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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London Art Spot: Carole Evans

Taking advantage of Lambeth Council’s SpaceMakers project, Carole Evans set up a photo booth in Brixton Market. Her recent project and collection, Brixton People, was a hit. Her photography has been featured all over London and abroad over the past few tears and she has, among other projects, participated in a portraiture workshop with attRAct, the youth arts programme for the Royal Academy of Arts.

Carole’s interest in photography spreads to vintage cameras as well. In 2008, along with a friend, she co-founded Photomovette, an organization dedicated to bringing back the old fashioned chemical photobooth, with four flashes and four poses. Soon the first one will be in the public domain for all to use…www.photomovette.co.uk

For this week’s London Art Spot, Carole shares her experience working on Brixton People, talks about a disastrous photoshoot that turned out some brilliant results in the end and shows us some photos of people who live, work, or hang out in SW9.

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
CE:
I suppose it’s the variety of people who live here, the opportunities there are to see different types of art forms, and the fact that there are many creative people here who have similar ideas to me. I thrive off talking to other photographers and artists; and hearing what other people are doing can be very inspiring.

Another aspect is the smaller underground scenes that exist in London… for a couple of years now I have been dancing the jive and rock ‘n’ roll, which has opened up a part of London which stuck in the 1950’s. People are not scared to be different in London; and that in itself is inspiring.

LLO: Your latest project is “Brixton People”, also featured as a solo show in Brixton Village. Tell us a bit about the project.
CE:
Brixton People was a response to a call out for submissions for use of empty units in Brixton market. An agency called SpaceMakers had struck up a deal with Lambeth Council; in an attempt to regenerate an empty and derelict part of Brixton Market, the Granville Arcade, they wanted to get creative businesses into empty units rent-free, for a maximum of 3 months. They were encouraging small term art projects, so I applied with my idea of a pop-up studio, and was granted a unit at the end of January.

The idea was simple; I set up a photography studio in the space, and invited passers-by to be photographed. I wanted to create an archive of the people of Brixton, a record of this vibrant and diverse community. Each evening I would print some of the images I had taken that day, and pin them up around the studio. So an exhibition of the work evolved during the week.

LLO: How did people react to being approached for photographs?
CE:
The response was overwhelming. Overall I took 200 portraits. I had said to myself at the beginning of the week if I got 50 I’d be happy! Rarely did people refuse to be photographed. Printing the work as I was going meant people could see exactly what style it was, and what was going to happen with the image.

At the end of the project, I emailed all the participants with a link to web gallery where they could see their picture. I got some lovely replies back; people were really pleased to be part of the project.

LLO: Tell us the story about one of the most interesting people you’ve met and share a photo of that person.
CE:
I met so many interesting people throughout the project that I couldn’t possibly single one out. What was amazing for me was being part of the market community for a week; the traders look out for one another and help one another; it’s a great atmosphere and they made me feel very welcome.

LLO: What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve had to overcome to capture a great photograph?
CE:
Nerves. Taking photographs of people, especially strangers, was nerve-racking for me at first. But the more you do it the easier it gets. I began to realize that it doesn’t matter if people say no, they are entitled to their privacy and their rebuke is nothing personal.

LLO: Which photo are you most proud of to date and why?
CE:
Actually I think it’s one that I did for a hair stylist. I had convinced him that, in order to keep costs down, we could do the shoot on location instead of a studio. Typically, the day we chose happened to be the wettest day of the year; not ideal for any photo shoot but especially not a hair shoot!

After a whole day of somewhat failed attempts, I managed to get permission to shoot in a very cool retro fish and chip shop, which really suited the model’s look. I am especially proud of the shot of the model by the window, as it appears that he is bathed in a warm evening light… but my poor assistant was standing in the rain outside holding a speedlight. I am proud of it because I think technically it’s good, and to have overcome all those obstacles and finally come up with something great at the end of the day was very satisfying!

LLO: Tell us about your ongoing Valentines Day project.
CE:
I was inspired to start this 4 years ago, when I was single. I just remember noticing how many people were carrying bunches of flowers on Valentine’s Day. I was kind of amazed at the power of advertising and consumerism that dictated to us all that that was what we gave our loved one on this particular day. So the next year I began photographing it. My idea has changed since, though. Instead of the project being a kind of critique of the consumerism of Valentine’s Day, it is a recognition of flowers as a token of love. I like the expressions of the people; anxiety, anticipation, excitement…

LLO: Which other London-based photographers do you admire
CE:
Nick Turpin is a street photographer who also shoots advertising and is a great influence to me, both in his manner of shooting and his energy! Portrait photographers such as Nadav Kander and Jim Naughten, and many of my friends who are working really hard in this difficult industry! Sophie Mitchell, Manuel Capurso, Adrian Wood, David Axelbank to name but a few…

LLO: Favourite place in London to take your camera?
CE:
I don’t really have a favourite place… I work on series so I rarely go out with my camera to shoot. And if I do, it’s the people who interest me rather than the place.

LLO: What are you working on now?
CE:
I am working on a series of portraits, focusing on one of the underground scenes in London. I kind of want to keep it under my hat for now, as it’s still only the beginning and I’m just a little superstitious about talking about something which hasn’t been completed yet!

Thanks Carole!

For more of Carole’s work, check out her website: http://www.caroleevans.co.uk/

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

Exploring Eel Pie Island

If you take a short ride on the R68 bus from Richmond, alight at King Street and turn the corner, you’ll come to a narrow footbridge arching over the Thames. This leads to the magical and eccentric Eel Pie Island with an off-beat name just right for its off-beat story.

Bridge To Eel Pie Island

This mysterious little slice of traffic-free land has a musical history that tosses about names like John Mayall, Mick Jagger, Cyril Davies, Eric Clapton, David Bowie. Even before their time, Charles Dickens was said to enjoy a beer over that bridge and Henry VIII was rumoured to pop by the island to fill his stomach with eel pies on his way to entertain his mistresses.

Rainbow Shed

The island’s Eel Pie Hotel became the phenomenon that started it all with hundreds of revellers flooding the island to see The Who or The Stones in the hotel, to drink, dance, get high, sleep around. It started with ballroom dancing, progressed to jazz followed by the Mods and rock ‘n’ roll. Eventually, when the party scene got out of control, a mysterious fire burned the hotel to the ground.

England

In his memoir “Eel Pie Dharma” about his time on the island, Chris Faiers explained that the site was briefly re-opened as Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden where Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd took to the stage. Then the squatters took over. “200 dossers, hippies, runaway schoolkids, drug dealers, petty thieves, heroin addicts, artists, poets, bikers, American hippy tourists, au pair girls and Zen philosophers from all over the world’, who consumed vast quantities of LSD and opened a sex room for orgies”, he wrote.

Blue Eyes

Of course, that has all has changed now. The island has calmed down and is home to a mixed and creative group of just over 100 people. Some are retirees who live in sweet little cottages near the water.

Paintbrushes in Artist's Studio

Over 20 artists live and work in studios further down the island and there’s another group who work in the shipyard.

Eel Pie Ship Yard

Twice a year Eel Pie Island welcomes the public to visit the artists in their studios. Last weekend was one of those times so I went to explore.

Skeleton in Cage

Crossing the footbridge, I was already in another world. I picked up a hand drawn map pointing out the studios from a stack of papers weighed down by a smooth rock and started walking down a winding path. Lush shrubs and flowers formed the edges of the pathway which was empty besides the occasional dog-walker.

Love Shack

The first obvious sign of what was to come was the Love Shack, with colourful tiled front steps and an alligator on the front of the house about to eat a dangling gnome.

Gator and Gnome

There was a sign nearby on a tree that said “Wrong Day, Go Back”. I walked on.

Wrong Day

A green shed with old advertisements for Star Cigarettes, HMV and Punch stood next to a similar building called The Lion Boathouse.

Side of Ship Display
There are a few shops on the island selling necessities like firewood and paint supplies, but residents have easy access to Twickenham shops just over the other side of the river.

Star, HMV, Punch

The most eccentric part of the island was the artist’s community – an organised mess of colourful painted shacks, sheds and old boats where these people live and work. Barbie doll head on the ground, skeleton dangling in a cage outside a house, a broken kitchen sink, a stack of metal spoons, shipyard tools littering the ground.

Watch on the Wall

The people were lovely – chatty, welcoming, friendly, eager to talk about their work. They sold large paintings, sculptures, handmade greeting cards, jeweller, ceramics and photography.
Rosa Diaz

There’s even costume designer called Rosa Diaz famous for collecting Barbie dolls. Many of the artists have been living on the island for years and years. It’s a brilliant and supportive little community.

Nude and Mirror

After walking the complete trail, I turned and headed back under the afternoon sun. I walked slowly back down the green, twisting path.

I Can't Remember
An old man with a walker stopped to smile and nod in my direction before I headed back out of the psychedelic world across the lazy grey Thames. I bet he has some good stories to tell if he’s been living there a while. The crowds have poured out, but there are stories there, unspoken history, memories.

Home in an Old Ship

The island closed back up a few hours after I left, private once again for the rest of the year.

No Cycling

Links:
http://www.timeout.com/london/features/267/1.html
http://www.eelpieislandartists.co.uk/
http://www.eelpie.org

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Panic on the Streets of London

Bono’s quote that that we should not become a monster in order to defeat a monster is the first thing that came to mind when I grabbed my copy of the Metro this morning. The front page headline is: “Armed police to patrol on streets”.

I’ve always been anti-gun, anti-violence, anti-war, anti-anything along those lines. To bring more guns into the streets to combat the gun and knife and gang crime is only going to encourage those groups to bring in more of their own weapons. This is a bad idea. It sounds like a panic reaction rather than a tactical one to this year’s 17% increase in gun crime.

According to the Independent, the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) were not consulted. Joanne McCartney, a member of the MPA, was quoted in the article: “We want fewer guns on the streets not more, and people to feel safe in their community – not scared of those who are supposed to protect them.”

Vibrant, Vivacious Southall

Gill and I decided on an adventure yesterday. We took the train five minutes south to a different world.

Southall is one of regions in London most famous for its large Asian population. 55% of the population is Indian or Pakistani but there is also a large community of Somalis who live there. The result: a colourful, vibrant area with cultural differences woven intricately throughout. The signs at the train station are even bilingual in English and Gurmukhi.

As Gill pointed out, being blond and American, I was overwhelmingly outnumbered, but it wasn’t a place that makes you feel like you stand out.

It was quite a fascinating little venture. The McDonalds is halal. There is a pub called the Glassy Junction which accepts rupees as payment (300 = 1 pint of beer). It has churches, temples and mosques. You can buy little cups of “magical corn” along the roads set up in front of rows and rows of shops. Bend It Like Beckham was filmed there.

We went into a little jumble of a shop that sells everything from rolls to bubble wrap to states of Ganesh, to Jesus and Mary dinner trays to sex toys to children’s toys to kitchen ware and hardware. The goods were dirty and tumbling off the shelves. It was an array of treasures that required some digging, but if you needed a light bulb, an old cassette a giant stuffed tiger or a spin-the-wheel-strip-tease game, that’s the place to go.

There were gorgeously vivid fabric shops, sari shops and jewellery shops, lots of phones and DVDs, loads of curry restaurants and market food lining the streets, vegetables and fruits I’ve never seen before in my life. We bought some lychees and some sweet noodles called Noogdi to munch on.

We poked and prodded various bags of spices and rice and lentils, examined sauces and unfamiliar snacks. And then, with a craving for Asian food after all the spices wafting through the Southall air, we went home and cooked a giant pot of chicken biryani.