Listen to a Londoner: Lisa Bolton

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

lisa
Lisa Bolton

Lisa is a northern lass from the French countryside who is integrating into London’s Colombian community. She’s trying to get used to overcrowding and living like battery hens whilst growing very fond of cultural diversity, chips and Primark!

LLO: How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
LB: I’ve been in London for 2 and a half years. I was born in Salford, Manchester but have lived in nearly all my life in a forest in Normandy France which is where I call home. I came here for work and a new beginning. After finishing my studies and working in Spain for 2 and a half years there was little work in France so I made my decision one morning to come to London and find a new job!

LLO: Which area of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best thing about it?
LB: Having lived in various areas in London I really love Elephant and Castle and Brixton. As I said I grew up in a forest 2km outside a village of 467 people. I had a pretty sheltered life to say the least. I had heard so many horrible things about these 2 areas I was scared to death, but there is a really sense of community. Even though I have moved away from the area now I still enjoy going to Weight Watchers every week in Brixton and the Ritzy cinema is brill and there is a lot of different shops. And Elephant is the best place in London as there is so much going on, transport is excellent and you feel as if you are in another world. You can walk into central London in 30 minutes!!!

LLO:  Tell us about your favourite unique London discovery.
LB: Uhmm, quite hard. I think it depends on what you are into and unless you are in that scene you wouldn’t know about it. Thanks to my circle of friends which is made up of Colombians I suppose it would be the Vallenato sub-culture and the private parties, functions, festivals and carnivals.

I would also say that the Fitzrovia live radio performances are a great discovery and brilliant. They often perform at the Globe’s pub The Swan. I discovered this through my friend and ex-flatmate who is an actor.

But of course my most precious unique London discovery is my fiancé Carlos who I met here.

LLO:  Where are your top choices for a night of dancing?
LB: I LOVE dancing but mostly salsa. However, I REALLY like G-A-Y to let your hair down and for cheap drinks! People there are really friendly and will come up and dance with you.

I don’t really like the “Latin” places here. The music is not that great and the dancing is quite the same. I believe La Floridita is great and it has been recommended, but I’ve never been. There is one place in Brixton called “La Mazorca” which is a bit of a dive and there are a few dodgy characters BUT if you go in a group they play great music and have a great dance floor. Otherwise, I have always had the best dancing time at improvised parties in various little bars and open air festivals like “Carnival del Pueblo”.

LLO: Give us an unusual or quirky idea for a date in London.
LB: To be quite honest I have no idea, probably not been on enough dates to know. But I recently met up with a former flatmate who told me he had had a few dates since we had last seen each other and one guy took him to a taxidermist shop! Needless to say he didn’t go out with him again!

LLO: If I only had one night in London and wanted to head away from the tourist trail for food and drinks, where would you send me?
LB: Gosh, this is a hard question as it depends what type of food I fancied. I have my favourite Colombian restaurant, French restaurant and Indian restaurant! But I suppose if I weren’t here I would be living outside the country and therefore it would probably have to be a pub where I could have steak and ale pie and chips. It’s not off the beaten track but the Horneman over-looking the river on the south bank near London Bridge is easy access and the food is quite nice also, but most good pubs could probably do the same.

LLO: If you want to experience another culture in London, what’s your first choice and where do you head to find it?
LB: WOW, the choice is incredible as London in itself is a cultural mish-mash. The first time I went to Whitechapel, I thought I was in some Asian country. It was incredible. Elephant again springs to mind. Latin American and African cultures are predominant and you can get by just speaking Spanish!

LLO: Tell us about a London memory that could only have happened in London.
LB: I am an English teacher on Oxford Street and I have large, very culturally diverse groups of people who maybe have never left their country before. They have strong preconceptions about different nationalities, colours, cultures, sexual preferences and, of course, religion. As a Teacher it is very hard to approach such sensitive subjects especially concerning homophobia and the stigma which every Muslim/Arabic student is viewed with. Some Latin American students have never met a Muslim let alone a woman in traditional dress. But one day in a class in which I had Baptists, born again Christians, Catholics, Buddhists, Russian orthodox, Shintoists and Muslims (from Turkey, Russia and North African countries) the debate turned to religion which I allow as long as everybody respects each other’s beliefs. The students all found common ground within their different religions and traditions using English. They all got along so well and were respectful of each other. I know sounds corny, but I really warmed my heart that despite all the war and hatred in the world, people from  incredibly different walks of life found they were all the same.

LLO: Who is the most interesting Londoner you’ve met and why?
LB: Everyone in London has had an interesting life and a story to tell. But one of my students, Maria, had come from the slums of Lima, Peru, and had been to a school run by nuns and financed by fundraising from Europe. She had worked her way up to become an English teacher and came to England to better her skills.

Doing the job I do has been a real eye opener to see that intelligent, highly qualified people who are psychologists, engineers, lawyers, film directors etc… perform menial jobs due to their legal status and language skills in order to learn the language. It really angers me when you see office workers ignoring cleaners knowing that they are probably for more qualified than them. It cost nothing to smile or acknowledge someone.

LLO:  If you were to move away from London in the future, which five things would you miss the most?
LB:
1) Cultural diversity
2) The choice of different products and restaurants
3) The different events
4) Primark
5) Public transport especially the tube (despite all the strikes, hahhaha!)

Thanks Lisa!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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Listen to a Londoner: Steve Slack

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Steve Slack, 30

Steve is a writer and researcher working in the cultural heritage sector. He writes audioguides and museum interpretation and is currently writing a book about what happiness means to us in a modern context.
He blogs at www.steveslack.co.uk

LLO: Tell us a bit about The Happiness Project you’re working on at the moment.
SS:
Happiness is an enormous subject. It’s vast. The more I learn about it, the more questions I have. Down the ages, the great and the good have tried to get to grips with happiness. What is it? How we define it? Thinkers and writers have produced millions of pages on this subject – so much so that I wonder if it’s worth even trying to answer such a huge question that seeks to define happiness in broad terms. Instead, I’m interested in what makes us happy as individuals. So, I started looking at some historical characters and tried to find out what they said about happiness – Aristotle, Henry VIII, Churchill. I found that an understanding of happiness is contextual – to truly appreciate what makes someone happy, one has to understand the world they live in. So one aspect of this project is looking back at some figures from history who’ve had something interesting to say about happiness. These are juxtaposed with the modern section, which involves me going and interviewing lots of people from different walks of life today, asking them what happiness means to them and what makes them happy. The idea is to build up a picture of what happiness might mean to us in a modern context [http://steveslack.co.uk/happiness-project/part-two-contemporary/].

LLO: How do you choose who to interview for your project and what has the response been like so far?
SS: I’ve been interviewing people who have something interesting to say. To be fair, every single person has a unique perspective on happiness – there are no two answers the same. But for this project I’m trying to find people who have a unique contribution. I’ve had to rein it in somewhat, so I’m now looking for people who are living in the UK today. I’ve spoken with a Holocaust survivor, a homeless guy, Woman Farmer of the Year, a hip-hop MC, a psychiatrist, a Buddhist writer, a blind extreme sport enthusiast and more. People are really happy to put their minds to my questions and to talk. After I’ve interviewed them I write up their answers and edit it into a post for the website [http://steveslack.co.uk/happiness-project/].

LLO: Any thoughts on the general state of happiness among Londoners? What could we do to be a bit more cheerful?
SS:
Londoners love to have a grumble about the city. It’s expensive, it’s dirty, the infrastructure is ageing and the people are rude. But that’s only one perspective. I’ve lived in London for 12 years and I find that while some of that is true, London is still the greatest city in the world in terms of inspiration and creativity. There’s so much to do here, you can never complain of being bored. From bars and clubs, shopping, some of the best food in the world to an unrivalled cultural scene. I’ve worked in the museum sector for about a decade and I find there’s so much here to keep me going.

There’s a great blog called the Happiness Project London [http://thehappinessprojectlondon.wordpress.com/] which celebrates all of these things and more. It’s a celebration of all the wonderful things to do here and it’s great way to make sure we don’t take London for granted.

LLO: Is there a place you’ve found in London that always seems to make you happy?
SS:
I have a favourite picture in the National Gallery that always makes me happy. It’s a picture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Honoré-Victorin Daumier  [http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/honore-victorin-daumier-don-quixote-and-sancho-panza] – I don’t know what it is about the painting, but it does something very strange to me. I can stand in front of it for ages and never get bored; I’m just content and happy. I find the combination of colours very relaxing and pleasing and the overlapping lines of the picture never cease to interest me. The rest of the world seems to disappear whenever I’m in the room with it. If I’ve got five minutes spare and I’m near the Gallery, I’ll pop in and have a quick look. My partner recently bought me a framed print of the picture. That made me enormously grateful that someone had gone to the trouble to think about what makes me happy.

LLO: Working in the museum/heritage sector, which London museum is your favourite and can you recommend a good one that’s a bit quirky or out of the ordinary?
SS: The Geffrye Museum [http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/] in Hoxton is a real treat. It’s the museum of English domestic interiors. As well as some great displays it also has a charming garden and a great cafe. On the other side of the city I love the calm tranquillity of Dulwich Picture Gallery [http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/]. It’s a hidden gem in London, but it doesn’t deserve to be. The building and gardens are beautiful and the collection – although somewhat obscure – is a time capsule of late 18th-century art collecting. Less than a mile away, but very different in tone, is the fabulous Horniman Museum [http://www.horniman.ac.uk/] with its wide-ranging collection of musical instruments, African objects and natural history.

LLO: Give us a London fact you’ve learned while working that most people probably don’t know, but might put a smile on their face when they hear it.
SS: There’s a stuffed walrus [http://www.horniman.ac.uk/ten.php] in the Horniman Museum’s natural history collection. When the skin was sent to the UK from Canada in 1870 the taxidermist assigned to stuff it had never seen a live walrus. He stuffed it full of filling, like he’d stuff a horse or a dog, until it was completely full. But, of course, walruses are supposed to have rolls of blubber to keep them warm. You can still see the lines in his side where his flab should be, but unfortunately he’s far too big. It’d be a nightmare to undo the work, so he’s left there, looking rather uncomfortable. He’s supposed to be fat, but not that fat!

LLO: Tell us about the most fascinating Londoner you’ve interviewed in your life, either through museum work or your personal projects.
SS:I wrote the audio guide for an exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library recently and got to interview the Archbishop of Canterbury for the introduction. He’s a real pro when it comes to the media – he spoke directly with confidence and ease. And he did it word perfect, in one take. I guess fluent speaking goes with the job! From his study we could see the amazing gardens of Lambeth Palace. Apparently it’s the second largest private garden in London, next to Buckingham Palace.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place to go to unwind over dinner or drinks?
SS:
I love water, so I’m often to be found near the river. But in the summer it can get quite manic, so I’ll head back towards my home in south London. Camberwell and Peckham are having are real renaissance right now. There are loads of great bars and restaurants in which to eat, drink and just hang out. My back garden also has a little suntrap, so I can sometimes be found there on a summer evening with a glass of wine, watching the planes heading into Heathrow.

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
SS: I’d always assumed that if you wanted good curry in London you should head to Brick Lane. But I’d never thought of Drummond Street (near Euston Station) until a friend took me there. It’s great row of restaurants if you like south Indian food.

There’s also a great pop-up bar on top floor of a multi-storey car park in Peckham called Frank’s Cafe and Campari Bar [http://www.frankscafe.org.uk/]. It’s a unique blend of sculpture, food and drinks in the open air, with a privileged view of the London skyline.

LLO: What’s the best part about living in your postcode?
SS: Camberwell gets a bad reputation sometimes, but I think it’s a fabulous place to live. It’s relaxed and artsy and has loads of places to get coffee, food, free wi-fi and evening drinks. It’s such a creative area, there’s something for everyone and for every mood. I maintain that the best tapas in London is at Angels and Gypsies [http://www.churchstreethotel.com/restaurant-menu.asp?menu=6332] at the Church Street Hotel. Camberwell Arts Week [http://www.camberwellarts.org.uk/] each June is a real treat – this year we sat on the roof of the church hall and watched movies projected onto the wall at night!

Thanks Steve!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

London Art Spot: Ruweyda Dool

Through her course at London College of Communication, designer Ruweyda Dool has built up a stunning portfolio of elegant collections for both women and men. A passion for African culture, fabrics with ethnic prints and attention to detail made her models stand out on her recent runway show. 2010 has brought the focus over to her latest colourful jewellery collection and a venture into menswear that she is thoroughly enjoying.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Ruweyda, who is also interested in photography, shows off a few of her designs worn by some gorgeous models, talks about her African/ethnic collection you’ll see in some of the photos and tells us where her work is headed.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
RD:
Everything really, even if it’s like the littlest thing. Different things influence my creativity at different times.

LLO: Give us an overview of your latest African/Ethnic collection.
RD:
It’s an eclectic fusion of colour inspired by the vibrancy of African culture with a Western twist. The influence is to capture the colour and warmth of AFRICA and what it represents.

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of and why?
RD:
Every piece has had its moments, however, I think the two pieces that have had most exposure and feedback as well as photographed beautifully are a long, light blue, v-shape bust dress with boning at the bottom and a natural disaster themed dress where the fabric has been digitally printed with my design.

LLO: Who is your target audience?
RD:
 Ages: 16 – 30 both males and females

LLO: What are your favourite materials to work with and the best places to buy them in London?
RD:
The best place to buy fabric is central London. As for my favourite fabrics, I don’t really have one as they all do different things, but I did really enjoy working with the African fabrics as the manipulations and drape of them are different to other fabrics.

LLO: You’ve dipped into menswear as well. Is this something you plan to expand on?
RD:
Yeah, definitely I’m really enjoying menswear at the moment and I’m positively looking to expand in both the male and female areas.

LLO: Which fashion trends should we look out for when Autumn collections hit London’s shops?  
RD:
The fabrics that will be popular this Autumn/Winter are: leather, velvet and sheer fabrics. Military-style and cut out garments will also be evident.

LLO: Favourite place in London to people watch for inspiration?
RD:
Depending on what you’re into, inspiration is everywhere whether it’s the type of music you listen to, art, photography, colours or the feel of fabrics, etc…

LLO: Other up-and-coming London-based designers we should keep an eye on?
RD:
I don’t have any designers I can think of at the top of my head right now, but London is a very competitive city to live in and talent is everywhere.

LLO: What’s next on the agenda for you?
RD:
Well, I guess I’ll have to see what the world has in store for me. However, I’m looking to really build on my menswear collections.

Thanks Ruweyda!

For more about Ruweyda and her work, see her website: www.ruweydadool.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

Guest Post: Africa’s Sweetest Voices in London

Written by Efemena Agadama, a poet and playwright, originally from Nigeria, who is working on his first novel. 
He normally contributes articles to
his Amnesty International blog.

_______

“The man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world.” – Oscar Wilde

From top left: Lily Mabura and Namwali Serpell;
From bottom left: Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, and Ken Barris

As London remains the global city of literature, where the great minds of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, George Elliot, Oscar Wilde, Dickens, Milton, and Keats once held sway, the sweet voices of Africa shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for Africa Writing converged at the prestigious Travel Bookshop at Notting Hill on July 3, 2010.

But this time around, it wasn’t the flag of the English literature that they hoisted, though with due respect to the English literature.  It was the brightly coloured rainbow flag of the sweet African literature; the literature where words of wisdom, onomatopoeic rhythms, drama and compact plots entwine to weave the beautiful honeycomb of a unique world literature that has been the love of other world literatures.

And the revered voices were Namwali Serpell, Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, Ken Barris and Lily Mabura.  Oh! It was a lovely and endearing gathering.  They were so humble and social that you wouldn’t be able to identify them.  Even I couldn’t identify them.  However, I guessed on one – Namwali Serpell.  As soon as she entered with all smiles, complexion of a mixed race, pretty hair style and a modest gown, she hugged two members of the audience at the front row, and I was behind at the third row.  In fact, I felt hugged too.  I felt her hugging me with her pretty smiles.  And when she smiled at them, I still felt she was smiling at me.  Please, don’t laugh at me.  The aura of the African literature that the five shortlisted writers brought into The Travel Bookshop auditorium could make anyone feel hugged in such a situation.  Now I understand why people used to fight over Michael Jackson’s shirt during performance.  Look at me fighting over a hug in my spirit.

After a while, the moderator, Saara Marchadour hit the drum for the music of the day to begin.  She in her modesty asked them one after the other to read excerpts from their shortlisted entries.  Ken Barris started the drumming.  He stood up and began reading from his “The Life of Worm.”  Its reading had the professionalism of a news caster.  He cleverly alternated his eyes between the script and the audience.  Alex Smith read hers “Soulmates” with a very emotional tone; Sharp, clear and with subtle demonstrative cues of drama.  As she read, one could hear the words like the rendition of an actress on Shakespeare Globe Theatre during the performance of Macbeth this past June.  Olufemi Terry had a louder voice.  I think his body build added substance to his voice – softly audacious.  Then Namwali read from her “Muzungu”.  She read with a dramatic flow and a clear voice.  As she read one could see a reflection of all her travellings in her rising and falling tone.  And the fifth shortlisted writer, Lily Mabura with her creative candour, gave us a noble background to her story and set the fire aglow to signal the end of the reading sessions.

Thereafter, the respected and famous Saara Marchadour of the Travel Bookshop interviewed them on the stories and inspiration behind their shortlisted works.  And she opened the floor for audience members to ask questions.

It was lovely and very exciting.  Just being in the presence of these great writers is like being locked in a small room with a million and a million of Shakepeare, Wordsworth, Soyinka, Achebe and Coetzee.  These shortlisted writers have really re-hoisted the African literature flag in London and it now flies higher.  Really, London remains the world’s leading city in Arts and Literature.

Listen to a Londoner: Sue Hillman

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview post with people who live (or have lived for a while) in London. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers.

Sue Hillman, 52 

Sue runs her own travel company for visitors to London offering tailor made tours and has lived in London for over 30 years. Before that, she worked in HR at the BBC for 18 good years but felt the need to  try a different throw of the dice. She loves to travel and has notched up 50 countries so far but London is her favourite city in the world!

LLO: Having lived in London for 30 years, what dramatic or noticeable changes have you seen in that time?
SH:
So much has changed, but I guess one of the biggest turnarounds has been the South Bank which was a not somewhere I used to go at all. Now there are loads of bars and restaurants, the Globe, the Tate Modern, City Hall, the restored warehouse buildings, the Millennium Bridge and, of course, the London Eye.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your website, It’s Your London.
SH:
We design and organise tailor made tours of London for small groups. It’s a personal service and each visit is built around what my visitors want to do and see at the pace they want.  We take all the hard work out of visiting London and arrange the itinerary, the entry tickets and make sure we get to the right places at the right time, not wasting any time but not being rushed either. It’s great fun for all concerned.

LLO: What would you consider “your London”; where do you love spend a free day? 
SH:
I love being around the Thames on a fine day as the views are so beautiful – especially good is a walk from Westminster Bridge through to Tower Bridge. I’m also a museum buff so any excuse to go into the British Museum and travel the world ancient and more modern in a few hours is always a treat. Being a linguist, the Rosetta Stone is a big draw for me. A free day would have to include trying out a new bar or restaurant – or both! I love to find out the new in London. It’s such a vibrant city, there’s always something.

LLO: What’s the most unique itinerary you’ve been asked to create for a customer?
SH:
Some examples of what I’ve been asked for are: a tour of East End rag trade to see its history and Jewish roots, a photo opportunity in front of the Stock Exchange, to see a court in session at the Royal Courts of Justice, afternoon tea in Buckingham Palace (luckily not with the Queen!),  a tour just of up-and-coming fashion designers with the chance to meet and talk with them. There was also talk of a tour of iconic London gay men’s homes, but only those already dead! Often people don’t realise how big London is and want to pop Windsor into a full day tour of central London. They’ve not experienced our traffic….

LLO: If you were approached by a magazine photographer who wanted to find the most colourful and unusual parts of the city, what sort of itinerary would you create?
SH:
Best for visuals are views along the Thames, the streets of coloured houses in Notting Hill (I’m biased, but it is lovely!), views from the top of the Park Lane Hilton and from the London Eye. Unusual shots are easy to find by just turning off a main road in most places. I like the streets around Borough Market towards the river and the mews streets of London where you can just imagine the horses and carriages pulling in. There is one in South Kensington where the horses were kept up on the the second storey and you can see the walkways they went up – again an amazing image.

LLO: What’s your favourite London “discovery”?
SH:
Every time I find a new place/bar/restaurant I get excited. I’m very bad at picking favourites but most recent discovery were pigs in the middle of Holland Park in the swanky W11 postcode. Huge pigs living just next to where the open air opera is performed in the summer, who’d have thought that possible! 

LLO: What’s the best thing about living in your postcode?
SH:
Portobello Road and the fun of wandering up and down any day of the week to see how it changes. There are so many great little shops, bars and restaurants, it’s never dull. The whole area is beautiful with its terraces of white stucco houses and garden squares forming green oases. One more thing – as it’s so central, my friends can get here easily to visit so I see them far more often than when I lived further out. Then there’s always the fun of celebrity spotting. I saw Kate Moss yesterday!

LLO: You’ve recently returned from a month in Southern Africa. Where in London can we find a bit of African culture?
SH:
The British Museum has a huge number of African items and currently they have a major exhibition called Kingdom of Ife which has ‘exquisite examples of brass, copper, stone and terracotta sculpture from West Africa’, they tell us. Food is an important aspect of African culture and there is everything from the top end Moroccan restaurant Momo through to Lalibela, an Ethiopian restaurant where you can sit in traditional style to eat authentic cuisine, to the amazing Caribbean and African food stalls at the Notting Hill Carnival when the area enjoys a mad, mad weekend!  Then there are markets.  Try Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane and you never know what you’ll find. There’s Brixton market for African produce.

LLO: Favourite London pub or restaurant?
SH:
So many to choose from! I’m very fond of many of the places round my area and for the warmest welcome, I’d have to say Aphrodite on Hereford Road.  The Electric Brasserie on Portobello is pretty cool any time of day and El Pirata de Tapas is a favourite with my mates who come to stay with me.  At the upper end, I like Momo as it feels like an evening in Morocco, Maze has wonderful small plates of intense flavour, the Ledbury has Michelin-star French cooking and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a real treat. Stop me now or I’ll go on for the rest of the page!!

Thanks Sue!  

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