Category Archives: Things to do

Guest post: A guide to art galleries in East London

If there’s one thing that East London has in abundance, it’s art galleries. With well over 100 to choose from, there are enough to keep ardent art lovers going for years.

The fantastic First Thursdays initiative offers a wonderful way to dip your toe into East London’s art scene for free, but if you’re just looking to amble along to a couple after work or while on a short break in London, here’s a brief introduction to some of the best.

Barbican, Silk Street, EC2
Okay, so everyone knows about the Barbican, but it would feel a little strange talking about galleries in East London without mentioning it. This is the place to go if you want to see works by huge international artists before taking in a film, concert or dance performance – it really is a great all-round arts venue.

Whitechapel Gallery, Whitechapel High Street, E1
Another big player, Whitechapel Gallery is the organiser of the aforementioned First Thursdays scheme and also awards the well-respected Max Mara Art Prize for Women. Lots of big names have exhibited here and the venue holds many fascinating talks, workshops, children’s events and more throughout the year.

Chisenhale Gallery, Chisenhale Road, E3
You might come across the next big thing if you visit Chisenhale Gallery. This vibrant space housed in a converted 1930s factory prides itself on hosting exhibitions highlighting the work of new artists. Look out for displays of art by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Amalia Pica later this year.

Limehouse Gallery, Docklands, E14
Limehouse Gallery provides the opportunity to see some quite frankly amazing bronze sculptures right next to where they were made. Sharing a site with the Bronze Age Sculpture Foundry, the venue showcases works by artists in the UK and the rest of Europe. It also occasionally exhibits paintings, stone carvings and art in other media.

Viktor Wynd Fine Art, Mare Street, E8
Now for something completely different. Quirky, delightful and sometimes shocking, the exhibitions at Viktor Wynd Fine Art aim to promote an eclectic range of artists – upcoming events include an ancient Egypt-inspired display of work by James Putnam and an exhibition relating to the late Sebastian Horsley, who once attempted a crucifixion to inspire his painting. Viktor Wynd himself is an artist who helps run The Last Tuesday Society, which holds spectacular balls and parties, as well as lectures delving into all kinds of weird and wonderful subjects.

Wapping Project, Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, E1
The setting of this arts centre is just as fascinating as the exhibitions it holds. The Wapping Project has preserved much of the interiors of the original 19th-century power station it’s housed in, treating visitors to chains, pipes, brick walls and other industrial features against which all kinds of art are displayed. A restaurant and bar can also be found onsite, so this could be a great destination for a full day out in East London.

Matt’s Gallery, Copperfield Road, E3
The well-respected Matt’s Gallery has a reputation for commissioning installations that go on to achieve considerable fame. Perhaps the best known of these is the engine oil-soaked 20:50 by Richard Wilson, which is the Saatchi Gallery’s only permanent installation. The gallery is a definite must-visit for art that really makes you think.

Vyner Street Gallery, Vyner Street, E2
Vyner Street Gallery is another venue ideal for discovering new talent. Specialising in student and graduate exhibitions, this is perfect for seeing what the cutting edge of contemporary art looks like. Who knows? You might end up purchasing an artwork that’s worth a small fortune in a few years’ time!

This is just a handful of the wonderful art galleries you can visit in East London. Post your recommendations in the comments below.

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Pushing a pram around East London

One of the key bits of advice I was given by baby books was ‘meet other mums’. It’s a bit like starting a new job and getting to know your colleagues, you see.

So once I’d had the child I dutifully took myself off to Tiny Toes mothers’ group, baby swimming lessons, music sessions and yoga. It was all rather exhausting, but I did meet a couple of like-minded souls, so it was worth it in the end.

After a while we sort of naturally outgrew Tiny Toes, in that my son is not a small child and I no longer felt the need to recount my birth story in visceral detail to anything with a pulse, which seemed to be the main therapeutic function of Tiny Toes. And then I was informed that my son would need to repeat Stage One of swimming lessons, as he didn’t like being dunked underwater, and that brought up a lot of my issues about being picked last for sport, so we ditched that. And yoga was at the local Surestart children’s centre, so got axed, obviously.

The only group we stuck with, albeit sporadically, was Music & Movement at the Sebright Children’s Centre. The session is run by a musician called Coram. He’s a bit of a character, takes great pleasure in yanking dummies from babies’ mouths and hurling them at the mothers, and sometimes doesn’t show up because he’s at Glastonbury with his band or some other glamorous excuse. It’s standing room only at his sessions. You sing, bang drums, fling children around and generally have a ball.

Other things to do in East London with a cling-on in tow are:

Movies at the Rich Mix in Bethnal Green and the Rio in Dalston. A godsend in the early days as a kind of dimly lit retreat from the shock of it all. Rich Mix also has a play session with a qualified movement therapist. Slightly pointless if your child doesn’t actually move yet, but I had a fascinating conversation with a crime scene investigator mum so it was worth the trek.

London Fields Lido is nice on a sunny day if you bring a couple of mates and take turns to swim.

Hackney City Farm is awesome – homestyle Italian food and the odd guinea pig or donkey wandering about to make it educational.

Buggies & Bikes at Broadway Market hold baby signing classes and other things.

Up in Stoke Newington you have baby swimming lessons at the Sunstone Women’s Gym and Mothers Talking sessions with Naomi Stadlen, author of the brilliant What Mothers Do (Especially When It Looks Like Nothing) and How Mothers Love, which I’m still to read.

Hackney Library has singing sessions and a good book selection.

And don’t forget to get your Real Nappies For London cloth nappy voucher from Hackney Council – pictured above. Ok, you might not use them all the time, but even one nappy a day means 365 fewer a year into landfill.

But if you stay in your PJ’s all day then that’s fine, too. Other suggestions/tips welcome.


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The Last Tuesday Society’s Hendrick’s Spring Lecture Series

Going to be slightly lazy today because it’s such a beautiful day and I want to be outside…. so thought I would post The Last Tuesday Society’s email verbatim, which lists their lectures for the year. I’ve only visited once – it’s a funny little shop on Mare Street – and got a bit spooked by the basement ‘museum’, which has scientific specimens of deformed baby skeletons, old fur coats, creepy dolls, coffins, that sort of thing, but I’ve been on their mailing list for a while and always feel a bit smarter just by reading the lecture timetable, let alone attending. I’ve also been meaning to go along to one of their quarterly seances, but these seem to get booked out rather quickly. Anyway, have a read and drop in to visit them soon. All lectures are held at the Mare Street shop.

Thanks to Free Art London for the image.

19th April 2011
In Search of the English Eccentric with Henry Hemming
The English eccentric is under threat. In our increasingly homogenised society, these celebrated parts of our national identity are anomalies that may soon no longer fit. Or so it seems. Henry Hemming will describe his  thought-provoking quest to discover the most eccentric English person alive today, unearthing a surprisingly large array of playfully outspoken, original and inspiring characters. Tickets £7 or £4 with adequate proof of extreme poverty.

27th April 2011
Mask Making Workshop
The Last Tuesday Society are now offering the abridged version of their popular mask making course in preparation for their May Masked Ball. Within a two hour workshop you will be led through the process of creating your own masks using a variety of mediums from papier mache bases to lace and resin. All materials are included. Tickets £12

28th April 2011
Billionaires, Buddhists, and the Sex Life of Peacocks with Dr Peter
What connects Roman Abramovich in his super yacht and the Buddhist nun Tenzin Palmo who spent years living in a small cave in the Himalayas? When we gaze in reverence at the generosity of a bodhisattva, why can we see the shadow of the Marquis de Sade at the gate to enlightenment? And when Freud ‘discovered’ the link between the female nose and clitoris, what was it that he was struggling to protect and what does that tell us about the sex life of peacocks and narcissistic disturbance in childhood? In a journey that moves from meditation to murder and ends in the pleasures of Tantric sensuality, Dr. Peter explores the psychology of sex, power and human gullibility to give us a disturbing glimpse into what our future as a species might bring, from what places we can draw hope, and why we should burn the bestselling book ‘The Secret’. Tickets £7 or £4 with adequate proof of extreme poverty.  Continue reading

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Become a London beekeeper…

The hayfever season now looms – the Daily Mail is already shrieking – which means two months of sniffling and hiding indoors on breezy days and cursing at the BBC Pollen Count. Every year I try different remedies – acupuncture, antihistamines, ionisers, anything. I’ve also heard that eating the honey made locally can ‘immunise’ you against local histamines, although there’s not (yet?) any scientific evidence to back it up.

The most well-known local variety is Hackney Honey, which was photographed by Gabrielle Motola and featured in The Guardian. I’ve found it in H Tidman Butchers on Broadway Market, but it’s best to get in quick as honey is harvested throughout summer so tends to sell out by the time you need it the following spring.

Space Studios on Mare Street produce honey on their rooftop, and Hackney City Farm has hives. Or you can buy London honey through Urban Bees, although their 2010 stocks have sold out and the 2011 harvest won’t be available until June. And it’s also sold at quaint British food deli A Gold in Spitalfields.

Alternatively, if you have a garden, roof terrace or allotment, you can produce your own. Bees are thought to thrive in urban environments because there is such a rich variety of flowers in private gardens and parks as well as railway sidings and unused scraps of land. It’s not cheap – the going rate this summer for a swarm of bees is £150, plus you need to buy a hive and bee suit, but from one hive you can harvest around 40lb of honey. London honey is described as ‘multi-floral’ and light in early summer, becoming darker and richer towards the end of the season.

To find out more or book a course, visit Urban Bees in Kings Cross. Set up by Brian McCallum and Alison Benjamin (author of A World Without Bees) , they have established 20 new hives on rooftops and in community gardens and allotments across London. Urban Bees is a social enterprise sponsored by the ethically minded Cooperative Bank, who began as Rochdale Pioneers and established the first successful co-operative in 1844. Having already invested £500,000 into Plan Bee, their own bee protection and education programme, funding from The Co-operative helped Urban Bees get started.

If you have a good idea and could benefit from a £5,000 cash injection, visit The Cooperative’s ‘Join the Revolution’ site or their Facebook page. And if you have a hayfever remedy, send it my way.

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The Olympics site…

Now that weekends start a little earlier (Saturday kicked off at 4.30am – not that I’m complaining; if I’d known how little sleep you actually need to function I probably would have invented something quite significant before having a baby), it’s become necessary to build a scheduled family excursion into the day. Otherwise you just get sucked into a vortex of daytime television, hanging tiny little clothes over radiators and wiping tiny little bottoms, and it’s nice to have a change from Monday to Friday (just kidding, I only watch Medical Emergency and Emergency Bikers… and The Jeremy Kyle Show if I’m feeling masochistic). Basically, as long as it has caffeine we’re there.

Last Saturday we finally got around to visiting the Olympics site. Heaving. Tour groups, out-of-towners with notebooks of the day’s activities (‘Next we’re off to Hackney) and a few hungover blokes workshopping the night before, which made for nostalgic eavesdropping.

The Container Cafe does good coffee, cute little pies and things like bacon sandwiches, all very pleasant, and once you’ve done that you can look at the building site, which includes Zaha Hadid’s stadium and the Anish Kapoor tower.

It does all beg the question, though – is it worth it? So much money, materials, work, bulldozing etc for such a short period of time. So unsustainable. And I remember visiting the Manor Garden allotment, years ago, with a friend who had a plot there. It had been granted to the community by a private philanthropist almost 100 years ago. It was beautiful, like being out of the city altogether. But it was taken and bulldozed (think of the soil quality, after 100 years of planting…) to make a footpath for two weeks. You can read more about the allotments here, and see photos. 

Somehow, when I think of the Olympics I will always think of that allotment. It takes time to make a place that special, and to wipe it out so carelessly, amid so much protest, seems short-sighted and disrespectful to the past. I’m thinking of this today because I finally finished Cloud Atlas, and the last pages talk about how ‘one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself…’

Later on, when I was walking through London Fields, I saw the first tour guide I have ever seen in Hackney, saying something along the lines of, ‘Now we’re going to Broadway Market, which as you’ll see is very different from Ridley Road Market…’ When Hackney is on the tourist map you know things are changing…

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Swedish Brunch at The Claptonian Arts Club, Clapton

There are quite a few supper clubs and underground restaurants in East London (and London in general), but only one that does Swedish brunch – The Claptonian Arts Club. I’m not entirely au fait with the idea of going round to an unknown house for dinner – what if there’s cat hair everywhere? What if they just can’t cook? But I liked the sound of the menu, and somehow the thought of eating an unfamiliar cuisine is more appealing than going round to a stranger’s place for scrambled eggs on toast

We were emailed the address once we booked, and found the place by spotting a row of very Scandinavian-looking candles burning in the window. On arrival we found ourselves in a rather Swedish-looking room – all white walls and beautiful glassware and artwork on the walls (the girl who runs it is an artist, and uses the room as a gallery and studio as well.) Continue reading

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The Annual Clown service at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston

The annual Clown Service is held on the first Sunday in February every year at 3pm (worth checking exact time), in memory of the clown Joseph Grimaldi, and to honour clowns who have died. According to Wikipedia:

A famous ‘sad clown’ anecdote was first told of Grimaldi: A young man goes to see his doctor. He is overcome by a terrible sadness and doesn’t think anything will make him feel better. The doctor says, “Why not do something happy, like going to see Grimaldi the clown?”. The young man answers, with a knowing look, “Ah, but Doctor”, he says, “I am Grimaldi.”
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