Spiffing arty and writey updates from London

On Tuesday I went for a day jaunt around my capital city, soaking up information to pass on to others like a disturbing sponge.

I like to think of visits to London as plugging myself in, like a phone that needs recharging, which is very silly. However, the occasional visit does remind me of all the little things I may not have heard about otherwise.

If you’re a cheapskate like me have a look online for a list of free exhibitions and galleries and you’ll be fine. Museums of course are already free, which is as exciting as a singing fish doing cartwheels.

The tube gnomes notified me of Circusfest in May, which looks exciting. I shall certainly be there chatting up the clowns whether they like it or not.

I began my day by going to the Childhood Museum in Bethnal Green to write down as many toys as I could relating to the era of my historical novel. Reading about stuff is great but until you play with a zoetrope I’m not sure you get the whole idea.

The V&A museum will “redesign seven important galleries dedicated to European Art and Design 1600–1800” by 2014 amongst several other projects. It’s already a beautiful place full of art and fashion, both historical and modern.

I wandered into a Georgian ballroom and actually gasped, like they do in novels. I was in there completely alone and the silence made me feel as though I’d stepped through a time gap.The museum is also displaying a cape sewn from silk, which was extracted from millions of Golden Orb spiders.

All the V&A expect is a donation so you can’t really go wrong. They don’t accept bellybutton fluff.

The Serpentine Gallery, as well as featuring very interesting exhibitions, has a shop full of magazines and books dedicated to art and writing. My advice is to go there with a pen and paper and write down the titles. You can look at the submissions guidelines on their websites later.

In case you were unfamiliar with The Serpentine it’s in the middle of Kensington Gardens, just up the road from Exhibition Road (home to the many museums).

The gallery are opening a new space called The Sackler Gallery near the old place this year, so you can run from one to the other and watch dogs sniffing each other in between (disclaimer: don’t run from one to the other).

So there endeth my journey through the capital, may my facts serve you well. Apparently the Underground employs people to sweep up human hair. I like to pretend they’re tiny folks who use it to make nests.

Folkestone Creative Quarter and Art Trienniel

A wedding dress in a Folkestone Town shop

When I visited Folkestone last winter I was very surprised. I knew there would be sea, and walks by the sea, and tea by the sea, and maybe a town by the sea, but I had no idea what else was waiting. I’ll be honest; I expected to be so bored I’d end up wandering in the dead of night, wailing and rendering my garments. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

I had arrived in the middle of an enormous art festival completely by chance and discovered Folkestone has an area named ‘The Creative Quarter.’ Although the festival itself is once every three years (next should be 2014) The Creative Quarter is dedicated to the arts all year round. As it says on their website they have “become home to a thriving collection of studios and (creative) businesses.”

I wandered past the extensive market in the town centre, foaming at the mouth with excitement. The Quarter didn’t let me down; the buildings were as colourful as Mr Men books and each held a different adventure.

Me by the sea

It’s a well-worn phrase but there really is something for everyone. Some galleries were smooth and shiny as a space-ship containing beautiful landscapes and portraits. Others were dingy buildings with patchy walls and attic smells. They were my favourites; entering into darkness while a man pulled comedy faces on a screen was like falling into a separate universe.

These were mostly run by a group called The Folkestone Arts Collective displaying video art, sculptures, performance, paintings, models and interactive if you count the coal I got on my jumper from one sculpture’s ‘teeth.’ Personally I loved the video art as there were some beautiful and unexpected moments, such as the Lynchian scenes of a pensioner’s tea dance.

Some of the work I saw was playful, some serious, some reflective and one terrifying – for a moment I had thought a man tied to a chair with a sack on his head was real. I’d stumbled across it in a dark corner and had actually felt goose-bumps. To calm down I enjoyed a cup of tea in Googies Art Café – a pleasant and relaxing place with yet more paintings on the walls.

The local students were just as involved as gallery owners and professional artists and, even better, it was all free. If travel isn’t a concern or you live nearby, I really recommend a visit; check the websites to see what events are taking place. It’s better than spending a holiday wailing and rendering garments.