Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Sri Murugan Temple @ Manor Park

Everyone in London seems to have heard of the huge Shree Sanatan Hindu Mandir temple over in Wembley, but no-one discusses its immediate predecessor - the slightly smaller Sri Murugan Temple built in 2005, which sits in rather an incongruous spot on the quiet Church Street in Manor Park.

It took five years to complete and is constructed from granite and marble cut and carved in India which was then shipped over for assembly on-site. It has a glorious main tower covered with statues of gods and godesses which have been executed in the most intricate detail - it's breath-taking I'm sure you'll agree!

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Royal Gunpowder Mills @ Waltham Abbey

Yesterday I visited the Royal Gunpowder Mills just outside Waltham Abbey in Essex. This huge site (half the size of Hyde Park in central London) had an important role in the production of gunpowder, and later cordite, from the early 1800s until 1991.
The various exhibitions on the site are located in the complex of buildings near the entrance. In the main hall you'll find a large series of displays dedicated to the site's history, alongside an impressive new section, the Armoury, which is dedicated to small arms. Here the fruit of a single collector's efforts are on show which, for people with an interest in World War II small arms, will be very exciting indeed as there is at least one example of every rifle and machine gun used by both allied and axis forces throughout the conflict. You can even handle some of them - in fact I had an opportunity to feel the weight of a Bren gun and lift a Mark II Lee Enfield rifle to my shoulder on my visit. Located nearby there's also an exhibition space where you can discover the story of women at war, a building dedicated to rocketry and a small gallery where you'll find dioramas of how local people lived during the war, which includes a grocery shop and a mock up of an Andersen shelter.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The National Museum of Computing @ Bletchley Park

Yesterday I was over at the complex of wartime concrete buildings and wooden huts that make up Bletchley Park, the site famous for the code-breaking that took place during the Second World War. The main purpose for my visit was to investigate Block H, which houses the National Museum of Computing, but more on that in a moment.

The facilities at Bletchley Park are not, as you might have imagined, centered around the imposing mansion that forms the centrepiece of the site (and which these days spends most of its time being used as a conference and wedding reception venue) - your visit actually starts at Block B where you'll find the newly restored 'Turing Bombe' machine used in early attempts to crack the coded messages produced by the Nazi's 'Enigma' machine. Close by this exhibit is a remarkable statue of the Bombe's designer - mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, intricately carved by artist Stephen Kettle. Elsewhere in the building is a large collection of various types of Enigma machine, an impressive recreation of a World War II German Signals Group bunker and other static displays.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Chopin Returns To The Royal Festival Hall

Lying undiscovered for twenty five years in a storage space under Waterloo Bridge after being removed from the Royal Festival Hall, a remarkable statue of Frederick Chopin by Polish artist Bronislaw Kubica has just been reinstated next to one of the entrances to the building after its official unveiling by the Duke of Gloucester this week.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mad Blud @ The Theatre Royal Stratford East - A Review

Last night I was down at the Theatre Royal Stratford East to see a performance of Mad Blud, the play about knife crime, which has a 10 day run at the theatre.

Created by Philip Osment, the play is now in its third incarnation having been refined over several years of performances at the theatre. I have to say that last night was a very different theatre-going experience, which started in rather a strange fashion - we were directed away from the auditorium towards the rear of the theatre when we arrived and walked inside to discover that both audience and cast were actually behind the fire curtain and on the stage itself. Several levels of raked seating had been set up along the sides of the stage while the cast occupied a central area covered in astro-turf. Occupying two seats on the front row, we could have reached out and actually touched the actors who were only a foot or two away.

The play itself was very challenging - Mad Blud deliberately sets out to give the audience a visceral understanding of the impact of knife crime on both the perpetrators and their victims. Rather than learning scripts, each member of the cast wore an ear piece and was fed the actual voices of people directly affected - mothers, sisters and even the murderers themselves talking about their personal experiences, which they then repeated verbatim. It made for extremely uncomfortable listening at times - one particular scene involved a mother laying flowers at her child's grave which brought tears to the eyes. There was a rather sweet attempt at levity when three of the male members of the cast donned hats and scarves and then proceeded to act out dialogue by a group of older Afro-Caribbean ladies, but that was only a momentary distraction from what was in essence a series of touching conversations about death, tragedy and loss.

At the end of the play the lights dimmed to reveal the names of all of the local kids who had been killed written on the walls in ultraviolet pen, which had tears springing to my eyes again. There was then a further 30 minute conversation between audience members, the cast and the director which revealed that there were several people in the audience who themselves had been involved in these kinds of situations. You'd have to have a heart of stone to leave the stage after the performance not feeling profoundly influenced by the experience of watching Mad Blud unfold - I took in a very deep breath of cold air and had a very stiff drink afterwards to steady myself...

Mad Blud is a real tour de force by a group of very talented young actors, and is very definitely highly recommended.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

May 2011 London Bloggers Meetup @ The Long Acre

Last night found me down in the rather funky basement bar of the Long Acre just up the street from Leicester Square in London, for the May meeting of the London Bloggers Meetup Group.

As always, the event was organised by Andy Bargery, and there were lots of interesting new people there to meet and greet. One of the most interesting people I bumped into tonight was Shimelle, who runs 'online scrapbooking classes' - no, I'm not sure what means either, so perhaps you should head over to her site to see what it's all about?

The main guest speaker tonight was Paul, who runs travmonkey.com - a neat site that's packed full of really useful travel tips that cover destinations from here to Timbuktu - he's a very well-travelled individual! There was also a panel a little later on which brought in a representative from hotwire.com (the straightforward holiday booking site which guaranteees the lowest rates for hotels) and also from my absolutely essential travel site, tripadvisor.com. I never ever book a hotel without looking on tripadvisor first - it's saved me from several potential disasters in the past!

Another great night was had by all - if you blog about any aspect of London, whether it's the theatre, food or great places to relax on a Sunday afternoon, I can really recommend coming along to our next event.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Thrills at Thorpe Park

Yesterday I ventured over to Staines, Surrey, to make one of my very rare visits to a theme park. Although it is physically located in Chertsey for those of us who don't have cars, Thorpe Park is a conveniently short shuttle-bus ride away which you can catch just outside Staines railway station.

Thorpe Park was established in the late 1970s with the support of Lord Mountbatten (although it doesn't bear his name any longer. the domed Mountbatten Pavilion still stands just behind the entrance kiosks) but became what you might consider a theme park proper when its first rollercoaster was installed - the rather modest Space Station Zero (now known as the Flying Fish) in 1983. This was followed in 1989 by a log flume ride which also still exists on the site, 'Loggers Leap'. Thorpe Park is now one of the attractions owned by the Madame Tussauds group.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Dalston's Secret Underground Bunker Plays Host To 'Bunker PLC'

Last night saw us descending into what is euphemistically called the Dalston 'bunker', a secret underground complex dating from World War II just off Abbott Street, for a unique event, 'Bunker PLC', organised by ScreenDeep.

After queueing up for a while outside with a small group of other willing victims we were ushered down the stairs into this concrete underground complex to begin our 'initiation' with this fictitious mid 21st century company. In a dimly lit room an actor posing as a quirky human resources officer with a strange verbal tick ("A pen sir? Hmm? Hmm?) had us all complete a form with a series of aptitude tests on it - given the lighting I couldn't see, so I activated the torch function on my phone to cast some light on the subject - for which I got some praise for my initiative!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Artswrap Live @ Electrowerkz

Last night I was invited over to the Electrowerkz venue behind Angel tubestation to a live evening of entertainment organised by Artswrap, the news and reviews website to check out for anything and everything related to culture - from the visual arts via literature to live jazz.

I think the evening was organised, in part, to show the variety of the areas that Artswrap covers, as the first happening on the main stage was a monologue by Arinze Kene, a British-Nigerian playwright, from his new work 'Little Baby Jesus' which is showing at the Oval House Theatre from late May to mid June. Following that were a few of the numbers by the myriad cast members from 'Just Enough For The Real World', an edgy musical about human trafficking written to support the work of the Helen Bamber Foundation. Wandering around the venue we also came across the Squarepegs who were performing in the 'Courtyard', the large space in Electrowerkz where you can grab a drink from their bar, converted from a tube carriage, or a bite to eat from their BBQ. A string trio, they interpret music with a 1920s flair - even the theme song from Inspector Gadget got the swing treatment!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Testing Out TasterLab in London

For the last few days I've been looking over 'TasterLab', a site that gathers together interesting experiences that you can have in London for the first time to see whether they might become part of your regular lifestyle...

Most of the taster sessions on offer are free (or at least heavily discounted) and don't carry any obligation to continue with the provider, and there are quite a varied set of things you can try out. Looking at some of the listings you can see whether kickboxing might be for you with a free session at the Epic Gym in West London, look into your diet with a nutritionist from UrBod at three central London locations, or investigate one of the new collaborative working spaces springing up in London, in this case through HubCulture in Soho who are giving away free day passes so that you can check out their facilities. If there is a downside, most of the tasters only have one provider  and there are some noticeable gaps: there's nothing on art classes or photography for example. However, I'm told that a new version of the site is going up in June which will have lots more options,  and it certainly seems to be gaining popularity in its current form - they have more likes on Facebook than I do for one thing! TasterLab is worth checking out I think - it might be right up your street if you're looking to fill some time with a new hobby or two...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Museums At Night This Weekend

Over the coming weekend several museums in London and elsewhere will be opening their doors for special evening events as part of 'Museums at Night'.

A 1940s-themed evening at the Churchill War Rooms will be taking place on Friday 13th, while over in suburban Ilford, Valentines Mansion will be opening their doors for a Future Shorts film night. Elsewhere the London Canal Museum in Kings Cross will be having a candle-lit evening on Saturday with art and film exhibits and the Government Art Collection will have one of its very, very rare public openings for a guided tour which will include the workshops and archives, which they've imaginatively called 'Bedtime Stories'.

You can find a helpful listing by theme on the Culture 24 website here, as well as a google map showing the participating museums. I hope you manage to get along to something.

Summer Season & The Open Stage Website @ The Theatre Royal Stratford East

I have lots to tell you about regarding my local theatre this week, the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

The theatre has just launched the 'Open Stage' website, which is an experimental new approach to programming performances at the venue. They've taken the very brave step of asking us lowly punters what we would like to see on stage from January to July in 2012 to coincide with all of the activities taking place at the Olympic Park just across the road. If you haven't been lucky enough to score some tickets for the athletics you could do worse than give your mind a bit of a workout over at the theatre... You can get involved in various different ways, by making suggestions, voting on shortlisted shows and even volunteering at the theatre - there's more information on the website here.

Serco Prize for Illustration @ The London Transport Museum

Unfortunately I wasn't able to go along earlier this evening, but tonight saw the award ceremony for the Serco Prize For Illustration take place at the London Transport Museum. Many of the entries to this year's competition featured very stylised graphic art - if you're a regular traveller on the underground network you'll recognise this as a common theme of information posters used on the tube over many years, dating all the way back to those iconic posters from the 20s and 30s where people were exhorted to move to the extremities of the network to enjoy country living (fat chance of that these days!). This year's winning entry by Anne Wilson, a children's book illustrator from Reading, is a case in point and a classic in the making I'm sure.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Thames Barrier Park @ The Brunner Mond Memorial

Sandwiched between the DLR and the Thames next to Pontoon Dock station you'll find the Thames Barrier Park. Opened in 2000 next to the Thames Barrier itself, the park came about as the result of a competition launched five years before.

The park has some lovely formal features, including vistas along its length that frame the barrier and the Thames itself as well as some interesting pieces of architecture. It's most striking feature is the flower meadow which contains hedges sculpted to look like waves, although they currently look a bit threadbare - no doubt down to the distinct lack of spring rain in London this year. It's a rather unexpected treasure in the middle of what is now a fairly barren part of town now that the heavy industry has moved on - the only thing that breaks the monotony of the empty factory sites are the expensive riverside apartment complexes that are dotted around (not that I'd live there personally - not enough going on for my liking!).

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Rich Mix Summer Season Launch Party

Earlier this evening I went along to the free summer season launch party at Rich Mix, sponsored by Havana Club, to promote the upcoming events and activities at what many would say is the east end's best arts and culture venue.

The Rich Mix building is an interesting space, developed in 2006 to serve the local community as an arts centre. On the ground floor it includes a main performance space, where you'll find live music and spoken word in the evening (and sometimes conferences during the day - I went to one there last year), a BBC studio and a cafe that has a huge selection of Movenpick icecream (they make Haagen Dazs look like amateurs - it's the best icecream going if you ask me!). There are also several cinema screens that show independent films from across the world and a theatre which hosts dance and drama performances. The complex is also home to several local creative companies. In my view it's a great asset to Shoreditch and the surrounding area, and I've enjoyed every event I've been to there.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Screen Deep's 'Bunker PLC' at the Dalston Bunker Next Week

From next Monday the 'Dalston Bunker', a genuine WW2 era underground complex on Abbott Street, will be playing host to Screen Deep's 'Bunker PLC' for one week - an interactive experience where visitors are invited to see what life is like in the year 2031.

I'll be visiting the installation on Friday evening and according to their website I'll be seeing humans pollinating bees, vertical farming and 'weather modification police' (whatever they might be). As well as the artists who are participating there are also performers, so I imagine that the experience will be similar to one of Tom Spindler's events (although hopefully less gruesome!).

If you want to check it out yourself, you just book one of the timeslots on their website - it's only £7 a pop for what looks like  an absolutely unique experience!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Shrek The Musical Lands In London

Just a quick heads up to let you know that previews of 'Shrek The Musical' begin tomorrow night (Friday 6 May). The show features stars such as Nigel Lindsay, Richard Blackwood, Nigel Harman and Amanda Holden and, if they've managed to capture the humour and pathos of the feature films, a night out at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane will be a heart-warming experience I'm sure.

I hope to have a review of the musical up on the blog in the next few weeks, but in the meantime here's a video of members of the cast singing the classic Shrek anthem, 'I’m a Believer’. You can also check the show out on Facebook here.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Chornobyl's Darkest Hour

For those with an interest in photography of challenging subjects, the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and The Embassy of Ukraine in the United Kingdom have organised a month long photographic exhibition to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl (Chornobyl in Ukranian) nuclear disaster, called 'Chornobyl's Darkest Hour'

The photographs, which are on show at the Association's HQ in Holland Park, have come from the archives of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine, and will be on display until early June. I'm definitely going over there to check them out in the next few weeks - let me know if you live or work around there and want to come along. Opening hours for the exhibition are 10am until 7pm, Monday to Friday.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

East End Film Festival - Movie Mayday Disaster...

Yesterday, we went over to Brick Lane to check out the 'fringe' event, Movie Mayday, which closed out the week long East End Film Festival.

I have to say that, on balance, it was quite a disappointing experience and I'll explain why. We arrived at the organiser's stall at 1pm (the festival ran from 12pm to 8pm) to find that all of the ticketed events were now full, so we had to make do with visits to the other things that were going on. Now that's not really the fault of the organisers - if anything it's a testament to how popular this annual festival has become.

Monday, 2 May 2011

East End Film Festival in Brick Lane - 'Movie MayDay' Today!

Today is the last day of the week-long East End Film Festival, and it's going out with a bang this afternoon and evening with a full programme of free events along the length of Brick Lane and the surrounding streets with 'Movie MayDay'.

All you need to do to join in is head over to the Vibe Bar to pick up a map of the locations where film and performances will be taking place, from 12 lunchtime until 8pm tonight. You can head over to live music venue 93 Feet East for underground politics and music, or go over to the Brickhouse for seven hours of cutting edge video techniques brought to you by 'Brainwash's Music Video Evolution'. Fans of European film are even accommodated, with several hours of Scandinavian film making at the Fika Bar and Grille. You can find the full programme online here, and I'll be heading over just after lunch, so look me up on Foursquare if you want to catch up while you're over there.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Shlomo @ The Udderbelly Festival

To coincide with the beginning of the summer-long celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Festival of Britain, the upturned purple cow has returned to the Southbank with the 2011 Udderbelly Festival. You'll find the cow just west of the Royal Festival Hall, next to the 'Magner's Pasture', which contains various bars and food stands run by 'The Laughing Stock'.

We were here tonight for a short early evening entertainment by Shlomo on day three of the Festival, which runs right through until 17 July. Shlomo is a well-known British 'beat-boxer', or vocal percussionist who, amongst his other accolades, performed with Bjork on the joint piece 'Oceania' which opened the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. For this series of performances Shlomo has used his early life experiences to illustrate his various beat-boxing techniques (which cover the whole range from jazz to techno via dubstep) with tales about his upbringing in Buckinghamshire in a rather unusual family of Jewish-Iraqi descent. We got one particularly intricate Arab-inspired piece that was built on a story about his experience of belly-dancing as a three-year-old at a particularly lively family celebration!
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