Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

No 25 is brought to you by the Turner family. And hung on a rather chilly Christmas Eve by the Macs. 

Thanks to everyone who made the stars and marked advent by making stuff, brightening up Chatsworth Road, and the corners of our hearts, in the process. 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Eve's star

Another from Paula. With genius from Neil on where to hang it!

Not sure that the telephone is used that much ...

Monday, 22 December 2014

No 22 (but for the 23rd)...

One from Kari tonight ... 

When I was thinking about what to do with my bike tyre, I was mostly going for pretty as opposed to particularly meaningful or symbolic. But it ended up becoming meaningful because of the materials that I used which led me to reflect on the expat experience. 

The two stars in the middle are made of crayon shavings melted between two sheets of wax paper to create a stained glass window effect. Now, wax paper is something that you can find in any American supermarket next to the plastic wrap and aluminum foil (ahem... cling film and alumin*i*um foil). It's used in the same way that greaseproof paper is used here in the UK. But it's actually coated with wax, so when you put a cool iron to it, the wax melts and sticks. School children in the US are well versed in created laminated autumn leaves or crayon shaving stained glass by applying wax paper and an iron. (Well, the teachers mainly did the ironing bit.)

And this all got me thinking about celebrating holidays in a culture that you didn't grow up in, especially when the foods, materials, etc that are vital to your experience of the holidays are difficult or impossible to come by. The Christmas cookie (sorry, *biscuit*) that my mother made every year without fail contained "imitation brandy extract" as the key ingredient. I discovered this year that the little tiny bottle of brandy extract that I'd brought over with me more than seven years ago when I moved to London was well past its expiration date, and when I went to try to buy some more I discovered that this little but essential item - which is available in most large supermarkets in the US - was not stocked by Ocado. It may well be in Tesco or Sainsbury's but I don't shop in those. I ended up buying some "brandy essence" from a specialty baking supplier online. (Thank goodness for the internet - the expat's best friend.) Another Christmas biscuit that I made this year would have been very much improved if I had been able to get some "red hots" - little intensely cinnamon flavoured candies similar to Skittles but smaller. Something else that you can get at any US supermarket but simply don't exist in the UK. 

Those are niggly little things. There are other customs and traditions that I've left on the other side of the Atlantic - some more common in the US and some unique to my family - that mean that Christmas in London will never be quite the same as Christmases in Iowa, Indiana or Michigan, the other places I've lived. 

That said, I have very much enjoyed taking on many of the customs of my adopted country. I love mince pies and mulled wine and the fact that it's illegal to have a Christmas party in England without serving them. I love that Santa Claus is just as commonly called Father Christmas. And while I don't yet own a Christmas jumper, I love the fact that people wear them completely without irony here.

A couple of days ago, a British friend of mine who now lives in Tennessee wrote on Facebook, "I miss England at Christmas". I know what she means - both because I know what it's like to miss the celebrations in the place you've left behind. But also because England is pretty special at Christmas time. 

No 23 on the 22nd..

A little break down of the numbering system gives us a beautiful no 23 just one day early.. Thanks Esta and Evie. 

Tonight's is designed and made by a 10 and  a 12 year old. We observed the skyline of Bethlehem in 0AD and are mindful of it today... As it's getting nearer to Christmas it's nice to see a deeper meaning of Christmas: the star is shining on the stable where Jesus will be born. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Day 21

And a last one for Valerie...

After ushering in the shortest day of the year with carol singing and mulled cider drinking at the Elderfield, there was just one more thing to do:  put up my third and final star for the year.

Bold men's ties, a bright, woman's scarf...Hoping it provides a little light on this dark, solstice day!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Friday, 19 December 2014


Lynda's turn again tonight...

'What inspired this one?' She asks as I step off the ladder into the path of an oncoming 242 to take a picture. I admitted that I'd been so excited by the stars-in-a-tyre idea that, for the first time since (showing my age here) O level art I drew out some ideas in a little black book. We'd spoken about using tule and nothing pleases me more than an excuse to buy bright fabrics and flourescent spray paint, so this was the natural end product. 

The baby star in the middle was a late addition and pays homage to a previous advent when we had lots of fun dreaming up all the different styles of star you can cut from milk cartons. 

Most schools break up tomorrow. I've been to four Christmas concerts in 3 days. This year I'm more of a mess than usual. Crying at other people's children's contribution, as well as my own, is a new low/high. My own, naturally, make me weep and I'm torn between catching it forever on my phone and drinking it in properly through my senses alone. An added bitter sweetness this year is my increasing feeling of having older kids. Will Mr Middle do concerts at secondary school next year? How many more junior performances can I squeeze out of the youngest? Is this why people become Governors: they cannot bear a Christmas without kids in tinsel singing about the baby Jesus?

At the concert this afternoon the music teacher asked a girl to read out Malala Yousafzai's statement concerning the shootings in Peshawar. We observed a minute's silence to stand in solidarity, somehow, with those affected and to reflect on how, in many other parts of the world, there is little to celebrate. I'm sure that news has been there for me in the mix of emotions at the concerts. It is hard to comprehend what that would do to a community like ours. I can't imagine the pain and sadness and rage they are experiencing. But it was good, at least for a minute in all the froth, to stop and think about it. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Star 18
(Another by Maya)

Todays star was made in a bit of a rush. Having had a christmas retreat to Vienna my tyre lay bare until my return yesterday, so in a post work rush I painted some stars.

I had been wondering with the growing number of stars on Chatsworth road  how many people are interacting with the stars. Tonight I wanted to may a star that shined onto the pavement so people could step onto or step around the shadow that was created.

This is how far I got toward creating starry shaddows on the pavement in a post work star painting panic!

Sorry for the late upload, returning to work for three days before christmas I have found more worth that needs to be done than can be left for the new year!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Good weather for ducks tonight, you might have said. Heads down, hoods up - no one wanted to be out tonight. Everyone who was had somewhere to be, someone to see, something to do, and they were getting there as quickly as possible. I nipped out to put my star up, fastened it to the first post I could find which hadn't already been claimed to number a previous day, and scuttled home again.

Oops a bit late

No16 is brought to you by Annabelle... (and the lateness was not her fault!) 

Monday, 15 December 2014


Neil brings us no 15. With thanks to Sham and all at A&S Cycles for hosting it..

(Proper in situ pic to come).

Neil says:

A tyred star

Worn down on Hackney tarmac

Bent and twisted into new beauty

No longer suitable for earthly terrain

Still with mountain tred

To grip well on heavens floor

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Stars caught in the trees

Thanks to Anne for no 14...

(Pictured inside too so you can see the stars in the branches in the tyre as well as in the branches in the tree!)

When  I was little I loved Christmas.  Not just the presents (though they’re pretty great), but the mystery, the beauty, the anticipation, and the joy.  Opening windows on an advent calendar, decorating the tree and looking forward to spending Christmas day with my best friend and her family who always came to us for Christmas dinner.  

When you’re an adult, Christmas seems much harder – I get caught up with presents, Christmas concerts, baking, cleaning, shopping and managing the expectations of 3 children. My best friend’s mother, on the other side of the Atlantic, is suffering from Alzheimer’s and can no longer live at home – I’m thinking about them a lot and missing them.  Joy and mystery sometimes seem in short supply.  So when R first talked to me about making a star for Chatsworth Road, it seemed like a great idea.  I thought the making would be fun because it’s the kind of thing that I like, but I also thought it would make me slow down, think about what Christmas really means and give me a moment to reflect quietly and realise that if everything that I think needs to happen doesn’t it won't be the end of the world.

In the event, it didn’t go quite that way.  Today was my day for finishing my tyre, and it seemed like everything got in the way.  A shopping trip to Westfield (ugh), a broken sewing machine, a frustrated daughter trying to finish off the Christmas present she was making for me, plans to go out in the evening.  I ended up taking the finished product round to L’s house, wanting to have her hang it and wash my hands of it.  

But L was quietly encouraging and told me to come back and hang it on my way out.  R wanted to come along too along with some others, and so we ended up on Chatsworth Road, with L up a ladder (thanks for doing that for me!) and the rest of us encouraging her to the accompaniment of a rather rowdy group of young men somewhere in the background and the bemusement of the chip shop owners next to the tree we chose. I wanted the stars to look like they'd been caught in the tree branches - a bit whimsical I guess, but it looked better than I'd hoped!

I walked to my next engagement thinking about what lovely people both R and L are – how encouraging, loving and inspiring – and how they make my life in my little corner of London better.  And then I arrived at the friend’s house who was having a number of ex-Rushmore mums round for a drink and told them about my adventures.  It turns out one of my friends has been watching each star appear as she walks to school with her younger son in the morning which was nice too – it’s cheering to think about people looking out for them.  All of which put me in the perfect frame of mind to enjoy chatting and laughing with a group of women who I don’t see nearly enough now that our children are no longer in the same class at primary school, but who are also enormously important to me and make my life richer and warmer.  

Christmas is about love.  Maybe all the craziness in the run up to it and the emphasis we place on getting the details right is a way of showing our love, but it’s good to have a reminder of the point of it all. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Número doce

Brought to you by Denise...

I've never prepared an outside art piece before and just walking up to Chatsworth Road from home I thought the wind and rain might rip it to bits. So let's hope Our Lady the Virgen de Guadelupe uses her super powers to hold it together for the 13 more days. 

The centre piece is doublesided, and my vision was to hang this from a tree but we sought the solidness of a wall to better protect it.

On view is the Zapatista Virgen de Guadalupe (fitting for the 12 of December) and some stars (of course). And on the other side (not on view unless the wind and rain rip it down) are images and teasers to the 'star story' or 'Why we have hope on Earth', which you can read here. What fun, can't wait (but will have to) to see what's next!

Number 11

A little Lisa star tonight...

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

I am a one in ten..

No 10 is thanks to Vivi and the kids at a The Village Green ...

And much thanks to Chatsworth Cleaners for hosting it... they all looked much amused when R and I showed up with a ladder and two kids in tow tonight to put it up. I hope they didn't think we were too amateurish. I struggled with R's ladder... she lost the things to hook it up with. I'm sure they thought we'd end up on the floor or, worse, through their window!

Anyway when I said we'd be back after Christmas to pick it up he said 'Why don't you leave it there?' I think R and I could maybe start a window dressing business! That's the third someone's asked to keep... I am rashly saying 'yes'. It seems the right colours for its home.. red, green and gold...

The Lovely Danielle stopped us as we put numbers up belatedly on '9' and '8'. 'I love them!' she says 'I saw the red one first, then others keep popping up all over the place!' I think we found another willing volunteer to add to our artists for next year! 

Monday, 8 December 2014


And a second from Valerie...

Feeling less "sure" about this one, and fearing the lights of the resurfacing crew on the south end of Chats, I headed north.

Waiting.  Advent is about waiting.

Waiting at a zebra crossing -- waiting to see if you're noticed before stepping out in front of oncoming cars. 
(What will this journey entail?)

Waiting at a zebra crossing -- waiting to see if anyone notices you, crouched behind the black bars, securing a silly piece of art with freezing hands. 
(Will anyone notice this special thing happening?)

Waiting at a zebra crossing -- wondering if the children wandering by tomorrow will touch it...It's at their eye level, looks soft. 
(Will the story be retold?)

Waiting at a zebra crossing -- will it make it through the night?
(Will we make it through the night?)

Sunday, 7 December 2014


No 8 is c/o Rachel ...

That's often what I feel I do in life.
And juggle.
This is what we have here. Spun carrier bags and strips of found curtain which is far more a vivid blue in real life!

Amidst the spinning of 2014 there has been enormous uncertainty, a sense of being overwhelmed and more change than I can remember for a long time.
It's one of those years when we'll look back and wonder how we got through it. She says in hope!

In amongst the buzz of it all there have been wee encounters that make you realise you aren't alone.
Wise words that keep you going.
Generosity that reassures.
Kindness that builds you up.

The spinning doesn't necessarily stop, but there's a new way of dealing with it, keeping your balance.

So if you are spinning too..
                                          ..take heart and hold on!

Coffee shop No 1

Star no. 7 is Lynda's again...

Get ready for some long winded ramblings!...

Venetia's Coffee Shop on Chatsworth Road was No 1. OK, to be honest, Jim's Cafe was strictly first, but (probably for different reasons to Claridges) not a place you necessarily wanted to breast feed in public. Venetia's were first to try their luck on a (let's face it) rather unloved, easily overlooked, stretch of inner city high street. First to open somewhere you'd actually want to hang out. First to bring half decent coffee to the 'hood. It even got a mention in one of my Christmas letters. I'd just had baby no.3 and was deeply excited about the possibility of having somewhere other than my own kitchen to hang out with other mums and dads and our small ones without having to trek to Stoke Newington. People have complained that there are too many coffee shops now. That a living high street needs more than coffee shops. I agree. But no one was complaining when Venetia showed up in 2007.

There are new owners there now, but they're still providing a snug place to stop and chat, still supporting local suppliers and still showcasing local art work. So I guess it was no surprise that they jumped at the chance of having a ready-made Christmas star for their window.

I have to admit that rather a lot more work went into this one than the last. Even though I married into Danish heritage more than 18 years ago I have never quite cracked that Danish paper star making thing. My long suffering mother in law has sat down countless times over the years and helped me through the process but each year I have to learn again, leaving me somewhat flabbergasted that such a simple thing could prove so elusive. I was determined, however, to do a Danish-star-bike-tyre and so I sat down once more, this time with my You Tube savvy (12year old!) daughter, and the lovely manicured lady at Skagen and I learnt it properly. Even enough to try really big ones. And teach my two boys too. Yippee!

So, I'm grateful to immigration (did I mention that recently?) for bringing me my Danish mother in law (and in turn a rather nice husband); and I'm grateful to Venetia's for hosting a somewhat fragile Christmas star. (But, guys, you gotta lose that pot plant!).

Friday, 5 December 2014

Red star at night

No 5 is up. This one's Maya's. 

Its the time of year that children start counting down the sleeps to christmas, dreaming of father christmas and adults start counting down the sleeps until the last day of work, dreaming of lie-ins and restful days.
The chats star folks also find ourselves out balancing on ladders, battling wind and rain putting up stars whilst others are safely ticked up in bed dreaming. 
This is why my star is inspired by a dream catcher. 

"You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream" C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

This one's deep (man)

No 4 is brought to you by Lynda...

Just after we had the bike-tyre-star idea I found this material in a Hackney second hand shop. UKIP had just gained its first elected MP in the Clacton by election and the country was awash with immigration talk. It always scares me. The media hype, the lies lies and statistics that are bandied about, the real pressure and fear felt - both for those feeling unwelcome and those feeling 'swamped'.
Part of the reason I've loved living in Hackney these last 18 years is the diversity of the people who call it home. It feels like travelling the world without leaving your comfy square mile. What's not to like?

For some reason the Tory party were promoting FB posts in my timeline asking me for my opinions about immigration. I thought "Yes! I'll tell them!" I don't know what I was thinking - perhaps I thought it would be some genuine desire to hear the views of the electorate. I clicked through... The diatribes against people arriving at these shores were so shocking that I couldn't bring myself to add my thoughts at all. I just didn't want to be associated with those views even by proximity of post!

I thought the material a fantastic fabric representation of the melting pot of Hackney and the colour and wildness that many people from all over the world bring to this part of the UK. Hurray for immigration.. and the Hackney jungle with all its disparate views and shades and untapped potential.

To make the star I cut up a bright orange piece of fabric on which I had printed the words 'You are beautiful'. It's a little strap line promoted by a guy in  the US and made into stickers which have been stuck in nooks and crannies all over the world. Does making it into stickers nullify this deep universal truth? I don't think so. You are beautiful. And you. And you. And you. You too. Beautiful people make up our world and live around here. Get over it!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A shout out to Caballo

No 3 is a triptych brought to Caballo, in thanks for the recycled tyres, by Rhona.


Monday, 1 December 2014

Thank goodness for the trees

No 2 is by Rachel...

100% recycled. 100% found.
Brian's string.
Jessie's spray.
Caballo's tyres.
Silk flowers discarded in the street.

With final leaves together ablaze - on a cold dark night.

Against the gnarled grey wood, number 2 comes with a warm glow, a happy spirit,
and flowers to match the curtains.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Advent is here again...

No 1 was brought to you by Valerie...

She writes...

In a month of Busy, one has to be deliberate about slowing down, whether it is slowing to wrap cheap, acrylic wool around a bicycle tyre, or whether it is slowing to see these little pieces of art/hope/life/love that pop up around us in our homes and neighbourhoods.

Chatsworth Road changes so rapidly these days that those of us who frequent the road take in new sights seemingly every week.  So, will these stars stick out?  Will they catch anyone off-guard, slow anyone down?  Perhaps they will solidify for some observations of gentrification and ‘white-middle-class-craft’, and perhaps some will see them as a nuisance…

An artist or craftivist leaves art in the public space as a gift, and we have to leave it at that.  However these stars are perceived over the next 24 days…well, it’s out of our hands. 

Take it as you will, Chatsworth Road, and let us know if it inspires you, angers you, or leaves you wondering what it’s all about.