Rivers of London – A Hidden Chapter

Fans of writer Ben Aaronovitch who have been pacing the floor anxiously awaiting a Rivers of London TV series, can take the edge off by joining the London Met’s Department of Economic and Specialist Crime, Supernatural Sciences branch, a.k.a. The Folly.

Peter Grant is on a recruitment drive!


Come to the official training centre for new recruits to see if you have what it takes.

Hidden in the depths of Westminster Reference Library lies a secret training centre for the Metropolitan Police where new recruits are taught the necessary skills to work for the supernatural sciences branch. Learn how to tackle vampires, try your hand at magic and avoid temptation from the river spirits.

The product of a collaboration between Aaronovitch, CityRead London and experimental theatre troupe Look Left Look Right, A Hidden Chapter is a live, interactive performance at Westminster Reference Library.

Audiences are invited to try their hand at detective work, magic and fending off supernatural spirits.

It’s one of a series of events in April celebrating Rivers of London and CityRead London, a fantastic scheme that promotes reading across the capital by focussing for a month on just one book featuring London. Previous years’ books have been: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks and My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young.

A Hidden Chapter is running on weekends in April. Tickets cost £10 and include a special copy of Rivers of London. Click here to book tickets and find out more.


Game of Thrones: The Exhibition Returns For 2015

Ever fancied standing on top of The Wall above Castle Black? If so, it’s time to dust off your Night’s Watch cloak and get ready: Westeros is coming. And it’s free!


HBO has announced that Game of Thrones: The Exhibition (#GOTExhibit) will be back for 2015 with even more fun stuff for fans to enjoy.

Right now, it’s been confirmed that the 2015 touring exhibition tour will stop off at seven cities — London, Stockholm, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris — but more cities may be added at a later date. Presented by HBO and its international partners, Game of Thrones: The Exhibition will feature all-new installations focusing on key places, characters and relationships from Season 4 of the worldwide hit.

New for 2015: fans can pledge their allegiance to their favourite Game of Thrones family by joining a House before entering the exhibition and having their photo taken on the Iron Throne.

Organisers promise an unprecedented, immersive Game of Thrones experience courtesy of the “Ascend the Wall” 4D Oculus Rift virtual reality experience. Back by popular demand this Night’s Watch experience allows fans to ascend the 700ft Wall by stepping into a physical recreation of the Castle Black winch elevator while wearing the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and a pair of headphones. From that moment on, they’ll find themselves inside a virtual version of the elevator — one that looks, sounds and feels extremely real.

Let’s hope there aren’t any White Walkers waiting for them at the top.

In addition, a new integrated web-based companion and photo stations will provide exciting new ways for fans to interact within the exhibition, placing them inside some of Game of Thrones’ most shocking and talked-about moments.

Game of Thrones: The Exhibition will also display original artefacts used on set from Seasons 1-4 plus some never-before-seen pieces from Season 5, which premieres in April 2015. Created by artisans whose extraordinary craftsmanship has lent authenticity to the show since its inception, the collection includes costumes, model dragons, House banners, armour, weapons and costumes.

Excited much? The 2015 tour kicks off at the O2 in London on 9-12 and 15-17 February. Tickets are up for grabs on 26 January from Sky: www.sky.com/gameofthrones.

For further dates and details on the exhibition, visit the official website: www.GOTExhibit.com


Grand Days Out: Docklands

“One if by land, and two if by sea; Four if by cable car; And I on the opposite shore will be …”

It being half-term, Grand Days Out have been to the forefront chez TVClaw recently. The last one of the holiday was to visit Mr L. in his weekday habitat of Docklands.

The round trip took in almost every mode of transport known to Londoners, bar Boris Bike. Walking, bus, tube, DLR, cable car, boat, taxi.

Having spent almost two hours getting to Canary Wharf the children and I were ready for some belated Día de los Muertos slap-up nosh at Wahaca.

I know, I know, purists argue that Mexican food in New York City pales in comparison to that on the West Coast, but I love it. Every now and then I get physical pangs thinking about the Chili Colorado at Lupe’s East LA (irony acknowledged) near my old office in Tribeca, and I’ve managed to pass my hankerings on to my burrito-mad children.

And so the tepid, bland offerings — mostly buried under piles of cold, tasteless cheese — dished up for our lunch at Wahaca were disappointing, to say the least. I’ll be charitable and suggest it was an off day, but I won’t rush back. The decor’s great though.

From Mexico to Sailor Town, care of the wonderful Museum of London Docklands in West India Quay. Free to enter (donations welcome, but not solicited forcefully) this gem of a museum is packed with interesting and entertaining exhibits and galleries.

We had a rollicking half-hour in the company of “Michael Faraday,” who explained his most famous experiments and discoveries in the world of electricity. … We sat in a two-person bomb shelter shaped like a panettone (I think I would have preferred to take my chances outside, given the choice), and then watched film of the docks being bombed during The Blitz … We stood agape in the most moving gallery devoted to the grisly history of the slave and sugar trades that shaped so much of the modern world.

Then it was back onto the DLR for a sunset trip across the river in a cable car from the Royal Docks to Greenwich. The Emirates Air Line terminal was empty so we had the 10-seater cable car to ourselves. Which was nice, as there were a few potential brown trouser moments.

I don’t think my blood pressure could have coped had we been sharing with anyone deciding to have a laugh by rocking the car. Or anyone freaking out mid-ride, which is what happened the last time we were on a cable car.

Back in April our journey upwards on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway  — “Ascend two and one half miles to a pristine wilderness aboard the World’s Largest Rotating Tramcars” — was memorable largely for the handful of elderly women in our car who spent half an hour alternately screaming hysterically and sobbing onto each other’s shoulders while furtively trying the door. I felt jittery, to say the least.

This trip, while awesome, is definitely not for people who don’t like heights or enclosed spaces. However, once up at the cruising altitude of almost 300 feet, the view is spectacular. London at lighting-up time looked like a twinkling wonderland.

Then we headed for the Thames Clipper boat service from the O2 to Embankment. By now it was properly dark outside and I realised that London really does look magnificent from the river. The vista of Tower Bridge looming into the central foreground with St Paul’s behind is hard to beat as far as wow factors go, ‘though Wren’s Royal Hospital comes close.

And so back to the underground for the trip back to TVClaw Towers. Emerging above ground we sprang for a taxi instead of waiting for the bus (which was on diversion). A relaxing end to a truly Grand Day Out.

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw

Grand Days Out: Coram’s Fields

Playing on the site of the word’s first incorporated charity, in London’s first public children’s playground

It seems fitting that in a week when even more allegations have surfaced in the ongoing Jimmy Savile scandal, we should take a moment to consider the legacy of someone who worked tirelessly to advance the cause of deprived and abused children: Thomas Coram.

Plane trees in Coram’s Fields (Photo: Catherine Lawson)

On October 17th, 1739 the erstwhile sea captain and lifelong philanthropist was granted a Royal Charter by King George II to establish a “hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.”

It was the culmination of a 17-year crusade. After a life at sea, Coram had returned to England a rich man, intending to retire in comfort. However, he was so appalled by the numbers of children left to die on the streets of London that he took up cudgels on their behalf.

The first abandoned babies were admitted to Coram’s Foundling Hospital in 1741 and were housed in Hatton Garden while a brand new building was constructed in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury. Opened in 1745, the new hospital was a plain brick building set around an open courtyard, and it attracted high-profile supporters such as William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel.

The Foundling Hospital

Today, thanks to some architectural vandalism in the 1920s, all that remains of the Foundling Hospital buildings are the elegant, single-storey Georgian colonnades. They now house a city farm, children’s play centre, cafe, community nursery and youth centre. In the centre is a wide open park and playspace.

Pediment in the Georgian colonnade, Coram’s Fields
(Photo: Catherine Lawson)

The site is the product of lengthy campaigning and fundraising by local people who, with the suppport of the LCC and Viscount Rothermere, preserved the nine-acre site for future generations of children. Renamed Coram’s Fields in 1936, it was London’s first  public children’s playground.

Today, Coram’s Fields is a beautiful oasis of calm right in the centre of London. As well as the nursery and youth centre there are free (yes, that’s free) weekday sports programmes for children aged from 6 to 19, including a girls’ club aimed at getting more girls involved in sports.

If you’ve never been, take the kids and spend the day there. There are clean loos, and you can grab a cup of tea or a bite to eat at the vegetarian cafe, Kipferl (open from 10am to 5pm, March to November). Or take a picnic and sit on the grass while the kids practice their scooting on the wide paths.

The park is open all year round from 9am until dusk, and entry is free for children and young people under 16. Adults are only admitted if they’re with a child (sorry, students and office workers, but you’ll have to eat your lunchtime sarnies elsewhere), and friendly on-site staff ensure that everyone can enjoy their visit.

Coram’s Fields on a sunny day (Photo: courtesy of UCL)

There are two large playgrounds in Coram’s Fields, both of which have accessible play equipment for children of all ages. The one nearest the cafe is suitable for younger children, with smaller climbing structures and sand and/or water toys.

The adventure playground next to the city farm has some fantastic acoustic features and two aerial slides, or zip wires, which means that kids can race each other.

In the summer the grassed areas in the middle are full of families, but on a wintry weekend morning you can often find you’ve got the playgrounds to yourselves for the first hour or so.

If you’re looking for a fun, educational and cheap day out in Central London with the kids, try combining a trip to Coram’s Fields with a visit to a museum

Bloomsbury has an embarrassment of riches, after all.

Head over to The Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square to discover more about Thomas Coram and his hospital. Foundling Hospital patron Charles Dickens lived around the corner and, while the Charles Dickens House is currently closed for refurbishment (it’s due to reopen in December 2012), you can still take part in Dickens Walks every Wednesday.

Dickens’ relationship with the Foundling Museum is explored in the current exhibition, Received, a Blank Child: Dickens, Brownlow and the Foundling Hospital. The London Historians’ Blog calls it “well-curated, thoughtful and moving.”

Wander around the British Museum and then go for Korean barbecue at Bi-Won in Coptic Street. It’s child-friendly and serves great food at a reasonable price.

TVClaw Top Tip: in situ only until October 22nd, the Phantom Railings interactive sound installation in Malet Street Gardens is a fantastic piece of public art. Using sensor-based acoustic devices the installation recreates the sound produced by running a stick along an iron fence. It’s brilliant! Run, don’t walk, to experience it before it disappears.

Grand Days Out: Richmond Park

‘The Way’ Gates (Photo: Catherine Lawson)

Growing up right by Richmond Park meant that I spent a lot of time there as a child.

Year-round we rode our bikes and walked various dogs now long-dead. We ate Marmite sandwiches on the grass in the summer, and watched dad play rugby in the autumn and winter.

One of my happiest memories is of sneaking in at night with dad to stand atop King Henry’s Mound in Pembroke Lodge and stare at Halley’s Comet through binoculars.

However, never having owned a pair of wellies until quite recently (my mother got chillblains after wearing a pair precisely once in the winter of 1961 and so forswore them as the work of the devil), I must confess that my fond memories of Richmond Park are tempered with memories of squelching home miserably with wet, cold feet and soaked trousers.

So, having made sure the sprogs were kitted out with wellies and raincoats, Mr Lawson and I took them for a long walk in the woods on Saturday. It was one of those glorious, sunny autumnal days, and the leaves were a thousand different shades of red, gold and amber.

Now, I’d love to report that our walk was an Elysian idyll, free from noise or crowds, but as Richmond Park is home to legions of sweating MAMILs at the weekend parts of our route felt a bit like Piccadilly Circus just after chucking-out time. Dozens of grey-faced panting men lurched past us at speed while others sat quivering on the grass, heads on knees.

We parked in Pembroke Lodge car park and crossed the road (dodging the hordes of Wiggins-wannabes) to make a circuit of what I’ve always known as “the circular woody bit oppposite Pembroke Lodge.” Thanks to the Royal Parks website I discovered an hour or so ago that it’s actually called Sidmouth Woods. Who knew?

‘The Way’ Gates and Sidmouth Woods (Photo: Catherine Lawson)

Having rambled around the circular woody bit Sidmouth Woods, we were admiring the panoramic views of London and beyond when we stumbled upon these magnificent gates.

Called The Way, they are the work of young artist blacksmith Joshua De Lisle and were unveiled in June 2012 to mark the tercentenary of St Paul’s Cathedral.

St Paul’s and Richmond Park are connected via a protected 10-mile view of the cathedral from King Henry’s Mound.

The gates depict oak branches, which gradually morph into a concave top suggesting the curves of Christopher Wren’s dome. He is further acknowledged in the gates with the inclusion of a small wren sitting in the foliage.

They really are beautiful. Stand next to them and take in the vista through the trees beyond with, or without, binoculars. Then head to Pembroke Lodge and look again, this time with the aid of the telescope on King Henry’s Mound. You won’t be disappointed.

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw

Are Tiny Plays The New Theatre?

Deborah Mason’s Tiny Play Festival 2012 was an absolute triumph

A capacity crowd packed out the Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall Friday night for Deborah Mason‘s Tiny Play Festival 2012. (The venue for pre- and post-theatre drinks and food was The Black Dog pub opposite, which delivered possibly the nicest service anywhere in London on a rainy Friday night.)

The inaugural Tiny Play Festival was a first for actor/producer/director Deborah with her festival organiser hat on, and was also a first for many of the featured writers (myself included).

Each of the 22 (count ’em) very short — c. 100 words or fewer — plays was fully staged with actors, props and scenery. The actors did a fantastic job with the source material, and Deborah’s inventive staging was the well-deserved hit of the night.

The scenery consisted of rolls of paper with a backdrop for each play painted on in black. So simple and so very effective. Two helpers rolled/unrolled the paper like an old-fashioned blackboard.

The subjects ranged from the Wild West to Adam and Eve via Social Media status updates. Mostly humorous, they received an overwhelmingly positive response from the crowd.

Deborah closed the Festival with an improv showstopper. The audience wrote words or snatches of phrases on cards, and  the actors picked two cards each. While they worked out how they’d run them together to make another Tiny Play, Deborah asked the crowd to choose a setting.

“Can you tell what is is yet?”

The crowd’s first choice for the setting was Tooting Lido (runner-up: “on a massive cheesepuff”), which Deborah then painted in a real Take Hart moment.

As a nod to the youngest audience members, the scene even included a massive cheesepuff in the lifeguard’s chair.

At only £7 per ticket, Tiny Play Festival was a brilliant night out. The crowd ranged in age from about 8 to 80. People were engaged, excited and entertained. A number of local small businesses made some money and attracted new customers.

We’re trying to persuade Deborah to make Tiny Play Festival a regular event, so come on Arts Council, give the woman another grant! This could be the new face of theatre in London.

Is Tiny the new black?

The Guardian and Oxford University Press are currently running a Very Short Film Competition, in which students are invited to submit 60-second films.

Microblogging continues to gain momentum, with novels being written via Twitter and Facebook. Although  none have yet made any serious money, they continue to proliferate.

Over on Twitter, the Old Vic promoted its New Voices and 24 Hour Plays programmes with popular games like the 24-word Twitter play. So, could Tiny Plays be the new theatre? Stay tuned to find out.

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant: View From Vauxhall

“Look Philip, there’s TVClaw! Cooo-eee!”

Yes, I’m late to the party with this picture, but my summer of 2012 was so insanely busy that I’m only really now catching up with all the stuff I should have done months ago.

Thanks to some determined friends and relatives living near the river, who staked out a spot on the south bank  at the crack of dawn, we had unbeatable views of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

Here’s Her Madge waving from the royal barge. A classic shot, thanks to Mr Lawson’s photographic talents. (I’m loving her classic British summer ensemble of coat, big woolly scarf and gloves.)

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw