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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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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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Thursday night feast at the Hackney City Farm

P1010040Oh, to be a pig at Hackney City Farm! Look at how they smile in their sleep. How they look so utterly content with their lot in life.

 And last Thursday night I knew exactly how they felt. How? By turning up to the farm’s weekly ‘agroturismo’ dinner, made from their own produce. Yes, the Frizzante café is now serving an Italian feast once a week.

 When we arrived it was still light, and a few people commented on how strange it was to find a small farm in the middle of Hackney.

We started with a couple of plates of wild boar salami and salsa verde with toast, and grilled peaches with rocket and ricotta. For mains there was an eggplant and mozzarella stack, served with a generous bowl of multicoloured tomatoes, and homemade pasta with crisp speck and summer zucchini, and grilled yellowfin tuna. For dessert we had pavlova, piled with English strawberries and cream, chocolate tart with ice cream and a cheese board with toast and fruit.

P1010161-1The dinners are usually BYO, apart from once a month when Frizzante puts on live music and gets a liquor licence, but there’s an off-licence across Hackney road, so you can pop out for a bottle between courses.

Service is sweet, if a little slow, but they are still finding their feet and the atmosphere is so relaxed it doesn’t really matter.

We ate out on the verandah, with little paper bag lanterns and candles on the tables and a faint barnyard whiff in the air. I almost forgot I was in London.

Hackney City Farm, 1a Goldsmiths Row E2 8QA, Tel 020 7729 6381
hackneycityfarm.co.uk

PS while looking up the website I just noticed that a local author, Jojo Tulloh, launched a cookbook, Freshly Picked, that very same night in the farm’s veggie garden. Here’s a link to her blog… 

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Spring things to do in East London

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The streets are alive with bird songs and the gentle hum of vacuum cleaners. Joggers are battling their way around the parks, hoping to shed that winter padding, and crocuses are starting to appear in the parks. Soon the constant, menacing hiss of central heating will fall silent, and windows will be flung open (windows apart from ours, that is, which are open even on the darkest days – not because I like to live an icebox, but because the other member of my household believes closed windows are extremely unhygienic).

So what are the best ways to celebrate spring in East London?

 Well, the festival season has started, with East from 5-10 March. Iain Sinclair will be talking about his book Hackney, that Rose Red Empire, at the Southbank, plus there are more than 300 arts, music, food and fashion events.

If you’ve got kids in tow, Hackney City Farm would make a good spring stop. Their Frizzante café does good breakfasts and snacks, the kids can go feral with no raised eyebrows and there is even an aggressive turkey to keep everyone on their toes. 

Columbia Road Flower Market has plenty of tulips at this time of year, and lots of strange little shops to look at – I quite like the cupcake shop myself. From there you can continue down to Brick Lane – stop off at the Beigel Bake for a salt beef bagel and on to Spitalfields, then wander towards Whitechapel to Tayyabs. The best tandoori lamb chops (or lamp shops as my German friend Caroline calls them) in London. Get there early to beat the queues. If the weather turns, there is always Dennis Severs’ spooky house to retreat to – although retreat is perhaps not the word. 

Walk along the Grand Union Canal from Victoria Park to Limehouse Basin, where you can have a pint and maybe something to eat at The Grapes, a tiny pub built in 1720 where Dickens used to drink. There’s a little deck out the back where you can sit right on the Thames, and a fish restaurant upstairs.  

The London Word Festival runs from 7-25 March – it’s an alternative writing and music showcase… I quite like the sound of the Ox Tales on 24 March (tbc), which will be held at the Slaughtered Lamb pub in Clerkenwell, not far from the famous Smithfield meat market. It will feature readings of meat-inspired prose and poetry, plus an ox tongue dissection to wrap things up. Not one for vegetarians, obviously.

 

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