Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Alternative Fashion Week

This week is Alternative Fashion Week, London Fashion Week's younger, funkier sibling. Organised by Alternative Arts, the event takes place in Spitalfields Traders Market, E1.

This year over 60 young designers will be showcasing their work at daily fashion shows (start 1.15pm) to contemporary live jazz from The Size Zero Band. Twelve designers are on show each day. There is also the Fashion Market, which runs from 12.00pm to 3.00pm.

I decided to check it out yesterday. Those people that were in London will know that it was freezing yesterday. But that didn't stop the assorted designers, fashionistas and design students bagging their seats for the show early. I don't know how they stuck it out till the end. I slunk of early for a warming hot chocolate when my hands got too cold to hold my camera.

The fashion show was certainly worth the wait in the cold though. You won't find Stella MacCartney here, or spot Posh Spice in the front row, but you will see up-and-coming youngsters who have recently graduated or are about to. I saw clothes that were fun and funky, and some were even wearable. Names found here are names to watch out for in the future.

The Fashion Market features stalls from various designer-makers. The goods on offer are all handmade and originals. I picked up a bracelet and was told, "You're my first sale!"

Althernative Fashion Week runs until 23 March.

Alternative Fashion Week

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Getting to know you part III - All aboard

Fish supper: After years of absence, wildlife is returning to the Thames

I've been up and down the river both ways - from Hampton Court Palace to Waterloo, from Waterloo to Kew Gardens, from Greenwich to Waterloo and Waterloo to Greenwich. And it's always been a pleasure.

My first trip was to Kew Gardens, it was a press trip so perhaps the free champagne somewhat coloured my rosy view of the day. Or maybe it was the two very funny watermen who told me all about their profession. The Company of Watermen and Lightermen was established by an Act of Parliament in 1555 to regulate the watermen and wherrymen responsible for carrying goods and passengers on the river - Watermen look after passengers. In days gone by only licensed watermen and lightermen could work on the river. There was a five-year apprenticeship to qualify, learning the trade from a Master. In addition to this, hopefuls took courses covering water survival, firefighting and first aid. Then followed another three years of work experience. All this has changed recently though, with the apprenticeship cut to two years.

Cruise control:
The river is great place to see some of London's famous landmarks

Boats must attract a certain sort of person because the skipper of one on the Waterloo-Greenwich route, run by City Cruises, is just as entertaining. He delighted in telling us that the Thames is the cleanest ex-working river in the world: "You can drink it. It'll kill you, but you can drink it!" Last time I took that journey City Cruises were in the process of replacing the live commentary with a recording, which is a shame because the live one added real character. The recording wasn't working that day though, so they'd had to go back to good old talking.

A trip on the river gives a whole new perspective on London. It really is a slower way to see the city. You come across all kinds of wildlife. I've seen kingfishers, herons and many varieties of ducks. Apparently there are also seals and salmon. And once a whale, but that story has a sad ending. Many of London's most well-known sights are visible from the river - St Paul's Cathedral, Tate Modern, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament. Some boats go all the way to the Thames Barrier, which is definitely worth seeing.

In the middle of the 19th century, the river, which at the time was known as the Big Stink, was so polluted that all the fish died, and so did the birds that relied on them for food. A clean up operation that has taken more than 150 years has returned all kinds of fish and animal life to the river, and today it is home to more than 120 varieties of fish.


The Company of Watermen and Lighermen

City Cruises

Monday, 5 March 2007

In praise of London

I apologise, but this is going to be an unashamed devotion. The sun is shining and I'm full of the joys of spring. And I love London. I've loved it ever since I first started coming here when I was young and my parents would bring me and my brother for the day. My dad would drive us down, either parking at Redbridge underground station and catching the Central Line to Oxford Circus or leaving the car in The Regent's Park and walking along Regent's Street. At the time it amazed me that a park could be big enough to park a car in. I lived in Cambridge and the biggest park I knew of was Midsummer Common, which was more suited to cows than cars. You can imagine my astonishment when I found out The Regent's Park was also big enough to house London Zoo.

When I first moved to London I lived near Richmond Park, and it didn't even faze me that here was a park even bigger than The Regent's. How worldly wise I'd become. But it did, and still does at times, amaze me that I now lived in this sprawling metropolis. I am still moved by the view coming out of Charing Cross, especially in the evening: The Oxo Tower and the Haywood Gallery all lit up, Tate Modern outlined against a purple and red sky and, further to the left, the dome of St Paul's Cathedral. It's really quite breathtaking.

London's West End is renowned across the world, attracting the biggest names of stage and screen, while fringe theatre is a hotbed of new writing and acting talent. The galleries and museums are both grand eclectic - from the wonderful British Museum to the tiny but always interesting photography exhibitions at Proud Galleries.

We have huge, beautiful Royal Parks. We have some of the world's most stunning architecture, from just about every period of history. From the 1,000-year-old White Tower to Norman Foster's strangely beautiful Gherkin.

Culture, history, art, beauty, green spaces - London has it all.

And so ends my eulogy.