Listen to a Londoner: Ellen Burney

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.

Ellen Burney

Ellen Burney is a London-based fashion journalist who has written for titles including Vogue, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is currently on a ‘six-month city sabbatical’ and living in Rye, East Sussex with her partner and their one-year old daughter Doris.

LLO: As a former ELLE columnist, W correspondent and current contributing editor to Lula, you must know quite a few of London’s best-kept fashion secrets. Where are your favourite places to spend a day shopping away from the high streets?
EB: The staple second-hand designer shops such as Bang Bang on Goodge Street and Retro Woman in Notting Hill. For the best old rags try Beyond Retro on Cheshire Street off Brick Lane and the surrounding stalls in Spitalfields Market. For contemporary labels such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloe and Sonia Rykiel I like Diverse on Upper Street, and for hair bows try the crate of bow-ties, visit Episode on Chalk Farm Road! For antique lockets and charm deals, charm the woman with the very long and curling yellow finger nails and tall, fancy barnet in Grays Antique Market in Mayfair.

LLO: You’ve got a love for the printed word. What are you reading now?
EB: Well, I have finally finished A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks, which I loved. In general I read slowly but surely yet with this it was a race against time to finish it before its television debut in December. I made that mistake with Money by Martin Amis, buying it long before I read it and then couldn’t touch it after the pretty dismal television screening earlier this year.

LLO: After a bad day, you’re feeling like a little retail therapy in the form of lingerie and shoes. Where are you going?
EB:
Myla. They have a classic five-pack of tulle knickers with bows for £35 but a lot of my earnings have gone on their frilly tap pants and pearl bras. The frou-frou sleepwear is forever on my wish list. For shoes, Russell & Bromley for their classic loafers which I have in burgandy to match my tipple. I like my shoes clompy rather than sexy and so Miu Miu for platform heels. French Sole for black quilted ballet pumps, a classic cliche I refuse to snap or step out of.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London to people watch for some street fashion inspiration?
EB: Anywhere with really mad old, well-dressed women. The type that use their walking sticks to push old bits of bin bag into the gutter while proclaiming it ‘a dirty sock.’

LLO: Top three London bloggers we should all read with our morning coffee?
EB: The Enchanted Hunters, Caroline, No, and Canned Fashion.

LLO: Tell us about an inspirational fashion moment that happened to you or someone you know in London.
EB: Well, I will always remember that the late Isabella Blow took time out to call me with advice on getting work-experience on magazines. It was 9/11 and she was in New York and so it was very, very kind of her.

LLO: You’ve written quite a lot about fashion during the credit crunch for Elle. Where’s the best place in London for some creative but cheap fashion buys when you’re skint?
EB: These aren’t necessarily creative but some good value investment buys are a good starting point. Very soft black leggings, £12 from Topshop. I find tights are an easy way to give some sort of style hint. Navy or grey rather than the predictable black. Wool makes for a nice texture as do ribbed. Falke or Wolford and there’s no point in spending little as they rip, no matter how soft you think the Boots bamboo pairs appear. But maybe that’s just the way I sit. I’ve always relied on a hair accessory or style to perk up my mood. A hair bow or cheap pink scrunchie from the chemist. Chelsea boots are a staple for me. At the moment I have a brown pair from the local ‘Country Store’ but last year’s were £22 from Portobello Market. I live and breathe Breton tops and the best fit and quality I have found are £35 from Labour & Wait on Cheshire Street. I have both red and blue. The sailor souvenir type shop in Greenwich has some great ‘sailor basics’ including heavy fishermen’s sweaters. My hairdresser Zoe Irwin keeps a bowl of accessories from her travels on dressing table and wears each day to spice up outfits, such as a Sonia Rykiel brooch worn as a hair grip.

LLO: Favourite up-and-coming London-based fashion label or designer that deserves our attention?
EB: TBA and Charles Anastase for princess-wear and the magnificant Maggie Cassidys for made-to-measure spectaculars.

LLO: I’m heading to London for one night only and want something to eat and drink away from the tourist trail. Any recommendations?
EB: The Grapes pub on Narrow Street in Limehouse for a candlelit dinner in a tiny, seafood restaurant  above the River Thames. Charles Dickens was a regular and the pub features in Our Mutual Friend. Today, Old Gandolf the Grey is the Guinness-drinking regular. If you’re still around the next day, there’s lobster bisque and rare beef sandwiches. Other traditional pubs I like include The George on Commercial Road for a piano-filled knees-up and The Golden Heart in Spitalfields. In Islington, the organic gastro-pub The Duke of Cambridge for vodka and plum juice never dissapoints. I’ve been going there for over a decade, as well as Frederick’s in Camden Passage, Islington, for fine-dining. A memory of an old gentleman and gentlewoman sitting side by side to survey the folk is a long-time fond memory.

Thanks Ellen!

Ellen’s fabulous blog Vagabondiana is highly recommended!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.


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London Art Spot: Perry Sullivan

Not for innocent eyes, Perry sullivan draws on themes of sexuality, human form and politics to create a body of work that sometimes has a shock value with that can’t-peel-your-eyes-away sort of appeal. Some are disturbing, some may be offensive, but his goal is to draw on real bits of life that people can relate to rather than pretentious conceptual art that’s not always so easy to understand.

Perry is a master of line, light, shadow and form that gives life to the figures in his paintings. He will be showing them off at the Brick Lane Gallery until tomorrow so there’s still time to pop in.

For this week’s London Art Spot, he’s answered all of my (sometimes cheeky two-part) questions about his goal to make traditional figure painting appeal to a more contemporary audience, shares one of the most memorable comments from a buyer and of course gives us an eyeful of images to get a real feel for his work.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
PS:
The history. When I go to galleries and museums I think of all the people who have been a part of the city’s culture and I am pleased to be part of that in some small way.

LLO:  There’s sexuality, human form, some religious and mythological elements… Talk us through some of the common themes that flow through your work.
PS:
I would like to think the common theme in my work is humour. Being British I love to take the piss and there is a great deal of tounge in cheek in my work. I started to copy superheros from comic books as a kid. I think if I wasn’t a painter I’d be a cartoonist as I love to have a pop at deserving targets such as celebs, bankers, footballers, the church, politicians, etc. These are themes I return to time and again in my work.

LLO: If we wanted to walk around a recent exhibition of your work with an iPod, which songs would you recommend as a soundtrack to complement the mood of the show?
PS:
The Banana Splits Theme

LLO: You say you want to revive traditional figure painting and bring it into the contemporary world. How do you approach your work with this goal in mind? Which elements are most important to accomplish this?
PS:
Hang on, that’s two questions. Do I get extra brownie points or somthing? I set out to make my work say something to people who may feel that art is just people pushing paint about and slaping themselves on the back for doing so. (Frieze Art Fair). I want them to be able to connect with the painting in a real way, to know what it is they’re looking at and then go on to see deeper into the work. I think that once again humour is a helpful element and of course sex.

LLO: Do you have a muse?
PS:
Me. Sorry, did you mean someone I adore who fills me with love, hope, energy and light? Still me I am afraid.

LLO: One of your other interests is books. What are you reading now? Do you find that what you’re reading tends to have any influence on your artwork?
PS:
At this moment I am reading my Open University coursework as I am just about to start on my history degree. Just wanted to do something fun. You would think I’d say a Nigella Lawson cookbook looking at my work. But apart from those early years reading comics I don’t think what I read (outside Saturday’s Guardian) has any effect on my work.

LLO: Which painting are you most proud of right now and why?
PS:
The last one I did for the Brick Lane show called ‘Lest We Remember’. I am proud of it not because of the painting as such, but of the style. I was running out of time if I wanted to get it in the show so I put the paint on quicker and looser when I realized it had a real freshness and energy. I felt that I was in charge of the paint and it was going to do what I damn well wanted it to do as there was no time for debate. I love Rembrant’s work as it got looser and looser and I thought to myself ‘I get it’. You can’t see a photo of it just yet as it’s still in the exhibition but if you get down to the Brick Lane Gallery before Oct 4th you can see it in the flesh.

LLO: What has been the most memorable comment you’ve had about your paintings? Did you agree with it?
PS:
“How much? You robbing bastard!” No really, it was at one of my exhibitions when a woman came up to me after looking at my piece ‘Soft Cell’ and with tears in her eyes said “Thats how I feel”. Well what could i say? She brought the painting. Don’t think I didn’t notice this question as well as number six was also in two parts. Iam going to put in for overtime here.

LLO: Are there any other London-based artists you admire?
PS:
Luican Freud (is he still alive?)

LLO: What are you working on now?
PS: I am working on a still life called ‘The Beautiful Game’, it’s about corruption, greed and sex within football. So rich pickings there.

Thanks Perry!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Kerry Hiatt

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.

Kerry Hiatt

Writer, relationship guru, alfresco sex junkie and sometimes basset hound thief, Kerry Hiatt talks to The Little London Observationist.

LLO: As well as being signed with Penguin and plenty of other work, you’ve written for The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, LOOK and Psychologies and have made a freelance writing career work for you. Any dream clients?
KH: I have an amazing client list. I started writing for the national press when I was 18 and that had always been my dream. With every passing week there’s always another exciting client though. For example, this week, I’ve signed a contract to write a sexy, new board game.

LLO: What’s your favourite unique London discovery?
KH: You would think that I’d seen it all having lived here my whole life but that’s the most amazing thing about London, you can never see it all. One of the great things about editing www.getupandout.com is the plethora of new experiences we discover as a team. Just recently, I’ve tried out performing live stand up comedy, burlesque and zoo keeping in the city; all of which I would absolutely consider as a new career. Although, as my mother constantly reminds me, we’re from a family of travelers so if I were to do a career change, I’d likely end up working in a circus, which sort of combines all three doesn’t it?

LLO: You met your husband in Greenwich. Give us a great Greenwich date idea.
KH: Greenwich is so full of history and culture, I adore it. One of my favourite things to do is evening star gazing from The Royal Observatory. You snuggle up under blankets, sip hot chocolate and watch the incredible night sky. I spend most of my time trying to steal other peoples’ dogs in Greenwich Park though and Joe often has to come and drag me away. If he’d just let me have a basset hound it would save him a whole lot of trouble …

LLO: Your recent Time Out Magazine article on alfresco sex got a lot of attention. Can you share three of the best places to take it outdoors without getting caught?
KH: I love sex. It’s a very natural thing and people feeling inhibited is just silly. Having sex outdoors is a wonderful, primal feeling. Yes the article in Time Out caused a stir but I’ve also received tons of e-mails from couples who have tried it and loved it. As long as you’re safe and discreet of course. Greenwich Park has many a secluded spot to throw down a blanket, a bottle of wine and your three pack of Durex as does St. James Park by night. Personally, I’m keen on those occasional blacked out phone boxes you find around the city. If you see one, go for it.

LLO: As the editor of the newly launched site “Get Up and Out”, tell us what it’s all about and why we should visit immediately.
KH: www.getupandout.com is fab. It’s something that started off as a small blog because I just couldn’t fit all of the amazing date ideas I had into my features in Time Out. Within a month, it’s grown to huge proportions and we’re very proud. It encourages people to shrug off tired and traditional dating. You know, say au revoir to cruising along the River Thames by moonlight – everyone has done it already … twice. And those BOGOF cinema tickets for your local VUE? It’s dull. for a first or second date. Instead, we provide our readers with a plethora of quirk-a-licious date ideas as well as fashion, food and relationship advice. It’s very much a community blog.

LLO: Best thing about living in your postcode?
KH: Greenwich Market. I love how I can whiz over there on a Saturday morning, pick up freshly ground coffee beans (Jack Daniels flavour, natch), warm churros for breakfast and something completely original to wear for the evening. There’s something very special about the camaraderie of the market too. I’ve lived here on and off all my life so it’s lovely to walk into a bar and say hello to familiar faces.

LLO: One of your specialities is writing about relationships. Give us three favourite quirky date ideas for Londoners looking for something out of the ordinary.
KH: There are LOADS of things. Three of my favourites include The Italian Job Experience with smallcarBIGCITY, where you and your date don blue boiler suits, stash gold in the back of a mini and navigate your driver through the twisty backstreets of London to get away from the law. Circus Space also offer circus skills workshops for couples; juggling, unicycling and all that malarky. It’s so much fun, trust me. Simon Drake’s House of Magic is great for the ‘seen it done it’ type too. It’s a secret mansion house in London with haunted cellars, an enchanted garden, fortune tellers and magicians. He does occasionally public nights with drinks and dinner and they are crazy weird.

LLO: One of your loves is karaoke. Where’s the coolest karaoke bar round town?
KH: Without a doubt, it has to be Lucky Voice, which has venues in Soho and Islington. With its bubbly, Japanese kitsch party atmosphere, we often book a private karaoke room for two hours and invite friends down with us. The jukebox is easy to use (there’s even an ‘I’m Thirsty’ button, which sees your drink orders delivered at speed) and every room is equipped with a fancy dress box chock full of 70s sparkles, 80s mullets and, of course, the classic 90s shell suit. Perfect.

LLO: Give us a few ideas from recent book on your favourite childhood literary haunts around the capital.
KH: It’s still top secret but this city is a literary goldmine. Charles Dickens, 101 Dalmations, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Harry Potter are just a few covered in the book.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what changes have you noticed most over the years? Anything you miss?
KH: London gets more and more exiting as the years roll by so I never feel too nostalgic. I do miss the old pie and mash shops that once littered the streets of the south; they seem to be disappearing. The only thing I truly miss though is busking with my Great Grandfather, Edwin. My family immigrated from Ireland after the war and he made his living by playing the accordion on the streets of London as well as other things. We would go to Portobello Market on Sundays and I’d sit on his case while he played. It’s one of the best memories to have. My love for London started young!

Thanks Kerry!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Michele Gorman

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.

Michele Gorman, 43

Michele Gorman is an American writer, and now a card-carrying Brit, who has made London her home. Her debut novel, Single in the City, charts the misadventures of 26-year-old American Hannah who, upon moving to London, blunders her way through life and love amidst a population who doesn’t always see the funny side of her cultural misunderstandings.

LLO: Give us the basic details first – How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
MG:
I’ve been here 12 years, and am in fact now a card-carrying Brit. I moved from Chicago, but was raised in the Northeast, in a rural town in Massachusetts. I came to London because I followed my heart. My then-boyfriend was transferred from the States and I figured it’d be fun to live in a new city. I was right!

LLO: Interesting that you decided to write a book called “Single in the City” when you personally moved to London for love. What inspired the idea?
MG:
The story is definitely fictional, since, as you rightly point out, I was very much attached when I moved here, and for many years afterwards. So the idea didn’t come from being single myself. Actually it was born out of spite. My background is in literary fiction rather than chick-lit, and I’d just picked up my first chick-lit book, which I thought was terrible. Yet it was a best-seller. I knew I could write something better than that, and my expat experiences were such natural fodder that the book practically wrote itself. I knew Hannah had to be single because the story is a comedy, and a single girl’s misadventures are ripe for humour (though not always to her!).

LLO: Which aspects of British culture baffled you most when you first arrived?
MG:
Just about everything was baffling, from the British approach to getting what they want (and never directly saying what it is that they want), to daily routines like getting on the bus or ordering a sandwich. I quite like to cook, and translating the names for ingredients from American to English took some time (and I’m still not sure what treacle is).

I used to find queuing odd, but now find myself gravitating toward them and standing patiently. My family says I’ve become ‘too civilised’ for America now. I guess that’s the natural result of having to share a little island with 60 million people.

LLO: Share a little story about a challenge you’ve had to overcome as an expat.
MG:
If I had a pound for every time a Brit has said to me ‘But you’re not like most Americans.’ I wouldn’t need to work. Overcoming the stereotype of a ‘typical’ American has been a constant challenge. Part of what they think of as typical about us is that we tend to see our time in the UK as temporary.

The Brits I’ve met over the years have generally been reluctant to make friends with expats if they don’t think we’re going to stick around for the long haul. Many have told me that they don’t want to invest in friendship if that friend is just going to leave, and this has been one of the biggest hurdles against making British friends. It took more than four years before I was invited to my first proper English house party, despite having several English men and women that I counted as acquaintances. I knew I’d finally convinced them that I planned to stay when I got that invitation! And we’re still friends today.

LLO: What do you love most about your adopted city and is there anything besides family and friends you’re missing from the States that you can’t find here?
MG:
There is a gentleness about London that is surprising for a big city. What it may lack in efficiency it more than makes up for in peacefulness away from the crowds. Even in frenetic central London you need only to step down a side street to find quiet neighbourhoods, cafes, little independent shops and green squares.

It used to be the case that American products were hard to come by. Like many of us, I imported certain goods like my favourite deodorant, Tollhouse morsels and corn syrup for baking. Going into a Walmart when back in the States was unbearably exciting and my suitcases came back laden with useful gadgets. Now though, most baking and food products are available (if not in the shops then online), as are those useful gadgets. Plus Mom still regularly sends packages of things I don’t realize I need until I see them. Those plastic bags you attach to a Hoover to shrink wrap clothes and bedding are an excellent case in point; how have we lived without them in London’s tiny flats?

I do miss having access to plentiful, cheap or free live music. Coming from Chicago where hundreds of bands played each weekend in bars and pubs across the city, it was an adjustment to realize that you have to book ahead for everything here.

LLO: You’ve written for UK Cosmo, Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, Guardian, Evening Standard, etc. How did you build up your reputation as a writer having started from scratch as an expat? Any advice for others in the same boat?
MG:
All of my articles have come off the back of the publicity for Single in the City. I have a great PR through Penguin who has arranged all of that. But if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have that kind of help I’d have approached the newspapers and magazines myself. If you’re new here, go into the newsagent and write down the titles you see. And don’t discount the tabloids, though be prepared to write from a salacious angle. The editors on all these publications have to fill them each week/month and are always looking for articles (though they don’t often pay for them, so it’s not generally a lucrative career). Also, blog sites are really great for writers because they are always looking for good content.

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
MG:
The Southbank. It’s perfect for a stroll along the river, for having a coffee or drink, or popping in for a free concert/exhibit/reading. There are also of course amazing performances on all the time, and it’s easy to walk back across the bridge into Covent Garden.

LLO: I’ve got one night in London. Recommend the best place to go for dinner and drinks.
MG:
It depends on what kind of experience you’re after. If you want upscale, have a drink at the bar at the Sanderson Hotel (50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG). It’s beautiful and funky inside, and has a great all-season courtyard that is very cool, trendy and a bit romantic. Then go to Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD) for mouth-watering, very interesting Chinese.

For a more casual experience start with drinks at the The White Horse (1-3 Parsons Green, SW6 4UL), then dinner at the always chaotic and friendly Sale e Pepe, for good Italian (9-15 Pavilion Road, SW1X 0HD).

LLO: Have you developed any amusing British tendencies in the past 12 years that you’d like to share?
MG:
I queue. I tut and mutter under my breath when someone jumps in front, but rarely say anything anymore. I walk on the left instead of the right and find myself getting cross when others try walking on the right. And I now ask ‘Are you all right?’. It’s official. I’m British.

LLO: What are you working on now?
MG:
If Single in the City sells well, then I’m ready to write a follow-up.

I’m also writing a book for an older audience. It’s still chick-lit, but the heroine is 39. She doesn’t have ‘issues’ though, no cheating spouse, big behind, social life-crimping children or ticking biological clock. She’s single, well-adjusted and independent, optimistic and enthusiastic about her future. I don’t see much of this kind of writing, despite all of the real-world women like this that I know. So I’m writing one for them.

If you’d like to buy a copy of Michele’s book, Single in the City, head over to Amazon.
For more about Michele and her work, visit her website: www.michelegorman.co.uk
Follow her tweets @expatdiaries or show some support by joining the Single in the City group on Facebook.

Thanks Michele!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Obligatory Snow Post


West Ken Snow by Buckeroo Kid from the Flickr pool. (She was the London Art Spot feature last Sunday. Here’s a link if you missed her awesome London pics!)

Maybe it’s because I come from snow-y Buffalo, New York where people break out one of four ice scrapers from the back seat and drive around with their 4-wheel drive tyres in blizzards without a second thought that I find this so amusing. In Buffalo, this amount of snow is absolutely laughable.

These headlines conjure up a much worse picture in my head than the pretty image in Kathy’s picture above.

Telegraph: “Britain’s deep freeze: icy weather brings worst snow for 50 years”
Guardian: “Grit supplies reaching critically low level as icy weather continues”
Metro: “Panic buying as heavy snow hits”
Evening Standard: “230,000 pupils get day off; more closures feared”
The Sun: “UK has 8 days of gas left”

Some of the best headlines came yesterday – about elderly people buying second-hand books to burn because they are cheaper than firewood. All the grocery shops are running out of products because frantic people are stocking up.

When I woke up this morning, I could still see grass poking through a thin layer of the white stuff. It was pretty. It was out-of-the-ordinary for London. But it wasn’t exactly life-threatening.

The way Londoners react to this weather fascinates me to no end. Everyone seems more friendly, smiling at strangers, except for the morning commute when travel chaos ensues and you’re smashed into a carriage with a stranger’s hair in your mouth. Kids run about, sticking their tongues out for flakes. People carry umbrellas (umbrellas??). Although, I suppose that’s the natural reaction to precipitation in these parts…You can’t have a conversation without the word “snow” and multiple exclamation points.

And then there’s the complete idiots. For example, I was on my lunch break for half hour yesterday. When I left, there was a dog tied to a railing – a black dog with long scraggly sopping wet hair, sitting in a puddle, covered in snow, visibly shivering with these big sad eyes. When I returned, he was still there, lying down in the puddle, a salt-and-pepper speckled mound. I don’t even like dogs, but I wanted to give the poor thing a blanket. Seriously.

Anyway, I’m sure in some parts outside of London, it might be a bit more “severe”, but the world’s not ending (except maybe for that dog if someone didn’t rescue it by now), the media hype is hysterical and… umbrellas? 

It’s just a bit of snow.