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Described by Dickens as "a scrambling tumult over the Downs", the Derby has been a grand day out for Londoners since 1780. In its glory days, Parliament would rise so that MPs could slope off to the racecourse and in 1913, suffragette Emily Davison gained a martyr's notoriety when she threw herself under the king's horse. This year, Alex Greaves will be the first woman to take that breakneck charge down to Tattenham Corner, although saddled with an outsider, she's unlikely to be heading the field at the final furlong. Indeed, since this year's favourite has just gone lame, who knows which flared nostrils will be first past the finishing post?

Epsom Racecourse, Epsom, Surrey. Opens 10am, Derby at 2.25pm


According to ancient inscriptions, this classical dance (below) was performed as early as the 11th century AD, when scores of women used its sinuous movements to worship at the great Shiva temple in Tanjore. Tonight, top solo artist Alarmel Valli will be offering herself to the gods with a mesmerising blend of expressive hand and facial movements, footwork and complex rhythm, emphasised by jingling ankle bells.

QEH, South Bank, London SE1 (0171-960 4242) 7.45pm pounds 8-13.50


Capital poetry touts Apples and Snakes celebrate the work of the African American writer and activist Essex Hemphill tonight. Hemphill died of Aids last year and this evening's events will focus on his work and poetry inspired by his life. Dorothea Smartt and Bunmi Ogunsiji will be giving readings and there will be a special screening of Marlon Riggs's seminal film Tongues Untied, which explores the multiplicity of black gay life in America.

BAC Lavender Hill, London SW11 (0171-223 2223) 8.30pm pounds 4.50

Saturday 8


If you're bored stupid by those curling Escher postcards and fractals pinned up on your walls, refresh your eyes with a trip to the new Bridget Riley exhibition which opens today. A leading artist of the 1960s Op Art Movement (which experimented with optical illusions), Riley first became famous in 1965, when she won the International Prize at the Venice Bienniale. Latterly, in paintings such as Bloom (detail above), Riley has explored the nature of colour harmony, building rhythms of colour in vertical and diagonal colour bands to create a sensation of depth.

Glasgow Print Studio Gallery, 22 King St, Glasgow 10am-5.30pm


Get 100 per cent Burns in Scotland this summer as the country celebrates the bicentenary of its national poet. Robbie "Bad Boy" Burns, whose seed is, by all accounts, scattered liberally around the Borders, and whose purported visits keep more than one local B&B in business, is the centre of festivities in Galloway this week, where his life will be re-enacted through his own poetry and song. Meanwhile, Edinburgh's "Pride and Passion" exhibition opens today with a show that looks beyond the shortbread-tin image. On display are original hand-written manuscripts such as Scots Wha Hae and Holy Willie's Prayer.

The Royal Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh


Scratch the surface of any sleepy market town and you'll find a bohemian hot-bed of art, poetry and music - if you're lucky. The good burghers of Malton in North Yorkshire certainly will be in luck tonight, when local venue The Shed hits the streets with a cultural roadshow featuring the Justin Vali Trio from Madagascar, pump-action poet Ian McMillan, and the very, very John Otway.

Malton Market Place, Yorks (01653-668 494)


Cuban songstress Prachatan was "discovered" selling shoes in Saks on Fifth Avenue, and shot to fame on the Clive James Show. Like some degraded descendant of Carmen Miranda, the camp Prachatan props up her mini-organ murdering old favourites with her frozen-grinned trilling. Experience her unique style in Birmingham tonight.

Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham (0121-605 6666) 7.30pm pounds 7.50-9.50

Sunday 9


Ever since 1769, those who dabble in oil and watercolour have timidly presented their work for consideration before the scary-sounding Hanging Committee of the Academy. Pictures of wet-eyed dogs, children and clowns are rejected, as is most work by unknown artists, but every year one or two hopefuls have the thrill of seeing their work in those hallowed galleries. The show is the largest open contemporary art exhibition in the world, and attracts throngs of chintzy mums, sulky art students and proud amateurs. Get there early to avoid suffocation.

The Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London W1 (0171 494 5676) 10am-7pm


Once four boys shared a life at their African boarding school. Now in their thirties, they meet again for a strange summer holiday on the holy island of St Columba, drawn together by a mixture of guilt about and nostalgia for the petty sadisms of their adolescence. Espionage, cross-dressing, Catholicism, paedophilia: lawyer-turned-playwright Peter Moffat packs it all into his new play, Iona Rain. And though many a writer would make a ridiculous pudding from such fruity ingredients, Moffat has managed to come up with a sparsely written small gem of a play. Londoners who go rigid at the thought of trekking out to neighbouring Croydon, should make the effort as the production ends today.

Croydon Warehouse (0181-680 4060) 5pm


Pashley Manor was once the home of the Boleyn family, and the Tudor rose motif carved into the oak-panelling to commemorate Anne's marriage to Henry VIII was the inspiration for this festival. A spectacular scented bower of roses will form the centrepiece for today's garden events, while inside the Manor's Great Hall, magnificent cut-flower demonstrations will use 1,000 blooms from England's only remaining rose supplier. At the end of the weekend the plants in the flowerbeds will no doubt be ruthlessly dead-headed in the same way that poor old Anne was when Henry tired of her.

Pashley Manor, Ticehurst, Sussex (01580 20692)


's World Oceans Day means plenty of coastal events exploring the flora and fauna of the sea. Among many regional activities, the RSPB is running visits to Bempton Cliffs, one of the biggest seabird colonies in Europe and guano capital of Humberside. Residents of Newcastle can also enjoy cruises from under the cliffs of Famborough Head to spot breeding puffins (above) and gannets.

Seabird Cruises, RSPB North of England, Sandyford Road, Newcastle 01767 680551

Monday 10


Six years after Mandela's release, South Africa is holding its own version of the Nuremburg Trials - the Truth Commissions, and who better to take the stand than transvestite satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys (above)?

In shows such as Adapt or Dye and Bite the Ballot, Uys has chronicled the fall of apartheid since 1985. These days things are less black and white. With blame shifting from Bantu to Brit, from Boer to Buppie, the whole population is suddenly claiming the status of closet freedom fighter. Uys surveys the chaos with expert wittiness.

Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn High Road, London NW6 (0171-328 1000) 8pm pounds 7.50


Gosh, I don't know, pay visits to sick children? Share bedrooms to save money? In this annual event honourable members shoot each other. It sounds too good to be true. And it is, for this is photography we're talking about. On show in this summer exhibition are portraits of politicians taken by other politicians. The work of Lord Healey is there, alongside stills from Edwina "I'm not camera shy" Curry. Not only that, but you get to sift through the holiday snaps of Lord Crathorne's trip to the US and Austen Mitchell's backstage photo-story of the Labour Party conference. Best of all is that most photogenic of subjects, Jeffrey Archer, caught off- guard at the spectacular Iguassu Falls.

National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford (01274-727488)


Janice Galloway's narrators wear their central nervous system on the outside, heaping detail on detail with a hallucinatory vividness. Adapted and directed by Michael Boyd, this new play stages her first novel: a searing and funny account of a woman cracking up. Galloway's intense writing has drawn comparisons with Virginina Woolf and Sylvia Plath, whose gruelling Bell Jar, is apparently "terribly restrained" in comparison. Siobhan Redmond takes the lead in tonight's production, which opens The Royal Court's "New Stages" season of new writing.

The Royal Court, London SW1 (0171-730 1745) 7.30pm pounds 5

Tuesday 11


Momentary Fusion swing into action tonight with the London premiere of their new "anti-gravity" dance. The show explores human solitude and fear - familiar enough emotions for the trapeze artist, one would think. Combining aerial acrobatics with physical theatre, Sophie Griffiths and Isabel Rocamora laugh at safety nets, blithely swinging 35ft above their audience with only a well-talced palm between them and a painful fusion with the floor.

Jackson's Lane, Highgate, London N6 (0181-341 4421) 8pm


"If you can't tell jokes don't try to tell them. Don't drink alcohol (under any circumstances!)" Sound advice from Michael Parkinson to this year's competitors in the Raconteur of the Year competition. Regional heats for budding public speakers are now happening around the country, so if your wedding speech was greeted with cheers, tears and hugs, if your descriptions of your weekend activities have your colleagues crying out for more, if your grandchildren appear genuinely interested in your wartime reminiscences get to your local talking shop now. Just one more word of advice from Parky: "Don't get too confident - remember, you are not Jimmy Tarbuck and you never will be." Phew.

Daewoo Motorshow, 14A Retail World, Parkgate, Derby (0800-050607)


One man who knows how to entertain his audience is Dirk Bogarde, who will be reading poems and extracts from his own writings today, then answering questions about his life and work. Find out about his acting odyssey from Doctor in the House to Death in Venice.

Royal Geographical Society, London W8 (0171-792 9512) tickets must be bought in advance 12.45pm

Wednesday 12


Camberwell, that leafy, gun-slinging suburb of south London, home to crusty art studes and Vic'n'Bob (before they took off to the country to become gentleman farmers) is holding an artsweek this week. To mark the mid-point of festivities, self-styled "scarlet-taloned, peroxide, she- devil" Jenny Eclair (below) has been invited to foul-mouth it at The Cavern tonight. Eclair vowed some time ago to be "as rude as possible", a tactic which paid off in spades last summer when her scatalogically stunning show won the Perrier at the Edinburgh Festival.

The Cavern, Camberwell Grove, London SE5 (0171-708 0309) 8.30pm pounds 4


Australian Aboriginal performer Ningali Lawford was born under a tree on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. She didn't see a white person until she was 11, and what she did see of Perth's white population made her feel like an anthropologist. Reflecting her mix of cultures, Ningali's show is a mix of storytelling, stand-up, dancing, songs and politics.

Warwick Arts Centre, Univ of Warwick, Coventry (01203 524524) 7.45pm


Since Pooh never did much but eat "huny" and get his fat frame stuck in holes, it seems somewhat strange that the bear of little brain is making an energetic appearance in a ballet tonight. This children's production by top Dutch contemporary dance group Introdans features all the favourite characters from AA Milne's stories in a hilarious mixture of costume, comedy, puppetry and dance.

Dundee Rep Theatre, Tay Square, Dundee (01382-223530) 2pm and 7.30pm pounds 3.50-5.50

Thursday 13


Alan Parker, Urban Warrior and dangerous comic talent hits Ealing tonight in the guise of a straight-speaking member of the proletariat. Lines such as "the Birmingham Six are free, when is the rest of Birmingham going to be free?" have earned him a loyal following, who were non-plussed in Edinburgh last year to see his metamorphosis into the beret-wearing fascist host of Cluub Zarathustra. At that midnight venue, audience denigration reached sublime heights with panto humiliation exchanges such as "What are you?" "We are nothing". Friendlier fire from the comedian tonight.

Ha Bloody Ha, Ealing (0181-566 4067)


This startling production of King Lear is a tragic masterpiece. E, well no it isn't actually, that was a bit of a fib about a new work from little- known scribbler Daniel Jamieson. Described as "fairytales for children with mortgages", Jamieson's tales of human fallibility uncover an A to Z of mendacity from fabrications, prevarications and whoppers to that old political standby "being economical with the truth". Theatre Alibi combine visual comedy, song and storytelling to produce a funny and sophisticated show. (Honest.)

BAC, Lavender Hill, London SW11 (0171-223 2223) 7.30pm pounds 6-9


Looking at Alex Julyan's collection (below), you can't help thinking that, as a young girl, she was dragged around the V&A once too often. Her revenge on the elitist classification and nomenclature of these dusty institutions has been to curate her own palace of pastiche. In Julyan's surreal galleries, the hushed arena of art is replaced by freedom and playfulness. Nonsensical artefacts include giant furniture and architectural features (such as a 35ft staircase made from corrugated cardboard) accompanied by contemporary "sound sculpture".

The Orangery, Holland Park, London W8 11am-7pm


The Shaolin Kung Fu Monks of China commence their first British tour today with more gut-wrenching feats of Buddha-blessed madness that make muscular Christianity look positively wimpish. Their 25-strong troupe includes an 80-year-old abbot who can still perform "the splits" and younger monks who blithely break iron bars over each other's heads and lick red- hot spades. Their incredible feats of endurance and mental strength are achieved by a channeling of Zen energy that places them in the religious superleague.

Newcastle Arena, Shotfactory Lane, NE4 (0191-401 8000) 7pm pounds 12.50-17.50