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 littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. 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?
XI:
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?
PC:
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?
PC:
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.
PC:
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.
PC:
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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Listen to a Londoner: Marsha Moore

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. Always looking for new volunteers.

Marsha Moore, 36

A native Canadian, Marsha has lived and worked in London for the past six years. Her first book, 24 Hours London (Prospera Publishing 2009), was inspired by her love for her adopted city.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how did you end up in London and how long have you been in this fabulous city?
MM:
I’m from Canada originally. I came to London six years ago as a teacher, met my husband here, got married and stayed! I miss Canada but London is home to me now. As a full-time writer, it’s got a fantastic literary scene and I’ve been able to meet and network with lots of other writers.

LLO: As the author of 24 Hours London and 24 Hours Paris, which city do you prefer and why?
MM:
Paris is such a beautiful city that you can’t help but be stunned by how perfectly groomed it appears to be. It reminds me of entering my mother’s room as a child – you’re fascinated by everything but afraid to touch it unless you somehow mess it up. London is greyer, less appealing visually, and less ordered, but you feel somehow like you can dig in and get your hands dirty. So I have to say – as much as I like Paris – I love living in London.

LLO: I’ve got 24 hours to kill in London and want to get off the tourist track. What do you suggest?
MM:
While it’s not exactly secret, wandering along the Thames on the  Southbank – preferably in good weather – is one of my favourite things to do. You’ve got the British Film Institute, The National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall and the Tate Modern all within a kilometer, as well as brilliant views over the river! London’s markets also can’t be missed – try Spitalfields and Columbia Road on a Sunday for flowers to frou frou (and don’t miss out Brick Lane along the way), and Borough Market for food. In the north of the city is Hampstead Heath, where you can wander through the trees, fly a kite and take a dip in a pond…and forget you’re in a mega-metropolis!

LLO: What’s your favourite late-night London venue/activity?
MM:
The energy in Soho is so amazing I could soak it up all night! The buzz of the streets, the swarms of crowds outside West End theatres… for me, it’s what London is all about. There are loads of great spots in Soho but I like LAB for drinks, Pulcinella for pizza and Balans for late-night (or early morning!) dinners. The Curzon also has midnight cinema once a month, where you can chill out and watch films until morning.

LLO: Where in London do you go for new inspiration if writer’s block strikes?
MM:
London has so many great green spaces and I always find a wander through them clears my head! I love the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, in particular – there’s nothing better than grabbing a coffee at the Lido and watching the boats drift up and down. But my favourite writing spot is my office, where I can stare out the window for hours watching the double-deckers storm by and absorbing the rhythm of the street.

LLO: Favourite bookshop in the capital and why?
MM:
London’s bursting with brilliant bookshops – John Sandoe and Foyles, to name a few – but my favourite has to be Daunt. Enter here and you feel like you’ve entered a shrine to the printed word! Books are arranged by country –  you can seek out your interest and browse the novels, non-fiction and guides with awe. The store also has branches in Holland Park, Chelsea, Belsize Park and Hampstead, but it is the Marylebone store – located in an original Edwardian bookstore – that is truly amazing.

LLO: What’s the best part about living in your postcode?
MM:
I live in Kensington, and I love it! It has brash new shops and restaurants mixed with small independent ones that look like they’ve been around for ages. Pubs are tucked away off busy pavements, and elegant terraced houses with private squares line the streets. You get a sense of what the city must have been like a hundred years ago. You’re also close to Kensington Gardens – where you can lounge by the gazebo in the summer and listen to music – and Holland Park, with its wonderful peacocks.

LLO: Best London discovery while working on your book?
MM:
I’ve found out so many great things about the city while working on the book that it’s hard to narrow it down! But one of my favourite locations is Lower Marsh Street, close to Waterloo. I’d been to the station so many times, but I had no idea this small street – full of gems like I Knit London (where you can drink beer and knit) and Scooterworks (a café in a former repair shop) – existed!

LLO: Which London-based writers do you most admire?
MM:
Tough question!  I am massive fan of chick lit (I have my own chick-lit novel being published next year), and London has provided a great setting for many chick-lit novels. Helen Fielding, the author of Bridget Jones’ Diary, used to live in Notting Hill. Sophie Kinsella, who lives just outside of London, is also one of my favourites. I love to see the city through the eyes of their main characters.

LLO: Most unusual restaurant or pub you’ve come across that’s worth a visit?
MM:
Definitely has to be Ye Olde Mitre! Walk down Hatton Garden and between numbers 8 and 10, you’ll come to an arched entryway into an alley with a sign stating ‘Ye Olde Mitre 1546’. Enter the alley and you’ll see a pub many locals have yet to discover. Although the current building only dates back to the eighteenth century, the pub has existed since 1547 when it was built to serve the servants of the nearby Palace of the Bishops of Ely. The trunk of a cherry tree has been preserved in the corner of the bar, and legend has it that Elizabeth I danced the maypole around it!

Thanks Marsha!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Colleen Wagner

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.

Colleen Wagner, 33

Colleen moved to London for her husband’s job three months after getting married in 2008.  She’s a high school English teacher who is at present working part-time for a London relocation agency rather than duke it out in the city schools (hey, it’s not like she didn’t give it a try…), and while she wouldn’t recommend undergoing three major life changes in one summer to even her worst enemy, her and her husband have come to truly, ecstatically enjoy their new life together in London.  

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
CW:
A year and a half.

LLO: If not London, where are you from? 
CW:
Chicago, Illinois

LLO: What is your favourite London discovery?
CW:
Brompton Cemetery, a 40-acre plot of solitude among Victorian graves.  I almost don’t want to promote it, as I’d hate for it to become too populated with the living…

LLO: Where in London do you go to get a taste of “home”?
CW:
Partridges on Gloucester Road provided us Stove Top stuffing on Thanksgiving Day.  Also picked up some Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and Golden Grahams–basically, a 10 USD box of cereal, but worth every darn pence.

LLO: What’s the coolest part about living in your postcode?
CW:
On the SW10 / SW5 border, the Troubadour is ideal for coffee or cocktails and live music in the club downstairs (Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell played there in the ’60s).  We attended the BRIT Awards last week just a 10-minute walk from home, and my bookish self particularly adores that Beatrix Potter lived only a few blocks away * sigh *

LLO: Heard about any interesting places you’d like to check out but haven’t had the chance to yet?
CW:
After going to Proud last Saturday, I’d like to revisit the Camden Stables Market in the daytime.  Otherwise, after reading the book Longitude, my inner dork would really like to see the sea clocks at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

LLO: If I had one day in London and wanted to go “off the beaten path”, where would you send me?
CW:
I would send you first to one of my trusted pubs like the Drayton Arms on Old Brompton Road for a proper English Breakfast.  Then, so you can get at least one London museum in, you’re off to the Cabinet War Rooms–its right by Westminster and St. James Park, but its low profile renders it easily overlooked by other tourists.  If you’re thirsty, I’m sending you deeper into the city to at least gawk at St. Paul’s Cathedral from the outside before you wander over to the hidden shops and pubs around Bow Lane and/or to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese tucked away off Fleet Street (during the day, though, before the work crowd filters in).  Or, if you’d prefer a quiet, leisurely day, scrap all that and head to Hampstead for the village atmosphere and rolling heath.  Regardless of the daytime itinerary, by night you are being sent to Edgware Road for Middle Eastern cuisine and shisha.

LLO: Favourite London shop?
CW:
Zara, but for non-high street shops, the stalls at Portobello Road Market.  

LLO: Tell us about the most random thing you’ve seen in London.
CW:
Feathers stuck to my store-bought eggs, as though straight from the chicken’s va-jay-jay.

LLO: Best place to try to meet new people if you’ve just moved to London?
CW:
[insert shameless plug here]  Why, the new London Living social network at http://www.londonrelocation.ning.com!

Thanks Colleen!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Little London Lunch Break: Your London

Little London Lunch Break posts will appear every Wednesday around lunch time. I’ll ask a questions or start a discussion, give my answer and leave the comments open for the rest of you the same when you have a minute or two. If you would like to suggest a question, please email me at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Question: London is so incredibly diverse and intricate that one person’s experience of it may be completely different from the next. Where is “your London”? Which areas do you feel most comfortable in, which are the most familiar?

My Answer:
There are a few places that feel like “my London”.

Notting Hill all the way down through Portobello Market, Ladbroke Grove, through to Kensal Green – the 52 bus route, basically. I lived in Kensal Green for 2.5 years, and have worked in Notting Hill for almost two. You would think I would have been tired of the walk between the two, but even on weekends I used to spend a lot of time in Portobello Market.

Spitalfields/Brick Lane also makes my list, the spread of market stalls and exotic food, the slightly run-down, creative atmosphere with graffiti splattered walls and vintage clothes shops. It’s all about the vibe.

I spend some time in the area between Oxford Circus and South Bank – down Regent Street, past Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square. It’s tourist-heaven, but it always makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. South Bank at night always reminds me of when I first fell in love with London.

Hampstead where I used to work and the amazing heath in the summer, Knightsbridge where I lived when I studied abroad and Hyde Park’s romantic willow trees, Blackfriars Bridge which I used to walk across into the sunset when I was doing work experience at a publishing company, Camden for the madness of the market, for Marathon’s hidden jazz nights and gigs generally.

These are not the only areas I spend time in, but they are places either connected to my life or that I have explored time and again.

And “your London”?

Listen to a Londoner: Jodie Mandat

Listen to a Londoner. This is a weekly post where people who live (or have lived for a while) in London answer a few questions about the Big Smoke. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new victims volunteers….

Jodie MandatJodie Mandat, 25

“Im an Australian living the life in London for a year so I can travel europe and see the world. I came here for eight weeks on a holiday last year with my best friend and loved it so much, I went home, sold my house and all my furniture, left all my friends, my boyfriend and my really great job. I’ve made some really good friends here so I’ll be sad to leave in only six more months. The travel bug has bitten me HARD! I didn’t think I’d love it here as much as I am, so when I do go home I’ll have to decide where I want to live forever. On a more personal note, I’m a shopaholic and a chatterbox! :p”

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
JM:
6 months

LLO: Where are you or your family from originally if not London?
JM:
Melbourne, Australia

LLO: Best thing about London?
JM:
Always something to do.

LLO: Worst thing about London?
JM:
I’m starting to think it’s not so much the cold, but the dampness of everything.

LLO: North, south, east or west? 
JM:
I live in the northwest, but I love it all

LLO: Best restaurant?
JM:
Little Bay when I’m feeling adventurous and Pizza Express when I’m feeling casual

LLO: Best shop?
JM:
I’m going to have to say Topshop!

LLO: Best place to escape the city?
JM:
Richmond is lovely and so is Greenwich, but closer to town, Hampstead Heath.

LLO: How do you spend your time on the tube?
JM:
Usually eyeballing the newspaper of the person next me until I can get my mits on my own copy, but if I’m standing, I’m usually concertrating on NOT breathing where somone else is!

LLO: Most random thing you’ve seen in London?
JM:
People dressed like it’s Halloween when it isn’t!

LLO: Best place to catch a gig?
JM:
Somerset House.

LLO: Best local band?
JM:
(not sure if theyre local but dicovered them here) Just Jack

LLO: Favourite book, song or film about London?
JM:
Not sure they’re about london, but they’re certainly based in or make reference to London; Book – Confessions of a Shopaholic, Song – “Ldn” by Lily Allen, Film – Closer or Green Street Hooligans

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
JM:
Brick Lane 

LLO: Best place to spend a Sunday afternoon? 
JM:
Almost any pub or the kitchen with the other flatmates!

LLO: Best museum or gallery?
JM:
I’m yet to find one in london that I really love 😦

LLO: Favourite market?
JM:
Camden 

LLO: Best London magazine, newspaper or website?
JM:
Company magazine, The London Paper before they scrapped it and www.tfl.co.uk 

LLO: If you were to dress up as one of the tube station names for a costume party, which would you be?
JM:
Cockfosters (hehe) or maybe Elephant and Castle.

LLO: Best time of year in London?
JM:
Summer!

LLO: First place to take a visitor?
JM:
On a red bus, top deck to Oxford Street (but only if they like to shop). Otherwise, Big Ben.

LLO: Favourite place to be on a Saturday night?
JM:
A bar in Islington or Angel

LLO: Best and worst things about tourists?
JM:
Best – good moods. Worst – slow walking and getting in my way to take photos.

LLO: What would you change about the city if you had the power to do so?
JM:
The rubbish and spit on the sidewalk. Eeewwwww! And, I’d make people apologise for bumping into other people.

LLO: Most interesting recent news story?
JM:
All the British soldiers that die in the Middle East. It’s so sad. We haven’t sent that many troops from Australia, so we don’t hear as many stories about them being killed. The most interesting, however, was the one a while ago on TV called; Katie, My Beautiful Face.

Thanks Jodie!

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