Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Polish Adventure: Gdańsk

Gdansk abandoned building
Silhouettes on bench with moon
Katie and Piotr monstres  chicken face
Gdansk colourful buildings
Friendship rings
Making Fire
Izzy and Piotr golden hour
Fire Camp Friends Fire Camp Friends2
Piotr Happy Fire Camper
Fire Camp Friendz          Piotr and his lovely hat
Ten forty two to Hell
From Łódź we hitch-hiked north to Gdańsk, and two lifts later we arrived at a campsite 100 metres from the beach.  We dipped our toes in the Baltic Sea and experienced 24 hours in the very bizarre setting of a Polish holiday campsite!  Luckily, our next Couchsurfing host, Piotr, was able to meet us the following day.  He turned the meeting into a fun treasure hunt, sending us a cryptic text saying “Go to the biggest church on the planet at 5pm.  Send a raven.  Look out for the orange trousers!”.

On our first evening with Piotr, we discovered he has a liking for drinking beer, vodka and non-touristic explorations.  He took us to a sweaty little cafe in the heart of Gdańsk to fill up on Pierogi Ruskie (delicious Polish dumplings, filled with cheese, potato and onion “Russian style”) before we crashed around town, meeting friends and sampling every variety of sweet flavoured Polish vodka.  We learned from Piotr that words beginning with the letter “F” in English are particularly beautiful in sound and wonderful in meaning.  His favourite English word is “forsaken”.  I wrote him a very short story: Faraway, five forsaken freedom fighters fiercely faced forever.  As we listed more F words, we broke into, and got kicked out of, the historic shipyards of Gdańsk (a short story telling more will appear in this space soon) and to cap off the night we discovered that Izzy is not the only wordsmith in the house – turns out Piotr is a published Polish poet.  As midnight struck, we had the great honour of hearing Piotr read his own poems, in his own language, at the moment that he turned 30 years old!

The next day, Izzy and I dived into the Gdańsk market which was full of handmade and traditional Polish wonders.  We bought each other a handmade silver ring, pledging our friendship to one another.  When Piotr finished work, we took a bus to the outskirts of town, and walked across a wooded wasteland to where a Fire Camp stood (the switch-around of the words is so sweet that I will never again call it a camp fire!)along with all Piotr's friends to celebrate his 30th birthday. We stayed up all night, sipping vodka, singing songs and making new friends around the orange flames.

Some bloody idiot (oh, it was me!) had booked an early Polski Bus from Gdańsk to take us back towards Berlin.  I ended up having to leave my amiga Izzy behind - she got hit by a heavy hangover, but I managed to navigate to the bus station and boarded the 10:42 to hell.

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.