GO FALCON-WATCHING ON THE SOUTH BANK
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) isn't all about red kites, golden eagles and puffins – high-profile species living in remote sanctuaries. From July to September, you'll find Society volunteers toting telescopes next to the Millennium Bridge, just outside Tate Modern. The RSPB's Richard Bashford told us that their plan is "to approach people and say 'would you like to see a falcon', then give them binoculars and information and point them to where they're perched on top of the Tate Modern chimney, post breeding". Find out more at rspb.org.uk/brilliant/sites/tate.
THROW THINGS AT A 'PIGLET'
The Balls Brothers wine bar (Hay's Galleria, Tooley Street; SE1 HD; 020-7407 4301; ballsbrothers.co.uk) runs a free pétanque pitch in the middle of the shopping arcade near London Bridge and this essential French pastime has proved such a success that there's now an annual lunchtime tournament in summer. Games are also played in the square outside the Prince of Wales pub (48 Cleaver Square, SE11 4EA; 020-7735 9916), at the Surprise pub (16 Southville, SW8 PP; 020-7622 4623), and on a pitch near the Chevening Road entrance to Queen's Park in north-west London (020-8969 5661). The game requires no prior experience and can be played on equal terms by young and old, male and female, drunk and sober (although in France the players tend to be old, male and drunk). Each of three teams or individuals has two "boules", which they must throw in turns as near as possible to the golf ball-sized cochonnet (literally "piglet"). The player or team whose boule is closest to the cochonnet wins. Voilà!
MIX BOOZE AND ART AT DR SKETCHY'S ANTI ART SCHOOL
Say what you want about cocaine, but the drug of choice for any artist worth their price tag has always been alcohol – a fact not lost on the organisers of Dr Sketchy's Anti Art School (various venues; drsketchylondon.co.uk). This monthly craft salon manages to tuck life drawing and neo-burlesque into the same bed for a heady coitus of booze-soaked carnal whimsy. Founded in New York in 2005, this alterna-art party now has franchises in more than 40 cities worldwide. Each differs in their level of conservatism – or lack thereof, some go for full nudity – but the London branch, organised by proud Chelsea Art School dropout Ruka Johnson, follows the same format as the original: semi-naked luminaries of the burlesque scene strike unconventional poses for a happily gender-balanced class of wannabe Renoirs. Led by an irreverent host, sketchers – or "art monkeys" – compete in various drawing contests throughout the evening, our favourite being a challenge to interpret the model as a domestic appliance. At the end awards are handed out; prizes for the best work are, of course, bottles of alcohol – and lots of it. Advance tickets £8.50.
VISIT ERNÖ GOLDFINGER'S HOUSE
James Bond author and Hampstead resident Ian Fleming was so enraged by this modernist creation on Willow Road that he used the name of its architect – Ernö Goldfinger – for one of his greatest villains. Built in 1939, the house (2 Willow Road NW3 1TH; 020-7435 6166; nationaltrust.org.uk) was the architect's home until his death (Goldfinger had fled Hitler's Europe and, like many émigré artists and intellectuals of the time, settled in leafy Hampstead). The furniture was designed specially for the house and there is lots of clever living space and plenty of storage. And with Goldfinger's books and art collection still in place, you'll feel as though the man has just stepped out for a stroll on the Heath, which is just across the road and perfect for a post-tour architectural discussion. Admission £5.10.
GET A HANDLE ON HANDEL
The baroque composer George Frederic Handel moved from Germany to Britain in 1710, aged just 25, having secured the position of kappelmeister to George, Elector of Hanover and soon to be King George I of England. He received an annual salary of £200 and by 1723 had established himself comfortably in his London home, where he lived for 36 years until his death in 1759. The house, in Mayfair, is now a museum (25 Brook Street, W1K 4HB; 020-7495 1685; handelhouse.org) and provides a good opportunity to get under the skin of the great man. Following a meticulous restoration project, the interior has been lovingly restored and includes some beautiful replica instruments. The best way to get the feel for it is at the recitals of baroque music that take place every Thursday and regularly at the weekends. The programme of events will increase in 2009 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the master's death. Admission £9, reductions £7.50.
VISIT THE WAXWORKS AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY MUSEUM
Never mind Madame Tussauds, Westminster Abbey (20 Dean's Yard, SW1P 1PA; 020-7222 5152; westminster-abbey.org) will cost you more than a tenner to see; at least, that is, if you haven't been invited to a coronation or you're not there to worship the Lord. Entirely free of charge, however, is the Abbey Museum, which occupies one of the oldest parts of the building – the 11th-century vaulted undercroft of St Peter on the east side of the cloisters – and it contains a series of extraordinary wooden and wax effigies. The wooden ones are the earliest known likenesses of English medieval monarchs: Edward III's was used at his funeral in 1377 and Henry VII's death mask is exceptionally lifelike. The waxworks are more modern, dating from the late-17th century, and include Charles II, William III and Queen Anne, as well as Frances Stuart, the Restoration model for Britannia, dressed in her Coronation robes and even accompanied by her pet parrot (one of the earliest stuffed birds extant in the UK).
SINK (INTO A STEAM ROOM) OR SWIM AT IRONMONGER ROW BATHS
Originally a public wash house, Ironmonger Row Baths (Ironmonger Row, EC1V 3QF, 020-7253 4011; aquaterra.org/ironmonger-row-baths.aspx) are still providing a Turkish bath (with steam room, various hot rooms, a plunge pool and marble slabs for massages) for less than a tenner if you go in the mornings (sessions are mixed on some days – check the website for details). As well as all the steam, there's also a 30-metre swimming pool open to the public (price £3.70 per session).
MUCK OUT AT SPITALFIELDS CITY FARM
Given the smells and the sounds – it's all quack-quack, oink-oink, bah-bah round here – emanating from Spitalfield City Farm (Buxton Street, E1 5HJ; 020-7247 8762; spitalfieldscityfarm.org), you'd be surprised to learn that you're less than a mile from the Square Mile. Set up in 1978 on a disused railway goods depot just off Brick Lane, the farm has been a favourite with local Tower Hamlets families ever since. Kids and parents come down for workshops on healthy eating, sustainability and animal welfare, as well as to learn where milk and eggs come from. For 8-13-year-olds there's an after-school club on Thursdays and a Young Farmers Club on Saturdays, as well as courses during the holidays (all are free; ring to book). Unsurprisingly though, the main attraction is meeting the animals – typical city farm friendly beasts, made cocky from the vast amount of attention showered on them from visiting children. Favourites include donkeys, which can be ridden in spring and summer (£1), strokeable mice and rabbits, Itchy the pig, who has been taught to sit on command and Tilly, a cheeky – and chunky – Shetland pony. Check the website for details of their volunteer programme if you fancy mucking in – or out?
It's hard to find exquisite cocktails when you're on a budget, at Annex 3 (6 Little Portland Street, W1W 7JE; 020-7631 0700; annex3.co.uk) your tipple will set you back less than a tenner. Annex 3 is a camp extravaganza. Be prepared to be dazzled by starburst chandeliers, rococo mirrors, gaudy floral wallpaper and fairy lights on glass-topped tables. The cocktails are similarly flamboyant: the Octopussy (pink vodka, pear cognac and champagne mixed with juices of passion fruit, pear and lemon, £9); Wasabi Kiss (vodka, coconut rum mixed with wasabi, basil and kiwi, £8); Love Letter (raspberry vodka mixed with elderflower cordial, cranberry and grape juice, £8); and Lounge Lover (fig liqueur, prosecco, sweet vanilla and lemon oil, £8).
MAKE MICHELIN-STARRED MEALS AT THE KITCHEN
Unlike most Michelin-starred kitchens, mistakes at this Parsons Green-based concept deli-cum-casual cookery school are not punished by shouty, self-esteem-sapping tirades from ego-pumped celebrity chefs. Instead, at The Kitchen (275 New Kings Road, SW6 4RD; 020-7736 8067; visitthekitchen.com) you can sip a glass of wine at your own private workstation while you assemble a meal from well sourced, partially prepared fresh ingredients with the help of experienced culinary heavyweight Thierry Laborde – and you don't even have to do the washing up afterwards. You'll leave laden with sealed meals that can be cooked in minutes and served to unsuspecting dinner guests. Perfect for gastro rookies and time-starved full-timers. Dishes start at £4.95 (one serving), £9 (for two).
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