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

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

LLO: Tell us a bit about The Happiness Project you’re working on at the moment.
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 [].

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 [].

LLO: Any thoughts on the general state of happiness among Londoners? What could we do to be a bit more cheerful?
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 [] 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?
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  [] – 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 [] 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 []. 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 [] 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 [] 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?
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 []. 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 [] at the Church Street Hotel. Camberwell Arts Week [] 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.

Listen to a Londoner: Ham

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 Always looking for new victims volunteers….

HamHam, 53

Ham started London Daily Photo with the idea that showing a reasonable photo and possibly interesting words about London added to the sum total of Good Stuff about. Four years later and he is still enjoying it, still struggling to fit it in with a job in the real world.

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
All the living years, give or take a few years as a student. Best time was when I lived off Oxford Street.

LLO: Where are you (or your family) from originally if not London?
Parents Londoners. Grandparents on one side Dutch, on the other London & Poland. Purebred London mongrel.

LLO: Best thing about London?
The people

LLO: Worst thing about London?
The people. Oh come on, that’s too trite. The best thing about London is the way it repays you for the effort that you put into it – there is so much to find, do, be, that the only limits are your own. The worst is the impersonal front that can seem almost impermeable to some, they get chewed up and spat out.

LLO: North, south, east or west?

LLO: Best restaurant?
Hard to differentiate at the top end, so I’ll stick with the other end. Fryers Delight – a chippie in Theobalds Road.

LLO: Best shop?
Stanfords map shop. Not seen anything like it in any other city.

LLO: Best place to escape the city?
So many places, so little time. But if I’m looking for the antithesis of London in easiest reach, the Suffolk coast.

LLO: 2012 Olympics – stay or go?
Crazy? Stay. I’m going to camp in my garden, rent the house, cycle the 10 minutes to the Games

LLO: How do you spend your time on the tube?
On the rare occasions I’m on it, I spend my time wishing I was on my bike.

LLO: Most random thing you’ve seen in London?
 That question makes me realise how much we learn to accept everything in London. About 30 years ago I used to visit the laundrette as a 17th century pirate occasionally but that doesn’t count, I suppose. I think a graffiti artist working on one side with a graffiti cleaning team on the other was the most bizarre London thing.

LLO: Best place to catch a gig?
And that question makes me realise how decrepit I’ve become.

LLO: Best local band?
I wonder if there’s a band called the Sanatogens?

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
 The Mulberry tree in Hogarth’s garden, when it is laden with fruit to eat and get VERY messy with.

LLO: Best place to spend a Sunday afternoon?
I’m going to cheat and say late morning – try a Wigmore Hall recital, very civilised.

LLO: Best museum or gallery?
Probably the Horniman Museum, for being so unexpected and wide ranging.

LLO: Favourite market?
Would have been Borough Market before it got too successful for its own good. Now, I think Chapel Market.

LLO: Give us a funny London story.
Knock knock.
    Who’s there?
    M.A.B. Its.
    M.A.B. Its who?
    M.A.B. It’s becawz I’m Lunduner, that I love London so.

LLO: Best London magazine, newspaper or website?
 The Smoke

LLO: If you were to dress up as one of the tube station names for a costume party, which would you be?
Barking. Typecasting.

LLO: Best time of year in London?
Spring. For sure. The city comes to life again. Mind you, autumn is cool, with the Plane trees changing colour and the last gasps of summer. Oh, and the summer is unbeatable with so much going on. And in winter, the city is pared back to its basics. Christmas festivities. Snow to carpet the grey. OK. Pass.

LLO: Best place for a first date?
Meet at Little Ben. River trip to a meal at the Oxo. Night ride on the eye. Down to Ronnie Scott’s to catch some cool Jazz. Coffe at Bar Italia. Walk through the Park.

LLO: First place to take a visitor?
On a circular walk along the Thames from Wesminster to Tower Bridges.

LLO: Favourite place to be on a Saturday night?
Where did I leave that cup of cocoa now?

LLO: Best and worst things about tourists?
They help us appreciate what we have, but htey can get in the way

LLO: Boris is…
…better for London than nothing. Just.

LLO: What would you change about the city if you had the power to do so?
Integrated transport. Proper. Go to Zurich to see how it should work.

Thanks Ham!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Little London Lunch Break: New Year Exploration

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

Question: Which part of London would you like to explore for the first time in the new year?

My Answer:
I think I’ll head northeast to Islington and check out Chapel Market, catch a few bands in the Union Chapel which has been recommended to me by a few people. While I’m over there, I’ll have a stroll along the New River Walk

 I’ve heard good things about the Horniman Museum near Forest Hill train station.

After walking past it so many times, I’d like to go see a film at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road.

Shakespeare in the Park is on the list for Summer and if I can make it before closing, in January I’m going to try ice skating at the Natural History Museum.

Despite being in London for three years, I still haven’t actually been up in the London Eye. Worth it?

Also on the list are loads of delicious sounding restaurants with food from all over the world.  

And you?