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

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?
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!

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Listen to a Londoner: Wilfredo Arturo Diaz Ardila

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

Wilfredo Arturo Diaz Ardila, 32

Wilfredo comes from a small town called Mogotes near Bucaramanga in Santander, Colombia. He talks to us for this week’s Listen to a Londoner about his life in the UK, where to find a Colombian experience in London and about a product called panela that he plans to import from home.

LLO: How long have you been in London and what brought you here originally?
I have been in London for almost 3 years. I came here for studying English and to do a master diploma in civil engineering which I just finished. Now I would like to work in London as a civil engineer and begin the importation of a product called panela from our family business in Colombia.

LLO: How does life in London compare to life in Colombia?
It took me almost one year to adapt to life in London, for the weather (in Colombia there are no seasons), the different food and different cultures. It was difficult to make good friends because everyone is always working or studying and don’t have time for friends. I miss my family and my friends. In Colombia I spend a lot of time with family and friends at the weekend having barbeques, playing football, dancing, eating out in restaurants. I’m impressed with the culture in London, the architecture and the history.

LLO: Favourite place to go dancing to Latin American music in London?
The Cuban in Camden Market, Salsa! on Charing Cross Road and Floridita in Soho.

LLO: Best place in London for a taste of authentic Colombian food?
Leños & Carbón on Rockingham Street in Elephant and Castle and The Latin Corner pub on Camden Road.

LLO: You were talking about your sugar cane plantation in Colombia where your family produces panela, a product that you plan to help import to sell in London. What is panela?
Panela is a product that is made with sugar cane, grown under the Colombian sun. It’s 100% natural and unrefined. It’s made in different presentations – compact in the shape of a square or circle or in powder form. My family has been producing this product for over 10 years with a team of 15-20 employees on our farm.

LLO: How is it used?
You can use it to make juice, cakes, sweeten tea and coffee. It’s a more natural substitute for more refined sugar.

LLO: Can you share a few photos of the production process and explain how it is made?
The first step is preparing the ground to grow the sugar cane on the plantation. Growing the sugar cane takes between 15 and 20 months depending on the type of plant. The plants are cut and transported to the factory to be processed. The sugar cane is passed through a machine where it is crushed and the juice is separated and cleaned through a filter. The juice flows through a series of three huge containers where it is boiled in each one growing thicker each time and changes to a slightly different colour. Then it is passed through more containers where it continues to thicken and the air is stirred out. It’s transferred into moulds where it sets for half hour into a solid form. When the product cools, it is packaged and ready to sell.

LLO: Where’s your favourite shop in London to pick up Colombian products you miss from home?
There’s a small shop in Elephant and Castle shopping centre that has cereals, beans, arepas, saltines, milo and different tropical fruits I use to make juice, yuca and plantains.

LLO: What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome since moving to the UK?
I think it is the English. I didn’t know any English when I arrived in London. I started studying in a beginner course. Getting the post study work visa I have now was difficult too.

LLO: Best London discovery?
Mi novia!

Thanks Wilfredo!

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If you have or know of a company interested in stocking panela imported from Wilfredo’s family farm, email him at

Listen to a Londoner: Alberto “Pelos” Comesana and Xavier Izaguirre

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 Always looking for new volunteers.

Alberto “Pelos” Comesana, 29

Xavier Izaguirre, 26

These two Spanish guys came to London thinking they would have a great time, an easy life and maybe work a little bit. Instead, they had to work tons and combat their way through all the kinks London threw at them along the way. So they set up a  website called Combat London where they help fellow Londoners to survive in the city without sacrificing fun! 

LLO: Where are you guys from, how did you end up in London and how long have you been here?
PC & XI:
We’re both from Vigo, a small city in North Spain, on the Atlantic coast. We got acquainted in our high school years and became good friends studying at the same uni. After graduating in summer 2006, we decided to come to London together, like everyone does to improve their basic English skills. Since that time, we’ve each spent a few years in the city, although during different periods of time.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your website Combat London.
PC & XI: Combat London was launched as a means to help all those people who are new in town and need advice, just like we needed it (and still do, in all fairness) when we had just arrived. We try to cover all aspects of living in London on a budget, such as money-managing, flatshare and job hunting, knowing London shows no mercy as the second most expensive city in the world. At the same time, we truly believe you can still have a lot of fun spending very little money, and do our best to find the best free things in town.

LLO: I hear you’re into the techno scene. Where are the best places in London to lose yourself in the music?
Loads. Fabric does good nights from Friday to Sunday. Then I like the T-Bar. Some nights we just go from one place to another so you need to pay attention to flyers, blogs and word of mouth. Or ask us. Sundays are also great for dancing and you can’t go wrong with Secret Sundaze, HalfBaked, Looke, 93 or 1001.

LLO: Combat London is all about surviving on a budget. Give us a few of your top tips for saving money in this expensive city without sacrificing fun?
Honestly, there’s a whole lot of cash to be saved if you are smart. You can free haircuts all over the city, attend awesome parties for free, get free coffees or samples of any kind in many places, spend half the money at the supermarket by buying wisely, try on clothes at any high-street retailer to later buy them online at lower prices…

XI: To me, it is all about organising yourself and knowing the tricks. You can eat very well in a thousand places for £5, so why would you pay £15? The problem is those places won’t advertise or be located on the main road. You have to go off the beaten track.

LLO: What’s the most unique or unusual experience you have had in London so far?
I’ll tell a bad one. In our first flatshare back in 2006, we found out the cleaner we had coming once a week (who was in fact the landlord’s cousin) was stealing our checkbooks and trying to get money out of our accounts. Good for us our income was so crap that the amount asked for was too much and the payments never got through to our relief. (laughs) Things like these encouraged us to help other people survive in London by creating Combat London.

XI: And I will tell you a good one. One night I was at Fabric and I went to the loo for a wee (bear with me here). After 10 seconds I looked up and Richie Hawtin was next to me minding his own business. Richie Hawtin is for techno what Pele is for football or Lady Gaga for mainstreams. I did chat with him a minute (he was playing right that moment so he couldn’t spare more than two seconds). Pretty special.

LLO: Tell us about someone, somewhere or something really cool that you’ve discovered in London and think the rest of us should know about.
I’d definitely go for Greenwich. I find it a one-of-a-kind place. Starting the afternoon in the flee market to buy unique marshmallows, carbing up to march up the hill to to the Observatory through the park and finishing off at that genuine pub on the river where Dickens used to write his novels, inspired by the great views. A winner.

XI: And I’d go for Shoreditch. Full of bars, pubs, clubs and cool shops. It also has great restaurants. It is very authentic and original. Just by walking the streets you feel yourself bemused with the art, the people, the places…

LLO: We want to go on a pub crawl. Suggest an itinerary?
PC & XI:
You can start in the Wetherspoons of Liverpool Street station. It is roomy and cosy, they do cheap pints and you will easily manage a table. Next you can go to Comercial Tavern, with its wacky but stylish decoration. Further down Commercial Street you can check in The Light, for its beer garden and great atmosphere. You still alright? Adventuring in Shoreditch territory there’s Elbow Room with a pool table and also a ping pong table. Sofas are never too busy to lounge on them, which will be convenient taking into account your level of drunkness you have by now. A few places up towards Hoxton there is the Bar Music Hall, with rare live gigs and the brightest toilets I have ever seen. Marvel at how small your pupils look with lights that make you think you’re in the hospital. Relax, you’re not. Lastly, take a peek at 333. Any dizziness can be shaken off with a few wiggles to the tunes. 

LLO: You say yourself that “living in London can be considered a little war sometimes”. Give us an example of a time when you had to break out the combat skills.
This one happened very recently. I had delivered a few lessons before the course I conducted got cancelled not having enough students to make it profitable. I still needed to get paid for them but my employer was AWOL and ignoring my emails. So we had to pretend we were teachers from a school in Italy interested in my employer’s language centre,  who wanted to meet him in London to discuss availability. We set him up in a Starbucks and got my money without ending in violence . I’m not a violent person, but I’m a hardcore action movie fan, which gave me the edge to sucessfully pull off such shakedown (laughs).

XI: I particularly remember how well we would blag our way to jobs with made-up experience. We would also lie about our long term plans, saying we were here for good, or that we weren’t gonna go home for Christmas. Until recently, I’ve always seen employers and HR people as enemies.

LLO: I need a break from the city rush but can’t afford a plane ticket to warmer climes. Any suggestions on how to escape the work-obsessed war zone without actually leaving the city?
PC & XI:
Now that the weather isn’t that bad, we suggest going to any of the so green and lovely parks in the city. I’d say Primrose Hill for the amazing view when the sun sets and Hampstead Heath for its size and the chances to dip in the ponds.

LLO: If I only had one night in London, where would you send me to eat and drink?
PC & XI:
 It is your last night, so you deserve some luxury. Even the most combat people can afford (and should allow) one night of carefree-ness. Go to Tower 42 and order a sharing platter and lichee & champagne cocktail (you brought the debit card right?). The views are amazing, a great way to step aside and have a think. Top stuff!

Thanks Alberto and Xavier!

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