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Seeing Things (Or Not)

I have kind of slipped out of the habit of rambling at the internet each week, so I thought I would try and pick it up again, at least when I have something I think may be vaguely interesting to say/talk about/recommend. We will see how it goes. Certainly, summer holidays are a good time for projects for us, as not having kids means that these weeks can be quite quiet. Although for some reason this year has not been quite the respite we might have hoped for after the events and emotions of last year.

The Lovely Wife and I are quite partial to the hidden and the quirky and one of the places I have wanted to visit for several years is Dennis Severs house in Spitalfields. Dennis Severs was an artist who passed away in 1999.  His home had been 18 Folgate Street, a four floored Eighteenth century town house in East London (I was very amused that it is around the corner from Norton Folgate which always makes me think of one of my favourite Madness albums – for good reason, as this is their patch). Over the years he was living there he gradually constructed his house into an art installation that was meant to evoke the life of a family of Huguenot weavers across the centuries from the Eighteenth to early Twentieth Century. It is not a museum, and it there is very little explanation, deliberately so. The staff who let us in give a brief introduction and then the rest of the visit of 45 minutes or so is carried out in silence, with the occasional paper note reminding you to ‘experience’ the house through look (the whole place is largely candlelit) and through smells and noises. It is quite an odd experience and one to chalk down to you probably get out of it what you put into it, indeed the paper notes repeatedly claim that the motto of the place is ‘You either see it, or you don’t’. As most of the promotional literature indicates it is meant to feel that the occupants of the room you have just walked into have left moments before, leaving you to imagine what was going on before you arrived through the ‘clues’ they have left behind. I found it quite odd at first, but as you go on you start to get the hang of it, for example walking into a room and just sniffing the air and listening to the aural cues before looking.

Not for everyone, but for those who like the offbeat, probably worth a look.

Additionally, Spitalfields was a bit of a revelation. In my head the area had a poor reputation and certainly in some periods has been a genuine slum. Now, Spitalfields Old market is filled with up market crafts, the buildings occupied with up market restaurant chains and hipster attracting bars. That might not sound too attractive but on the Monday evening we were there the place was buzzing and siting outside at a bar with a nice cold beer made for ample enjoyable people watching opportunities 5 minutes from Liverpool Street station. As with the Kings Cross area, this part of East London has been revitalised and had for me a very particular look, with the old Eighteenth century terraces, pubs and enamel fronted pie and fish shops set against a skyline of the business district (the Gherkin looms seemingly at the end of one of the main streets in a dramatic fashion). Two London worlds that are very different but neighbours and the main connection between them being the flow of people between them.

Links for those that might be interested, Dennis Severs House https://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk/, Spitalfields Old Market https://oldspitalfieldsmarket.com/ and we ate at Galvin La Chapelle next to the market – expensive, but the venue, food and staff were lovely https://galvinrestaurants.com/restaurant/galvin-la-chapelle-the-city-michelin-star/ (oh, and apparently despite the name, which is actually connected to a vineyard they own, the restaurant is in a building that had been part of a hospital – Spitalfields apparent gets its name from (Ho)spital – that was later used as a girl’s school).


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