Shoreditch Street Art Tours Goes Off-Piste @ Hackney WickED

Last weekend saw the very welcome return of Hackney WickED, the annual weekend long arts festival that turns the normally quiet streets of the Wick and Fish Island into bustling thoroughfares, worthy of Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon!

Although the major draw to the area for most visitors was the opportunity to visit the artists’ studios, perhaps snapping up some bargain-priced artwork, or checking out the live music, craft fair and food in Queens Yard, I had a different purpose for visiting…

I was on my way to the auditorium of the Yard Theatre for an hour-long talk by Dave from Shoreditch Street Art Tours on how best to capture street art, followed by a two hour walk around the area to put what we’d learned into practice. Now I’m no novice when it comes to photography but you never stop discovering new techniques and ideas, and I was surprised at how little I really knew about snapping this particular form of public art in an effective and compelling way…

After the talk (more on some of the salient points that came up in a moment) it was time for us to undertake our circuitous route of Hackney Wick. Maneuvering around the growing crowds we saw the bright new coating that the abandoned Lord Napier pub has received in the last few days, and a few other brand new pieces of street art. Apparently just prior to the start of Hackney WickED several of the locally-based artists had been out painting, spraying and pasting up their work. I was quite awed by the fact that were were very probably the first group to subject these pieces to close examination, and to capture them for posterity…

Now in terms of photographic techniques, I won’t spoil the surprise (or indeed deprive Dave of revenue) by telling you everything that I discovered, but I will pass on two key points that you should bear in mind when photographing street art. Firstly, it’s important to put it into context i.e. to demonstrate how it interacts with its surroundings, or indeed to show how people react to it. Secondly, when you’re bored with capturing a piece of street art straight on (which is a bit like photographing a painting – a rather uninspiring thing to do IMHO) you could think about abstracting the image in some way. The most obvious, but by no means only, way to do this is to use reflective surfaces to distort the image – perhaps capturing the art in a puddle, across a canal or indeed in a car wing mirror, as we attempted to do on Sunday afternoon!

Below you’ll see some of the photographs that I took on Sunday – hopefully they show that I managed to retain some of the advice that I received earlier in the day. If you’re interested in spending a morning, an afternoon or indeed an evening on one the Shoreditch Street Art Tours yourself, you’ll find the dedicated page here – …

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Londoneer: What’s Behind The Marble Arch?

I’m sure that most tourists who have visited London have taken the opportunity to go and see the Marble Arch, which sits at the end of Oxford St in London’s West End, next to Hyde Park. I imagine that most of them assume that it is just another of London’s war memorials (similar to the Arc De Triomphe in Paris), but its history is actually a lot more complex than it at first appears.

In actual fact, it’s not where it should be. It was initially designed as the gateway to the newly rebuilt Buckingham Palace by John Nash in 1828, so at that time it sat on The Mall, in approximately the same position as the large monument to Queen Victoria which now sits in front of the building. When further changes were made to the Palace in 1855 which added a fourth side facing out onto the Mall (in front of which you’ll regularly see the Changing of the Guard these days) it was moved piece by piece over to its present position. Of course it also gives its name to the local tube station which, if it had never been re-sited, would probably have been called Cumberland Gate station, or perhaps Edgware Road South?…

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The Mystery Of The ‘London Stone’

Almost down at ground level along London’s Cannon St you’ll find the ‘London Stone’.

Virtually invisible behind it’s heavy iron grill, this piece of oolitic limestone sometimes known as the ‘Stone of Brutus’ has various tales attached to it – some say that it is all that remains of a neolithic stone circle and some, rather more romantically, insist that it is the stone from which King Arthur drew his sword Excalibur. What all the stories agree on however is that if it is ever removed from the City of London, London will fall…


Up until fairly recently you could get a much better look at it, as the shop which currently has a  ‘To Let’ sign was a sports outlet and from the interior the stone is only protected by one sheet of plate glass. This site was due to be redeveloped but that seems to have stalled, which is a shame because they were planning to move it just across the street to form the centrepiece of a new building, where it would have been in a much more prominent position. This proposal caused some consternation amongst conservation groups, however the reality is that the ‘London Stone’, or ‘Stone of Brutus’, has been moved several times in the past – the first recorded instance being in 1742 when it was moved from the centre of the road to stand next to St Swithun’s Church, which has since been demolished.


It has certainly been on Cannon Street for some considerable time because references to it appear in accounts dating back to 1188, but how many centuries it has stood there altogether is anyone’s guess. For anyone venturing along to see it who is suddenly struck with the need to imbibe, there’s a rather quirky ‘gothic’ basement bar just two doors down which opened fairly recently, funnily enough called ‘The London Stone’.…

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A Complete History Of London @ The Draft House – A Review

Just down the street from Tower Bridge you’ll find the Draft House pub. Entertaining visitors down in their basement until 24 April is a rather bold experiment in story-telling – A Complete History Of London, which in one hour precisely takes you all the way from the time when London was just another part of the ocean bed right up to the present day and Boris’s current shennanigans.

A Complete History Of London is the first play by Tim Chapman, who left his banking job with Barclays to become a playwright, but fortunately it doesn’t feel like a first attempt. In fact taken as a whole I thought it came across as tightly scripted and mature with some genuinely hilarious moments – the audience certainly spent much of the time screaming with laughter. That’s a pretty solid indication of its comic potential!

The show involves a rotating cast of three characters who, through a series of lightning-fast costume changes, introduce us to the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Stewarts and the Tudors via the Black Plague, the Great Fire of London and other important moments in London’s history – even the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 gets in on the act as does that slimy conspirator, Guido Fawkes…

Much of the middle of A Complete History Of London is taken up with a combination of encounters between Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh and the Noble Bard, and it is this section that provides much of the amusement although that does come at a price. I doubt that many of the tourists going to see the show will pick up on it but I did think that this was a little derivative of Black Adder – the portrayal of a lisping, capricious Queen and nervous courtiers will always bring Rowan Atkinson’s work to mind…



What I enjoyed most of all about A Complete History Of London was the last three minutes, which was the amount of time alloted for the cast to cover the last three hundred years of London’s history. A big ask you might think, and made all the more difficult because these one hundred and eighty seconds involved rapid-fire rhyming couplets that bounced around between them – a superb piece of writing and worth a standing ovation at the end of the show in anyone’s book.

Tickets for A Complete History Of London are priced at £14.50, with performances daily at 1pm and 3pm – perfect to break up your day if you’ve spent the morning at the Tower Of London or somewhere along the Southbank. You’ll find tickets online here.…

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The Bear @ Ovalhouse – A Review

The Bear is a play by Angela Clerkin and Lee Simpson – a co-production with Improbable, it is currently running in the Ovalhouse theatre’s downstairs space. It begins with the most startling opening that I’ve seen in a long time – the stage lights slowly rise on a big perspex box, 10 feet on a side, and within it is the indistinct shape of a big, brown bear appears, roaring and clawing at the ground. This scene fades, and when the lights come up again Angela Clerkin and Guy Dartnell are standing in front of the box, ready to explain the premise of the play.

The main character, played by Clerkin, is a solicitor’s clerk who finds herself assigned to a case where a suspected murderer blames the crime on a bear. As the play develops via dialogue between the characters interspersed with some rather deftly performed musical numbers, we slowly discover that the main character suffers from a pathological need to be physically abused, and that the bear of the title might be uncomfortably close at hand in more ways than one….

The Bear is a very neatly stitched together package – Clerkin plays her character with a genuine fragility, while Simpson is wonderful as a whole cavalcade of characters, including a larger-than-life maiden aunt, a drunken uncle, the prisoner and more. Along with some simple yet very effective staging and imaginative sound design, it comes together as a very satisfying and thought-provoking whole. Highly recommended.…

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Londoneer: A Polish Discovery Around The Corner – Londek

Living in London I think it’s always important to keep your eyes wide open when you are wandering around, just in case you miss something. I learned my lesson earlier this evening when I discovered, next to the Polish delicatessen in Stratford which I have actually visited previously, a little Polish restaurant which I had no inkling was there, called ‘Londek’ (Londek is the cutesy way of referring to London in Polish as I understand it).

This place is a gem, and serves food familiar to me from my many trips to Polish cities over the years – they serve various sorts of Pierogi (the Polish staple of boiled ravioli-style parcels stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables) as well as Gołąbki (pronounced ‘gowomki’ which is rolled cabbage leaves stuffed with mince and rice in a spicy tomato sauce) and Bigos (a spicy sauerkraut soup with with various meats). Apart from that they have a fantastic selection of specials almost as long as their normal menu and a wide selection of Polish cakes and pastries – ideal if you happen to be wandering by in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon (or at any time in my case!).

The big plus about this place is the price – the main courses are all about £5, including a side of vegetables, not very much more than what you’d pay anywhere in Poland for this kind of food. I’ll leave you with a little tip – if you happen by for a meal you must order a glass of their ‘kompot’ – a mixture of fruit juices that actually has whole berries floating in it – the acidity of the drink is great for cutting through those heavy Polish dishes 🙂…

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Londoneer: HostelBookers Christmas Advent Calendar Competition

I do love finding out about fun competitions and this is a good one from HostelBookers, with the added bonus of having a seasonal Christmas theme 🙂

The company, who you may know offer a service for booking budget accommodation in London and elsewhere, are running a 24 day Christmas giveaway in the form of an advent calendar which runs all the way up to Christmas Eve. Prizes on offer include free stays in London youth hostels, an iPad, Sony digital cameras, shopping vouchers and more besides!

All you have to do to enter the competition is to look out for a daily question posted on the HostelBookers Facebook page and email your answer to [email protected] Each day over Advent there will be a different question that will test your knowledge of different Christmas traditions across the world. There’ll also be some photo competitions popping up on the site over the month, so keep your smartphone or camera close by so that you can get your entries in quickly. You can find out all of the details and enter the competitions on…

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Book Readings By Arachne Press @ Crow On The Hill, Whitechapel Ideas Store & Keats House This Month

Arachne Press, publishers of London-themed short story collections Stations & London Lies (the first of which I reviewed recently) are hosting three free book reading events across London this month:

On Thursday 10 January several of the authors of Stations will be reading their stories at Crystal Palace’s specialist bookseller Crow On The Hill from 7pm with additional readings from London Lies – the bookshop is an appropriate venue given that no less than three of the short stories in Stations make mention of the local park. A week later on 17 January the Whitechapel Ideas Store will feature an evening of readings of the Stations stories that have an East End twist, from 6pm.

To mark the launch of Lovers’ Lies, the latest publication from Arachne Press, at the end of this month there will be a special celebration in the wonderful Keats House in Hampstead on Sunday 27 January. Special readings from the new stories will be presented and visitors to the event will be able to pick up signed copies of the book, as well as gaining access to the house itself – arrive at 2.30pm to participate.

Finally, to mark LGBT History Month, which falls on February each year, Arachne writers Cherry Potts, Paula Read and actors Gloria Sanders, Sarah Feathers and Will Everett will be dramatising passages from their Lesbian and Gay themed stories and those by Jessica Lott and Catherine Sharpe at a celebratory event at the Deptford Lounge from 7pm on Monday 11 February.

Follow Arachne Press on Twitter for updates about these special events.…

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Sampling The Spanish Dining Experience With Richard Bigg At Camino Puerto Del Canario

Earlier this week I was a guest of one of London’s taste-makers, the ‘self-proclaimed Hispanophile’ Richard Bigg (who runs London’s three Camino restaurants and bars as well as being the co-owner of Brick Lane’s Big Chill bar) for a dinner at his Westferry outlet, Camino Puerto del Canario.

That’s not where our evening started however, as Richard joined us on the Thames Clipper at Embankment pier, with the sherry (bottles of Manzanilla and Amontillado) starting to flow as soon as the engines kicked into life. Conveniently, Camino is located just next door to the Canary Wharf river pier over on the western edge of the Isle of Dogs, so the river service is probably the most convenient (and a rather special) way to get there.

With all the decor in the venue sourced from the home country, this space overlooking the river really does feel like a little part of Spain – if you avert your eyes from the glittering spire of The Shard off on the horizon you could be in a trendy restaurant anywhere from Bilbao to Seville, and that description definitely applies to the food!

Dishes that arrived at our table during the evening included tiny pots of Sopa De Alcachofa (Jerusalem artichoke soup with oxtail and truffle oil), light-as-a-feather Croquetas De Jamon (Serrano ham croquettes), spicy little Pimientos De Padron (sautéed green peppers with sea salt) and one of my all-time tapas favourites, a buttery bowl of Arroz Negro (black callaspara rice flavoured with cuttlefish and squid ink).…

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