I like to offer a nice mix of activities with my nnoodl adventures. Having previously done axe throwing, singing, beekeeping and fencing to name a few, I thought it was time for a creative challenge.
Something I'd been looking into for a while was stop motion animation. This is a technique that physically manipulates an object so that it appears to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a fast sequence. Think of things like Morph, or 'The Trap Door'. One thing I have noticed, however, is that art and craft type activities can often make people feel more anxious than physical ones. The idea often brings up memories for some of being told they 'just weren't artistic' at school. So when I found Jennifer Kidd,from Ctrl+Art+Del and had a chat to her,she seemed exactly the type of person who could lead our group of unsuspecting participants in this activity.
I instructed our adventurers to meet at Canning Town station,which I know had already caused a few murmurs of what exactly might await us in this outlying area of east London? I had to manage expectations as we gathered on a grey Saturday morning that we weren't going to get a flight from London City Airport (sorry!) A short walk and we were at the London City Island Gallery. Now this on itself is a little hidden gem,a collection of eclectic art all sourced from the locals in the area. The perfect backdrop to this creative pursuit.
Jenny explained to the group what we would be doing, which is always the moment I personally feel most nervous. Will anyone say they don't want to do it, or have they done it before, and want to take up their 'pass card'? Thankfully there was a ripple of excited noises as everyone seemed up for it. The first part of the day would involve us splitting into small teams and creating characters from plasticine. The brief was pretty wide here, but Jenny advised us to consider maybe having a villain and a victim. Considering I was the only one of us who knew what we were doing in advance, you might have thought that I'd come prepared with some idea...but no. I decided to see what my fellow teammates, Lee and Andy were producing, and then see what I could add to it. Lee started modelling an octopus, whilst Andy was hard at work with a scary villain. The idea of water always appeals to me, so I thought 'a starfish!'
Talk then turned to the recent story of starfish being washed up on the beaches at Ramsgate, and so immediately my little character became the victim in our yet to be developed storyline. It was heartwarming to see how engrossed everyone was in this childhood modelling fabric for almost 2 hours. It made me wonder if I should invest in some plasticine to use at the end of a busy day! I could also hear random snippets of conversations about the different groups character names and personalities. We were then encouraged to develop this further and think about what the characters fears might be, and how they would interact with each other.
Our group found ourselves developing a story with a conservation message about the villain being a litter lout and the sea creatures being caught up in this, leading eventually to the death of the starfish by ingesting plastic. It's quite poignant that this storyline wasn't actually my idea, despite my current work with WWF. In fact each of the teams ended up creating a moral tale - with one story about protests and fur during fashion week, and another about a child using her imagination to play creatively.
Time for a short lunch break to have some tapas type food (all included in the price don't you know!). Interestingly though, everyone seemed keen to crack on and continue their storyboarding ready for the camera work that afternoon. Sign of everyone having a good time!
Jenny explained some things we should think about when we did our storylines, such as should we communicate certain messages with speech bubbles, or would the story be self-explanatory? There is also the option to add sounds and music in of course, but we realised we were up against time.....
You soon realise the work that goes into these animations as Jenny explained that we had 900 shots available to us! You have to think about continuity if you are trying to replicate a scene with a moving character in it (so try to avoid kicking the camera tripod Denise). Yet she also advised us not to get too precious when the characters inevitably got a bit 'remodelled' or discoloured during the process of moving them. Yes, we spent many minutes readjusting eyes and mouths which had fallen off our characters. As we set up our scenes I was amused by the dialogue coming from the other teams "Let's get more blood there when she gets hit!" for example. All a bit dark....
The time just disappears when you are acting director for these animations. Trying to frame the shot just right, and get the perspective and continuity. I can see why in the credits of Pixar films there is always a long list of 'Pixar babies' who have been born during filming. Apparently a frame in one of these films can take 24 hours to render, and a 90 minute film will have on average about 130,000 frames!
Once we were happy with our shots, we joined Jenny to talk through the final editing of them. This is when you spot any inconsistencies, or wonder if you should have worn your glasses after all? However, we were actually pretty pleased with the results, especially from character creation to completion, this was all done in one day. We all agreed we felt pretty tired! So it was time for a glass of celebratory cava to toast our creativity. Have a look at the final animations below and see what you think....
Oh and if you are now inspired to come along to a future nnoodl adventure, the April one is sold out, but our next one on 9th June is now booking up, go to the 'Packages' page here to snap up your place before it sells out!
As bookings have just opened for the next nnoodl event on 10th March, I thought it was about time I re-embraced my inner adventurer and undertook a little challenge myself. It’s been a while since I did this, but as I looked for activities that I could do on the only free afternoon I had, I already felt excited, and of course a bit apprehensive. I stumbled upon a Trapeze School called ‘Circus Glory’ who are based in Primrose Hill and had a Friday afternoon trapeze training workshop. Static trapeze is described as 'a fun blend of sport and art, where regular training will improve your strength, flexibility, and agility as you learn to manoeuvre and create beautiful shapes in the air. Trapeze training is recognised as a great stress-reliever, energy-booster, and a wonderful reminder of the importance of play and creation'. Flexibility and heights are not great areas of strength for me, and so I was slightly apprehensive, about committing to this, but when I emailed the head of the school, Genevieve Monastesse, I immediately felt reassured by her response as to how welcoming the school was to people of all levels. Genevieve has taught circus arts for over 30 years, is respected as one of the best aerial teachers in Europe and currently teaches the Degree Programme at the National Centre of Circus Arts, one of Europe's leading providers of circus education. She worked in Cirque du Soleil for two years on their very first show, and has had a successful career as an aerialist performing films, theatre, and even doubled for Kate Moss as her stuntwoman! I knew I would be in safe hands.
Turning up to events on your own, I realise can be one of the hardest things to overcome for many of my nnoodl adventurers. I still feel the same myself as you wonder what the people will be like. Will everyone know each other? Will they all be really experienced? Without exception these fears are unfounded, and my trapeze afternoon was to be no exception. We were a small group of six, ranging from people who had been training for eight years, to others who were relative beginners. They immediately put me at ease - all of them super-friendly and encouraging. Genevieve started us off with a warm up on the mats, which involved a lot of abdominal work such as planking etc. This set the tone for what was to come, as I realised how a strong core will really benefit you on the trapeze. We then did a small circuit of equipment-based warm up exercises. Genevieve came round with me as I tackled the first one – a tuck. Now this looks really easy, as she demonstrated, hold the bar above your head and then tuck your knees up above your head to meet the bar. I could only get them about halfway – what?? I was encouraged that apparently that was really good and can take a while to achieve. Next I was to attempt a straddle with the rope. Again, hands above your head on the rope, but this time, taking your legs above your head in a V-shape over your head. I think the last time I was on a rope like this I was about 8 years old wearing navy blue gym knickers, getting rope burns on my legs. Well leg strength to climb the rope was not applicable for this element – it was all about arms and core strength. Again, this is a lot trickier than it looks and so Genevieve demonstrated a version from the mat, arms over head on the rope, and pulling your legs over from there. The wobble board on one leg was a station here I felt I could do, and I was to find out how strong, not wobbly legs were to help me later that afternoon…
Then we were onto more focussed work on the trapeze. Genevieve was brilliant at making an assessment on what level people were at as she demonstrated the exercise she wanted them to try. It was wonderful to see the more accomplished students demonstrating some lovely shapes. My manoeuvre was to be the candlestick which involved standing at one side of the bar and pulling your legs up onto it, then with one knee over the bar, and one leg up the rope, dropping your upper body underneath the bar. I found this one slightly easier to pull myself into and felt an immediate rush from my first hanging move. Genevieve reminded us to all remember to keep our eyes open and focussed on what your legs or arms were doing, as the tendency can be to close them. Hmm, I wonder why, is it so that you can’t see the ground rushing towards you? Next was a sideways move on the bar. The first challenge on this one for me was actually getting my legs up onto the bar. I realise that muscly cyclist’s legs are no advantage in this form of training, they are just more weight to pull up! Once up and sitting on the bar though, Genevieve talked me through how to move yourself to one side, on one buttock, and how to balance there whilst tying to point your feet and stretch out to the side and down with one arm. I have a feeling should look a lot more graceful than this, but it’s a start (yes, that's me on the right below obviously)! One thing that I thought I would feel a lot more self conscious about throughout the afternoon was the fact that everyone else watched as we practiced our moves. But everyone was so encouraging that this really wasn’t an issue. It was also a great opportunity to watch some of the more advanced students demonstrate some more difficult shapes, which was really inspirational.
My final move of the day was one that got my heart racing just watching the demonstration as it involved climbing up to standing on the bar – I immediately was thinking about how much higher I would be from the ground! One of my fellow students was also fairly new to this training though and said that ‘fear is your friend’. She explained that the concentration involved to go though the moves meant that you actually achieved more than you expected to, as you were distracted from everything else. I could totally relate to this. As Genevieve talked me through each step, I found myself standing on the bar (toes only, use them like fingers she explained) and then stepping off with one foot to wrap the rope around one leg and then the other. (I could now understand why there is a ‘leggings, not shorts’ rule for this class as the movement of your legs along the bar and rope could cause some of those primary school type rope marks I am sure). Then it was a case of lowering yourself down the ropes into a suspended seated position and then finally dropping underneath the bar, supported by your feet on the bar and ropes around your lower legs, arms outstretched. This felt amazing! Of course after that it was down to the abs to pull myself back up to seated, but adrenaline was my friend by this point!
I was on an absolute high as I finished the class – this was supposed to be a ‘recovery day’ from my triathlon training, but my heart rate was right up there. In fact as I skipped out of the class to get to my singing/guitar rehearsal, my friend who was picking me up asked me “Have you had a drink of Irn Bru or something?” And so, with abdominal muscles that hurt every time I laugh (which is quite a lot), I find myself totally hooked on this new activity. What started off as a one off experience I know will be added to the ever-growing list of hobbies I am collecting via my nnoodl research which includes paddle boarding and singing. I would totally recommend Genevieve at Circus Glory if you would like to try this wonderful activity. I will be incorporating it into my training regime for sure.
If hanging upside down isn’t your thing though, rest assured it won’t be the activity at the next nnoodl activity, though I feel it may be included in the future….
So, if you are inspired to take part in the next nnoodl adventure, there are still some places available on our early bird offer for the event on Saturday 10th March. Sign up here using the code SECRETS30 for a whopping 30% off this adventure, which will have a little creative, rather than physical twist.
Although nnoodl is all about getting people slightly out of their comfort zones, it's never my intention to have people terrified or fearful of ever coming back to any of my adventures. With this in mind I ask people to fill out a short form to let me know of any fears, phobias or allergies they may have, and to let me know anything they absolutely would not do. There is usually a bit of a common theme amongst people I find: snakes, heights or very enclosed spaces, like caves. So although my next venture hadn't come up in any of my nnoodl members' forms, I was aware that it may border on the slightly uncomfortable. This particular experience, however, is one that truly is a bit of an exclusive, so much so that numbers were strictly limited to 8 people. Our successful group were advised to meet at Victoria station, where tickets were handed out for the train to Sutton. Hmmm, not to offend any of my friends who live in Sutton, but this did have people puzzled. What special thing could be happening in Sutton?? This coupled with their 'pre event instructions' where they were advised to wear or bring long trousers and covered over shoes or boots and I know they were envisaging some big yomp in the country. As we arrived at Sutton to meet our taxis, however, I advised them we were on our way to Mayfield Lavender, a family run Certified Organic Lavender Farm, situated just outside Banstead in Surrey. I find it hard to believe that so many Londoners have not yet discovered this gem - as the visitor numbers every weekend are testament to it's popularity with tourists.
I am lucky to be good friends with the Head Beekeeper at Mayfield Lavender, Tracey Carter, who is a real authority on all things bee related, so much so that she runs her own podcast, the Beehive Jive.
As the group would need to be split into two smaller groups, I had also taken the opportunity to enrol photographer Vanessa Lees to run a short photography skills course in this beautiful location.
There were gasps of awe and stops for photographs as we made our way to the top of the 25 acre lavender farm, where we were met by Tracey and Vanessa. This really is an assault on the senses in the best possible way, as you are overwhelmed by the never-ending carpet of purple and the amazing smell of lavender. Tracey began by giving us an overview of the lavender field, which was a real labour of love by husband and wife team Brendan and Lorna. Read their fascinating story here.
Then it was decision time, who was ready to step into the lions den, ahem, I mean bee hive area first? There was slight apprehension as the first group got suited up, but everyone was suitably put at ease by Tracey who explained how people might feel with so many bees in front of their face, and highlighted the importance of staying calm. Before they entered the area where the hives were, Tracey talked briefly about the products which come from a beehive: not only honey but also beeswax, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and venom which is used in medical treatment for arthritis. Honey is also used in medicine because of its antibacterial properties. Pollen and propolis are favourite health supplements. And royal jelly, which is what the bees feed the Queen (produced from a gland in their head/jaw) is famous for cosmetics and is also very widely used as a food supplement for racehorses! On the day that we visited the bees were busily collecting nectar from the lavender and also from blackberries.
Tracey has 10 production colonies and 11 baby colonies which she is growing on for next year (they are called a nucleus colony or a nuc for short). There are around 75000 to 80,000 bees in each of her large colonies and about 40,000 in each of the nucs. When opening the hive, first we assessed the hive from the outside, looking at the different components and explaining their function. We then observed the activity at the hive entrance, looking for pollen going in (this means there are babies to be fed), volume of bees coming and going (indicating the size and vigour of the colony) and also looking at general behaviour e.g. scuffles that happen when bees from neighbouring colonies are trying to get in and rob the honey at this time of year. We then gave the colony a few gentle puffs of cool smoke at the entrance and, after waiting for a couple of minutes for this to disperse through the colony, we quietly lifted the roof off. On top is the crown board which is a flat piece of wood that is like the ceiling of the colony. And we took that off and, lo and behold, the wonders of a beehive are revealed!
A few people asked why we use smoke on the beehives. Smoke simply masks the natural alarm pheromone that bees release when the colony is being invaded. It helps to keep them calm so that you can inspect the colony with a minimum of disruption to the bees. It does not burn them! We make sure the smoke is cool and if it isn't we put green leaves of grass in the top of the smoker to cool it down. Beekeepers consider that smoking is like knocking before you walk through the door of someone's house.
We gently went through the frames, lifting them out to check amounts of stored honey and brood (babies) and also to search for the Queen. The queen is vital to the colony as without her, there are no new bees to sustain the colony. She looks different to the other bees, she is longer and larger with a higher thorax and can run quite quickly so she often catches your eye. Although she is the egg laying machine in the colony, and people think she's really important, she is actually completely helpless and can't feed or groom herself. The worker bees have to do this for her and they push her around, often head-butting her or jumping on her to get her to move where they want! Because she is so important we mark her on the thorax with a special coloured marking pen so that we can identify her easily and protect her while we are inspecting the colony. Sufficient honey to feed the colony is also vital especially at this time of year when they are storing honey to feed themselves through the winter. There is always enough honey left to feed each hive through the winter. The alternative is to feed them sugary syrups or pastes which lack the natural vitamins and minerals that are present in nectar.
We looked at the worker bees, the female bees who comprise most of the colony there are around 70,000 of them during summer. There are also male bees in the colony during the summer breeding months. They are known as drones and are there only to breed and do not contribute to the colony in anyway. There are only a few thousand rounds in a colony even at the height of summer. At the end of summer the worker bees throw them out, chewing their wings as they evict them from the hive to ensure that they can't fly back in and gorge themselves on the precious honey which the colony needs to survive the winter. It's a pretty ruthless world! Worker bees rule and run the colony and each bee carries out a series of roles and jobs during her lifetime, from cleaning up, to feeding the baby bees and the Queen, to building works, to storing honey, to guarding the hive and then to foraging for nectar water and pollen. They are completely amazing.
Bee communication is an absolute wonder. They are able to communicate in amazing and fascinating ways ranging from pheromones, to vibrations and buzzes, and to what we describe as dances in which worker bees tell each other where to go for good nectar. The most famous of these is the waggle dance which is where a worker dances in a figure eight shape on the face of the claim, shaking her abdomen. The different parts of the dance represent different pieces of information including how good the forage is, where it is and how far, even taking into consideration its angle in relation to the sun at that time of day. They do this in the darkness of the hive and when you lift out a comb while you are inspecting the hive and see the bees dancing, they are surrounded by their sisters, who face them in a ring and sense what they are doing and then follow the instructions.
Pheromones are like chemical signals, the closest word we would use is smells. The Queen gives off a very special pheromone called queen substance which is transmitted through the colony and let's all bees know that she is there, keeping them together. It also suppresses the ovaries of the worker bees and stops them from developing so that the queen is the only bee that lays eggs. There are also alarm pheromones and a pheromone from the sting which alerts are the bees to staying at the same place! There is also a "come here "pheromone which they release to let each other know where they are.
The other thing people were interested in was how bees regulate the internal environment of the hive. This is called homoeostasis. By shivering their wing muscles they are able to heat the hive and keep it at a constant 35° throughout the year, even in the depths of winter. It needs to be this temperature so that the Queen can continue to lay eggs and they can raise babies. They also collect water drops and hang them around the hive when the weather is hot. The water evaporates and cools the hive. The bees also stand at the entrance and fan hot air out of the hive with their wings to cool it down.
Whilst our beekeepers were ensconced in their activity, our second group gathered in the gazebo with Vanessa to talk through some tips and tricks for good photography. Vanessa explained composition and framing of photographs as well as lighting, by showing some examples. She also told the group about the Mayfield Lavender photography competition which served as a good incentive to go out and put their theory into practice. And so off they went into the purple haze to capture their prize winning images. I was really impressed by how they managed to capture some great shots of our friends the bees at work gathering the pollen. As the groups swapped over it was great to hear them enthusing about their experiences, and in particular from those who had been slightly apprehensive about being so close to so many bees.
As with all nnoodl activities, we round off the experience with some food and drink - always a great way to bring people together. Carrying on the theme of the day, we settled down to some lavender infused goodies including lemonade, cakes and sandwiches, all served up in the sweetest little hamper.
Our adventurers shared their experiences and bought some lavender souvenirs before our taxis picked us up to take us back to the station and onwards to London. Well, via a little Sutton establishment for a celebratory drink! Look out for the next nnoodl experience on Saturday 16th September!