So, no visitors from Scotland this week, and so the world of Secret Life adventures is my oyster....or at least back in the hands of friends suggesting colour and number combinations! This week it was 'Orange - 8'. Well, orange as a category is 'Out and About in London' - I am wondering if I was a bit vague when I pulled that together, this could be anything! I pulled out a flyer for a company called 'Foto Ruta' - a company which encourages 'urban exploration though photography'. I feel strangely nervous when I am set a 'creative challenge' as I always expect a lot of myself as a former art student. As we met our guide for the day Jahel in the relaxed setting of a lovely bar in Portobello, I was soon at ease. She explained the background to this innovative company, which started in Buenos Aires and then expanded to Barcelona and London - a creative company with a latin background, what's not to love? Jahel talked us through some of the key principles of composition in a very accessible way, and explained the format of the day. Foto Ruta do a series of workshops and tours and this one 'Foto Ruta Clue' leads you on a journey of discovery through a London neighbourhood. A series of 'clues' are given as an inspiration for you to interpret in your own way, such as 'trail of treasures' and 'low altitude'. We were paired up, and so my new colleague in creativity for the day, Marjon and I set off on our adventure...
Our playground for this exploration was Portobello Road and Notting Hill, and we had two hours to explore, capture and then return to the finish point to compare results. Marion, my team mate for the afternoon was a lovely Dutch lady who had extended her working trip to London to see a bit more of the City. What a great way to do it! I was working with my bridge Fuji camera, and Marjon with her iPhone. This is a really great thing about Foto Ruta, they don't discriminate around choice of cameras, it's all about the content rather than the tools you use. Portobello was a real hive of activity as you would expect. I tend to photograph objects rather than people (well, except for on nights out!) so I was keen to try and explore some portrait/people shots. This is so tricky, especially in such a busy area. You find that you either always have people in the way of your shot, or if you try to get a candid shot, the person will spot you and then pose, not the look I was after. My opportunity came when I saw a young woman playing a ukulele and singing...could this fit the 'everyday hero' clue?
OK, so I didn't get all of her feet in, but cut me some slack, it was so hard to get a shot without people walking past all the time, damn them! I was quite pleased to capture the action of her singing and playing though, and decided to leave aside my personal preference for a 'from above' photo which I always find more flattering on aforementioned night out. It was proving difficult to meet all of the clues, as we took photographs that we thought we might 'shoehorn' into a category later. Not always successful, but there were some which I was quite pleased with, like this one I took at a stall selling an array of silver tankards, which I have fitted into the 'blur on purpose' category...
And so we continued all the way up to Notting Hill where I couldn't help but laugh at the irony of this sign in this very 'lively' area....
We headed back along Portobello Road to our finish point at the far end near the iconic Trellick Tower, another chance for a last photograph of this example of Brutalist architecture. I real love/hate on this, but I can't help but wonder what it would be like to live there. We all agreed that it was a fantastic afternoon, although we felt slightly exhausted. Jahel then asked us to share some of our favourite images and in her great, encouraging way, talked through them all in a really positive way. All done over a glass of wine - part of the wonderful Foto Ruta package. I went home inspired...and determined to learn how to fully use my camera and attend another one of these great sessions!
Summer can be a funny time for a 'Secret Life' it turns out. Lots of family and friends visiting, and will they buy into the whole concept? Well they will if you don't tell them! And so it was last week when my mum and dad were down for their annual London trip. The colour and number I was challenged with this week was 'Green - 6'. Well the 'Green' category is for 'Outside of London'...how would this go down when my folks had come down to the City from Aberdeen? Quite well it turns out if you sell it in a way that makes it look like it was their idea. "How do you fancy seeing somewhere else since London is so accessible to lots of places?" I asked. Admittedly this might have been a more difficult sell if I had drawn Santiago or Iceland...however the Secret Life gods were on my side and Bath was the chosen destination. Hooray, just 90mins from London to this beautiful historic city. Again, it is not somewhere I had been before and so deferred to Visit Bath's website to see what tours we could do to make the most of our day there. One that caught my eye was a tour guide called Jamie who runs 'Laugh at Bath' walking tours. After arriving and easing ourselves in the the ambience with a pub lunch and sample of the famous west country cider, we decided to do a small tour of our own before meeting Jamie. Where else but to the historic Roman baths?
For some reason my folks were slightly reluctant to do a tour of the baths..."will it be smelly?" I was on a mission though to really 'do' this city to the max and so off we went. They soon changed their minds - it is such a fascinating place. Seeing the Sacred Spring where 1,170,000 litres of water bubbles up at 46deg, and the Spring Overflow where the water gushes through. I did realise however that I hadn’t needed to take my swimming costume so kept it out of sight in my bag.
And so off to meet our tour guide in amongst the hubub of graduation time outside Bath Abbey. My parents and I have become quite the connoisseurs of walking tours from their various trips to London. This one really did deliver. Almost 2 hours of insider info and hidden gems for just £8 per person. We started with a look round the Pump Room and a sample of the famous restorative waters of Bath. Then Jamie took us round some of the key architectural sights of Bath including the hidden Georgian garden and of course the Royal Crescent. As our small group walked along engaged with light-hearted stories and anecdotes we watched larger groups being overwhelmed with dry historical facts by their tour guides. I had to include this visual representation of my dad demonstrating a cure for a sore throat...I kept my mum at arms length from tightening the rope!
Oh how much am I loving this experiment! Remind me I said that when I find myself breaking my legs doing parkour or something crazy on a cold winters day. But for now.....Well my latest suggested draw from the Secret Life box was 'Yellow...6'. Slightly puzzled when I first saw the card with a picture of the O2 on it...did I have to go and see Justin Bieber playing live? Now that would have been a low point! But no, it was to do the 'Up On the O2' challenge. This is a fairly new concept where a walkway has been constructed over the top of the O2 to enable people to (with the aid of safety equipment) climb over the top of this iconic venue.
Again my challenge at a weeks' notice was to check availability. I was excited to see the range of options available for the 'climb'......At sunset.....at sunrise...night climb...who knew!? Availability on a Saturday dictated it was a good old straight forward day climb. Bring it on. As I arrived on this gloriously sunny afternoon I could see how in demand this whole idea is and how I was lucky to get on the climb that day at all, as I saw latecomers turned away as each of the climbs was fully booked. I think that yet again I had landed lucky with my 'place for one' booking. So, along with two couples and a stag doo of 10 guys, we were settled into 'Base Camp' to watch a safety briefing. I hadn't really considered that this might be a difficult or even slightly dangerous thing to do, but the briefing video made us feel like we were about to scale Everest. Equipped with an impressive harness and safety boots, we were ready for the off!
In the hands of our very capable climbing guide Zoltan (who passed a very eye pleasing resemblance to my favourite tennis player, Rafa Nadal) we were checked and double checked before being escorted onto the departure deck. Clamped onto the climbing line with our harnesses, we started to scale the very bouncy walkway to the top. At a gradient of about 30deg, and negotiating the transition points along the wire, it was actually more technical than it looked. I'd like to have shown you how this looked in progress but cameras and phones were strictly to be kept in our safety suit pockets at this point (yes Zoltan/Rafa). Around 20mins later we made it to the top viewing platform and were free to walk around at the view...and wow! Across to Canary Wharf and behind to see the Shard, Crystal Palace, and the Gherkin, over to the east and the Olympic Park, the Thames Barrier and of course closer to home the Royal Observatory. Even the stag group were surprisingly quietened by the experience...it was that good!
All to soon it was time to descend...and if you think that was the easy bit, oh no. As there is no platform to break the walkway on the way back down, the gradient is even steeper and we clung onto the rope despite being told that our specialist footwear meant we could walk normally. As we came down looking slightly strange a group of Japanese teenagers dressed up in superhero costumes looked up at us in dismay. It turns out the Hyper Japan Festival was on that weekend....who looked more unusual I thought to myself?
And so, what could next week hold in store? Well my parents are down for their annual London trip so I'm thinking that I should definitely avoid the category that may just contain parkour....
Now this was a slightly unusual weekend in that my best friend from school days in Aberdeen was paying a visit to London, how exciting! As a kindred ‘adventuring’ type of spirit, I thought it might be nice to include her in something that would be fun but perhaps not too high octane. I picked at random from the ‘Seasonal Events’ category and drew out a trip to the Royal Academy Summer Show. Excellent, again, possibly a surprise to many that in my 11 years in London I have never seen it. Keen to maximise my time with her, I also drew one from the ‘Food and Drink’ category. This was a cocktail masterclass with a quirky little bar called the Rev J W Simpson. I had heard of this place from its’ sister outlet, ‘Bourne & Hollingsworth’ on Charlotte Street. Now slight spanner in the works was that there was no masterclass on the weekend she was down and so we ‘settled’ for a good old fashioned visit/drink. Even that is not so simple in this little bar, however, as you need to book your place. We settled on a post shopping visit on a Friday night and had to keep our wits about us to find this little gem hidden downstairs on Goodge Street. Well what a find, it truly fits into the ‘Secret Life’ box, a tiny basement bar with a real step back in time feel. To add to the quirky vibe, I was delighted to see that there was a further opportunity to indulge in some fate related choices. Who remembers making these little origami future teller things at school that you put your fingers into, “pick a colour? Red…..R-E-D…pick a number…..” and so on. Well, I had to do that of course! I chose a Pomegranate Haze, followed by this amazing lovely tall gin drink which for the life of me I can’t remember the name of…yes, you can see how this night was going! We both felt like we had been invited into a strangers living room in central London…a very nice stranger it has to be said, who was very accommodating!
And so our ‘additional’ adventure was complete – onto the Royal Academy! We decided to go along on Sunday morning after a weekend which had by now involved many bars and restaurants, which although not secret, should probably not be discussed…OK, how can I have never been to the RA? For a start it has the most impressive courtyard which is just a haven in itself off busy Piccadilly. You are immediately greeted by the staircase at the entrance, a kaleidoscopic optical burst of an installation. Although it gives the illusion of being painted, this is actually put together by hundreds of pieces of vinyl tape by the artist Jim Lambie. As my friend pointed out, it bore more than a passing resemblance to a painting in gouache I had done for my art school portfolio, which her mum bought all those years ago. Food for thought, perhaps I should enter a piece some year?
Over 1,100 works are in this exhibition, which I found out is the largest open-submission exhibition in the world. You can trust London to be the best! There are of course mutterings from visitors as you walk around and some scathing sniggers of ‘my child could do that!’ but such is the nature of an open exhibition, the sheer variety and accessibility of it. I am always drawn to either bold blocks of colour, or extreme detail in monochrome and so I loved Tim Head’s ‘Fictions 3’ and William Kentridge’s ‘Remembering the Treason Trial’.
And yet another step back in time to my art school days came in the form of one of Ron Arad’s chairs. My dissertation was on ‘Furniture Design By Architects’, and whilst I had a real nostalgia moment, my friend had a different recollection of my research stating ‘Wasn’t that the time we came to London, walked til our shoes didn’t fit our feet and got lost in Liverpool Street Station?’ Ah yes, that was the very trip.
Did I say that last week's kayaking was my best challenge to date? I am seriously torn here after my most recent adventure. 'Red 1' was the colour and number I was set and so I delved into the box of challenges and drew out 'Graffiti Painting Workshop', wow! I didn't know such a thing actually existed, but that's London for you. The fantastic London West Bank Gallery in Westbourne Grove, which specialises in urban, street and contemporary art, host 2 hourly graffiti workshops each Saturday. Although I am what my friends would call 'arty', my skillset is very much in 3d modelling rather than painting or drawing...and what kind of people would go to a graffiti workshop...cool urban teenagers? I was feeling out of my depth and a bit nervous. However, when I arrived, there were a small group of 5 of us, all with a slight sense of trepidation like we were about to be set an exam. However, the lovely Gabriel, a very talented graffiti artist talked us through the background to this art form and showed us some examples, quickly putting us at ease. There are actually publications all about graffiti (of course) one of which featured some of Gabriel's work. The first part of the workshop involved paper and pencil as we created our own fonts, all around our chosen word or phrase. These should be no more than 4-5 letters so I chose the word 'Life' (rather than 'Secret', too much of a challenge!). We were taught about different styles of letters, how to adapt them and make our own and use of drop shadows, 3D etc. I think you can see from below which was my effort and which was Gabriel's!
And so it was time to translate our scribbles into graffiti! We went to the outside space of the gallery, watched with interest by shoppers passing by on busy Westbourne Grove. Gabriel expertly showed us how to draw a fine outline with a spray can, adding highlights, shadows etc. Ah if only it was as easy as it looked! I have a whole new respect for graffiti artists, the control of this medium is so hard. You have to be practically on the wall with the nozzle of the can to get any sort of line rather than a spray/scatter effect. Then too close and too much pressure and it just becomes a long dripping mess of paint running down the wall. However, just under an hour later and I had something slightly resembling my sketch, realising that those pixel like details were probably on only going to be achieved by a pro. It's not too bad though, I felt quite happy with myself, although with a slight feeling of loss to walk away from it knowing that it would be sprayed over by the next eager artist. This I understand is all part of the process of graffiti art, the whole moment in time, transient nature of it. Gabriel explained how he found the whole process cathartic.
As I got the train out of Victoria the next morning I found myself fascinated by the graffiti along the railway walls and plotting making my own mark on them....hmmm...now there's a whole other #SecretLife adventure!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.