this preparing to take flight despite an unknown, uncertain future. It is fluttering gently around my thoughts and making me wonder what path I will carve out next. Will it be a continuation of the current one with a change just around the corner? Or will there be a fork in the road?

So I’m off to explore how I want to spread my wings and take flight. Who knows what’s going to be next? All I know is that I’m looking forward to finding out. And I’d love to hear what inspires you to fly.

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Mumbai Moments…

Back at the start of 2012, I read a book called Shantaram. Written by Gregory David Roberts, it is a narrative based on Roberts’ experiences in the Bombay underworld. It is a wonderful read, my first taste of India and according to the Indian friends I know, an accurate depiction of Bombay.

This week I got to see it for myself.

Lucky enough to travel to India for work, I spent an overnight in Delhi – not enough time to see anything unfortunately – before heading south for two days in Mumbai (aka Bombay) and after a day at our factory and offices, it was time to experience a little local colour with beer and vittels at Cafe Mondegar.

Cafe Mondegar is located on Colaba Causeway, (officially known as Shahid Baghat Singh Road), a land link between Colaba and Old Woman’s Island in the south of Mumbai and a buzzing commercial street filled with bars, restaurants, cafes and throngs of people. Cafe Mondegar, or Mondy’s to the locals, is a hub for both local and expatriate socialising with tables and chairs packed closely together and a menu catering for adventurers seeking local flavours as well as travellers pining for a little taste of home, wherever that may be.

The main cafe wall is covered with a cartoon mural painted by famed Indian illustrator Mario Miranda which depicts the hustle and bustle of life in Mumbai – these caricatures can also be spotted on the plates supplied for your meal as well as the salt and pepper shakers on each table and a range of items for sale like t-shirts and mugs.


I was told that Mondy’s represented just the tip of the culinary iceberg but was an excellent place to start so left the ordering up to my colleagues with the only stipulation being I wanted to eat local food. In my experience, eating food in its place of origin always tastes better and I was not disappointed. Each dish was delicious and washed down with a range of ice-cold beers. With the vintage jukebox busting out some excellent 80s and early 90s tunes, Mondy’s got a big Thum(b)s Up from me.

Thums Up, India’s favourite cola

The following day it was time for some retail visits, seeing the types of products available and how they are sold – quite different from the superstores and chains of the more developed markets that I am used to. What it meant was that, albeit from the back seat of our Tata car, I got to see Mumbai.

Our first stop typified Mumbai for me, a curious mix of new affluence and poverty side by side.

Taken at Phoenix Market City, Kurla, Mumbai


Our second stop saw us back in the Colaba region. The streets off the main roads were quieter and lined with colonial architecture, a hangover from the area’s occupation by British forces in the 1700s.


Famous residents include Sir Ratan Tata, the Emeritus Chairman of Indian multinational conglomerate Tata Sons, the holding company for Tata Group (ownership of Jaguar and Tetley Tea among its many interests).

Speaking of Tata, we did visit one of their Star Bazaar stores in Andheri…


…where we managed to buy a Magnum (ice-cream) – quite new and extremely expensive in India according to my colleague – and eat it watching one of Mumbai’s many entrepreneurs…

Mumbai money: She’s selling Tupperware from her car boot.

And then it was time to head back to the hotel so we hit the road…

So that was the end of my first visit to India and more particularly, Mumbai. Where 20 million people exist side by side in states of extreme wealth right through to abject poverty and where entrepreneurialism thrives as every man, woman and child finds ways to make ends meet. Its crowded streets are overwhelming, decimated at this time of year as the monsoon season wrings out its final downpours and filled with the strangely happy beep beep of car horns as the traffic pushes and snarls and untangles itself again. 

The atmosphere is one of tolerance – how could such diametric opposites co-exist without it – and a mixture of acceptance and hope, an acceptance of one’s destiny yet a belief that one’s actions in life will generate ‘good’ karma. And I found myself unexpectedly moved by this metropolitan melting pot, its busy, bustling hopefuls and its fusion of many opposites.

Gregory Roberts writes this in Shantaram:

“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.” 

I wonder what Mumbai will turn out to be.

It’s Oh So Quiet…

It’s July. The schools are starting to close for the summer break and thousands of families are packing their bags for their annual holiday. Many flee to sun themselves and swim in warmer climes although the UK’s recent burst of gloriously sunny weather may have also inspired some vacation-ing closer to home.

At this time of year, an email is circulated at work, encouraging us to be safe and take care over the months ahead. There are the usual admonishments to drive safely, to stay vigilant outside our normal routines both in and out of the work environment. This year’s message really struck a chord for me.

The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”  Source: http://mariovittone.com/2010/05/154/

It would appear that drowning is not the waving, splashing, attention-getting event that we think it is. It is quiet, insidious and quick. It can happen in less than 60 seconds…while we watch.

Mario Vittone oversees the development of maritime safety and security products for VLinc Corporation and is a leading expert in drowning, sea survival and safety at sea. He consults and writes on water safety and in 2012, he published the article referred to above, painting a vivid picture of the risks we run as a result of our misconception about what drowning looks like.

In the 1970s, Dr. Francesco (Frank) Pia Ph.D discovered The Instinctive Drowning Response shown in the video below.


The misconceptions remain some 40 years later.

I grew up in a culture where swimming is taught if not in parallel with learning to walk, then at least as part of every primary school’s Phys.Ed. curriculum. And we learnt not just to swim but also to rescue and perform CPR as part of the higher swimming competency certificates in later years.

There is also a legacy of swimming in my family with my grandfather and uncle being swimming coaches and Mum swimming at State level for many years during her teens. Growing up we had pools in our various back yards and seaside holidays galore with many hours spent frolicking in the surf with Mum or Dad close by. My sister and I competed at swim meets both in and out of school and as I grew into adulthood, I spent many weekends with friends water-skiing and swimming in bays, rivers and lakes around Victoria.

Yet I carried the same misconception as many of you probably do. I never knew what drowning really looked like.

So with the Summer months gaining momentum in the northern hemisphere, it’s vital to get this message out there, to wave my virtual arms and make some noise on behalf of those who can’t.

Drowning is a quick and quiet killer and by knowing what to look for, you just never know whose life you might save.

So please share this post or any of the additional material below with as many people as you can. 

The life you save may even be yours.

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Additional material:
Drowning doesn’t look like drowning
Instinctive Drowning Response – video
Mario Vittone Facebook page
On Scene p14. – It Doesn’t Look Like They’re Drowning