Sunday, 17 August 2014

A Polish Adventure: Łódź

czesc hitching to Kustrin
coach hitching
Mariola and Izzy
double doors
bronck swing
gate satellite dishes
gas station
Woodge - WOO!
dzazuu pipes
Off - deckchairs
graffiti drawings
grand building   manufaktura
little high window
nowhere now here
wall ferrets

Cześć friends!  Izzy and I left our camp at Fort Gorgast and waited for what seemed like FOREVER for someone to pick us up and take us the short 7km across the border to Poland.  Once over the border,  we were preparing a sign so that we could hitch to our next destination, when a fun young couple pulled over and offered us a lift before we'd even stuck our thumb out!  What a fantastic welcome to Poland - to meet people so generous and thoughtful within minutes of arriving in the country.  Poland is definitely the land of hitch hiking – everyone we met was very friendly and we never waited long for a lift.  We even managed to hitch a lift on a 52 seater air-conditioned coach!  Hitch-hiking in Poland was extra fun, because not many people spoke English, and Polish words have way too many consonants in a row for us even to hazard a guess as to how to pronounce our questions, so we may not have learnt many concrete facts about our drivers, but we did manage to make a lot of people giggle – most of all ourselves.

When we arrived in Łódź (pronounced “woodge”) our couchsurfing host Mariola, picked us up and whisked us off to dance to some seriously cheesy euro pop at a beach party in the city centre.  She was the perfect host – so friendly and generous and always had time to show us somewhere fun in her city.  She was so great that we didn’t even mind when she kidnapped us to watch El Perro in an amphitheatre…..the film was in Spanish with Polish subtitles!

Izzy and I spent two days meandering the gridded streets of Łódź, which had been described as “the Manchester of the east”.  This comparison puzzled us until we arrived and found ourselves in a city of slowly decomposing industrial buildings, whose history and purpose fascinated us. We spent some time admiring the independent shops full of handmade treasures, and tasting local craft beer in Off Piotrkowska.

In the centre of Łódź is the epic Manufaktura – a palace of entertainment, culture and modernity which boasts shops, cinemas and art galleries – all housed in gigantic ex-factory buildings.  Surrounding it are smaller roads which support crumbling grey buildings – a stark contrast to the majestic red brick of Manufaktura.  It’s as if parts of the city had been forgotten about, peeling away in steady decay.  The apartment blocks look partly inhabited and partly in a state of abandonment, and we imagined the lives of the people who lived in them.

We’d only been in Poland for two days, but we got the impression that the people are intrinsically optimistic – as if things hadn't been so great before, but are now looking up.  When we arrived in Gdańsk, explaining that we’d come from Łódź, everyone looked at us like we were crazy, asking what on earth we had wanted to go there for – but as Mariola expained, Łódź is in a state of change, at an intersection of old and new.  Mariola and her friends seem to be quietly loving their city, as if it were Poland’s best kept secret.  Perhaps it is.  I thought it was ace.

For the next destination on our Polish adventure, we headed north to Gdańsk.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Reader’s Fort Gorgast Festival

This month I’m joining Susannah Conway and 1,500 others in her community project The August Break, to focus on photography and sharing our stories through images. At the end of July, I journeyed east with a fine friend of mine Izzy, to The Reader’s Fort Gorgast Festival near the Polish border.  The fort is full of creepy, ice-cold rooms, surrounded by a lush forest, which is surrounded by a moat - providing plenty of material for our writer’s imaginations.  Here's my photo essay of the weekend we spent there in the company of other writers, musicians and storytellers.  Many thanks to the organisers Victoria and Jane, and to everyone at the festival for such a magical weekend.

Gorgast traintracks
Gorgast moat reflection
Gorgast moat 2
Ishbel Malishbel
Gorgast moat
Gorgast path
Gorgast treetops
Gorgast tunnels
Ishbel notebooks2
It’s not too late to join The August Break – you can sign up here for daily emails with photo tips and prompts, and, if you wish, you can share your photographs on Instagram with the hashtag #augustbreak2014

Friday, 25 July 2014

On The Road

Hi Monstres,

How are you enjoying the summer sun?  I have been wilting in the Berlin heat like spinach leaves on a hot curry!  I hoped it would cool down a bit, but I should be careful what I wish for, as the forecast now says storms this weekend - for the two days of the year I have decided to spend under canvas!

My friend Izzy and I are joining 70 other writers at The Reader’s Fort Gorgast Festival this weekend for writing workshops and camping fun!  We will be sleeping in a tent, but we’re feeling optimistic!  The festival is an hour away from Berlin, near the Polish border, so after the festival we’re heading to Poland  for a week to meet some Couchsurfers and explore the cities of Lodz and Gdansk.

When I get back from our trip, I’m looking forward to joining Susannah Conway in The August Break 2014 I took part in this month-long photography celebration last year, and it was so much fun.

Tammy has been feeling the heat too, and made some great suggestions about starting a creative project.  If you’re looking to improve your photography, I highly recommend her online class Everyday Magic.  I took part in it two years ago and loved the daily photography prompts and spent five lovely weeks learning how to take better photos.

What creative projects are you working on?  Tell me about them in the comments.  I'll see you back here in a few days for more interviews, musings on writing and adventure reports! XXX

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Conversation with Alex Audible1

Today's Conversation is with the multi-skilled musician Alex Norgate aka Audible1.  Alex and his girlfriend Caroline rolled up to Pikey Park in their converted luton van to join us for the last weeks of the winter season.  Aside from being a very laid back fisherman and a good friend of mine, Alex is also a touring musician, DJ and music producer.  His latest track is available on Soundcloud and you can hear it here. Here he shares how he managed to fit a music studio into his tiny little van-home, so that he could take his work on the road.

Alex and Caroline in the water
How did you manage to downsize your studio to fit in the van? It was more of a mental task than a physical one. It required me to re-consider what I needed from my equipment.  I love to work in a studio environment because of the amount of possibilities there are in the recording process. However, I have come to realise that a lot of equipment is not essential in the creation of good music, so I stripped my recording setup to the bare minimum. I replaced my desktop imac with a laptop. I swapped my hefty rack-mounted mixers for portable sound interfaces and so on. I decided that living in a converted luton van and the new found freedom it would bring would far outweigh having a permanent full-sized studio with lots of unnecessary gear. It was a wonky perception of mine to think that I needed all the latest and greatest kit to stand a chance as a producer with a working studio.

Alex van next to lake and mountains
Have you had to compromise anything?
I had to compromise slightly on certain aspects of my studio monitoring and room acoustics. It's frustrating trying to record or mix in an empty room and the van helps to overcoming these issues by having hardly any flat surfaces for the sound to bounce off. It is made of wood and there is plenty of acoustic treatment in the form of seating and bedding. I do have some portable reflection filters just in case. The van has a very natural, tight sound. I use it for the whole production process from recording initial ideas to finished compositions.  It's a really good, viable substitute for a full studio whilst I'm on the road.

Alex studio in van
What does your mini studio allow that the full one doesn't? The main thing this mini studio brings is a versatility that matches my lifestyle. I can park in the middle of a forest or at the top of a mountain and record, produce and mix professional quality music. I have the time to be creative and to create music that I love with no compromises. If I bump into another musician that I want to work with on my travels, it's just a case of going to the van and pressing record.  We don't even need to go somewhere else to find electricity because the van has a powerful solar power system set up that works 24/7.

What projects are in the pipeline?
I've just finished writing the music for a computer game that has been designed to aid in diagnosing visual impairment. At the moment I’m juggling a few projects, I am working on a jazz and funk influenced Hip Hop album. It's got a really positive, old school feel. I am also writing some new material with Eva Lazarus and am in the middle of a remix for Chali 2na from J5. My new single Good Time Rhymes featuring Adjua has been remixed by Lack of Afro, Coops and Jon Kennedy.  All the remixes are extremely well crafted, as you would expect from such formidable talents. I have a few on-going projects with vocalists and musicians, some as far away as Mumbai. I'm a big fan of traditional Indian music and have plans to go to India to work on projects in the future.

Alex fishing boat on lake
What does a typical day look like for you now, now that you're on the road?  Cake cake and more homemade cake!  Right now I'm doing a lot of writing, fishing, wild swimming, cycling, music, foraging and recently I took part in volunteering on an organic farm. 

Alex van next to water
Why did you decide to live in a van and take to the open road? There were many factors in Caroline and I moving away from our previous way of life, but most of them stem from realising that the struggle towards success is one very big illusion. It's an illusion that has many of us tight in its grasp. I feel that the extent to which we collectively live is separating us from our environment, each other and ourselves. I imagine everyone feels it deep down. It has taken me sometime to transform these realisations into something more tangible. At first, I wasn’t sure how viable it was going to be to build a van conversion and live in it. Having done it, I can honestly say it’s the best thing that I have ever done. It made me realise that I could probably do without the van too. It really is freeing to want very little as we certainly don’t need very much. What’s more, I’m far more content, healthy and loving than I ever have been. I have time to breathe, time to connect with other people and most importantly for me time to connect with my surroundings. I feel a relationship with nature is so fundamentally important for all of us to cultivate, not least because we are in the middle of destroying it but because it is essential part of who we are.

Alex and big fish
Where are you now and what are you doing? We are currently in the French region of Lot where we spent two weeks working on an organic farm.  I am spending most of my time fishing. It's something I am very passionate about. I write a blog called Carp Water Craft about it all.

Alex inside of van
What's next for Alex Audible1 (in life and in art)?I hope to continue having adventures on the road living in our van. My girlfriend and I plan to travel around the south west of France before heading to the Alps for the winter season, which we'll spend snowboarding and continuing our creative projects.  In the Alps, I will be gigging with my fellow band member Adam Russell aka Carpetface, who is a long term musical collaborator and friend. You can find out more on our facebook page.  I would like to build us a little off grid house somewhere in France or maybe further afield. I feel that these next few years will be very transformative in ways I'm yet to understand. There will most certainly be music, friends, nature and good time vibes.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Writing Workshops and Rooftop Bars

Sunset Spree blurred focus

Hello friends, how’s your summer so far?

Toby and I arrived in Berlin two weeks ago, it feels like the biggest, happiest relief ever. WE MADE IT! It feels like everything we want to do is possible here because we are in the right frame of mind. We are relaxed here and know our way around the city and there are lots of lovely friends here to welcome us.

It’s too hot for mountain goats like us to be outside in the blazing summer sun, so we spend our days working on our projects, in the shade. Toby has set up a studio and is writing new music and I have been scribbling in my notebooks and clattering away at my computer keyboard.  It's ace knowing that Berlin is outside for adventures when we've been looking at the page/ screen for too long.

I’m taking part in two creative writing workshops with Sarah PeckThe Writer's Workshop is to help develop your creative writing skills and to understand how to start a writing practice.  Content Strategy for Thought Leaders is a course aimed at developing students ideas through creative writing for a specific purpose, for example writing commercially for a blog, brand or business.  Both courses involve a lot of hard work but it’s a total joy to spend my days learning how to better my wordswomanship!

I’m working with Sarah as her online assistant, and it’s a great opportunity for me to peek behind the scenes to see how a writing workshop comes together.  We’ve had so many interesting and inspiring discussions in the facebook groups, about how to overcome writer’s block, where to find inspiration, and the interesting question of how to know when your writing is any good. I love the feedback and support from other writers in the group and I feel like I’m growing as a writer.
community garden 2

Amongst all the work, we have had a chance to explore some new places in Berlin too.  Last week we had a couple of beers, with our friend Tom, in a bar/ community garden which was the top floor of a multi storey car park! We had to navigate through a really hectic, hellish shopping mall, but the prize was to pop out on top into this blissful concrete garden where people were relaxing in the balmy Berlin afternoon.  The massive space is littered with old three piece suites, reclaimed sofas and comfy armchairs.  On one was a Mama helping her son do his homework, there was another Mama breastfeeding in the sandpit, and plenty of other folk basking in the glorious Berlin sunshine.  By day this place is a community garden and by night a full on rooftop club.  On Sunday we feasted with our friends at a brunch party in Cafe Morgenrot which is run by a vegan punk collective.  There was an amazing buffet of delicious foods where you could eat as much as you wanted and in return you pay what you can afford.

Broken Fingaz railway bridge
Scaffolding graff
pink buildings stormy sky  Die Welt in sky
Rainbow paint drips
Ramones Museum flyers

Saturday, 12 July 2014

What Katie Did In The UK

Toby and I left our home in the French Alps in the middle of May, and have returned to Berlin for the summer.  We’re going to spend time working on our personal projects and doing the things we enjoy the most: writing, photographing, exploring, learning, musicing.  We've been itching to get here...but first, we took a little interlude to the UK where we planned to spend 2 weeks visiting family before leaving England, in a timely fashion, for our next adventure.  Our two weeks in the UK stretched to six weeks, due to very boring but very necessary car repairs.  Even though our arrival in Berlin got set back a little, I ended up being glad for the delay, because it turned out to be my favourite trip home. 

We quickly learnt:
  • To not only accept the de-railments to our plans, but to embrace them. 
  • To be grateful that we own a car that we can load up our lives into, and move to a different country every six months. 
  • That being held up in the UK provided us with the perfect opportunity to visit all our family and friends and to savour the moments with them without having to rush our time together. 
  • That there are much worse places to be “stuck”!
I spent several days with my parents in the home where I grew up, enjoying trips on the river in the blazing hot sunshine (am I really in England?!) and sowed some seeds in their vegetable patch.  We celebrated my little sister's graduation by dining, eating, feasting at The Big Easy, where the food is so delicious and share-y and messy that they give you plastic bibs to wear whilst you eat!  I tried a mouthful of lobster for the first time, and realised it was actually delicious, but still scary… (I have an irrational fear of fish and seafood, much to the delight of Toby who loves seeing me shudder at the sight of anything remotely from the sea!).

Speaking of the sea, Toby and I had a holiday-in-a-day by visiting Frinton and Clacton-on-Sea on the Essex coast.  We played for hours in the arcade on the pier where we squealed like children at the 2p machines; and strolled along the beach in the sunshine, ice creams in hand, admiring the colourful beach huts.

IMG_3320 IMG_3317  
I travelled to Oxford to stroll along the riverside with Megan.  We bought books for £2 a-piece and I was happy to hear about her summer music plans.  We went to see her brother, Joe Henwood of Henwood Studios (where Megan has recorded her forthcoming second album) play with his band Nubiyan Twist play in London and danced all night to their afro-beat sounds.


I got hooked on crocheting mandalas with my remaining stash of Icelandic wool, thanks to Attic24’s great tutorial.


I had a weekend of soul sister fun with Izzy and Em.  We mooched through London, hung out in coffee shops, cooked and ate together and generally set the world to rights.  And pretended to be birds.


Toby and I visited Daniel and Judith in Derbyshire where we slept in their cabin amongst their books.  We ate a LOT of delicious food that we can’t find in France, dubbing the trip “our Culinary Tour of Derbyshire”.  They introduced us to green juice and delicious banana + almond milk smoothies; and the TV series Derek, at which we giggled a lot and also shed a tear.  We met some sheep and admired the dry stone walls that are native to Derbyshire.  We ate the most amazing Full English Breakfast at The Old Smithy in Monyash which had musical instruments on the walls, and where I made the mistake of ordering a pint of coffee and then couldn’t shut up for the rest of the day (as if I needed any more encouragement to rabbit!)

IMG_3536IMG_3429IMG_3492 IMG_3494 IMG_3500       
I headed north to see Izzy at her home.  Whilst Izzy rehearsed and danced her socks off all day at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, I pounded the pavements of Leeds, enjoying my time alone in a new place to explore and to ponder.


I was invited to see one of Izzy’s contemporary dance classes and some student shows, which as a layperson and outsider of the contemporary dance world, I found fascinating and intriguing!  I was completely bewildered by the meaning behind the movements, and cannot say that for one second I understood what I was seeing - but I can confirm, that I enjoyed the performances and the crazy shapes made by the dancers’ bodies.  I love this article that Izzy wrote on her blog about taking part in a seven hour improvised dance performance called The Last Knit.  When the weekend came around and Izzy had a break from her classes, we took the train out to Ilkley to meet a friend, and romped around the Yorkshire Moors, getting lost, and sharing stories.


It was really fun to visit parts of the UK that I didn’t normally get to see.  I really enjoyed playing at being a tourist in my own country!  Toby and I definitely turned our hold-up into a series of little adventures and made the most of being in the UK.  Above all were so happy that we had time to catch up with the people we love. 

Have you ever played at being a tourist at home?  Where did you go and what did you do? Share your experiences in the comments.