A German Author in London: Barbara Honigmann at Senate House

Recently the Institute of Modern Languages Research, based at Senate House Library,  hosted an evening with one of Germany’s best contemporary women’s writers titled ‘A Conversation with Barbara Honigmann’.

Barbara Honigmann, 2014

To define Barbara Honigmann is a difficult task: she is, yes, a woman writer. She is also a German writer, and at the same time a Jewish writer. But rather than see her as a Woman German-Jewish writer, we should simply see her as a writer. Fitting into multiple ‘boxes’ means that to certain interested parties, she has several identities: but giving a voice to Jews, Germans or women, in whatever part she is required to be at the time, can leave her feeling that she has – rather than a rich and multifaceted identity -an utter lack of concrete identity.

Born in east Germany in 1949 to parents who spent many years exiled in London, Barbara Honigmann left the GDR for Strasbourg in 1983, where she still lives. Honigmann is best known for her largely autobiographical fiction, and is currently the writer in residence at Queen Mary University of London.

Senate House Library is a rather imposing looking building smack bang in between Russell Square and Tottenham Court Road. This 1920s-feel white brick structure may look bleak from the outside, but as the University of London library, and home to the School of Advanced Study, this is one knowledge-filled place; the perfect location, then for a discussion with one of Germany’s most prominent authors.

Despite her multiple identities, one March evening in the welcoming space of Senate House, it was Barbara Honigmann the writer who held the steadfast attention of the room. Facilitated by Robert Gillett, Honigmann discussed her life as well as her latest novel, Chronik meine Strasse to a gripped audience.

Interspersed throughout the talk of biography and language, the author read passages from her new book in German, followed by a translation read by Dr. Gillett. Essentially her latest book is, hence the title, the story of Barbara’s street. A novel dedicated to a single road has the potential to sound like a dull and overly simplistic affair, but in what we hear from Chronik meine Strasse, Honigmann’s street exists as a deep and detailed character.

Her street has a past, it has a personality, and it has people that each have their own stories living along it. Barbara’s atmospheric, and at times simplistic, writing creates an image of a street you eagerly want to explore, yet at the same time feel you already know. There are long, meandering sentences (that had to be split for the English version) amongst brisk statements and repeated sequences. Despite these instances of wanderings and explorations, the destination of the text is never far from sight.

We hear about the people she sees from her balcony. and how the street is changing. Neighbours and relationships, as well as the history of the road are discussed in detail: Barbara Honigmann’s street feels like a microcosm of today’s multicultural and varied cities. In fact, her text could have been transposed to right here in London, and the sights, feelings and people may not have been altogether that different.

For such an accomplished writer, Honigmann’s humble personality may have seemed at this event unequal to the lofty standards of her words. Her softness and approachability, however, meant Barbara could have gone beyond meine Strasse, further than meine Stadt and outside mein Land, and the audience would have still been hungry for more.  Barbara Honigmann’s discussion with Robert Gillett did not only instigate applause, but also those rare moments of silent thought; a sign, always, of a successful conversation

 

London Start-Ups Making Use of the City’s Food Waste

There’s an awful lot of food that goes to waste in a non-stop capital like London. Some people, however, are making use of the bits that no one wants: meet the sustainable eating initiatives that are being creative with the ‘rubbish’.

love

As with any city, London produces a shedload of waste – think of the amount of coffee cups, sandwich wrappers, newspapers or beer cans in a pavement bin and multiply by hundreds of thousands.

As well as this recyclable and non-recyclable rubbish that is constantly piling up, much of what gets thrown away is food waste. Most of the time, what restaurants, supermarkets and suppliers class as ‘waste’ is entirely edible, yet for one reason or another, it gets put in a bin and sent off to landfill.

The Evening Standard recently launched a campaign in order to tackle London’s growing waste problem, highlighting the fabulous Felix Project. This is an initiative using up surplus and waste food to transform into meals for the homeless. Others are also catching on to the fact that there is huge potential for culinary creation with the food that is getting thrown away.

Meet five geniuses making delicious things out of rubbish:

  1. Snact

snact

Set up in 2013, Snact are the people making ‘jerky’ out of waste and surplus fruit. Blending up knobbly, discarded produce from London markets to create chewy dried fruit snacks in all kinds of flavours, Snact even uses compostable packaging, making it a wholly sustainable snack. The Apple and Mango flavour is a tropically taste-bomb that counts towards your five a day.

 2. ChicP

chicp

Houmous, once a dip reserved for the middle classes, is now a supermarket staple and as standard in the fridge as milk and butter. ChicP’s versions of the tasty chickpea mush are not only more colourful and adventurous than your usual pot, but have the added bonus of tackling food waste. Hannah McCollum is the brains behind ChicP, creating raw houmous with surplus and wonky vegetables from supermarkets – think a vibrant beetroot, horseradish and sage, or a sunny looking carrot, ginger and turmeric. There are even sweet options for the truly adventurous – the banana, avocado and cacoa would be the perfect toast topper.

3. Rubies in the Rubble

rubies.png

If you’re more of a cheese-and-chutney-rather-than-houmous sort of person, you’ll be pleased to know that you can now satisfy your cravings whilst championing sustainability. Rubies in the Rubble makes delicious ketchups and relishes from London’s discarded market produce, which would be wasted because of looks, or due to insufficient storage. After collecting bin-destined fruit and vegetables from wholesalers such as New Covent Garden Market, Rubies in the Rubble transforms them into creative condiments – a fig, pear and port relish would be a perfect partner to a block of cheddar, and the ‘Top Banana’ ketchup could really jazz up you bacon sarnie.

4. Toast Ale

toast

If the lack of alcohol in this article has been worrying you, keep calm. BAsed in Hackney, Toast Ale brews beer from surplus bread (aha, you say, the name makes sense now) in Yorkshire. From unsold artisan loaves from bakeries to crusts from supermarket sandwiches, the bread is combined with malted barley, hops and yeast to create something quite different. Not only are you reducing waste by drinking this beer, you are also championing sustainability –  all profits go to the charity Feedback, a charity fighting food waste. This is ale with a conscience – try their pale ale, craft lager or session IPA.

5. Urban Orchard

urban

Although we live in a big big city, there is a surprising amount of green space. In this space, as well as back gardens, allotments and community gardens, there are fair few fruit trees – many of which are not used. This is where Urban Orchard come in. These guys make cider from your donated apples – simply exchange a minimum of 5kg of your produce for some of their fruity cider, at donor stations all over the city. The best thing? Someone in London is probably drinking your apples.

Drury 188-189: The New Covent Garden Coffee Gem

drury-1

To say that Covent Garden is chocca-block with cafes and places to stop for coffee is an understatement. As well as the usual Starbucks and Prets, there are the slightly fancier, usually tourist-filled, ones in the Piazza and a plethora of pubs and restaurants where you can also get your caffeine fix.

When a new café opens, therefore, I always greet it with trepidation, wondering if it will manage to compete with the 10 other establishments within the surrounding five square metres. A little out of the manic hubbub of the actual market, a new opening on Drury Lane, aptly named Drury 188-189 (just to make locating it that bit easier), may indeed survive the competition.

With a stunning spread of cakes, bakes and salads on offer, and a rather rustic-styled interior, Drury 188-189 is immediately welcoming. Another bonus is the fact that their coffee is actually pretty darn good – smooth and not too strong, and unlike a lot of the chi chi hip cafes, a decent size.

The lack of wifi is remedied by the selection of vintage books on each table, crying out to be read – maybe the bubble of disconnection may encourage Londoners to interact and take their eyes of their screens? Perhaps that is too much to ask…

If you want somewhere to switch off in Covent Garden, this beautiful value for money coffee haven is a gem.

Behind the Scenes: A Look Inside London Artist Vanessa Jackson’s Studio

 

studio

Royal AcademyVanessa Jackson Credit: Vanessa Jackson

 

It’s a funny thing, stepping into an artist’s studio. Perhaps it’s like tiptoeing around someone’s bedroom, or opening up a private diary – there’s a feeling that you are entering a sacred space, one in which ideas are formed, decisions are made, creativity is initiated and yet one which also feels strangely out of bounds.

When, therefore, I was lucky enough to attend a studio tour of artist Vanessa Jackson’s creative space in Bermondsey, I felt a strange sense of intrusion. That, however, was quickly dissolved: over a glass of wine, a handful of people and the artist herself began to talk art and inspiration, teaching and techniques, and were all made to feel thoroughly welcome in this paint-splattered room.

Despite Jackson’s formal art education at the Royal College of Art, her pieces are anything but traditional. Geometric ideas crossed with modernist lines, all in vibrant hues and clashing colours, line the walls of her studio (you can also see them on display at the Royal Academy). Although intended to be independent pieces, a lot of Vanessa Jackson’s art works incredibly well in sequence and alongside each other.

vanessa-1

Credit: Royal Academy

 

Her personal sketchbook was not for our eyes, but bar that, Vanessa was open with how she created certain pieces, the fact that a lot of what she did she threw away, and her annoyance when critics brand her work as ‘cubist’.

To glimpse the ‘behind the scenes’ activity and space was enlightening, not least to get the artist’s perspective on her own work, but also to talk frankly about the art world in general. I don’t quite know if I expected a beret-wearing, overalled individual painting at an easel, but my insight into the world of an artist was one which inspired, fascinated and excited me.

What the experience confirmed is that everyone works in a completely different way, whatever they are doing, and that however we decide to be creative, none of it is wrong.

 

London’s Woodland-Themed Christmas Lights: Fab or Fail?

seven-dials-xmas

Hands up if anyone has ever seen a rabbit hopping about in Covent Garden. Or how about a fox making its way from Trafalgar Square? Perhaps you may have come across a squirrel in Seven Dials? No I have not gone completely mad – but Covent Garden may have. This year, Seven Dials have gone with a woodland theme for their festive displays. Original, yes. But does it work?

seven 3.jpg

Last night signalled a step nearer to the big day, as the Christmas lights in Seven Dials were officially switched on. It was a whole evening of festivities, with mulled wine and Christmas cocktails, money off and music – myself, along with a fair few other savvy Londoners, took this opportunity to get 20% off most shops and collect our complimentary drinks: we have to make the most of these things after all.

With free grilled cheese, more mince pies than is possible to eat, and the chance to toast your own marshmallows at the fire-pit S’more station, this was more than just shopping. Wreath-making workshops were even on the agenda, for the people that were feeling particularly productive on a Thursday night.

At 6pm was the big switch on. Crowds gathered around the centre of Seven Dials, where all seven streets converge to a central point, where what looks like the Monument’s rather puny cousin, stands proudly. This was not just a case of pressing a button – there was a build-up to a) get people very excited and b) to try and explain the reason why Seven Dials was full of cardboard cut-outs of various woodland animals.

seven 5.jpg

This build-up consisted of a Lumiere-like light projection on the surrounding buildings, while a voice read out a rhyming story to narrate the projections. I listened avidly, but still didn’t manage to make head nor tail of why the woodland creatures ended up in the middle of London. Admittedly, the light display of foxes and rabbits on Covent Garden’s buildings were pretty cute, but when the poem tried to find multiple rhymes for ‘Seven Dials’, you just knew it wasn’t going to end well.

Finally, a countdown ensued, and on 1, the streets of Seven Dials suddenly lit up. It cannot be denied that this was a thoroughly festive affair, especially when acclaimed band Dirty Old Brasstards began to play ‘So here it is, Merry Christmas’.

seven 2.jpg

Looking around I did indeed feel very Christmassy. The lights, even if they are in the shape of a badger, or surrounding a bemused bunny, may be slightly odd, but they are fairly cute, and very twinkly.

I may not be following in Seven Dials’ footsteps, and decorating my tree with deer decorations and bunny baubles: but the Covent Garden area is definitely branching out with their forest theme, daring to be different, and making London even more full of lights, which, let’s face it, can’t be a bad thing.

seven 4.jpg

Breakfast in a Bag: The Initiative Providing Breakfasts for London’s Homeless

lots-bags

It is impossible to walk down any street in London without coming across a homeless person. You may notice their curled up figure, hidden in a sleeping bag, or glimpse them sitting on a salvaged piece of cardboard, trying to keep their dog fed and watered. But precisely because homelessness is so commonplace nowadays in the city, perhaps it has lost its ability to shock. The sheer volume of people living on the streets has almost become part of the scenery, making it easier for the masses to walk by and ignore the issue.

There is no shortage of charities and organisations attempting to address the problem. Soup kitchens and food banks are popping up left right and centre, offering a place to sit and refuel with some nutritious food – a brief moment of solace and comfort before those with nowhere to go spend yet another night on a pavement.

These food banks and soup kitchens, however, often only serve up food in the evenings. We are constantly told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why is there such a lack of attention paid to the morning meal when it comes to the homeless? After a whole night in the cold, breakfast is very much needed by the hundreds of individuals living on London’s streets.

Introducing ‘Breakfast in a Bag’ (BIAB), the brainchild of Michelle Clark, who has been working with the homeless since starting her Off the Streets London outreach project. BIAB is pretty much what it says on the tin – breakfast in a bag – yet so much more.  These bags, often containing juices, breakfast bars and fruit,  are delivered to the city’s homeless to provide them with a healthy start to yet another day without a place to call home.

bag-pic-1

Michelle explains that while she was aware of the many resources available for homeless people, she realised that no-one was giving any attention to breakfast. ‘I gave it some thought and realised that a healthy breakfast would really kick start their day.  Illnesses such as diabetes are quite common among the homeless, maybe due to a bad diet. It can be quite dangerous for diabetics not to eat in the mornings so the breakfast bags are very important for them.’

Initially, the contents of the bags were completely self-funded, but now Michelle has been lucky enough to receive donations from brands such as Weetabix and eateries including Pret, who want to help the campaigner on her breakfast mission. ‘To start with, I was buying pretty much everything locally, I’m sure my local supermarket thought I had some sort of cereal addiction!  Since then I’ve been lucky to have had support from the likes of Greggs, Pret, Morrisons and Weetabix with donations of food.  Only yesterday we received 3 boxes of Energy Bars from HIGH5 Sports Nutrition who supply them to world class athletes.  These will have huge benefits for our homeless friends as many of the carbohydrates that benefit a world class runner will be just as welcomed by a homeless person.  I think it’s unrealistic to ever expect to be fully funded by food manufacturers and supermarkets but we are hoping to partner with as many as we can as we move forward. Every time we get a bulk donation through from a food supplier it means our donations from the public go a lot further so we can make and deliver more bags.’

sleep-bag

BIAB is gaining in popularity on Twitter

Currently, Michelle does ‘bag-drops’ three times a week, and has recently opened a static Brekkie Station at Victoria on a Friday night, where people can come and collect a breakfast bag for the next day. ‘The numbers for this are increasing each week as word spreads among the homeless community’, explains Michelle. ‘It’s quickly become a safe place where the homeless gather to socialise over some hot food and a cuppa and is already about so much more than just providing them with a meal and a breakfast bag for when they wake up on Saturday mornings.’

As BIAB becomes bigger, more and more people are donating to the cause. Just £3 can fill a bag, and it is amazing just how many are prepared to part with that bit of change to fund a breakfast. Michelle is clearly overwhelmed with the reception her concept has received. ‘I’ve learnt that plenty of people are prepared to hand over the price of a decent cup of coffee to buy a breakfast for someone less fortunate than themselves through the response to our “Sponsor A Bag For £3” campaign.  Some people have said they’ll be making a regular donation each week or month which is fantastic.  I’ve learnt that there are many angels out there who have stepped in to help me – one example is the lady that’s just taken time out from her paying clients to design and build us a new website (breakfastinabag.co.uk) for free.’ And what else has BIAB taught her? ‘One of the more interesting things I’ve learnt is from when I went to collect a donation that came in via one of our Twitter followers:  you can fit 192 boxes of Kelloggs cornflakes into a standard sized car.  But only just!’homeless-pic

We may not give a second thought to our breakfast in the morning. We may grab a piece of toast or bowl of cereal before heading out the door, or pick up a coffee and croissant en route to the office. But for London’s many homeless, who don’t know where their next meal may be coming from, the promise of a healthy and substantial breakfast after a whole night exposed on the streets is invaluable. Instead of a pastry and coffee on your usual morning café run, if just one day you gave that £3 to BIAB, think of the difference it could make. If everyone in your office did that too, imagine the bags BIAB could provide.

Michelle is doing a fantastic job, but times are hard. ‘The number of rough sleepers in London has doubled in the last five years to an incredible 7.500 last year so it’s not surprising that all of the resources for the homeless are stretched.  I think we’re all just doing what we can to help some of the most vulnerable people in the community and to try and show them that they haven’t been completely abandoned by society.’

Come on London, let’s all chip in.

With thanks to BIAB and Michelle for the opportunity to talk with them about this amazing project.

Wilton’s Music Hall: Head East for Entertainment

Looking for an evening’s entertainment or a quirky cocktail? Look no further.Tucked away between Tower Hill and Aldgate Stations is a hidden gem of an establishment: introducing Wilton’s Music Hall.

wiltons.jpg

If you think that all of the city’s best theatres and show venues are in the West End, think again. Despite the majority of musicals centring around Soho and Covent Garden, and perhaps the more ‘serious’ plays taking place at the National or the Globe, there are plenty more hidden away, off-West End performances that are equally, if not more, mind-blowing. If you look hard enough, a short walk from the Tower of London will show you one such place: Wilton’s.

For a spectacular venue that, yes, may lack the light up signs and the overpriced merchandise that is synonymous with London shows these days, the unique Wilton’s Music Hall is definitely worth a visit. Having started out in 1839, this Grade 2 Star listed building is still going strong today after some recent renovation, and as one of the oldest grand music halls in the world, hosts a variety of top-class acts and entertainment.

wiltons 2.jpg

On first glance (when you have finally located the place having walked down several side streets), Wilton’s may not strike you as a fabulous night out. But step inside, and you could be mistaken to think you have been transported back to the era of music halls and gin dens. Low lighting, subdued hues and cosy décor meets a thoroughly relaxed vibes to create one of London’s best-kept secrets.

wiltons entrace.png

The Mahogany Bar and upstairs Cocktail Bar serve up some exceptional and inventive cocktails amongst the usual beers, wines and softies for the drivers. Hearty pre-show food, courtesy of The Gatherer’s, is available, with local Brick Lane Beigels and the likes of chicken scratchings on the menu.

Recently, I was lucky enough to see one of the stunning performances that Wilton’s hosts – this one was a play cum cabaret cum musical and was gripping from start to finish. Titled ‘City Stories’, the show told four individual love stories set at different points in time, but all based in our beloved London. Exceptional music accompanied the drama thanks to one (very talented) woman and her piano, who also happened to have written the score.

city stories.jpg

This, alas was only a two-night affair, but the constantly changing  programme of events is just why Wilton’s is so fantastic. From jazz bands to plays, cabarets to comedy, the variety in entertainment coupled with its one-of-a-kind atmosphere makes Wilton’s Music Hall the ultimate fusion of venue, entertainment, drinks and history.