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Twelve things to do in West Hampstead in December

There’s always a (snow) flurry of things to do in December, the challenge is fitting them all in between the socialising and recovering from socialising that seems to define the final few weeks of the year.

We don’t have to credit Tim Mossholder for the image, but we would like to. Seasons greetings Tim!

On Saturday 9th, from 7.30-9.30 pm is the Hampstead Chorus Autumn concert with Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, Francis Poulenc’s Gloria and The Heavens and the Heart by James Francis Brown. They sing at UCS and you can get tickets here.

For something a little lighter, on Thursday 14th at 7.30 pm in Emmanuel Church – and with some audience participation – the Fortune Green choir is holding its concert with a guest appearance from Cantereas (a vocal ensemble based in West Hampstead). It should be a really nice concert, and it is raising money for the Mayor of Camden’s chosen charity – C4WS, the homeless charity that operates out of Emmanuel Church. The Mayor will be attending. The suggested donation is £5 (with mulled wine and mince pies afterwards).

If you’re after something a bit more serious, then on Saturday 16th, the Hampstead Chamber Choir is celebrating a European Christmas, also in Emmanuel Church. Audience participation in the carols here too. Tickets are £12.

Something for the younger residents?

On Saturday 9th at the Community Centre is a holiday gifts workshop. Make a present for granny, she will love it! And who knows your kid might even make it into the John Lewis ad next year…

Then on Wedensday 14th, the ever-popular Sherriff Centre Panto is back. Oh, no it isn’t. Oh, yes it… save me from this please. But it is already fully booked – oh no it isn… yes, yes it is. This year it is Sleeping Beauty.

For the even younger residents, there is a not-very-Christmassy-but-who-cares Baby Broadway concert on Saturday 16th at 11 am in Emmanuel Church. You can get tickets here.

Something a bit more entertaining?

On Monday 11th at West End Lane Books, Nina Stibbe will read from “An Almost Perfect Christmas”. It’s at 7.30 pm and free, but is also a chance to pick up a copy of the book (and pay for it too, obvs). Looks like quite a nice stocking filler/Christmassy present. (Please reserve a place).

The JW3 Icerink opened again on the 3rd and will be open until Sunday, January 7th. It’s closed on Sabbaths but will be open on the 25th and 26th December so something to do on Christmas day or Boxing day to work off the calories. And oddly, it’s sponsored by a … firm of accountants!

On Monday 18th at the Alliance, it’s the Christmas offering from Locally Sourced with actress Annette Badland and an anthology of seasonal delights. She’s a familiar face on TV (and voice on radio – she’s  Hazel on the Archers!) Also appearing will be pianist Kat Gillham and baritone Phil Wilcox, so expect some Christmas melodies. This could be a lot of fun.

With the closure of the Good Ship, things comedic do seem a little thin on the ground in the ‘hood, however, something new(ish) on the radar is the London Improv theatre. They have what looks like some really good events coming up. Starting with… “God, the Untold Story” , on December 5th, 6th and 7th.

I liked the look of the Glenda J collective on Friday 15th, but it’s… you guessed it, sold out.

Also on the bill is Slattery Night Fever on Saturdays December 16th and 23rd. Booking recommended to see one of the original Whose Line is it Anyway greats.

Indeed, there is a whole host of other events including Improv Friday with a double bill of the Inflatables/Music Box. Last time I went, a group of mates sitting next to me had been to celebrate a friend’s birthday and these seem like go-with-a-couple-of-mates kind of things to do.

Finally, it’s not very Christmassy but the current Camden Arts Centre exhibitions are worth seeing both Natalie du Pasquier and Christian Nyampeta. A nice destination for an afternoon walk, and there is a rather good café too!

So there you are good dozen suggestions of things to do this month. We’ll cover the Christmas services separately.

‘The Art of Failing’, the West Hampstead way

Local author Tony McGowan’s new book ‘The Art of Failing‘ is described by the publisher as ‘A laugh-out-loud chronicle of one man’s daily failures and disappointments, set in West Hampstead‘.

He has a book reading coming up at West End Lane Books on Thursday this week, so we popped by for a cup of herbal tea to have a chat. Tony couldn’t actually find a herbal tea bag, so the following events took place over a cup of hot water with a measly slice of lemon.

The book is in diary format and according to his agent was ‘not an obvious book to publish’ as it is a series of Facebook musings turned into a book, but published it was, with a book launch last week at Daunt books in Marylebone.

'Don't cry for me, West Hampstead. The truth is I never left you.'

‘Don’t cry for me, West Hampstead. The truth is I never left you.’ Pic: at the book launch at Daunt’s Books

How did it come about?

“Well, my personal writing style is observation and a touch surreal so I needed some space, but I was interested in writing something over social media. As Twitter is only 140 characters, Facebook seemed the natural choice. Quite early on I realised that the ‘likes’ (which became quite addictive) offered a feedback loop on what was popular so it helped shape things. So the musings on cricket, for example, had to go!”

The book appears to be a diary or journal, but a lot of what happens seems bizarre and extraordinary. How much of it is true?

“All of it to some extent, much is as true as I could make it, there is a kernel of truth in all of it.

For example, take the dwarf doppelgänger called “Heimlich” who I encountered one evening when I was out walking the dog. Suddenly I heard this panting and pounding sounds behind me. I turned around and there he was. I stared at him, he stared at me, but then ran off. When I got home I told my wife and kids about him and they said ‘nah’, but I occasionally saw him after that and yet they continued to think he was figment of my literary imagination. This ties into another strand of the book about my marriage being under strain by increasing weirdness during that period. When that was over I was out with my wife and daughter and we ran into Heimlich; we all saw him. So they realised he did exist and yes they agreed he did even look a bit like me, just smaller.

My approach is to look at the world in a different way, even at mundane events, so even something usual becomes a new thing”.

For a book that is supposed to be funny, some parts are quite sad/poignant. Does the sadness undermine the humour?

“Part of the narrative is the disintegration of my character and my isolation from my family – it’s exaggerated of course, but it came after a successful period and things felt a bit flat, my career seemed to be heading downhill. Yet the comedy comes from that – it has an edge. However, the reviews and feedback I have had tended to see only the humour. As writer (or artist) you create what you can and put it out there, you can’t control how others react”.

Your family appears in the book. How do they feel about that? Especially the fearsome Mrs McGowan*…

“The kids are fine with it, they drift in and out of the text. My wife Rebecca plays a more central role so that was trickier. She can appear hard and cruel but is also rather beautiful so that was OK. I’ve discovered that way round is fine for people I write about, but not vice-versa”.

(* I was at university with Mrs McG and we nearly went out, except she turned me down. How different history could have been.)

What else have you written?

“I written a number of books for teenagers. The ‘Donut Diaries’ is a comic trilogy set in the north of England where I grew up.  The other books are all stand alone novels; ‘Hellbent’ about a teenager who dies and goes to hell – it’s a comedy, ‘Jack Tumor’ about a boy who discovers he has a brain tumour and keeps hearing voices. It’s inspired by Henry IV with the tumour playing the role of Falstaff. I’ve also written ‘The Knife That Killed Me’, which tackled teenage knife crime and was made into a film”.

In some ways the book is a love song to West Hampstead.  What are you favourite things about the area?

“What are my little stations of the cross? Well there’s Hampstead cemetery, the best open space in the area. It has everything; wilderness, history and a sense of poignancy of the graves. Each one is a story.

I’m also a big fan of the charity shops as a collector of first editions I’ve found a couple over time. Socially, a recent find is Tannin and Oak. Plus a long standing favourite where you often find me and Mrs McG having lunch is the Wet Fish Cafe. I used to go a lot to the Czech (and Slovak) Club but that’s tailed off.  And of course there is Lately’s.”

 

 

Remix latest victim in West Hampstead burglary spree

Remix’s new bar/salon on Broadhurst Gardens is the latest victim in a spate of break-ins to West Hampstead businesses that’s now reached double figures in the past few weeks.

Remix_bar

Remix’s new premises on the north side of Broadhurst Gardens was the latest target after its salon opposite had already been hit

After West End Lane Books and La Brocca suffered burglaries at the weekend, Remix’s new premises was burgled in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Intruders broke in at the back of the building and stole the till, a company laptop, alcohol from the salon’s new bar, and hairdressing equipment. Salon manager Nick Petkov said he was bemused by some of the items stolen, which included scissors, clippers and top-of-the-range shampoo.

Danny Van Emden from West End Lane books said it was “utterly inspiring how lovely everyone’s been”, adding that since the incident in which £140 was stolen but no books were touched, sympathetic customers had brought biscuits, croissants and flowers, and that the shop had received around 400 supportive tweets. “The response of our customers, both in person and on Twitter, mitigated the sadness we felt on Saturday morning.”

A couple of doors down, La Brocca was also broken into on Saturday night, and had bottles of alcohol stolen.

Other West End Lane businesses that have been targeted recently include Toomai, hairdresser Holistic, health food shop Health Town, Remix’s other Broadhurst Gardens premises, Pro Arte the violin shop, the Sherriff Centre, and a couple of businesses on Finchley Road.

Tim Khoshsima of Health Town said that his shop’s front window and glass shelves were smashed, and thieves made off with the till and items of stock including protein supplements and beauty products. He said “I love West Hampstead as an area to do business, but this has made me realise we need to be more careful”. He added that he planned to take more precautions agains burglaries, including fitting a shutter.

Sergeant Ian Hutton from the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood team believes the burglaries may be linked, and the burglary squad is investigating. CCTV footage exists of at least one of the break-ins, in another case, the CCTV unit itself was stolen.

Sgt Hutton advised businesses not to keep large amounts of cash on premises, as this is the main target for thieves. He also advised that if people see anything suspicious especially at the rear of shops that they call the police then, not leave it until the morning. If you are suspicious, 101 is appropriate, but if you believe a crime is taking place 999 is the correct call.

The police can also give free crime prevention advice to any business that requests it. Just call 101.

Love defined by Emmanuel School pupils

What is love?

This has occupied many great minds through the ages, from Stendhal to, erm, Haddaway. It even topped the list of Google searches a couple of years ago.

Now, pupils at Emmanuel School in West Hampstead have tackled the question, and published a book of their thoughts on the subject. Definitions vary, but range from “Love is kissing and smiling and hugging” (by Conor L, 7) to Rohan’s thoughtful “Love is something that makes you remember people that have passed away”.

whatislove

Called 31 Ways To Define Love, it’s the work of the Topaz class at Emmanuel, all of whom are aged 6 or 7.

what is love extract

The idea for the book came from Sarah Trueman, whose son Arthur is in the class. As the school has expanded in recent years, it needs more books for its growing library, and Sarah hit upon the idea of creating a book with the children as a perfect way to raise extra funds.

Along the way, the children have learned what is involved in the process of writing, illustrating and publishing a book, and  also had a lot of fun. Sarah spent a day with the class and found the children enthusiastic about the project and “lovely to work with”.

Sarah praised her son’s class teacher Miss Willis, as well as Emmanuel headteacher Miss Fitzsimmons, who she described as “super-engaged with the process” and extremely encouraging of the children’s creativity and literacy.

The book is available for £2.99 from West End Lane Books, and all proceeds will go to the Emmanuel School Big Read Quest. The bookshop is open until 7pm tonight, so this could be the ideal extra Valentine’s gift to pick up on your way home.

Whampbooks is Five – August 29th

This month sees the return of the ever-popular Whampbooks lock-in; the fifth edition no less.

What is this event? I hear you cry. It’s a chance to browse and stock up on some holiday reading at the lovely West End Lane Books, while drinking free wine (thanks Chelsea Square) and meeting some lovely literary locals. As if that wasn’t incentive enough, there’s 20% off all books on the night.

There’s no need to book a ticket – just turn up anytime from 7.30pm; browse, chat, mingle, drink, buy. It’s not too hard.

Put August 29th in your Moleskine diaries (yes, there’s 20% off all cards and stationery too) and we’ll see you there!

Stock the shelves at West End Lane Books

Yesterday afternoon, everyone’s favourite independent bookshop tweeted:

Bet yr *really* well read! Want to show how clever you are? Send list of fave books & if we like ’em we’ll add shelf with your name & books!
— West End Lane Books (@WELBooks) June 13, 2013

What a great idea, I thought. So I asked Danny from West End Lane Books, to give us a bit more info:

“West Hampstead folk are a well-read-bunch. We should know, we spend all day, every day, recommending great reads. And very grateful we are too.

But now we’re turning the tables.

We want to know what your favourite books are. The best submissions will have their selections displayed in the shop on their own dedicated shelves with their names on show to boot.

Send your choices, which can include as few as 6 books to a maximum of 12, to ku.oc1513292466.skoo1513292466blew@1513292466ofni1513292466 marked ‘bookshelves’. Winners will be announced next week.

[Tip: try not to include any titles which may be out of print or we will find it hard to order and display them]

This is one occasion when you might want to be left on the shelf”

Crowdsourcing your stock from local recommendations. What a fantastic notion. I’ve already submitted my list, an electic mix of children’s literature, highbrow fiction, social theory and rip-roaring tales of adventure. Lets see whether I win!

Photo via @theprettybooks

Bookshop event January 22nd

Whampbooks is back on January 22nd.

If you’re not familiar with this particular event, it’s really very simple. The lovely people at West End Lane Books open their doors for the evening for a night of bargains, booze and books. There’s 20% off all stock, (free) wine for all, and a chance to meet and chat with some lovely locals.

The fun kicks off at 7.30pm, but it’s all very informal. Come along when you can, there’s no ticketing or pre-booking or anything. I think this will be our fourth book event, and they’ve all been great fun. See you there!

Books galore – just needs you!

The Road to West End Lane

Sadly, I couldn’t make the grand unveiling of the plaque to George Orwell last week, but mercifully (and appropriately), Danny from West End Lane Books could – and kindly penned a few words about it.

“I’ve got something in common with George Orwell it seems! I gleaned this priceless piece of dinner-party ammo the day that Kilburn Historic Plaque supremo Ed Fordham triumphantly brought Richard Blair to town to unveil a tribute to his father, the mighty George Orwell, on the Kilburn estate they briefly inhabited before being bombed out in WW2.

Nowadays, the building is called Kington House in Mortimer Crescent and Blair, not the slight, pale figure I imagined, but a broad avuncular man of old-school bank manager appearance, admitted he didn’t really recall it — unsurprisingly since he was an infant the last time he laid eyes on the place.

A good crowd had gathered to meet the man whose father has so enriched us all and confirmed that Orwell did indeed work on Animal Farm while living in our postcode.

After the unveiling of the plaque Blair and Fordham braved rush hour traffic to hotfoot it over to West End Lane Books where another eager crowd had gathered and was treated to a reading from Orwell’s Bookshop Memories essay — and that’s where I learned of mine and George’s shared experiences!

Bookshops, Orwell remarked of his time working in one, were places ‘you can spend a long time without spending money’. Yep, that bit still rings sadly true. And although our customers aren’t of the ‘motheaten’ variety that Orwell depicts and nor do we regard children’s books as ‘horrible things’ (they obviously didn’t have Puffin, Walker, Usborne et al in those days), his description of the ‘brutal cynicism’ of the marketing of Christmas, in particular the order form for advent calendars displaying ‘two dozen Infant Jesuses with rabbits’ brought a blush of shame.

Orwell went on to describe life with George as his (adopted) father, noting that while he was always Eric Blair to at home, he was only ever George Orwell to his friends and professional contacts (‘the name change was to protect us,’ said Blair.) and often the two camps were not aware of the other; some family members remaining ignorant of George’s alter ego even as his books were published and word began to spread of his work.

Blair recalled his father as an affectionate man who often read to his son—classics such as AA Milne (also honoured by a Kilburn plaque) and Beatrix Potter, but also his own little stories and poetry, none of which survives to our loss. While retaining the then-customary stoicism about his struggles with TB (‘he was slightly vague about it’), Blair told us that his father was nonetheless constrained by his illness and felt that physical contact with his son needed to be minimal for his own safety.

Orwell also read aloud chapters of Animal Farm at home to his wife and Blair reminded us that even this literary colossus had initial trouble finding a publisher. Blair himself was not allowed to read 1984 until some time after his father’s death when he was 11 and when asked when he first became aware of Orwell’s status, he remembered it as a form of osmosis around the same age.

Listening to Blair’s recollections of Orwell doing bits of woodwork, rolling fags with newspapers when he ran out of cigarette papers and all of the everyday trivia family life is filled with, I for one had a few frissons: this man lived with Orwell…this man knew Orwell!

What an honour to have Richard Blair in our shop. What an honour for NW6 to have such a connection! Major thanks to Ed Fordham for making this happen.”

Where’s Wally in WHampstead?

It’s 25 years since Wally appeared on the pages of children’s book, leading to a generation of kids with strained eyesight and a Pavlovian reaction to anyone wearing a red-and-white striped hat.

In honour of this literary anniversary, West End Lane Books has organised a treat for Wally spotters young and old this weekend.

If you spot Wally in West Hampstead on Saturday afternoon then take a pic of him and tweet it (@WELBooks) or mail it (ku.oc1513292466.skoo1513292466blew@1513292466ofni1513292466) to the bookshop. The shop has Where’s Wally goodie bags crammed with stuff for kids, which will go to the best pictures (be warned, I may be involved in judging these!).

Bit old for a goodie bag, but still want some Where’s Wally action? West End Lane books is also offering a £25 book voucher for the best adult entry.

Books, booze and bargains

Next Thursday, the 16th, is the third of our occasional #whampbooks events with the marvellous West End Lane Books.

The premise is simple: you come to the bookshop from 7.30pm. You can chat to some lovely locals, you can drink some (free) wine, browse the shelves, and if you want to buy anything then you’ll get a 20% discount. Yes, free wine AND 20% off books. Come on.

No tickets, no pre-booking, just turn up. The event usually winds up aroud 9 – 9.30pm.

Look forward to seeing you there.

West Hampstead’s Olympicks

No, no spelling mistake here. On Wednesday evening I joined about 40 other locals at West End Lane Books to hear local author and historian Simon Inglis and University of Southampton academic Martin Polley talk about the history of the Olympics in the UK. Polley’s book “The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612-2012“.

Local actor Paul Brightwell added a dramatic touch and theatrical timbre as he read out extracts from some of the early marketing literature for local variants of the Olympics. This included West Hampstead’s very own contribution to the story around the end of the 18th century when a fair was held on West End Green, sponsored by the Cock & Hoop pub, which stood where Alexandra Mansions is now.

Simon and Martin explained the political and social context in which local communities held what would today be termed “Village Games” using the Olympick banner largely tongue in cheek.

You really should buy Martin’s excellent book (from West End Lane Books of course) for the full story. I really recommend it – I went to this talk expecting to find it mildly interesting, but in fact it was very engaging indeed.

Sadly, West Hampstead’s part in the story came to light too late to make the book. But fear not, there will be more on the West End Green Games coming out later this year, and I’m hoping that Simon will be writing something about this for West Hampstead Life in the very near future.

West Hampstead bookshop “lock-in” success

Last night saw an experiment in West Hampstead. West End Lane Books threw its doors open from 9 to 10pm to @WHampstead twitter followers (and a few others!). There was wine, there was chat, there was 15 percent off everything. A dozen or so #whampers decided that the election debate on TV wasn’t enough of a lure (or recorded it) and getting to know a few fellow locals was a far better option.

It was great to see a mix of familiar faces such as @bubela, @TheWetFishCafe and @SamWong1 along with some first-time whampeventers including @designbyday, @jenny23232323 and @tractorgirlie.

Photo by @designbyday. Original here

Plenty of books were bought (lets not forget that if we want to keep our independent bookshops we do, at least occasionally, have to buy books from them and not Amazon), a reasonable amount of wine was drunk, and hopefully everyone had a good time!

Other bookshop / @WHampstead tie-ins are being mooted, so keep your eyes peeled and follow the #whampbooks hashtag. The bookshop also organises lots of its own events.