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Life in the big smoke

On March 3 we have to leave

On March 3 the developers will lock the doors and we have to leave. We found out on Saturday. The rubbish is already taking over the hallways – old chairs, shelves, books, tins of paint, plastic bags and various wooden sticks and metal bits. The people next door left this weekend. The building is quiet. The bathroom and the corridors already have that cold, slightly metallic scent of abandonment.

Soon there will be no more artist studios on Cremer Street. The developer called us an “eyesore on Hackney Road”. And perhaps he was right. This is a crumbling sixties warehouse with graffitied walls, dirty windows and family of stray cats. It doesn’t fit with the new wine bars or the brand new apartment blocks with their straight walls, small windows and box-like flats selling for £600,000.

Soon this asbestos roof will be torn open and the walls chewed to pieces by bulldozers. I’ve seen it happen to the old council blocks up the road. I watched as the front of one of the buildings came down and a bedroom or living room with bright green walls gaped out over Hoxton like in some disaster movie. That was once someone’s home. In a winter the old buildings were gone and it’s been a year since people started leaving plant pots on the balconies and bicycles outside the new apartments.

This was always going to happen to the studio building on Cremer Street. The pub with the English flags in the windows was turned into a wine bar. The boarded up one that used to stand on the corner was demolished before I came here, but is still there on Google Street View like a digital ghost. Small shops selling wholesale bags and shoes are being turned into cafes. The gay club has been shut down. The derelict Georgian terraces have been renovated and decorated to smug perfection. The old hospital is being turned into expensive apartments. The boards around the building site show photographs of the people that might one day live there. Pretty, shiny haired people hanging out on Brick Lane. Aspirational people.

I sometimes wonder if these people are the new Londoners. The politicians talk a lot about “aspirational hard working families”, although no one seems to know who or where these people can be found. London itself is aspirational. The tallest buildings are reaching for new heights, the house prices climbing upward with them. Whoever you are there will always be someone with more money than you, a car more expensive than yours and an apartment more expensively furnished than yours. In this city we’re often reminded that the ladder stretches far above us.

But this aspirational London is not the town I want to live in. I’d like to call this place transitional, always changing, always in motion. London has been burned down, bombed and demolished several times over the last 2000 years. It’s always being rebuilt, the old torn down to make way for the new. But like a magic trick, the city never changes. In the midst of all of this turmoil some buildings have managed to escape the bombs and the bulldozers. Cremer Street and Hackney Road will still be there when the studio is gone. The map will look the same. Some of these roads were built by the Romans.

When this building is gone the stray cats in the studio car park will move on to another spot where people will feed them. The people who move into the new apartments will go to the same cafe we go to for their coffees. The trains will rumble along the tracks on the bridge over Cremer Street. The huge psychedelic graffiti eye on one of the tower blocks further into Hoxton will keep looking out over it all. We will move our studio south of the river and everything changes and nothing changes at the same time.

***

But just so I remember there is a sticker next to the door that says “Do you wear enough black to be an artist?” I don’t know who put it there. Next to it is a stack of framed prints and screens and then the table which used to be used for screen-printing, but we now mainly use for eating lunches and packing web orders, although not at the same time. On the wall opposite is the fridge and the microwave that should have been cleaned four months ago.

There is a shelf with tea and mugs and the plum vodka Gerry’s brother and his wife gave us and I swigged out of the bottle, whilst sitting on the printing table, one day after we’d had some upsetting news (it’s very tasty, thank you!). There is a shelf on the floor full of water-based paint and spray cans. Underneath the table are stacks of vinyls and screens. Next to the table there are two large and solid plan chests.

Underneath the barred windows there is the Ikea sofa I accidentally broke when I bounced up and down on it after I heard that my book had been accepted by the publisher. Then there is our desk where Gerry and I face each other, it’s covered in papers, printers, random hard-drives and cables. We’ve scribbled messages on it. There is a sleeping fish that Gerry drew on a sticker and placed next to my laptop.

Behind him is the year planner from 2015 and a huge Wall Street print that was damaged when it fell in front of the door and we had to bash the frame in order to get into the studio. Next to him is the Ikea shelving system with clothes rails stacked precariously on top of it and stock hanging below. Then there is the corner crammed full of stock boxes, hiding all the stuff that’s been forgotten about and kept out of sight. Behind that there are paintings, not ours, they were left here by the previous occupant who uses the studio for storage. This is it. The studio. Soon it will be empty and all we will have left are these memories.

Some more photos from Cornwall

Hello everyone. Hope you’ve had a good start to the week. I’m gulping down coffee, desperately trying to re-start my brain after the weekend. I spent Saturday and Sunday at Spitalfields with Gerry, selling t-shirts when he was doing the art market.

The market is fun, but exhausting. People come and go, you’re focused, you talk a lot, you look, you listen. In some ways selling is not so different from journalism. All you have to do is look people in the eyes when you talk to them. But after two days of standing up and talking I’m pretty exhausted, which is why I’m gulping down my second mug of black coffee. I’m trying to sharpen my mind enough to send off a radio story about the day’s biggest news story. I think I’m slowly winning the battle. I’m definitely caffeinated.

But I’m still a bit too woolly-brained to write a proper blog post. Which is why I will leave you with some more photos of lovely Cornwall. This is St Agnes, one of the cutest places I’ve visited in the UK.

st agnes

leaves

st agnes

sun

flowers

st agnes

st agnes flowers

happy

st agnes

Untitled

lotta

st agnes

ilaria

st agnes cliffs

ilaria

cliffs

Christmas hiatus and some of the things I’ve learned in December

Soon I’m getting on a plane and flying off to Finland to spend some quality time with my family. I’m looking forward to seeing them, not doing much at all, reading books and playing video games. That’s what Christmas is all about.

December has gone by in a blur. It’s been full of markets, new people, new things and new places. Just the type of month I like really. These are some of the things I’ve learned over the last few weeks.

Selling is fun

I used to be really scared of selling. When I used to meet up with Gerry at a market and he asked me to watch the stall I used to find it almost impossible to walk up to people. Everytime I tried to talk to someone I scared them away. Like dogs they could smell my fear before I even got close to them.

I thought selling was somehow bad. Now I’ve realised it’s just the flip side of what I’ve been doing as a journalist. I get to talk to lots of people, but instead of asking them questions, I’m telling them about a product. And 99 percent of the time they’re happy to talk to me, which in turn makes me happy.

Everything is easier with coffee

Don’t think I need to add much to that one.

Sometimes it’s OK not knowing where you’re going

This is following on from a conversation I had with a friend this morning. The last few years have been the first in my adult life when I’ve not had much of a plan or a goal. I like planning. And when I say planning I mean having a roadmap for the coming ten years with all the exciting things I might be able to do and achieve. It’s not even a roadmap, it’s more of a tree-like structure with lots of branches and twigs and little birds chirping in the canopy. I make really complicated plans for my life.

This is how I’ve lived. And I’ve been pretty good at setting goals and reaching them. Now I’m not so sure of the target or the end goal anymore. Now I’m allowing myself to float a little bit, to be creative, to do different things I would never have imagined myself doing in the past (like selling stuff). And it’s been fun. There is a freedom to it. I’m allowing new and totally random things into my life. Everyone should be doing this (and when I say everyone, I of course mean control freaks like me).

Some Brits are really scared of foreigners

There has been so much talk about Bulgarians and Romanians streaming into the country in their millions next year, coming here to claim the “amazing” British benefits. This is all a lot of scaremongering silliness from certain right-wing media outlets and parties. And I find this to be a particularly annoying outlook. A lot of the people moving here, come to the UK to work and work hard, work in jobs that many Brits think they’re too good for. Some Brits need to take a good look at themselves and their own work ethic before they criticise people moving to a country where there are still jobs left.

And… on a happier note

Creating things and seeing people appreciate them is amazing

This also applies to seeing other people’s creations being appreciated.

The blog probably wont be updated that often over the coming two weeks. So stay well people and see you in January! Have a lovely, lovely holiday season and a happy Christmas!

Back in Helsinki for the book tour

So I’ve landed in chilly and autumn-pretty Helsinki for a snappy book tour for Det finns inga britter. Tomorrow I’ll be doing a talk at a lunch-meeting for Fenno-Swedish think-tank Magma, in the evening I’m a guest in Bettina S, a Fenno-Swedish talk show, and on Friday I’m doing a Q&A at the Helsinki book fair.

I’m still not exactly sure all of this is really happening and am feeling inclined to pinch myself every two minutes to make sure I’m not sleeping (about as often as I check up on mine and Gerry’s Kickstarter campaign).

I’m tired from the flight, but buzzed, happy and excited about everything that’s going on. I’m hoping I’ll be able to sleep at least a little bit on my brother’s awesome blow up mattress (oh the glamour of being a travelling author).

It’s quite strange coming back to Helsinki now. Five years (or so) after I moved away. It doesn’t feel like home anymore. It doesn’t even feel that familiar, yet there are curious, little things that remind me of what it was like living here. The way the apartments smell is one of these things, sort of dry and dusty and old.

Life is a bit different to my normal everyday reality in London at the moment. It’s slightly hyped up, like someone’s turned on the warp speed. The adrenalin is pumping. I’m not used to this, but I think I’m enjoying it. The Kickstarter campaign is making me a nervous wreck, so please support us or share the project around if you like it. Thanks! x


A weekend of coffee and things loading sloooowly

Look at that nice sunset at the top of the post. Take your time to enjoy it. Because I didn’t. I barged past people waiting for the lights to turn, ignoring traffic and bracing myself against attacking leaves in order to snap a shot of quite a pretty looking gherkin at the end of Whitechapel road, then I rushed to an interview and halfway through it I realised I’d not remembered to eat for several hours because Gerry and I had been busy shooting the video for our Kickstarter campaign during the afternoon… And breathe.

Did I tell you I’ve been busy this week? I don’t want to go one about it, because this happens to all of us, right? There are periods of calm and periods when everything happens at once. This is one of those everything-happens-at-once-weeks. And I actually quite enjoy it.

This weekend

This weekend I have:

  • Edited a kickstarter video.
  • Put together the sketchbook for our New York prints.
  • Read some of Robert Macfarlanes amazing (really amazing!) book about wandering and wanderers while watching stuff loading.

I will:

  • Edit a radio story.
  • Edit some more video.
  • Watch even more things loading (this is video editing for you).
  • Write a newsletter and pack our bags for Scotland.

Because would you believe it, in amongst all of this, we’re getting on the sleeper tonight and heading up to Glasgow. I’ve always wanted to travel on the sleeper so this is quite an exciting thing.

We’re visiting Gerry’s granny and will have a day of calm on the Scottish West coast. After that we’re heading to Glasgow to stay with some friends and watch a football game. It’s Scotland vs. someone else. This is how Gerry suggested we should go and see the game.

Him: “You know how you’ve been saying how much you want to see Scotland play football?”
Me: “Er, no.”
Him: “Well, now is your chance.”
Me: “Will there be snacks?”

Now I’m not looking forward to freezing my toes off at Hampden Park, but I’m slightly curious about the atmosphere and seeing the Tartan army (Scottish people who travel around the world to watch Scotland play football) in their full glory. So. We’re back next week. Then I’m off to Finland for the book fair in Helsinki and after that it’s time to start thinking about taxes and christmas (those two things you can’t avoid in life).