The Four Corner Chess Club, Saturdays, Granary Square

The Four Corner Outdoor Chess Club is a very enjoyable thig to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It meets at noon in St. John’s Square, a short walk from Farringdon station, a part of the city that is quiet at the weekend. It is free and you don’t need to book – just turn up and take part. The atmosphere is fun and friendly, it doesn’t matter whether you are a good player or a complete beginner, you will find a game. To be honest, you don’t even have to play, there were some people who just came to watch.

They say that chess is good for keeping the brain active, and in that respect, this club would certainly be good for the over 55s. The chess sets are laid out on a small wall and have a natural seat on one side, on the other side the player will have to stand, so if you have a back problem you may have to ask to be on the seated side. I can’t imagine that anyone there would have a problem with this though, everyone was very helpful and friendly.

The setting is lovely, a tree lined square, there is even a beautiful quiet, contemplative garden on one side, where you could go to gather your thoughts after a particularly tricky game. It was a warm sunny day when I was there, and it was an idyllic way to spend time – it might be a bit different on a damp winter day, although I suspect that they have a friendly pub nearby that they can adjourn to. The Four Corner Club also meet on a Wednesday evening at 6pm in Granary Square, near Kings Cross station – perhaps I’ll see you there!



Advertisement

Up at the O2

It seems that I was one of the few people who liked The Millenium Dome, as it was called when it was called when it was first built. I had a couple of very enjoyable days there at the start of the century. So, when I was given the tickets to walk over the roof of it, as a birthday gift, I was delighted. It’s called the O2 arena now and the walk over its roof is “Up at the O2” with a tagline of “Get over it” – which might be a reference to how unpopular the venue was when it was opened.

The tours run every 15 minutes from roughly 10am until 10pm, although the start and finish times do vary from day to day. You can book them a long way in advance, but I would recommend waiting until you have a good idea of what the weather will be like before booking. They run whatever the weather, rain or shine and only cancel if there are gale force winds or if there is lightning within 5 miles.

It was a lovely sunny October day, the 30th, on the day we did it and although I’d imagine it would be an interesting experience in a thunderstorm, I suspect it would not be as pleasant. The walk up and down is quite steep at times, 30% maximum gradient, but the path is wide, and you are hooked up to a safety harness, so the journey to the top and back did not feel dangerous at any point. There are grips to hold your shoes on the steepest parts, but I bet the surface becomes quite slippery in the rain.

The podium at the top is big and provides beautiful panoramic views of the city skyscrapers and of the Thames east of London. The only cameras you are allowed to bring are those that will fit inside your zipped pockets. They do have gilets with zipped pockets, that they will lend you, if your jacket does not have zipped pockets. The pillars do make it a bit difficult for someone of my limited photographic ability to get photos that do justice to the views. The maximum group size is twenty and our guide, was very helpful with lots of information and offers of picture taking.

Gin Tasting and Distillery tour at the City of London Distillery

The makers of Whitley Neil Gins are The City of London Distillery, and on many evenings they host distillery tours and gin tasting evenings. These are held with groups of 10 people or less. When we arrived we were given a welcome drink, ours was dry gin and prosecco, while we awaited the arrival of the other attendees. Once they arrived we were taken to an alcove to the side of the main bar where tables were set up with four gin flights, botanicals and an information sheet.

To start we had a brief rundown of the history of gin and the difference between different types of gin. Then we tasted the first two and chatted about their taste. They will bring tonic or any other mixer you have with your gin. After a few minutes discussion we were brought to the still room where we got to meet the stills. Yes, they all have names and they are spoken about as though they are people. The tour was interesting and lively, because Stephen, who was our guide, was obviously interested in his subject with regard to both history and taste.

We heard how the gin is made and how it is flavoured, then we went back to taste the last two gins. Perhaps I was lucky with the crowd on this occasion, but by the time we were tasting the final gin, our conversation had moved on to more general discussions – about holidays, museums and London life. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial. There was an amount of background noise, enough that you would notice it, but certainly not at a level that would disturb your evening. The tour and tasting event lasted a little over on hour, and a few of us stayed for an extra half an hour while we finished our tasting flights.

A real bonus was the discovery of the Whitley Neil/London Distillery Bar in Bride Street. There are not many bars that are not rammed on a summer evening in central London. The bar itself is lovely, and it is relatively quiet given its position just off Fleet Street, about a three minute walk from St Paul’s Cathedral. It is underground and down a small alleyway, so not many people will know it is there – however despite this, it is very easy to get to, less than a 5-minute walk from either London Blackfriars or City Thameslink stations. There are also many bus routes that go up Fleet Street. I will remember it for when I am next meeting a gin drinker in the City.

Taster Classes at the City Lit, Keeley Street WC2.

7555_advertising_openday_Landing_2880x800_AW

The City Lit is an adult education college situated in the heart of London’s West End. It has a huge number and variety of classes. Twice a year, usually in April and September, they have open days, where prospective students can visit the college, to see what it is like and to discover whether City Lit has anything to offer them.

During these open days they also host over 100 different Taster classes, so one can see what the course is like. Some of these are free, the rest cost either £5 or £10. Examples of taster lessons are: History, Discover Spanish, Adult Ballet, Stand Up Comedy, WordPress, An Introduction to Art and Architecture in Persia, Piano for Absolute Beginners, Screen Printing….. They even have a number of magical mystery courses where the student is not told what they will study until after they arrive in the classroom.

flautist_030

Over the course of past two sets of Open Days, I have attended four of the Taster classes and have enjoyed them immensely. This was really my introduction to the phenomenon of education as entertainment. The four classes that I took were: Introduction to Arabic, WordPress, a brief overview, Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey and Curious – blue which is one of the mystery lessons.

The Arabic gave a basic overview of how the language works, we did not really get any insight into the alphabet or written Arabic, and by the end of the lesson we were all able to introduce ourselves, say where we were from and make the general opening conversation pleasantries. This is certainly enough for one to be able to know whether taking the full term class is something that would be of interest.

Info hall_031

WordPress was much more practical and the classroom had many very up-to-date PCs. By the end of the lesson everyone in the class has set up their own WordPress account,  made a webpage with text, pictures, video and sound. The computer courses are often single unit workshops to work on a specific programme or platform. The taster would be enough to inform you whether the medium would be constructive in your business or life.

Homer was a much more relaxed affair. An informative discourse, telling the story of his epic poems, the time in which they were written and a chat about why they have remained of interest for such a long period of time. City Lit has a large selection of humanities and social science classes and this would be a good test of whether this kind of course might be what would be of interest.

city lit

The Curious Blue course, the mystery course, was the busiest of all the classes that I tried. It surprised me that for so many people that it was not important what class they attended, it was more about the enjoyment of taking part. It turned out that the course was an introduction to Latin. The class was fun and very informative, we learned almost as much about English and language structure in general as we did about Latin.

There is a great deal of camaraderie in learning and I interacted with many people over the series of lectures – all of them in a positive way. Everybody I spoke to was having an enjoyable time and many were learning about themselves as well as their chosen subjects. One person I chatted to had taken the “Piano for Absolute Beginners” taster course and was amazed at his ability to play the chorus of “Ode to Joy” by the time the class was over. A lady I spoke to in the Latin class had signed up for the “Stand Up Comedy” course because she had taken the taster course and enjoyed it so much.

citylit choir

City Lit’s open days were, for me, a truly eye opening adventure. I enjoyed them thoroughly. I had forgotten that learning was such a positive experience, the building was buzzing with excited chatter. I recommend them heartily and I know that I will be looking out for the dates of their open days and taster classes in the coming years!