Our driver and distributor Julian provides an insight into the behind-the-scenes of a London Calling distributor. Here, he talks us through his passion for his allotment, beekeeping and how this has been reflected in his work with London Calling.
When not distributing leaflets and posters for London Calling I’m likely to be found gardening on an allotment near Chingford, away from the metropolitan hustle and bustle of my workplace. I’ve worked for London Calling on and off since 2002 and full-time since 2010. Since then I’ve dedicated much more of my spare time to the allotment and it is essentially what I, personally, bring to work.
The whole allotment site is situated on a hillside at the edge of Epping Forest, close to the Lea Valley reservoirs. The site has a sense of a secret garden about it; surrounded and enclosed by houses with long back gardens, walls and fences amidst dense rambling hedges of trees and shrubs. It is a walled garden – a peaceful place that offers sanctuary from the grime and grind of Central London where I do most of my distribution work.
One of the edges of the allotment is a dense briar patch out of which we cut a niche 13 years ago, to be an apiary with, currently, 2 hives for honeybees. Our beekeeping is an important part of our practice and ethos of organic and sustainable gardening, cultivating diverse fruits, herbs and vegetables that we harvest for ourselves, our families, neighbours and friends including our workmates. The garden is a large and demanding project that requires a lot of work, commitment and energy and an essential motivation for me is having workmates who are interested in taking the produce as part of their groceries. The bags of fruit and veg I bring to work are, hopefully, part of the culture and fellowship of our workplace.
I trained as an artist-craftsperson and I have worked in this capacity in London, creating performative artworks for a broad range of events, including Notting Hill Carnival, Thames Festival, installations at the then Theatre Museum (Covent Garden) and many London parks and gardens. I think my background as an artist partly has been essential in my role as a distributor for London Calling; I could imbue the work with some creative interest and so actually promote the culture. One of the first instances of these two careers crossing paths was in 2003 when distributing leaflets for, ‘Linked’, by Graeme Miller. The work alerted me to and involved me in a brilliant and inspiring installation situated close to where I lived in Leytonstone. I have also been fortunate to work for London Calling distributing for events I have participated in as an artist and a gardener – most prominent of these being the E17 Art Trail and Waltham Forest Cultivate Festival.
A more recent example of this sort of serendipity occurred when doing the distribution on behalf of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and their large-scale installation ‘The Hive’. The leaflet, a guide to, ‘The Hive’ and the surrounding gardens, invites visitors to ‘step inside and discover the secret life of bees’.
With 13 years of beekeeping experience I am familiar with, and as baffled as ever by, the lives of bees inside our hives and beyond. The diversity of forage can be seen by the many different colours of pollen that form an intricate patchwork pattern. How is this intricacy and order of the honeycomb created by and communicated about by the bees? Would I find out by visiting, ‘The Hive’?
I visited the installation on a blazing hot day in August 2016. It is a marvellous structure, a gleaming tessellation set upon a grassy mound in the magnificent grounds of Kew. The lattice work makes up a large cubic structure within which a dome-like (or skep-like space) is defined. Stepping inside involved a winding walk up through a meadow of native wild flowers before reaching a wondrous sky-lit vaulted ceiling over an elevated transparent hexagon panelled floor. The overall effect was arresting and absorbing, the ambience altering through subtle changes to the lighting and sound, the latter triggered by activity in beehives close by. We were part of a performance – a promenade and reverie. ‘The Hive’, is the centre-piece for a range of other attractions and activities aimed at creating insights into the lives of bees and other pollinators; for me it was more a spectacular homage, resonating as something quite different from objective understanding.
Emerging from, ‘The Hive’, I made my way to the superb kitchen garden, to forage for inspiration and guidance for our allotment. Kew Kitchen Garden is managed by Joe Archer, who gardened with us, briefly, in 2013 before moving on to Chelsea Physic Garden and then Kew. It was a fitting way to complement my visit to, ‘The Hive’, and hopefully continue doing things that make a positive contribution to living and working in London.