Tired of London, Tired of Life - A website about things to do in London



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31 December 2009

Reflect on a year for TOLTOL

It's been a good year here at Tired of London HQ. Your author has managed to think of a thing to do in London every day since the 3rd of January, and has managed to build up a respectable number of visitors through his vague ramblings about our capital.

Tired of London, Tired of Life has even had a baby, inspiring an unknown student in Brighton to begin Bored of Brighton, which follows the same formula as this site. Your author wishes her good luck with that, on the proviso that it does not become more successful than this site!

The New Year will hopefully bring fresh flashes of inspiration for your author, who is moving to a new home back within the boundaries of Hackney, London's greatest borough. This will undoubtedly continue to insire Hackney-centric posts, but your author will continue in his attempts to cover the whole of the area inside the M25.

Your author would like to thank all the great London new media giants he has met this year, who have helped with their work to inspire this site. Particularly everyone at Londonist, Daniel from Twitter.com/LDN, Jane from Jane's London, as well as Ianvisits, 'John Bull' from London Reconnections, Annie Mole, Brian the Pigeon, Caroline's Miscellany and many, many more whose names escape him.

See you all in 2010!

30 December 2009

Watch a film on Britain's biggest screen

There are a lot of big budget films around at the moment which suggest you watch them on a big screen, in 3D, and there is no better place in London to do this than the BFI Imax in Waterloo.

Completed in 1999, the cinema has the largest screen in the UK at 20m by 26m, and a seating capacity of around 500. Avatar is probably the big draw at the moment but it is pretty much booked up for a while. Never mind, however as there are other films on offer and the trailers look a bit rubbish.

Tickets are £13.50 or £15 for the best seats, which isn't too bad really. For more, see http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_imax

^Picture by koellmannms^

29 December 2009

Wave to Brian Haw

It's been pretty cold recently, and it's been Christmas, so spare a thought for poor old Brian Haw, who has been sitting out in his tent on Parliament Square since 2001.

Annoying as many of your author's Westminster friends understandably find his incoherent megaphone shouting, you have to admire his staying power, especially at this time of year.

A former boat-builder, Merchant Seaman, removal man and carpenter, he set up his camp as a one-man political protest against war and foreign policy, and has adapted it to take in almost all of foreign and some domestic policy since.

Still, he's survived many attempts to move him and as long as he's enjoying it, you might as well give him a wave. For more on Brian, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Haw.

^Picture by Steve Punter^

28 December 2009

A brisk stroll by the Thames - Hammersmith to Barnes

Your author is a big fan of the Thames path, especially by bike, and whilst researching some things to do for a reader the other day he stumbled across a great-sounding short walk available on the internet courtesy of the AA. Beginning and ending at the Barnes Wetland Centre, it takes in Hammersmith Bridge and Barnes Bridge and takes in a beautiful part of the river and some nice pubs along the way.

The walk is only 3.7 miles, is rated as easy and should only take about an hour and a half. If this sounds like your sort of thing, pull on your walking shoes on your next day off and head on down.

For more information, and a pretty map, visit http://www.theaa.com/walks/with-the-wetland-birds-of-barnes-420758

^Picture by harshilshah100^

27 December 2009

See the Pelicans in St James' Park

Nowadays most famous for eating pigeons, pelicans were first introduced to St James' Park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to Charles II, when they were described by John Evelyn, a contemporary of Samuel Peyps as "a fowle between a stork and a swan".

Five pelicans still live there today at the Easterly end of the lake near Duck Island, and are so much a part of the Westminster Village that they have even been the subject of debate in the House of Lords.

The pelicans are fed daily at 2.30pm. For more, see http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/st_james_park/flora_fauna/pelicans.cfm

^Picture by gadgetdude^

26 December 2009

Go ice skating in Somerset House

Christmas Day may be over but most of us have the day off work, so let's make the most of it. Somerset House ice rink is a seasonal treat that can help us carry on that festive spirit during the

This year the ice rink celebrates its 10th birthday, and if you don't fancy it today, it's open all the way until 24 January 2010.

Opening hours are rather erratic, but the rink is open most evenings and there are even DJ Nights, student events and early morning Breakfast with Tiffany specials.

Daytime sessions cost £10.50, and in the evening it costs £12.50. For more, see http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/ice_rink/default.asp

^Picture by uriba^

25 December 2009

Take the Christmas Day London Walks

Whilst the rest of us are slacking off and eating our turkey dinners, there are some people whose dedication to London knows no bounds. The good folk at London Walks are prime examples.They have two walks which their dedicated guides are leading even today.

One walk goes in the morning and one in the afternoon, and both meet at the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. At 11am, you can take a walk titled Christmas Morning, 1660 - Samuel Pepys's London, and then later at 2pm a Christmas Day Charles Dickens's London Walk will undoubtedly evoke that Christmas Carol spirit which is usually reserved only for Hollywood.

Your author takes his hat off to them. He is flying out on holiday this evening but this site will to be updated, hopefully every day. For more on the walks, see here.

^Picture by cookipediachef^

24 December 2009

Celebrate Christmas Eve with St Martins in the Fields

Your author isn't a religious sort, but if you're going to attend church at any time of the year, Christmas is undoubtedly one of the best. So today, why not attend a church service, to remind yourself of the real meaning of Christmas. A little chap who was born about 2010 years ago in a stable at the North Pole and was brought gold, frankincense and myrrh by Father Christmas.

Seriously though, if you're looking for something to fulfil your religious Christmas Eve cravings, or stave off your feelings of guilt over non-attendance over the past year, then St Martins in the Fields is an excellent choice. This evening they have a Parish Carol Service at 6.30pm and Midnight Mass at 11.30pm, and you can make sure you give generously to collections for Connection at St Martins, which does sterling work for homeless people at this time of year.

For more on all upcoming services at St Martin's in the Fields, see here. For more on Connection click the link above.

^Picture by coaleywood^

23 December 2009

Admire the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree

As anyone whose parents sat them down in front of Blue Peter as a child will know, Norway have given the people of London a Christmas Tree every year since 1947, in thanks for Britain's support the Second World War.

This year's tree is as good as ever, standing over 20 metres high and hand-picked from the forests around Oslo. It will remain in the Square until just before the Twelfth Night.

For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trafalgar_Square_Christmas_tree.

^Picture by ktylerconk^

22 December 2009

Climb the Mabley Green Boulder

The Mabley Green Boulder, in Mabley Green, Hackney Wick, is one of two large boulders placed in East London parks by Artist John Frankland. The sculpture, which is a big bit of Cornish granite, was added as part of the Hackney Wick Festival in September 2008, by Core Arts.

Nowadays, some climbing-fans see it as a challenge, and like to climb it. There have even been professional climbing classes held there in the past. Unless you're experienced, your author feels duty-bound to suggest you don't climb it, and just have a nice look at it. You climb very much at your own risk.

For more, see http://leabanksquare.blogspot.com/2008/06/mabley-green-boulder-by-john-frankland.html

^Picture by sludgegulper^

21 December 2009

Play Bar Billiards at the Owl and Pussycat

In the Cotswold Inns of your author's youth, Bar Billiards tables were plentiful, but in many areas of London, they have long since been replaced by quiz machines and big-screen TVs. That's why your author is a fan of the Owl and Pussycat, on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch. Despite a recent minor refurbishment, it has retained the table and most of its character, and in a land of haircuts and posing your author is thankful.

Bar Billiards is a particularly British game, though it is derived from a Russian game and there are various European versions. It began here the 1930s, and tables were made by the Jelkes company of Holloway Road in London and sold to pubs around the country. It became very popular in pubs without room for a proper billiards, snooker or pool table as an alternative to the local snooker club.

The rules take a bit of learning, but there is a rules guide, and once you learn them it is great fun. If any readers have spotted any others in London pubs, your author would be very grateful if they could mention them in the comments.

For more on Bar Billiards, see http://www.tradgames.org.uk/games/Bar-Billiards.htm or for details of the pub click the link above.

20 December 2009

Admire the view from The Angel, Rotherhithe

A correspondent recently reminded your author of a lovely pub on the Thames, so when out for a walk in the sunshine yesterday, it seemed like the perfect spot for a light lunch. The Angel in Rotherhithe is one of the oldest public houses in Southwark, and has been recorded on its current site, with the same name, since at least the 15th century, built by the monks of Bermondsey Priory.

Nowadays, it's a Samuel Smith's pub, so whilst it isn't particularly gastronomic the drinks and food are pleasantly cheap, and it is worth a visit if only to sit out on the small balcony. From here you could literally touch the Thames, and it's a great place to watch the boats and admire the unrivalled view back down towards Tower Bridge, City Hall and the centre of London.

One thing that puts both the view and the pub's history in context is that it was here that Turner allegedly painted The Fighting Temeraire, the painting which was voted the greatest painting in a British art gallery and which your author mentioned last Saturday.

For more, see the always excellent Shady Old Lady's article at http://www.shadyoldlady.com/location.php?loc=803

19 December 2009

Find the Alaska Factory in Bermondsey

One final trip to Bermondsey for a Saturday post, and a look at the Alaska Factory, on Grange Road. An imposing structure with an interesting history.

In an area where, as your author mentioned on Tuesday, the leather industry had a presence, the factory was the premises of Martin fur merchants, and it was here that they made sealskin jackets. Whilst the entrance gate pictured dates from 1869. It was rebuilt in the 1930s to the designs of Wallis Gilbert, who also designed the Hoover Building in Perivale.

Much of the area was bombed in the Second World War, but the factory escaped when a bomb failed to explode. Damage to the factory from an electrical fault was subsequently repaired and it continued operation until at least the 1950s. It has since been converted into - you guessed it - apartments, and is not open to the public.

For more information, see http://www.visitmap2.co.uk/sites/clients/bermondsey/detailpage.php?pid=19

18 December 2009

See the Christmas Lights in Oxford Street

Your author is aware that he has barely mentioned that it is almost Christmas so feels like he should pop it in somewhere. Best to avoid Oxford Street and Regents Street like the plague this time of year, but if you do feel the need to pop by there are some lights.

This year they are apparently themed around a re-hash of Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', and your author is unsure if he loves that because it remembers a great literary Londoner, or hates it for the Disneyfication.

Never mind, they're there anyway. For more, see http://www.visitlondon.com/londonschristmascarol/

^Picture by Gorfor^^

17 December 2009

Admire Bush House

Bush House, on The Strand, is the home of The BBC World Service. Commissioned in 1919, the buildings various elements were completed between 1923 and 1935, with the central part being built first. It was designed as a trade centre for an American company and opened, having been and dubbed the 'most expensive building in the world' at a cost of around £2 million, by Lord Balfour on 4 July 1925 - American Independence Day.

It was not until a landmine damaged Broadcasting House during the Second World War that the BBC began its residence here, with the European Service moving in. The rest of the Overseas Service followed in 1958.

The building has previously been owned by the Church of Wales and the Post Office and the BBC now leases it from a Japanese company, Kato Kagaku. This lease expires next year, so Bush House's days as the home of the World Service are limited. The BBC has set out plans to move the World Service to Broadcasting House, but they change their minds about these plans so often, who can be sure. Wikipedia reports rumour that the LSE may move in when the BBC has gone. Alongside the BBC, the building is home to a very small arcade of shops including a specialist pen shop.

For more information, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/collections/buildings/bush_house.shtml

^Picture by James Cridland^

16 December 2009

Eat at the Footstool Restaurant

Your author has mentioned St John's Smith Square previously, but yesterday he ate at the Footstool Restaurant and had a thoroughly good time. So good, it is definitely worthy of a mention here.

The restaurant sits in the crypt below the former church, which is now a concert venue and serves politicians, civil servants and tourists on weekday lunchtimes and concert evenings

It is known as the Footstool, in a nod to the legend that Queen Anne requested that the church be built to resemble a footstool. For more, see http://www.sjss.org.uk/pages/Restaurant/restaurant.htm

^Picture from geograph courtesy of Stephen Richards^

15 December 2009

The Woolpack, Bermondsey

You may have notice that since your author moved temporarily to Bermondsey it is getting more of a mention here. This is because his time there is limited and it is very worthy of a mention. If you need proof, look no further than the Woolpack, in Bermondsey Street, SE1, a lovely pub on a street which it's easy to miss. Bermondsey Street runs all the way from Tooley Street underneath London Bridge Station but because its entrance to the North is just a tunnel it is all too easy to miss.

The pub supposedly takes its name from Bermondsey's leather industry, which was very established in Victorian times, leading to the building of a Leather Exchange, opened in August 1879, which still stands today in nearby Leathermarket Street. Alongside the leather industry, associated businesses developed, including hatters who used the wool from the sheep. The Woolpack took it's name from these people.

The pub is welcoming with a great interior, a nice garden and a good range of drinks and averagely-priced food, considering its location. If you've never been to Bermondsey, you could do a lot worse than start here.

For more information, visit http://www.woolpackbar.com

^Picture by Ewan Munro^

14 December 2009

Go Ice Climbing in Covent Garden

If you're not already finding it too cold outside, and you fancy a challenge, the Vertical Chill ice climbing wall might be up your street.

Opened in 2003, the wall at the Ellis Brigham store in Covent Garden, is inside a refrigerated unit which is kept between -5°C and -7°C. It stretches 8m from the basement to the ground floor of the shop, where there are viewing windows, and offers climbing a chance to experience real ice climbing without having to travel hundreds of miles or wait for a period of intense frosts.

Unfortunately, however, it isn't cheap, and the owners will charge you £50 per person for a beginner session. After you become more experienced sessions are available with an instructor for £35 per hour, or if you know exactly what you're doing it costs £25 an hour to just turn up and climb. It all sounds a bit chilly for your author but it is more proof that there is in London all that life can afford...

The wall is open daily except Mondays until about 6.30pm. For more information, visit http://www.vertical-chill.com/

13 December 2009

Wander Southwark Park

First opened in 1869, Southwark Park is a 63 acre park in Rotherhithe, South East London.

The park stretches from the Thames to the North to nearly as far as Greenland Dock and has a cafe and a bandstand, built in 1884 and was originally sited in the Royal Horticultural Society grounds at South Kensington.

The park is also brim-full of sporting amenities, with an athletics track, a bowling green (open April - September), football pitches (August - March) and tennis courts.

There is a Friends of Southwark Park group and a Young Friends of Southwark Park group to enable the community to get involved in the management of their park.

For more, see http://www.southwark.gov.uk/yourservices/parkssection/azparks/southwarkpark.html

^Picture from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons^

12 December 2009

See Turner's The Fighting Temeraire

J. M. W. Turner painted a painting depicting The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up in 1838. In 2005, The Fighting Temeraire was voted the greatest painting in a British art gallery in a poll by the Today programme on Radio 4.

The ship itself was a a celebrated gunship that had fought in Nelson's fleet at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and the painting still hangs in the National Gallery, in Trafalgar Square. It was given to the nation by Turner in 1851.

For more, click here

^Picture from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons^

11 December 2009

Find Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square

Your author was lucky enough to be present in Parliament Square when Nelson Mandela came a little over two years ago to witness the unveiling of a statue to him opposite the mother of all Parliaments. At the time, he was in the process of preparing the celebrations for his 90th birthday. He ended up deciding on a concert in Hyde Park last year, and let's hope he got a nice cake.

On the day, Mandela recalled the story of how Mandela and his friend Oliver Tambo visited in the early 1960s and joked about their hope that one day a statue of a black person would be erected there, alongside that of the former South African leader General Jan Smuts.

7,000 people were present for the unveiling of the 9ft figure in a trademark Mandela flowery shirt, on the day that he joined Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. Shortly afterwards, a statue of David Lloyd George arrived and debate started about whether the Square was getting too crowded. Your author thinks it is fine.

For more, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/aug/30/southafrica.artnews

^Picture by victoriapeckham^

10 December 2009

Visit Europe's first Thai Temple

The Buddhapadipa Temple (or Wat), in Wimbledon, was the first Thai temple ever built in Europe. The temple began in Richmond in 1965 and moved to its current location on Calonne Road, in Wimbledon, just around the corner from that tennis place, in 1976.

Whilst this is a working temple involved in actively promoting theoretical and practical Buddhism in London, and has become an important European Buddhist training centre, the temple and grounds are open to visitors as long as they observe the rules. They cover approximately four acres and include an ornamental lake, a small grove, a flower garden and orchard.

The temple grounds are open from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm on weekdays, but the temple only opens at weekends, for the same hours. For more information, see http://www.buddhapadipa.org/pages/temple.html

^Picture from flickr courtesy of jrydephotography.co.uk^

9 December 2009

St James' Bermondsey

Your author has recently moved - albeit very temporarily - to Bermondsey and felt he should mention some of the delights he has found in this area of town. One highlight of his walk to work is St James' Bermondsey, an imposing church near to Bermondsey Tube.

The church was built as a result of events following the Battle of Waterloo and the 1818 Act of Parliament which was passed to raise a million pounds as a national offering for peace. South London secured the seven Waterloo Churches which were built with the money.

It was completed in 1829 and nowadays it is at the heart of the community in Bermondsey, and provides a welcome pretty view for the many flats in the new Bermondsey Spa developments. It is also still a place of worship for people of over 20 nationalities.

For more, visit http://www.stjamesbermondsey.org.uk/

^Picture from Geograph by Danny Robinson^

8 December 2009

Locate the notorious Tyburn Tree

At the point where Park Lane and Oxford Street meet, on the corner of Hyde Park, there was once a village called Tyburn, close to where Marble Arch now stands. It took its name from the Tyburn, a tributary of the River Thames.

Whilst the village was known for its water source, Tyburn Springs, and its Manor house, it was better known as the site of the infamous 'Tyburn Tree', a gallows where, between 1571 and the late 1700s, it is estimated that 40,000 and 60,000 people were put to death by hanging.

The Tree stood at the start of the ancient Watling Street, now the A5, which continued all the way to Holyhead. This was an entry point to London for many and the gallows was considered as a warning to travellers.

The hangings, of a range of religious figures, criminals and others, were public spectacles and drew crowds of thousands. So many came that Tyburn villagers erected spectator stands so that as many as possible could see.

For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyburn

^Picture by J'Roo^

7 December 2009

Brush up on your French at the London French Meetup

Your author is a fan of London meetups, part of the the world's largest network of local groups, and aiming to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize. One excellent example of the value of such things is the London French Meetup, which brings together French speakers regularly to have a chat and, where necessary, brush up on their language skills.

The next meeting is tonight, and will bring together a group of French speakers drawn from the online community of around 3,000 people, simply to speak French. The group is made up of 1/3 French nationals, 1/3 English nationals and 1/3 other nationalities and francophone countries.

The group meets centrally and this evening's meeting is in a bar just off the Strand, but you must join if you want to know more, and attend. They ask that you have a reasonable level of French and it all kicks off from about 6.30pm. For more, see http://french.meetup.com/32/

^Picture by Reinante El Pintor de Fuego^

6 December 2009

Find a 'Super Busker' in Covent Garden

A PR company has been in touch to promote the Christmas season of events in Covent Garden. As part of their 'Very Merry Christmas' events they are running one which sounded worthy of a mention. Along with the homelessness charity Crisis they are running Super Busks, a series of secret busking gigs in Covent Garden Market Building.

Gigs last week included the Saturdays (pictured), Athlete and the Guillemots and there are more to come next week. The programme is a secret, but they will be announcing who is on two hours before the gig starts, via their Twitter, @CoventGardenLDN and on Facebook.

If this sounds like your sort of thing, keep an eye out for announcements this week. For more details, see the Covent Garden Website.

^Picture of The Saturdays doing a superbusk from Flickr by Superbusking^

5 December 2009

Learn about motorbikes at the London Motorcycle Museum

The London Motorcycle Museum, in Greenford, is home to around 150 classic and British motorcycles, with the aim of exhibiting them to the public and celebrate the wealth and enjoyment of British motorcycling history and tradition.

The museum brings together motorcycles originally exhibited at Syon House, and now exhibits them in a former farm which was also used as an an Ealing Council depot.

Alongside the bikes, there is a tearoom and souvenir shop, and parking is free (presumably to encourage visitors to arrive by bike).

The museum is open Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from 10am - 4.30pm and admission is £3. For more information, visit http://www.london-motorcycle-museum.org/.

^Picture from Wikipedia^

4 December 2009

Drink ales at The Bree Louise

Your author has been featuring a lot of pubs recently, but there's always time for stand-out establishments, and the Bree Louise, a short distance from Euston Station, falls into that category.

Brim full of ales and nice people, the Bree Louise is run by Craig and Karen, who have extensive experience dating back to the 80's and a great passion for pubs. Their experience really shows here, with excellent food on offer and a great range of ales, which surpases the selection in your local and gives it the feel of a perpetual beer festival.

It's a perfect pub and there is even often discount for CAMRA and NUS members. Not only that, but there is a good food menu and a "pie of the day" with mash and veg for as little as £5.

For more information, visit http://www.thebreelouise.com/

^Picture by AndyRob

3 December 2009

Watch a film at the Genesis Cinema

It may not look that historic from the road, but the Genesis Cinema, at 93-95 Mile End Road, E1 stands is built on a site used for entertainment for over a century and a half.

It was first opened in 1848 as a music hall, and by 1912 it had been renamed the Mile End Empire and was being used as a cinema. By 1921 the Empire was owned by A. Goide & Partners who operated several East London cinemas. It's been through many incarnations since then, operating for some time as the ABC Cinema. Today, it retains its large auditorium, which is particularly large and is an atmospheric place to watch a film.

Films vary in price, but tickets start at around £5.50, which is very reasonable in your author's book. For full details of upcoming screenings, see http://www.genesiscinema.co.uk/

^Picture by Ewan-M^

2 December 2009

Visit St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey

Sat beside one of the most famous churches in the land, Westminster Abbey, is a smaller church with just as much history. Originally founded in the 11th century by the monks at the Abbey so that local people who in the area could have somewhere to worship separately, it has been rebuilt a few times, most recently in 1523, with restorations taking place in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

It is notable for its stained glass, as the final resting place of William Caxton, Britain's first printer, Sir Walter Raleigh and the poet John Milton, and also as the venue for the marriage of Samuel Pepys and Sir Winston Churchill (not to each other).

The church also plays host to various concerts. For more information on St Margaret's, visit http://www.westminster-abbey.org/st-margarets

^Picture courtesy of Swissdave^

1 December 2009

Bowl at All Star Lanes

The 50s American bowling alley theme is spreading. It started in Bloomsbury (or actually maybe in North America) and it spread to Bayswater in mid-2007 and Brick Lane in November 2008. All Star Lanes is all about the look from the uniforms to the 'authentic' displays on the walls.

It's just as authentic as when your author first went ten pin bowling on an airbase in South Gloucestershire in the 90s, but these guys know what they're doing and do reasonable food and drinks that are a little expensive but not hugely so.

Bowling costs £8.50 per person per game on peak and £7.50 off peak and if you're lucky enough to be a student still they do student Sundays where you can have a burger, a beer and a bowl for £15 at the Holborn branch. There's also karaoke at the Brick Lane one and you can even buy one of the staff's uniforms to take home if you love it that much.

For more, visit http://www.allstarlanes.co.uk/

^Picture courtesy of the_junes^

30 November 2009

Embrace winter at Winter Wonderland

Much as your author tries to deny it, it is now winter. The weather is awful, everyone is tired all the time and you can't sit down outside. It's not Christmas yet, whatever the advertisers say, but it's time to get used to the coldest time of year and look for ways to make it better.

As I'm sure anyone who has passed the park has noticed, over in Hyde Park, they've got wise to this, and erected a temporary shrine to all things wintry on that lucrative patch of grass where they put festivals in the summer.

In amongst the fun, there's London's largest ice rink, a giant Ferris wheel and a tent for Zippo’s Christmas Circus. There is also a German Market with 50 chalets, a North Pole Slide and plenty of Christmas oriented fun and games. The only problem is that it all comes at significant cost.

For more on the Winter Wonderland, visit http://www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com

^Picture courtesy of rp72

29 November 2009

Have Pie and Mash at F. Cooke

Your author is not clear on whether it's open on a Sunday, and it's pretty wet out, so maybe save this one for a nicer day, but F. Cooke's Pie and Mash Shop, on Broadway Market, is an interesting place to visit.

The decline of Pie and Mash shops seems to be continuing, with the loss of Goddard's in Greenwich a few years ago taking away one of the most visible examples, but F. Cooke's seems to be doing well.

Your author isn't sure he can recommend it as a culinary experience as food quality is a little patchy, but pie and mash and a cup of tea is certainly good value and will stop you feeling hungry and you will have had a genuine East London experience, if you encounter the owner, who author understands is called Bob Cooke, who was born above the shop and talks of the Pie and Mash trade with great pride, your day will be all the richer for it.

For more information see the East London Local blog.

^Picture from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons^

28 November 2009

Watch the skaters at the Soutbank Centre's Undercroft

It's easy to assume that the skate boarders and BMX riders who hang out on the South Bank underneath Queen Elizabeth Hall are a relatively new phenomenon. A bunch of feral hoodie kids who are an absolute nuisance. In fact, skaters have been practising here since since the 1970s and it is acknowledged to be London's most distinctive and popular skateboarding area.

Known as The Undercroft, it was originally an architectual dead-spot which has become the home of British skateboarding.

When rumours circulated that the area had been scheduled to be converted into shops last year, a campaign was mounted, and a petition from the Prime Minister even prompted a statement from Number 10 Downing Street, confirming that "The Southbank Centre has said that it has no plans to redevelop the Undercroft used by skateboarders. In fact, they are in close discussions with the skateboarding community about how to improve the current skateboard area and about how the community might become more involved in the Southbank Centre’s artistic programme"

Even so, there is no way of knowing how long it will last. However, one thing is for sure. If you're an angst-ridden kid with low slung trousers, a battered skateboard and an interest in falling over and you're looking for somewhere to hang out this sunny Saturday, you could do a lot worse than head for the South Bank.

For more see an article in Cooler Magazine.

^Picture courtesy of Afreen Rahim^

27 November 2009

Drink at the Blind Beggar

Your author struggled to choose the hook for today's item, as the truth is that the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel is a legend in itself. The pub is probably best known for its connection with the Kray Twins, after the incident in 1966 when Ronnie Kray shot and murdered George Cornell, an associate of a rival gang, as he was sitting at the bar. but there is so much more to it than that...

The pub is also the birthplace of the Salvation Army, as it was outside the public house which previously stood on the site that William Booth, founder of the organisation, gave his first open air sermon in 1865.

The pub itself was built in 1894 on a site previously occupied by another inn. The pub is named after Henry de Montfort, a son of Simon de Montfort, the famous leader who called the first directly elected parliament in medieval Europe. Henry was apparently wounded and lost his sight in the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and used to beg at the crossroads, becoming referred to as the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green.

For more on the Blind Beggar, visit http://www.theblindbeggar.com

^Picture by stevecadman^

26 November 2009

Listen to a lecture at the Royal Society

Many of London's seemingly impenetrable institutions are actually more than happy to welcome you along if you scratch beneath the surface, usually for free. That's very much the case with the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, better known as the Royal Society, in Carlton House Terrace, just off Pall Mall. It is the oldest scientific society in existence, and is the Academy of Sciences of the United Kingdom.

The Society was founded in the 1660s, and has moved a number of times in its long history. In 1710 it moved to Crane Court in the Strand, by the 1780s it was at Somerset House, and in 1857 it moved to Burlington House in Piccadilly. In fact, it wasn't until 1967 that it moved to its current location.

They run a series of free events and lectures, which are open to the public and cover a range of topics related to science, scientific history, technology, engineering, medicine, mathematics. For details, visit http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/events-diary/

^Picture courtesy of Matt From London^

25 November 2009

Find the house where Ian Fleming wrote James Bond's adventures

The author of the James Bond books, Ian Fleming, was a Londoner. He was born born into a wealthy family at 27 Green Street in Mayfair, but most of his books were written after he moved into number 16 Victoria Square in January 1953.

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At about the same time, he published his first novel, Casino Royale, in which he introduced an unknown secret agent called James Bond.

Live and Let Die followed in 1954, Moonraker in 1955, From Russia With Love in 1957, Dr No in 1958, and many others. Fleming lived at Victoria Square until his death in 1964, and a new James Bond novel appeared every year until the short stories Octopussy and the Living Daylights in 1966.

For more, see here or for more on Fleming see here.

24 November 2009

Get your skates on at the Lee Valley Ice Centre

The time is upon us when everywhere in the middle of town is preparing to open their overpriced tourist ice rink, but out in the Lee Valley Regional Park in East London, England they know how to do it properly, and do so all year round.

The Lee Valley Ice Centre was opened in January 1984 by Jane Torvill & Christopher Dean, in the same year they won their Gold Medal at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics. The ice rink is international sized and can host over a thousand skaters and spectators.

It is the home of the Lee Valley Lions amateur English National Ice Hockey League team, and also is the base for four synchronised skating teams. For the novices amongst us, there are public skating sessions every day for £6.60 (+£1.60 skate hire), and there are also lessons available and even 'Disco Skate' sessions.

The centre is on bus routes 48, 55 and 56. For more information, visit http://www.leevalleypark.org.uk/en/content/cms/Leisure/Activities_and_Sport/ice_centre/ice_centre.aspx

^Picture from Wikipedia^

23 November 2009

Climb the mounds of Northala Fields

Standing right beside the A40, a short distance from RAF Northolt, are four conical mounds, the the tallest stands at 26 metres. These are part of Northala Fields, one of London's newest parks, opened in 2008, and were constructed using waste material from the original Wembley Stadium the new Westfields shopping centre.

The mounds shield the rest of the park, created on the former Kensington and Chelsea's Playing Fields site, which includes a model boating lake, play areas and an amphitheatre, from the noise and pollution of the A40.

The project cost £5.5m, and started in 2000, but Ealing Council hit on a cunning plan to reduce costs, charging £70 to £90 per lorryload to dispose of spoil from the Wembley and Westfields sites, and using it to build the mounds, allowing the developers the added bonus of only transporting it 10 miles rather than the usual 100 miles to a landfill site.

Northala Fields lies within the Northolt and Greenford Countryside Park, which covers approximately 45 acres. For more information see http://www.ealing.gov.uk/services/environment/parks_and_open_spaces/new_developments/northala/

^Picture from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons^

22 November 2009

Have tea and toast at the Market Coffee House

The Market Coffee House, opened in 2001 on Brushfield Street overlooking Old Spitalfields Market, is run by Peter and Kay Sinden, a builder and City economist team who seem to have a pretty good idea how to run a nice cafe.

Some parts of the building itself apparently date from the 17th century, and it was formerly a warehouse for the Spitalfields fruit and vegetable market. The beautiful panelled interior was put together using the salvaged interior of The now closed Bell public house in Carter Lane, and salvaged oak from Hawksmoor's Christchurch, Spitalfields.

It is a lovely place to escape for a few minutes for a nice cup of tea, though your author did balk a little at being charged £8 yesterday for a cup of tea, toastie and a can of pop. Those behind the till seemed to think this was perfectly acceptable so we carried on.

It appears the Coffee House is soon to open an upstairs licensed restaurant, which sounds nice. For more on all aspects of the Market Coffee House, visit http://www.marketcoffeehouse.com

21 November 2009

Pub on the Park

It's a Saturday, so if you get bored or rained off wandering Broadway Market, why not seek shelter, a bite to eat and something to drink at the Pub on the Park, notionally on Martello St, but mainly on London Fields in Hackney

Formerly the Queen Eleanor public house, the Pub on the Park is a great spot in summer, with its large terrace overlooking London Fields, but its not bad in winter either. There is a well stocked bar and a reasonably priced food menu and it's always at its liveliest when showing Saturday afternoon sport, which it does very well.

For more, see http://www.fancyapint.com/pubs/pub543.php

^Picture courtesy of Ewan-M^

20 November 2009

Shop for foreign language books at Grant and Cutler

Grant & Cutler, on Great Marlborough Street, is the biggest foreign-language bookseller in the UK. The store stocks more than 55,000 books, DVDs, CDs and games in over 150 languages.

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Established in 1936, Grant and Cutler specialises in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Russian, but they claim to cover all living languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu.

The store is a short walk from Oxford Circus underground station and is open seven days a week. For more information, visit http://www.grantandcutler.com/

19 November 2009

The Three Kings of Clerkenwell

The Three Kings of Clerkenwell, on Clerkenwell Close, is a great little pub in an area which is lucky enough to be full of them. Will the Guardian's decision to move to Kings Cross have an impact on this the rich seam of excellent establishments, with less rich upper middle class Guardianistas to rinse away their cash there? Who knows. For now, let's just embrace them.

Your author sometimes feels he writes too much about pubs, but when you have so many excellent ones in town, and there are other countries in the world with none at all, he thinks this is fine. The Three Kings is a cosy little pub with an eclectic interior with a range of art-school rhino head and chinz style features, but not too much to make it overbearing.

It's a friendly place too, with an excellently stocked bar and food at lunchtimes and in the evenings, and when your author once stumbled into an upstairs poetry reading by mistake he was asked to join in, so we can add welcoming to that.

For more information, click here to see a review from the Guardian kids themselves.

^Picture by MattFromLondon^

18 November 2009

See the Queen on her journey to Parliament

It's tough to get a ticket to be on the pavement today in some areas of Westminster, but in others, if you pick your area well, you might catch a glimpse of every tourist's most sought-after London celebrity-spot, and one of the year's greatest displays of pageantry.

This morning, the Queen makes her journey from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament in order to open the Parliamentary session for another year. She's not the only one to be making the journey, and if you keep your eye out you will be able to see a number of royals and hangers-on all dressed up in their finery. The Crown even has its own carriage.

Down on Whitehall and Parliament Street, guards line the route and military bands play to anticipate her arrival. The Queen arrives in a horse-drawn coach, entering through Sovereign's Entrance under the Victoria Tower. The Royal Standard is then raised over the Houses of Parliament and remains in place until she leaves.

She then dons the Robes of State and the Imperial State Crown in the Robing Chamber, using a small worn throne that has been used by every monarch since Queen Victoria, and then proceeds through the royal gallery, usually accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, to the House of Lords, where there is a grander throne upon which she sits.

After the summoning of the Members of the House of Commons by Black Rod, she then gives a speech to announce the legislative programme for the next Parliamentary Session, which as it can only last until June at the very latest, is likely to be a controversial one this year.

Your author could go on about this forever, but probably best for him not to. If you are interested, please have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Opening_of_Parliament

^Picture of the Queen's carriage in 2007 by your author^

17 November 2009

Find St Augustine's Tower, Hackney's oldest building

Bit of a one for those who live in Hackney this, but it also helps to underline how much our city has expanded over the years. St Augustine's Tower, just off the Narrow Way in Hackney Central, is all that remains of the parish church of Hackney of St Augustine.

Built in the early 16th century, and formerly a place of worship for many noted dignataries including Thomas Cromwell, constant increase in Hackney's population meant that galleries were added to the church, by the 1780s it was no longer big enough to hold the constantly growing parish, and consequently the main church building was knocked down in 1798, in order to build the new Church of St John-at-Hackney, often using the old stone as building material.

After the eight bells of Hackney were relocated to the new church in 1854, the tower was for a while used as a public mortuary, and a tool shed, before eventually falling under the care of The Metropolitan Borough of Hackney in 1912. Ever since then it has been preserved for the Borough, either by the council or heritage organisations.

For more information, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Augustine's_Tower_Hackney

^Picture by Fin Fahey^

16 November 2009

Drink in a nursery rhyme pub - The Eagle, City Road

Another piece of East London trivia relates to The Eagle, on City Road. You may be aware of the site, even if you have never been to the area, for the Eagle plays a key role in the nursery rhyme, "Pop Goes the Weasel".

The rhyme, which apparently has its origins in the mid 19th century, contains the words:

"Up and down the City Road
In and out the Eagle
That's the way the money goes
Pop! goes the weasel"

A bit of digging in the London Encyclopaedia tells us that the rhyme probably refers to the music hall which was here as early as 1825, and this makes sense because the earliest record of the rhyme is in a music sheet acquired by the British Library in 1853.

After being a music hall the building became a Grecian Theatre, playing host to melodrama, music and ballet, and it was not until the early 20th century, after demolition, a rebuild and brief spell as a Salvation Army centre, that it became a pub.

It remains a pub, albeit one full of loud music and poser kids who spend too much time on their hair, to this day, but still manages not to quite be as rubbish as some places in the area. Tuesdays are wine night, where a bottle of wine is £7.95. Avoid the quiz, as when your author last visited on quiz night the chap who ran it was unfeasably annoying and loved the sound of his own voice more than life itself.

For more information, visit http://www.theeaglehoxton.co.uk/

^Picture from geograph by Stephen McKay^

15 November 2009

Discover the Dogs of Alcibiades

Bit of a Sunday post this one, but at the moment the sun is out so what better chance are you likely to get at the moment for an autumnal walk in the park.

Just inside the Sewardstone Road, at the Westerly end of Victoria Park are the now badly damaged Dogs of Alcibiades which have stood here since 1912.

Donated by Lady Aignarth, the sculptures are copies of 2nd Century Roman statue of a dog held at the British Museum. The dog in question originally belonged to Alcibiades, a 5th Century Athenian statesman and friend of Socrates.

Sadly, the statues have been badly damaged in recent years, but maybe one day soon they will be repaired.

14 November 2009

Watch the Lord Mayor's Show

The Lord Mayor's Show takes place in the City of London today. The weather may not be great, but the organisers are keen to stress that it has only ever been cancelled once, for Wellington’s funeral.

Your author seems to remember that the weather was pretty awful at the start of last years parade, and then the rain stopped and it was jolly nice, so you shouldn't let a bit of rain put you off. The show takes place under the watchful eye of the Lord Mayor of the City of London and is one of the longest established and annual events in London which dates back to 1535 (or 1215, depending on who you listen to). One interesting aspect of the show is that it is the origin of the word "floats", which is often used in the context of carnivals. The Lord Mayor used to arrive by boat, apparently, and was followed by a procession of "floats".

The parade includes all sorts of military, business and community organisations, and the Great Twelve Livery Companies (the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Merchant Taylors, Skinners, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers) also take part, as does the Lord Mayor himself, in his special coach. If you're still enjoying it when dusk falls, don't forget the annual firework display, which begins at 5pm.

For more on all aspects of today's activities, visit http://www.lordmayorsshow.org/
But don't hang about. It starts at 11am.
^Picture from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons^

13 November 2009

Get back to nature at Bow Creek Ecology Park

Near the site former site of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company in East London, is Bow Creek Ecology Park, redeveloped into an urban nature reserve with streams, ponds, footpaths, observation points and seats. The park also features an external classroom from local children.

The park is on a peninsula at a bend in the River Lea, which it shares with the DLR between East India and Canning Town, and is home to a range of flowers and insects during the summer months, when ponds teem with newts and Water Scorpion. At low tide, the mud at Leamouth also attracts flocks of waders such as Redshank, when they are in season.

For more information, visit the Lee Valley Park website here.

^Picture courtesy of LoopZilla^

12 November 2009

Drink with politicians in the Red Lion

The Red Lion, on the corner of Whitehall and Derby Gate, is a magnet for politicians and civil servants, despite being overpriced and at one time allegedly suffering from a dubious bill of health from Westminster City Council. The pub sits across the road from 10 Downing Street, the Treasury and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and is also surrounded by office buildings for the Houses of Parliament and the Department of Health.

Despite its prices, this pub is synonymous with Westminster drinking culture, and it was even here that the Government chose to announce their change in licensing laws in 2005, rather than in one of the numerous bars inside the palace itself.

The current interior is late 19th century, but there has apparently been a pub on this site for much longer, and politicians, civil servants and journalists have drunk here in equal measure for generations (sometimes literally). In fact, so much part of the machinery of Government is the Red Lion that your author once heard a rumour that a replica had been built in the Cold War nuclear bunker to which the Government were to be evacuated in the event of an attack.

On most afternoons/ evenings you can still find a Member of Parliament propping up the bar, providing you know who you are looking for. If you have trouble spotting one, watch for someone dashing out of the door when a loud bell sounds. The Parliamentary division bell is installed in all local bars to make sure they don't miss key votes.

^Picture by ell brown^

11 November 2009

Find the entrance to Sweeney Todd's barber shop

Whether or not Sweeney Todd was based on fact or urban legend, he came to fame through a serial titled The String of Pearls, which was published in the 1840s. In the story, his barber shop is at 186 Fleet Street, beside St Dunstan's church, and is connected to Mrs Lovett's pie shop in Bell Yard by a secret passage.

Todd murders his customers by slitting their throats and then pulling a lever to drop them through a trap door into the basement. As your author remembers the tale (second hand, admittedly) Mrs Lovett then assists him by baking the flesh into meat pies, and the bones are stored in the crypt of St Dunstan's.

Whilst 186 Fleet Street is now, rather unatmospherically, a branch of Kall Kwik, to the rear, with access down the side of the next door shop, Hen and Chickens Yard still has an air much like it might have done in the mid-1800s and you can imagine Sweeney Todd stood at the door, beckoning you inside. The only problem is that nowadays it smells overwhelmingly of wee.

For more on Sweeney Todd, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd

10 November 2009

Take your little angels to the Little Angel Theatre

The Little Angel Theatre, on Dagmar Passage in Islington, is a 100-seat puppet theatre, established in 1961 in an old temperance hall.

Aimed at people of all ages, but particularly appealing to children and families, the theatre uses every type of puppet and draw their themes, styles and stories from around the world.

The Theatre also holds puppet clubs for children and beginner and professional evening courses for adults, where you can learn how to make and operate puppets.

Tickets for the current show are £12.50, and the courses cost up to £160. For more information, see http://www.littleangeltheatre.com

^Picture by aburt^