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Lifestyle: Why We Put An Industrial Laser Cutter In Our Bedroom

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Bigger isn't always better they say, I wish we'd listened to that advice before putting a huge bit of industrial machinery into our not-so-big bedroom......

When we returned home from long-term travelling in May, we decided to make a big change to our lives. In a-roundabout-way we returned to what we enjoyed most as youths, creativity. It’s not that we didn’t follow creative routes in our careers, but as in most creative endeavours to make ends meet, a sacrifice was needed.  In Ali's case, her job was to create something for the fast fashion market; make it cheap, make it quickly, and link it to current trends.  This was an 8 and a half year endeavour, working for some of the biggest names on the highstreet. For me, I tried to inspire the next generation to get hands on, create, fail, learn from failure and create again. Teaching is a noble cause in many ways, but rather selfishly, left little time for my own projects. 

 

The laser bed

The laser bed

We both decided we wanted to create objects that people would find both beautiful and useful. We didn’t know exactly what that would be, but stepping into the unknown is a key part of the creative process. Paramountly, we hadn’t considered how we would make these objects! Living in the eaves of a Victorian house doesn’t leave a whole of lot of space for making things. To put it into perspective, my school workshop has a band saw, rotary sander, fret saws, every hand tool going and huge tables too construct on. The question we posed was “how could we ever make things in our second story flat?” The answer took the form of a large and noisy industrial machine from China. A laser cutter.

 

The x and y axis is like a robotic arm controlled by the computer

The x and y axis is like a robotic arm controlled by the computer

I assume that most people have of heard of a laser cutter? If not then imagine an intense beam of light that can cut through materials on a X,Y and Z axis, meaning it can travel north, south, east and west and up and down across a large metal mesh where the material is placed. We knew it was the only way we could make complex detailed projects in out flat, without turning a room into a messy workshop and becoming the worst neighbours in Hackney. 

 
Our workstation

Our workstation

 

We researched for months and nearing the end of our trip we purchased a machine that would fit into the flat, a desktop machine apparently. After a months lead-time, the machine was delivered and our jaws hit the floor when we discovered the size of it. Abu turned up at 8am with van full of equipment; cutter, chiller, extraction, laser tube and huge steel lathe attachments. Totally fazed by the challenge ahead, we also learned that Abu had hurt his back the week before and had assumed Ali was a strong man that could lift it with Mark, wrong! We all stood dumbfounded at the challenge ahead. The machine was huge, weighing 76kg and would barely fit through a door let alone turn the tight corners of the corridors leading up to the flat. In shock, we rang a few removal companies who each brazenly quoted £100 for 5 minutes work. Abu recommended paying some passers by and as we scanned the horizon who would turn the corner but Hackney’s finest rubbish collection team, our saviours.

 

 
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Ali put on her best damsel in distress wide-eyed-help-me-face on and before we knew it 3 burly bin men had rammed, scratched and dented every internal wall to get the cutter up into the flat. They seemed happy with the £20 quid reward but just as happy that they could help us. We were ecstatic it could even fit in the flat! A few hours of installation and a bit of dodgy health and safety from Abu (who advised us not to wear the safety glasses when the door was open) and we were up and running with a 50watt CO2 laser cutter humming away in our bedroom. It was a surreal day.

 

So what is it like living with an industrial laser cutter in your bedroom? We can tell you that even with extraction that pumps out all the smoke and debris, cutting plywood all day creates an inescapable burnt odour in the room. The noise is similar to a hoover, which is bearable, whilst, the piles of materials stacking up around machine seem to become entangled with your end-of-the-day pants and socks. Do we have a bedroom anymore? Nope, not really. More like a trendy manufacturing come flexible workspace with added bed!

For all its negatives, the laser cutter has allowed us to move closer to our dream of starting a little business of our own, you may have noticed a shop appear on the website. The laser cutter has meant we can make an array of projects in-house or in-flat as the case may be. Ali has become public manufacturer no.1 with her array of necklaces and wall hangings! Our lives have been altered by the little piles of burnt plywood ready for sanding, but that’s exactly how we like it. Moving one step closer to our dream.

Ali's Ebony Necklace, cut on a laser cutter...

Ali's Ebony Necklace, cut on a laser cutter...

...and the Ishrim Wallhanging - cut on a laser cutter, hand-sprayed using an air gun and glued back together.

...and the Ishrim Wallhanging - cut on a laser cutter, hand-sprayed using an air gun and glued back together.

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Berlin & London; A Compare and Contrast

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During our time in Berlin we spotted similarities and some distinct differences with our hometown of London. Their connections are clear; both places like to have a good time. They share weather, language, cultures and in different ways look like progressive capitals. Both are steeped in a rich history; fables that have both connected and displaced, twins built again from rubble towards progress.

The counter culture is deeply engrained in Berlin

The counter culture is deeply engrained in Berlin

As much as Berliners love a sausage and curry sauce, we loved Berliners! The people make this city; they are passionate, loving and very friendly, not to say that Londoners aren't but bars, parks and most open spaces aren't treated the same way. Berliners go out expecting to meet new people. Clubs are melting pots for new friendships, an old crate becomes a plinth for debate, even an off license is a meeting place with benches and seating out front. The Berliners use their capital as their playground; bypassing fences and rules for a view, a chat or quite often a drink.

Berliners' using every inch of the canal

Berliners' using every inch of the canal

The space given to Berliners is what allows the egalitarian society to flourish. Every space is democratic. Take the Templehof park, previously a military airport, now a more social port, where the public decide its future. Space is provided for growing, for sport, for play, bbqs and the park welcomes proposals for new ideas. It's huge, it was an airport, who knows what it could become. This amount of space would undoubtedly be monetised in London where just a sliver of space, or building budget, would be given to a social project. 

Sunset in Templehof

Sunset in Templehof

London and Berlin share a love for the outside. When the sun burns bright citizens of both cities can be found outside, but we feel that Berliners make better use of their outdoor environments. Given that Berlin is a newer city town planners have allowed much more space for pedestrians and cyclists leaving more outdoor places to enjoy. Whereas Londoners seem restricted to parks and pubs Berliners are free to roam where ever and this creates a buzz over larger parts of the city because everyone is free to grab a drink, soft or otherwise, and enjoy it with friends and family. A great example of this the Maurpark gatherings on Sundays; a hotbed of performances from professional bands through to X factor wannabes. We were blown away with the atmosphere, it truly felt like a festival but it was free and happens every week. We, and a 1000 others, watched on at the Bearpit Karoke where any soul could jump on the mike and belt out their favourite song, often joined by back up dancers from the crowd. We also stumbled onto a Chilean 8 piece band rocking away or just random people improvising together as witnessed from the drummers and a clarinet player jamming to the sunset. It was beautiful experience and made us truly jealous of these Berliners. Of course London has music, the best in the world, but never does it happen in such a unplanned way. Planning ahead is huge part of living in London.

Could you enter the Bearpit?

Could you enter the Bearpit?

This is idea of freedom can be extended to nightlife too. London has some of the strictest night time laws in the world, 400 clubs shut last year and every venue has to abide to strict volume levels, even when councils have given consent to build flats next to clubs and bars. This aspect of London is being cruely picked apart, replaced by dull culture-less spaces that create no stories and expand no horizons. In contrast, Berlin praises its nightlife and sees it as a high art like opera, dance or theatre. This is evident in the relaxed way locals attend events. Art spaces are widespread and progressive, clubs are filled with attendees of all ages and only start to get going around 4am, when London clubs normally shut! There is almost no difference between night and day time in Berlin and never did we see a local who was noticeably drunk.

 

Berliners partying on a Tuesday

Berliners partying on a Tuesday

Every person we met in Berlin had a side project that they came to Berlin to continue. We stayed with a musician who explored the music of his native country Georgia through electronica. His friends were DJs or musicians too. When they met up they would create fun activities like making a sculptures about how they felt, a simple creative task that allowed them all to express themselves to each other. This culture of creativity has led to a populace of individuals that are expressive and open, an attitude encouraged by the environment in which they live.

 
Our Berlin housemate Lasha

Our Berlin housemate Lasha

 

Berlin, now, felt like London 10 years ago, parts were a bit crap, not everything was so polished but an undercurrent of creativity could be felt on the streets. But sadly as the money came in the people that created that environment were pushed out. Will the same happen to Berlin? Perhaps it will over time but then again the creative people will always need somewhere to go and if you look at the history of the city it feels like the counter culture is engrained in society. Any place that has been divided like Berlin can only react in one way; a togetherness that was a product of its old divisions. Berlin is an environment for the people. London, we feel, is an environment ruled for the city.

 

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London: 7 Green Spaces In The City

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Every Londoner has their favourite natural space they like to escape to. So after exploring Shinrin Yoku and forest bathing, it made sense to list our favourite natural spaces in London. Having lived here for 10 years, we've definitely had time to explore it's parks, forests and interesting green spaces. We'd like to share our Mali top picks:

Curve Garden

The Curve Garden is one of our favourite natural places. Housed around decaying Victorian buildings and covered by rustic wood structures the garden is place of zen and calm, literally only minutes from Dalston's busy crossroad. From the second you step into the garden the humble charm takes over; the different seating areas all set against the carefully maintained flora is stunning. It is the perfect place to spend a few hours reading a book or catching up with a friend with a drink from the coffee shop. Bringing children in is a must as the array of colourful plants, hand painted protest boards and interesting nooks will keep them busy for hours. It's clearly a popular place for mothers with many young children. During our last visit we were lucky enough to stumble onto a live 8 piece acoustic band, who know what you might find? Check the details here: 

http://dalstongarden.org

Lea Valley

It's not uncommon for us to visit the Lea Valley three times a week; we run around it, go for walks and use it as a constant source of inspiration for our photography. Whatever the weather, there is always something new to see. The Lea Valley is huge; connecting the West Ham stadium (formerly the Olympic stadium) all the way to Edmonton and beyond. One can walk North for hours and still be surrounded by nature. Running alongside the lea valley is the Regents Canal, which is the perfect artery for travelling around the huge expanse. The Lea Valley has had a lot of money invested into it over the last two years. Now, every entrance clearly signposts the different paths and distances one can take and they are also building a huge sport facility between Clapton and Homerton on the Hackney playing fields. You can enter the Lea Valley from many spots; Stratford, Hackney Wick, Clapton station, Tottenham or if you want to see as much as possible, grab a bike and pootle up the path. If outdoor partying is your jam there are many free raves over the summer, just take a wonder at the weekend in the evening and follow the sound of fun.

https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk

Regents Canal

We love the canal, just to get it out there! It is our first stop for connecting with nature and escaping London's busy-ness. We are lucky, as we can walk from our flat in five minutes. But once you've reached the canal you can walk for hours without the urban sprawl, pretty amazing in London! There are many communities that have grown on the banks of the canals. Long boats and occupants are a common site; the locals have BBQs together, prepare wood for their burners and often have extensive plants and vegetables growing on the roof of their boats. Runners, cyclists, families and ramblers are all common sights on the towpath, although its worth noting that some parts (near London fields) get incredibly busy during the weekend. Wild berries grow all along the Clapton strand of the canal and can be picked from late summer; blackberry and gooseberries are widespread. For the lovers of a long walk we can recommend starting in the East, on a lovely summers day, heading west via the canal passing Hackney Wick, Victoria Park and Angel, where you will need to leave the canal and re join just below Kings Cross, then pass Regents Park finishing at Little Venice. It's around 12 miles but on a beautiful day there isn't a better walk in London. The question is, would you have the beans to walk home after? 

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-and-river-network/regents-canal

Hackney City Farm

This farm is special; located on the lips of Shoreditch and London fields, the farm contains an array of animals that visitors can feed, pet and generally admire. There is a keen team of volunteers and workers that maintain the farm and from the second one enters it's clear to see that a lot of love and care has gone into creating this amazing space. It's quite diverse from patches of vegetables growing in one plot to enormous pigs in pens in the next, chickens and geese are left to wonder the cobbled paths; you'd almost think you were in rural Somerset. There is a cafe to relax in after you've pet the animals and admired the crops. For the children of London this is a must visit and one of the few places children can connect with the natural world. The farm organises an array of community events, classes and projects for the public, in case you wanted to get really stuck in! Entrance is free and is open until 4.30pm daily, aside from Mondays.

http://hackneycityfarm.co.uk/

Hyde / Green/ Regents parks and Primrose Hill

High up on any tourists list is paying a visit to some of London's impeccably kept Royal parks. Each has its own character. Hyde park is a sprawling beast and the largest to explore. One can wonder around the Serpentine lake, eat and drink in the many cafes and wonder from oxford street on one side across to Exhibition row at the other, not forgetting a cheeky slice of art in the Serpentine / Sackler Galleries on the way. Green park compounds Piccadilly circus with Buckingham palace; a smaller park with plenty of space for sitting. One could even rent a deck chair at the Northern end of the park, how very British! In contrast, Regents park is a large expanse triangulated between Baker street, Camden and Primrose hill. The park itself is gorgeous and displays some fine landscaped gardens to gaze over. But if a summers day strikes you must head North across Regents canal into Primrose hill. A joyous mound that allows panoramic views of the city and the perfect place to watch the sunset with a cool beverage. Find out about these and all the other royal parks here: 

https://www.royalparks.org.uk/

Epping forest

If you want to see a proper forest, with no cars in sight or be within hearing distance, Epping is the choice. located in East London, Epping can be visited from a number of tube and train stations; Chingford, Loughton Station and Debden Station. The forest is vast and ancient, the royals used to hunt here. It's easy to see why as its just a stones throw from central London but gives visitors all the pleasantries of country life. Expect to see dog walkers, ramblers, cross country runners and off road cyclists. We even did a spot of camping in Waltham Abbey, which is a 10 minutes walk from the forest. You can easily spend some time soaking up nature and then pop into a country pub, we often pop into the Queen Elizabeth hunting lodge near Chingford for a swift ale. There is plenty to do in Epping so get yourself on train and go explore. 

http://www.visiteppingforest.org/visitor-information

Hampstead Heath

The Heath has to be London's favourite park. Set in North London, the park can be visited from Gospel Oak, Hampstead Heath Station or a slightly longer walk from Highgate station. The area boasts many attractions. Firstly, you can easily wonder for an hour in this park, each turn has a change in the environment; busy woodland, open plains, lakes, paths, hills, there is so much to explore. I still don't think we've been to every corner of this place. Exploration is key but if you want specific places then check the Pergola, a stunning Edwardian structure built to promote architecture and landscaped spaces, used in its time for dinner and drinks parties. Well worth a visit. If you find yourself there in summer, remember to bring swimwear and a towel as the much famed Hampstead ponds can be swam in. They have single sex and mixed ponds that are actually perfect with the right weather. For those who search for ultimate views get up to the Parliament Hill viewing point. 

https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/Pages/default.aspx

 

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Naples to (Stoke) Newington

We first tried a L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele pizza in 2009 in Naples on a Italian excursion. We thought the pizzas were so beautifully tasty that we ate there twice on our trip and guess what, we brought a pizza back on the plane to eat at home on the last day, our housemates were bemused we when revealed a mightily squashed pizza from our backpack. Still, the taste reigned supreme and was worth evading customs for! 

In hindsight we overlooked the lore surrounding Da Michele's pizzas. Started in the 1870s in Naples the pizzeria only focuses on only two types of pizzas, Margherita and Marinara, the latter a garlic and tomato combo. You can see from the photos we opted for Margherita every time and so did the tourists and people of Naples who queue heavily, and daily, for the proposed best pizza in the world. Washed down with ice cold Peroni.

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Fast forward 8 years and by some stroke of luck Da Michele's have open only their 4th restaurant in the world in Stoke Newington, London! Preceeded by only Naples, New York and Tokyo. Did it follow us here? If so we are glad it did. It's safe to say the london variation is pretty consistent with its Napolean mother. All the ingredients are imported from Italy and the chefs and waiting staff are all natives. The sun drenched streets of Naples are the authentic home of the pizza and so the very nature of Church streets quaint and minuscule shops are a stark contrast to 4 story apartments of Naples. As a result of it's scale the pizzeria is busy. We were lucky to just walk in but within 10 mins a large lunchtime queue had formed, hardened by some winter rainfall. Inside, we enjoyed two margherita pizzas. They were beautiful; elasticated dough, cooked quickly, with gnarly edges and softened buffalo mozzarella. For us the cheese is killer part as it's so creamy and flavoursome, we recommend it just for that!  There are some excellent pizzerias in the area: Yard Sale, Franco Manco et al but for me Di Michele just about tops the list. Go Eat, pray and then eat another slice!

https://www.facebook.com/damichelelondon/

L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Naples, 2009

L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Stoke Newington, 2017

L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Stoke Newington, 2017

L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Stoke Newington, 2017