London Transport 150 At The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre

Although it’s some time away, I thought it might be useful to fill you in on a steam-related event coming up in early August – a London Transport 150 event organised by the London Transport Museum and the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.

Of all the celebrations taking place as part of the network’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, this has to be the biggest in the calendar, taking place at the Quainton Road station in Aylesbury on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 August and the following Wednesday – if you’re wondering about the connection, Quainton Road was a Metropolitan Line station up until 1936 and has been .

The highlight of the weekend will be the opportunity to take trips on several vintage carriages pulled by Victorian steam trains. Vehicles that will be put to use include the now-restored Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the Metropolitan Jubilee Carriage 353 which was built in 1892 and fully restored last year, as well as the ‘Milk Van’ – this train transported milk from the dairies of Buckinghamshire and returned with a full load of horse manure!

There will lots of activities to keep the kids occupied, including trips on the 1km long miniature railway that the Vale of Aylesbury Model Engineering Society (VAMES) operates, plus story-telling with Pluto (a puppet version of an early Underground train) and a Family Trail around the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre and Quainton Road station.

Amongst the classic vehicles on static display will be the Brill Tramway ‘tram’ from 1872 alongside a Metropolitan Railway Open Wagon which dates from the era when the Underground also carried freight, and a First Class dining carriage from 1901 which was used on services out of Euston, and then pressed into use as the equerries dining car on the Royal Train of all things.

Another rather special carriage to visit will be Queen Mary’s 1940 Royal Carriage which has particular significance in the context of the Second World War – it was used by Churchill and Eisenhower as a discreet place to meet to discuss war planning in the run up to D-Day. You’ll also be able to try your hand at being a postman with several Post Office carriages, which up until 2004 were used to sort mail throughout the night between large cities on the rail network.

Several documentary films will be screened throughout the London Transport 150 weekend, the most interesting being Sir John Betjemen’s 1973 ‘Metroland’ where he mused about the way that the Underground had spurned the development of London’s leafy suburbia. It’s really worth seeing – a very thoughtful snapshot of life in 1970s London.

Tickets for this event cost £10 in advance for adults and £7 for children (£9 concessions and senior citizens £9). If this sounds appealing I would get your tickets booked quickly – given the number of railway and transport fans around it’s bound to be wildly popular!…

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The Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow

Over in Walthamstow Village, the area’s historic centre, you’ll find the Vestry House Museum, the borough’s main museum and home to the Waltham Forest Archives and a Local Studies Library which has a wealth of material on the history of the area since Roman times.

  

The Vestry House Museum buildings

The museum, which occupies a network of connected buildings just across the street from the parish church, has a lot of interesting displays that explore various aspects of Walthamstow’s past, including information on the museum buildings, which had previous uses as a post office and the local police station (there’s even a reconstructed Victorian cell in one of the gallery spaces on the ground floor). You’ll also find displays dedicated to Walthamstow’s industrial heritage – did you know, for example, that Walthamstow had it’s own camera manufacturing company for 50 years, the Ensign company, and that as far back as the 1930s they produced popular camera models in a range of colours? I had always thought that was rather a recent development, but clearly not! There’s also an area dedicated to the world’s first ‘horseless carriage’, which was manufactured in Walthamstow. The museum also has a pleasant formal garden with raised beds of flowers at the rear of the building if you want to take a break from local history for a few minutes.

  

A William Morris wallpaper pattern

One gallery at the museum currently contains a small selection of material from the William Morris Gallery over on Forest Road, while that building undergoes a multi-million pound refurbishment until its reopening in July 2012 to coincide with the London 2012 Olympics. You can find out more information about the project at this link on the Waltham Forest website.

Entry to the museum is of course free, and it is open from 10am until 5pm from Wednesday to Sunday each week. The museum also lays on various special events and activities throughout the year, which you can find out about here.…

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The Flying Karamzov Brothers @ Vaudeville Theatre – A Review

Last night I was over at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand to check out the Flying Karamazov Brothers – a group of juggling American comedians and musicians (wearing kilts!) who are playing at the theatre until September.

It was an interesting evening, involving jazz, gentle comedy and some absolutely remarkable feats of juggling. Of the set pieces, I found the most entertaining ones to be  ‘The Challenge’ (where audience members are invited to contribute items for the performers to juggle, or pick from a selection on the stage – last night we selected a rain jacket, a toy VW Beetle and a chocolate cake for Dmitri, who also produces the show, to juggle!) and ‘The Terror’ which involves items that are introduced throughout the show to be juggled as the piece de resistance at the end of the evening. It was a rather eclectic assortment of items, including a very sharp looking meat cleaver, a flaming torch and a block of dry ice! A young lady from the audience also got more than she bargained for, but you’ll have to go and see the show to find out why…

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are also rather slick jazz musicians and can even beat out a convincing rhythm on piles of cardboard boxes! All in all, this show stands out as a rather an unusual theatre-going experience and possibly won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re a bit tired of glitzy West End musicals then an evening at the Vaudeville Theatre might be the perfect antidote. Tickets for the Flying Karamazov Brothers shows are available direct from the theatre here including some Sunday matinees, which are very unusual in the West End…

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Sir Anthony Caro’s ‘steelworks’ @ Canary Wharf

Jubilee Gardens in Canary Wharf is currently playing host to some of the work of sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. Taken together, these pieces represent a retrospective of his career, although focusing exclusively on his work in steel – amongst the sculptures you’ll find ‘Fossil Flats’ from 1974, ‘Eastern’ from 1985 (the garishly yellow piece up on the mound), ‘Equator’ from 1994 and ‘Three Up’ from 2010.

If you want to go along to investigate Caro’s work for yourself, they will be on display in the park, which you’ll find directly behind the main entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, until 25 May.

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A Preview Tour of Portsmouth’s Mary Rose Museum, Opening On 31 May

I’m rather ashamed to say that I’d never been to Portsmouth before, so the opening of the new Mary Rose Museum was a great excuse to head to the south coast on a day trip out of London. I found lots to see and do and plenty to appeal to all kinds of visitors, not just for lovers of naval history.

The train journey from London took about an hour and a half to Portsmouth Harbour station, where you arrive right in the heart of all the things that you would want to see – in fact you’re still in the station when you catch sight of the huge HMS Warrior. Britain’s first iron hulled ship, she is a warship that was launched in 1860 and was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet – the fastest ship of her day.

Exiting the station, you can choose to turn right to the Gun Wharf or left to the Historic Dockyards. I started with the right side of the station as my eye was taken by the striking white Spinnaker Tower rising 170 metres above the harbour. Entry costs £8.55, which gives you access to 3 different levels with the top one taking you to 110 metres and a lovely looking cafe on the middle level. The views are really wonderful out to sea, over old Portsmouth and across the Historic Dockyards including a glimpse of HMS Victory and the Mary Rose Museum. On the first level there is plenty of panorama information if you are new to the area and audio guides for each vista. One added bit of fun is the glass floor on the top level for the very brave to stand on!

 
 

 
 

 
 

Passing the cafes on the water front and the handsome yachts in the marina, I walked through old Portsmouth to the Round Tower. This landmark fortification has watched over Portsmouth Harbour since the early 1400s and is close to the site of the sinking of the Mary Rose herself. I was keen to see the Square Tower, the cathedral and the D-Day Museum but was running short of time so had to head off to the Historic Dockyards.

The Mary Rose Museum opens tomorrow, 31st May and is an amazing museum which is well worth a day trip out from London on its own. It sits in the heart of the Historic Dockyards which is packed full of other museums and displays of naval goods – on the way to see the Mary Rose you even pass HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship during his victorious battle at Trafalgar, which sadly cost his life. It’s a wonderful ship and I’ll have to visit again to have enough time to do justice to a tour of this beautiful ship.

 
 

 
 

 
 

I was getting excited as I approached the Mary Rose Museum, as I remembered the news of this Tudor warship from Henry V111’s fleet being raised from the sea floor back in 1982. Since then she has been undergoing intensive …

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Two Foodie Events – Ben & Jerry’s and Free Bagels

First is the annual Ben & Jerry’s Double Scoop Sundae Festival, which takes place on Clapham Common on the weekend of the 23rd and 24th July. 15,000 tickets are available on each day and this year’s festival is being headlined by Maxïmo Park and Ocean Colour Scene. Maxïmo Park will be supported on Saturday by Ash, Fun Lovin Criminals and others, while on Sunday Gary Numan, The Duke & The King, Little Comets and Sound Of Rum will be adding to the atmosphere for headliners Ocean Colour Scene.

You’ll also be able to visit the staple of Ben & Jerry’s festivals, a petting zoo, and there’ll also be a fairground and bare toe wrestling competitions… Unsigned bands are also being invited to take up slots on the main stage through a competition called ‘Be Herd’. Acts can submit music and video at the festival site and also be in line for a cool £1000 prize to the overall winners. Tickets are now on sale at £17, but as this is a decidedly family-friendly festival children 5 years or under are admitted free (as long as they’re with an ice-cream loving responsible adult of course!). Keep an eye on Ben & Jerry’s Facebook and Twitter for further announcements regarding acts that will be appearing on stage.

 
 

Secondly, there’s a freebie coming up in the form of free bagels from the New York Bakery Co. who are celebrating American Independence Day on 4 July. Head over to Canvey Street, behind the Tate Modern, from 12 lunchtime and you’ll be able to sample one of their bagels, but don’t wait too long otherwise the bagels will run out!…

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TheLondoneer: Tequila Tasting @ Wahaca Soho

On arriving we were ushered downstairs from the main restaurant floor down into their more intimate bar space for a tutored tasting in that classic Mexican spirit, tequila. Before going on to describe how the evening developed I will just mention the decor – there’s a long coloured chainlink curtain that runs almost the whole length of the bar which is picked out with a Mexican ‘day of the dead’ theme that is very odd indeed, as are the strange arrangement of wall lights. That and the bank of table football contraptions overlooking the outlandish WC area makes for rather a jarring experience – the atmosphere is certainly not that of your typical soho bar… Before we got down to business we were invited to try out their unusual cocktails – I had a spiced chocolate cocktail that I can only describe as a punch in the throat from a velvet glove. I can imagine that if chocolate isn’t your thing you’d absolutely hate it, but the next time I’m back there its going at the top of my ‘wants’ for the evening.

So on to the tasting then , which was conducted by their chief tequila guru. Not many people are aware of the way in which tequila is made, so before I go on to describe the particular ones that we tried last night I’ll tell you some interesting facts about the drink itself. Tequila is made exclusively in the Mexican region of the same name (much like champagne can only come from the Champagne region in France) by harvesting the blue agave plant found in the valley of Tequila (from 1400-1500 metres above sea level) or up in the Highlands (at over 2100 metres) after it has been allowed to grow for a period of between 5 and 9 years. After it is picked this fibrous plant is then slow-cooked to bring out its sweet and syrupy qualities in traditional brick ovens or by using a more modern autoclave method, and then distilled in pot or column stills (not disimilar to the way in which whisky is produced).

Although blended tequilas are available, the ten different varieties that we tried tonight are all 100% (well 99% actually – producers are allowed to introduce 1% of a very limited number of additional ingredients if they wish to) and came from the three main kinds of tequila – tequila blanco (which is made from unaged spirit), reposado (which is allowed to age for up to two months) and anejo (which can be aged up to 1 year but only made in quite small batches). There are two other types which we didn’t try tonight but I’ll mention them for completeness – gold tequila, which is a mixture of blanco and the more aged spirits and extra anejo, which as you might guess is aged for up to 3 years.

Now I won’t go into copious detail about each one on tonight’s menu but I will just mention that the …

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Spitalfields Life – Book Review

Spitalfields Life, published earlier this year, is an intimate literary record of everyday life in the historic area of Spitalfields, just to the east of the City of London.

Built up over two years, and the product of over ten thousand posts gathered from spitalfieldslife.com, this anonymously penned tome (authorship is ascribed to ‘The Gentle Author’ ) paints colourful pen pictures of Spitalfields workers, residents and visitors, both past and present.

In its densely packed 428 pages readers are taken on a journey that peers down every backstreet, climbs over the wall of every yard and knocks on every front door. Amongst the characters behind those doors are Molly, an old East End ‘swagman’ (the Delboy-like market stallholders who take pride in selling anything and everything that comes their way) and Fred, another denizen of the local markets who has been selling chestnuts from his roasting pan for over forty years.

In a section entirely devoted to the Spitalfields Antiques Market, Spitalfields Life takes you by the hand and introduces you to a whole succession of stallholders, including Giovanni (who sells antique Italian leather gloves) to Rishi and Thomas who have a taste for the macabre (if it’s stuffed and mounted they’ll sell it!). Columbia Road Flower Market also gets its time in the spotlight, with a behind-the-scenes look at  what goes on there on Sunday mornings, often before sunrise, when the sellers set out their displays of freshly cut flowers.

Spitalfields Life contains pages and pages of insights and anecdotes – it will furnish with far more knowledge than you could gain even in a year of wandering around the area. Given its size and heft it’s not a volume that will find a comfortable spot in a rucksack or shoulder bag however – this one is for dipping in and out of while you’re winding down at home.

I highly recommend picking this up – it’s the most lovingly crafted book of its type that I’ve seen in a very long time and which will, no doubt, keep me busy for many long winter evenings. Spitalfields Life is available from all the usual places – you can pick it up on Amazon right now for £13.50.…

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The Yvonne Fletcher Memorial @ St James Square

With the end of Gadaffi’s regime in Libya I thought it would be appropriate to revisit the event which had a direct impact on London itself, back in the 1980s. Tucked away in a leafy corner of the pretty St James Square, just down the street from the royal residences of St James Palace and Clarence House, you’ll find a modest memorial to a brave policewoman. WPC Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down in cold blood on 17 April 1984 as she was policing a peaceful protest outside the then Libyan Embassy. Fletcher’s murder by an unknown assailant resulted in the cutting of diplomatic relations with Libya for over 15 years, and to date her killer has not been brought to justice. I wonder, with the death of Gadaffi and many of the senior officials surrounding him, whether we’ve now lost any opportunity to find out the truth of what happened on that day…

If you’d like to visit the memorial and perhaps pay your respects, you can find it here:…

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The Ideal Inner-City Car For London

London’s crowded and cramped streets mean that a large saloon can become a major headache in the city. Here is our list of top five compact cars that will allow you to negotiate the back streets and squeeze into small parking spots:

Fiat Panda

The Fiat Panda is an ideal city car. Although its size means that the leg room in the rear is slightly restricted, it’s an easy vehicle to manoeuvre around those cramped and busy city streets. It has a rather unique, funky and eye catching design, as befits a metropolitan run-around. It’s also cheap to run. If you want a little more power it comes in a 4-wheel-drive version.

Volkswagen Up

Voted What Car’s City Car of the Year 2013, the Volkswagen Up is a stylish and economic little number that’s perfect for urban driving. Where the Volkswagen surpasses its Fiat designed contemporary is in space. Despite its small size, it has plenty of space to keep the driver and passengers comfortable. However, its engine power is not quite so intense and you’d find driving this on the motorway a bit of a struggle.

Hyundai I10

The most budget-conscious car on this list, the Hyundia I10 gives you a lot more than you pay for. But the savings don’t just stop there – it’s also incredibly cheap to run so you’ll find yourself making continued savings on fuel too. Despite its low cost, it a very well equipped car and pretty spacious, considering its size. Probably not best geared up for long haul journeys, but what city car is?

Kia Picanto

The Kia Picanto wins top marks for its classy interior and well-thought-out driving position. It’s comfortable to drive and has a decent amount of space for extra passengers considering its size, plus it also comes with an unrivalled seven-year warranty. Unfortunately, this car falls down on its handleability: it can prove a little jerky in traffic and its engine doesn’t offer a great deal.

Toyota iQ

This might just be the coolest of the cars on this list – it’s certainly the coolest looking. This vehicle is perfect for the younger driver and would suit more than a few media types down to the ground. It’s cheap to run, easy to drive and environmentally friendly, emitting some of the lowest carbon emissions of any city car going. It’s also pretty easy to slide this vehicle into a tight little parking space in Soho.

Unfortunately it costs a little more than our other picks, but what it saves you in fuel costs should more than make up for that. Luckily, Car Loan 4U can help with your car finance. Head over to their website to find the best deals on car loans.…

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