Monday, September 29, 2008

Charles Avery at Parasol

The Islanders: An Introduction is Charles Avery's project to create an entire imaginary world, with maps, sketches, sculptures and most importantly a narrative to go along with it all.

The exhibition is fascinating, and as one wanders round reading descriptions of the people, their habits, the creatures, the gin-pickled eggs that are horrible yet addictive, one is reminded of a humorous Lost World or Gulliver's Travels.

My criticisms are firstly that the project is obviously a work in progress. Tempting though the catalogue was, I'd rather wait until completion or at least a significant milestone. Related to this, my second observation is that much of the artwork is in draft - unfinished pencil sketches, crudely-drawn colour illustrations. I think the whole exhibition could be significantly more polished. Perhaps it will be before the project is up.

Avery, a Scottish artist, was apparently kicked out of Central St Martins after 6 months. The exhibition generally gets good reviews, for example in TimeOut, the Guardian and the Independent.

I'd strongly recommend a visit - even the stories and texts alone would justify this, and free entry too (look for the glass door). The exhibition runs until November 9th at the Parasol Unit gallery near Old Street.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Music and Spice

King's Place

Next week a new privately-funded concert hall and venue will open near King's Cross. Called King's Place, they kick off with a week of back to back concerts starting at 8:30am in the morning, for 2UKP50 a ticket if booked online. It's mostly classical music, but there's jazz too, and the centre hosts other arts. Watch this space!

Angeles Restaurant
Finally visited Angeles Sichuan Restaurant in Kilburn last week. Just near Kilburn tube, it's a restaurant of two halves. One half is a cheapo Chinese buffet, with buckets of sweet and sour and all that rubbish. The other side is full of Chinese people enjoying traditional Sichuan dishes at very reasonable prices.

We had Ma Po Tofu which was fabulous, Ultra-spicy fried chicken (something like that) which the waiter tried to steer us away from, but of course I was having none of that. He returned with, basically, a large bowl of chopped chilli, into which if you digged, occasional bits of fried chicken still on bone would appear.

I will not tell you where this image was stolen from

Other dishes looked great but there's only so much you can eat in one session. Yummy! I will be back soon!

This guy (link to random blog) has been there too and seems to have the reverse opinion about the dishes I liked and didn't, but he has much better photos than my useless cameraphone could manage!

And yes.. they use those crazy peppercorns!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Found the Tyburn Tree

Since laws were made for every degree,
To curb vice in others as well as in me,
I wonder we ha'nt better company
'Neath Tyburn Tree.
(John Gay, The Beggar's Opera)

The location of the Tyburn Tree has always been of some interest to me, but things came to a head when the Badger Passport question for the Mason's Arms (a fine pub if you're in the area) was "What was the pub used for in the eighteenth century?".

The answer was that prisoners would be held here, and possibly offered a last drink, before being led out to the Tyburn Tree to be hanged. Tyburn was the name of a village around the site of the present day Marble Arch. In fact from the map you can see the junction effectively as it is today, with Edgware Road heading NW from the junction. Edgware Road, aka the A5, runs along the original Watling Street road, stretching all the way to Holyhead in Wales!

There were eight hanging days a year at Tyburn, which were normally held on a Monday. The prisoners were held at Newgate Gaol in the City and at seven in the morning those whose time had come were placed in open carts and taken on a procession through St Giles in the Fields and down Oxford Street (or the Tyburn Road as it was at the time). The procession would stop at St Sepulchre's Church enroute, where the minister would call for repentance from and prayers for "whom the great bell tolls" as the church bells rang.

Here is the marker, which is on the traffic island in front of Odeon, at the beginning of Edgware Road. Message me if you need any further instructions, it's not especially easy to find - I've looked for it before and missed it!:

Here's how the "tree" looked, not being an actual tree at all of course:

From wiki:

The first recorded execution took place at a site next to the stream in 1196. William Fitz Osbern, the populist leader of the London tax riots was cornered in the church of St Mary le Bow. He was dragged naked behind a horse to Tyburn, where he was hanged.

In 1571, the "Tyburn Tree" was erected near the modern Marble Arch. The "Tree" or "Triple Tree" was a novel form of gallows, comprising a horizontal wooden triangle supported by three legs. Several felons could thus be hanged at once, and so the gallows was occasionally used for mass executions, such as that on June 23, 1649 when 24 prisoners – 23 men and one woman – were hanged simultaneously, having been conveyed there in eight carts.

The Tree stood in the middle of the roadway, providing a major landmark in west London and presenting a very obvious symbol of the law to travellers. After executions, the bodies would be buried nearby or in later times removed for dissection by anatomists.

The first victim of the "Tyburn Tree" was Dr John Story, a Roman Catholic who refused to recognize Elizabeth I. Among the more notable individuals suspended from the "Tree" in the following centuries were John Bradshaw, Henry Ireton and Oliver Cromwell, who were already dead; they were disinterred and hanged at Tyburn in January 1661 on the orders of Charles II in an act of posthumous revenge for their part in the beheading of his father.

The executions were public spectacles and proved extremely popular, attracting crowds of thousands. The enterprising villagers of Tyburn erected large spectator stands so that as many as possible could see the hangings (for a fee). On one occasion, the stands collapsed, reportedly killing and injuring hundreds of people. This did not prove a deterrent, however, and the executions continued to be treated as public holidays, with London apprentices being given the day off for them. One such event was depicted by William Hogarth in his satirical print, The Idle 'Prentice Executed at Tyburn (1747).

John Austin, a highwayman, was the last to be hanged here, on the 3 November 1783.

To me it seems a shame that the reference to the history on the ground is so obscure - let's have a mock gallows put up again! Marble Arch is a small arch stranded in a busy polluted traffic system. Back to the old theme - get rid of the traffic! Reclaim the streets!

N.B. the Tyburn River is one of the lost rivers I referred to in my last post - running from South Hampstead down to the Thames at Vauxhall, including the length of Marylebone Lane and through St James'. It is carried in pipes through Baker Street and Victoria Stations.

Incidentally I should confess that most of the background information for this entry, and photos (apart from mine of the marker stone which prompted the post) was pinched from Wikipedia and Everything2.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Late Summer and Empty Roads

We seem to be enjoying an Indian Summer here – that is to say despite being late September we are enjoying a high-pressure system giving sunshine, gentle breezes and a summer vibe.

Saint Mary With All Souls Church, West Hampstead

For the last couple of days there have been road works on Maida Vale, on the stretch just before Kilburn. They’re resurfacing and seem to have closed the road completely – I’m not sure where the traffic has gone, but presumably I imagine Finchley Road and Abbey Road to be (even more) horrendous (than usual) during rush hour.

Anyway, I wandered along Maida Vale, barely a car in sight. A vast expanse of tarmac, asking to be reclaimed by the people from the cars that usually choke it up in a giant artery of pollution cutting through the otherwise leafy flesh of suburban London. The air felt fresh. I enjoyed the walk.

This prompted me to think (it happens occasionally) – wouldn’t it be wonderful if the majority of the main roads could be recovered – huge stretches of London are devoted to traffic, right into the centre of town. I’ve long expected Oxford and Regent Streets to be turned over to pedestrians, but let’s do the same for Piccadilly, the Strand. How about Embankment becoming a beach à la Seine? Let's bury them all deep underground like Boston in the US.

Something needs to be done - what portion of central London is turned over to streets? 20%? Whatever it is, it's too much! I'm really becoming a bit of an anti-traffic fascist - I suspect 90% of non-bus traffic in central London during the week is business types taking black cabs for convenience. Perhaps we should ban cabs from the congestion zone too, instead insisting that anyone who really can't manage public transport like the rest of us takes one of those "cyclo" rides, with the chap on a bicycle pulling you along carbon-free at a sedate speed. Get buses out of the zone too, turn 'em round at Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Waterloo, Aldgate, Angel, King's Cross and Baker Street. Make me the London Transport Tsar, Boris!

And on a similar but more personal vein, why the h*ll do the 46 and 187 buses go down my street?! There’s no need for it, run ‘em the same way in both directions, i.e. along Clifton Road to Maida Vale rather than turning left into Randolph Avenue, motoring past a school and a Gordon Ramsey pub (and my bedroom). Then block my street off at one end and, hey presto, no through traffic! There’s not much traffic, but there shouldn’t be any, and there's certainly no need for buses down one's street, what?!

Another related topic of interest – the suburban rivers in London. Apparently Boris Johnson is planning to uncover as much of the Fleet as is now possible, creating a "Venetian" pedestrianised walk. Other rivers are also due for a make-over or an uncovering, including the Wandle, the Bourne and the Brent. Fantastic!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Randy at the Warrington?

At one end of my street, where Randolph Avenue meets Sutherland Avenue, sits the Warrington Hotel, which has never been a hotel, but is in fact a pub, recently purchased by Gordon Ramsey and given the Gastro make-over. It's a beautiful building with an interesting interior. I haven't tried the food but the beer is well-kept.

Anyway, browsing Toptable this afternoon, I came across the following:

Located on the leafy corner of Warrington Crescent and Randolph Avenue in Maida Vale, The Warrington is an ornate Victorian pub that has been given the glossy Gordon Ramsay treatment. Now it's a posh gastro pub serving classic British fare, but back in 1857 the boozer used to be a famous brothel. So famous the saying “feeling randy” comes from the restaurant's location on Randolph Avenue.

Yes, apparently I live on the street which gave rise (ooh,err) to the term “randy”! I will make no further comment!

Hammershøi at the Royal Academy

Visited the Vilhelm Hammershøi exhibition at the RA recently. Very enjoyable, despite the crowds (didn't help that Palin apparently did a programme about the chap). If you've missed it, the paintings are moving to Tokyo for October.

Hammershøi (1864-1916) was a Danish artist who loved the quiet life. As someone I overheard at the gallery said: "You wouldn't really invite him to a party". He spoke quietly, rarely went out, and spent his life in a tranquil unassuming way, which comes through in his art.

Over 60 paintings catalogue his surroundings - there are many paintings with parts of the interior of his house, often with his graceful pretty wife, usually facing away from the foreground.

I of course prefer his portraits, but there are a variety of scenes presented, landscape scenes in Denmark, wintery London scenes around Bloomsbury where he lived for a time. All with a dreamy melancholy magic feeling, evoked by the gentle palette of browns and creamy colours.

Being unemployed, I hesitated about buying the catalogue. Despite being near the end of the exhibition, it had not been discounted, and the hardback had sold out. I resolved to come back in a few days to see if they were available at a discount.

Going back took two trips, as the first time the shop was closed. These two trips on tube fare alone would have wiped out any discount I had hoped for. And worse - apparently they've sold out of the softback, and will not be reprinting! Disaster! So at some point I will have the option of purchasing the hardback for about double what I would have paid that ill-fated day at the RA. Unless I can ask my friends in Japan to find it for me next month...

So it doesn't always pay to try to save money!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sam's Guide to New York

As my cousin Pippi is off there this afternoon, I thought I'd put up the email I sent to my little brother when he was visiting the Big Apple a few years ago, hope it's useful!

Right, first thing, go buy a copy of TimeOut weekly magazine, and a TimeOut tourist guide book (annual). Be careful, there are lots of Timeout books, you want the standard tourist one that tells you where to stay, where to eat etc, the normal one.

Go through the Timeout mag, through the gigs bit, and pick out any music that sounds interesting - circle with a pen so you can find them later. It's very important that you take advantage of all the live music available, it's sooo much cheaper than London! Try to go to at least one gig each night!

Now, armed with your guide book, you can go "do" New York City, y'all!

1. Sights
It's like being in a movie. Walk around. Everything is within walking distance in Manhatten.

Empire State Building - go to the top. It's not cheap but you have to do it, view is amazing.
Chrysler Building
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island via ferry
Staten Island ferry
Brooklyn Bridge
Chinatown and Little Italy
5th Avenue
Downtown - Wall Street
Ground Zero
Times Square
United Nations
Central Park

Further afield:
The Bronx

2. Museums and Galleries
The Met in Central Park and MoMa not far away are two of the most famous in the world.
Check TimeOut for what else is on, there are tonnes of museums and galleries. Watch out for days when things are free entry.

3. Food
You're in one of the world's capitals of food! Enjoy it, and it doesn't have to be expensive.

Try some of these:

Go to delis on the street - there are little sandwich bars everywhere, try one of the places that has the world's biggest sandwich or something.

TimeOut has a list of brunch places - I think my favourite was Schiller's Liquor Bar in the Lower East Side, near Chinatown. Brunch is an institution in NYC, go enjoy that Eggs Benedict!

Chumley's was one of my fav pubs. Update: Closed indefinitely, so sad..

Lots of swanky places to try too. Timeout will be your guide. Go through the book and read all the bits, and try some out!

4. Shopping
5th Avenue is amazing but you won't be doing much buying there! Try some of the famous department stores too, like Macy's or Bloomendales.

Soho is a cool area for shopping - the area round your Apple store is nice.
Check out Katie's Paperie round there too. Try some independent music stores.

5. Trips out of NYC
You may want to take the train to:

Long Island (day trip)
Boston for the harbour, Quincy Market, MIT and Harvard etc
Washington for the White House, Capitol Hill etc.

There are a billion things to do, but part of it is just sitting in a cafe watching the world go by. Find a smoothie bar, a donut place, whatever and enjoy the view!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Ship Pub in Conyer

Conyer Creek

Just along from Faversham and Oare Creeks, home of the Shipwright's Arms, I have discovered another creek, headed up by a small village called Conyer. Intriguingly, my OS map suggested there was a public house present.

Some research revealed the pub to be the Ship, and highly recommended it came too, with the Times and Telegraph both including it in articles (Telegraph "Pubs that are well worth a trek" and Times "Britain's Tastiest Walking Breaks").

Indeed the Telegraph says "The Ship lies on the Saxon Shore Way in the boat-building village of Conyer. This is a wonderful winter pub, warm and firelit, with great hot food in the restaurant and bar. There are plenty of books for you to browse over your pint, too."

So it was with excitement that Alex, Dad and I cycled there on Sunday, with Hedge in the support vehicle due to his leg being out of action. By the time we reached Conyer, about a 12 mile ride from Seasalter, we were more than ready for a pint, and given that the other pub in Conyer, the Brunswick Arms, was closed, we headed along the Quay to the Ship.

The pub, dating from 1642, is found at the end of the road in a beautiful spot, with whitewashed brick overlooking the pretty creek and marina.

To our dismay though, the pub was closed. And clearly has been for some time. A warning to you all then, the Ship Pub and Smuggler's Restaurant in Conyer Creek, Teynham, between Sittingbourne and Faversham, are closed as of September 2008! A terrible shame...

Update: I've found the sale details! 37,000 UKP buys one the leasehold!