Listen to a Londoner: Mariano Ortiz

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.

Mariano Ortiz

Mariano is a born and bred Londoner. With an emphasis on social integration in everything he does, he loves to engage people through teaching English language, giving salsa dance lessons and playing vallenato accordion. He also runs Latinos in London Ltd.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
MO: My parents left Colombia in the seventies. They went to Spain to study at university. As luck would have it, they only met when both were on holiday here in London. They fell in love, got married, then I popped up and the rest was history – our life was to be here in England. I have therefore been here all my life, since 1983, and now enjoy my days running Latinos in London Ltd, teaching English, teacing dance, teaching music, bringing artists in from Latin America for concerts and providing consultancy services to London Concert venues with acts that appeal to Spanish/Portuguese-speaking audiences in London.

LLO: Latinos in London has well over 4,000 members on Facebook. Tell us what it’s all about.
MO: Latinos in London branches off from Timeout London, for whom I did work experience when I finished my A-levels. It will become a fully functioning and interactive website this year. It basically provides English speakers across the world with an insight into Latin American and Iberian happenings in the UK without the biassed coverage most other bodies do because there is indeed no regulator or actively working critical body here. We seek to become that regulator and in addition bring about advancement in all aspects of community and politics but are well aware that the only way to hold the attention of as high a percentage of the public (especially a cross-section of generations) is by focussing on events and providing the service of a comprehensive events and curent affairs media body.

In addition to reporting news and current events both in the UK and abroad, we promote everything from book launches to film screenings via concerts, night clubs, conferences, lectures and many other events. Our site will launch once we have our critical agenda and critical team together because the most important thing we are looking to do is operate a critical and political branch to our project which should hopefully promote improvement and advancement of Latin American / Iberian communities in the UK. We are clearly not all illegal immigrants looking to scrounge off the UK welfare system, nor are we all Saints – thus a clear-speaking unbiassed media body is required by all to tell things as they should be.

Most other bodies are unable (and moreover unwilling) to do this based on:

1. The alliances they have with community groups, consulates, embassies and past or present advertising clients. Spanish language newspaper editors portray our 32 consulates and embassies in the UK as perfectly oiled machines of absolute efficiency when in truth most are far from this. Even more farsical is the tabloid style coverage these bodies give to news related to immigration, by which political candidates are judged to be pro-Latin based only on their backing of “possible future amnesties” – which indeed addresses the many of us in need of regularisation in the UK but portrays us as little more than a community in need of such things when a significant percentage of us would rather see politicians addressing issues concerning trade agreements.

2. The solely financial objectives they have and the limitations these entail: publicity clients, diplomatic bodies, service providers, restaurants and so on cannot be badmouthed or criticised as this will lead to bad business and the small “mafia” of regular advertisers in these newspapers have grown to become “family”.

We, as a community, need to remove ourselves from the ghetto mentality that reigns within too many of us here in the UK and allows things to remain sloppy and half-hearted. Latinos in London Ltd is 100% privately funded and has no restrictions or limitations. It additionally is the only platform producing daily and in English.

LLO: We’re looking for a great Latin American restaurant in London – best food and authentic Latin atmosphere. Recommendations?
MO: My opinion has changed over the years but at the moment I am against frequenting both typically Latin eateries and chain-stores of Macdonald’s style La Tascas, Nandos and Las Iguanas clown feederies. right now I am particularly interested in backing restaurants looking to push integration of that which is Latin American and that which is British/European in all aspects: menu, atmosphere, lighting, wine list, drinks, staff, service, etc.

In summary, my recommendations are Sabor run and owned by my dear friend Esnayder (also interviewed for Listen to a Londoner!) and Arepa & Co run by another visionary and lateral thinker, Gustavito.

LLO: Favourite unique London discovery?
MO: Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

LLO: Best place to go out dancing or hear some great live Latin American tunes in this city?
MO: My house! I organise a monthly “Vallenato House Party” where people are welcome to experience an authentic Colombian “parranda” (party with live music) with all the essences of typical food, atmosphere and imported drinks. Come along and be transported to any typical Colombian Northern coast house on a weekend evening. Details: www.Vallenato.co.uk

For added fun, check out Latin American harp and clarinet maestros Diego Laverde and Cheveto Requena at Angel and Green Park stations when you get the chance.

LLO:  Which area of London are you most familiar with and what’s your favourite thing about it?
MO: I am still deciding on that!

LLO: Can you tell us about some great resources for Latin Americans coming to London for the first time?
MO: Learning English? Well I have been working as an English teacher and education guidance mentor since 2006 and believe the best advice anyone could ever receive is personalised – so in short, my contact details are 0781 569 65 94 /contact@latinosinlondon.com

LLO: Tell us about a great memory of something that could only have happened in London.
MO: Celebrating Barcelona winning the UEFA champions league a few years ago against Arsenal in Trafalgar Square. Colombian Barcelona supporters, we were playing vallenato into the night. Argentine Barcelona supporters, they were playing Latin rock guitar, Cubans had salsa cow bells and claves  and who were we sorrounded by? Joyous Tottenham Hotspurs supporters cheering and dancing along.

LLO: If you were to leave London in the near future, what 5 things (people not included) would you miss the most about the city?
MO:
1 – The mentality: Most people here do not allow social class and appearances rule their lives.
2 – The culture: Every country of the world is represented in this city
3 – The food: Fancy eating anything from anywhere? look for it in London.
4 – Employment flexibility: Fancy changing careers from sales to dance entertainment and then back again? Only in London.
5 – Night clubs and entertainment venues open 7 nights a week: We don’t know how lucky we are to have these.

LLO: You’ve got a free day to explore a part of the city you’ve never been to. Where do you go and why?
MO: My head hurts now.  😦  I can’t possibly think straight and answer for this. Sorry 😦

Thanks Mariano!

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Listen to a Londoner: Daisy Coole

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.

Daisy Coole, 26

Daisy Coole is a jazz and session musician who has temporarily swapped touring Europe for organising the biggest and best cupcake extravaganza this country has ever seen. Cupcake Camp London will feature thousands of cupcakes and raise money for the North London Hospice, who looked after Daisy’s father until he died in March 2010.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the city throughout your life? Anything in particular you miss?
DC: I miss being able to walk down a street without being knocked over by a 4×4, controversial as I’m sure that is! Drivers try to fit these ridiculously wide cars down the narrow backstreets of London. Use public transport or buy a smaller car! Or walk! I often have to travel with at least two saxophones, a music stand and some hefty sheet music, as well as my boyfriend’s bass and amp but I don’t need a mini truck to transport me across London: my little Ford Fiesta does the job. We are blessed with a brilliant transport system in this city. Except when you want to get from Kilburn to Hampstead. Then it’s a pain. Why isn’t there a connecting line between the Jubilee line and the Northern line before Kings Cross?

LLO: You’re a jazz musician. What’s your favourite London venue to play and what’s special about it?
DC: When I toured Europe last year, some of the best gigs were to hundreds of people in small Swiss cities, so it’s somewhat ironic that my favourite venue to play in the huge city of London is the Green Note in Camden. It’s a tiny vegetarian restaurant and live music venue which has the most incredible atmosphere. The audience are literally at your feet and you often have to swing round to avoid the waitresses as they pass between the rooms but you feel them take every step with you as you perform. Plus the food is amazing – always a bonus at a gig.

LLO: What the best thing about living in your postcode?
DC: I grew up in Hampstead and although it took me 12 years (aged 12-24) I moved back into the area as soon as I could, albeit to Gospel Oak! From my house I can walk to the posh cobbled streets of Hampstead Village, the eclectic and somewhat grubby Camden Town or the bustling (polite word for overcrowded and crazy) central London! Most importantly I’m back near Hampstead Heath, park of my childhood and the scene of many fond memories. It’s also my memorial place for my father who died last March. We scattered his ashes on top of Parliament Hill and you can see the whole of central London, particularly Fleet Street, where he spent so many years as a journalist. There is something overwhelming and yet calming about sitting on a bench on the hill and imagining the thousands of trials and tribulations taking place down in those streets. I find it peaceful.

LLO: One of your ideal escapes is an armchair in a cosy café. Share your top three comfy cafes?
DC: I hate to sound cliche but number one has to be the Starbucks in South End Green, NW3, because it’s right next to my gym – caffeine and comfort when I need it most! There used to be an amazing cafe in Camden called the Bean & Cup, which had huge sofas to sink into and loads of newspapers in the back room. They also did a divine Strawberry Latte, which I’ve never found anywhere else. My third recommendation is Proud Galleries in Camden: a gallery and live music venue with gorgeously decorated stables, in which you can hang out and have a coffee while browsing the internet, playing Wii or watching TV. The best room is pink with a big white wicker throne and loads of hanging plants. It’s also the venue for Cupcake Camp London.

LLO: As the organiser of Cupcake Camp London, give us a rundown of what to expect and why we should sign up to attend immediately.
DC: Cupcake Camp London is the first of it’s kind in this country, having started in San Francisco two years ago and travelled via New York, Paris and Sydney (among others). It is an incredible day where London’s amateur and professional bakers can bring down their best cupcakes to share with the public and raise money for the North London Hospice. There will be live bands, Frosting Shot Girls, a tombola and a silent auction where you can win seven nights at a gorgeous hotel in India! Bakers can even enter the cupcake competitions, judged by the founders of Primrose Bakery, legendary food writer, Mary Berry, supreme political strategist, Alastair Campbell and the winner of BBC’s Great British Bake Off, Edd Kimber. We have almost 2,000 cupcakes pledged so far and need lots more so sign up on the website www.cupcakecamplondon.co.uk and join us!

LLO:Favourite London bakery and best thing they serve?
DC: I’m a big fan of Primrose Bakery and bought their book while my father was in the North London Hospice. Cue much excitement when they agreed to be judges at Cupcake Camp London! Their bakery in Primrose Hill is almost painfully gorgeous with its yellow shopfront and pastel-coloured interior. I celebrated my birthday there last year with my oldest friends from school and we shared about eight different cupcakes between us. I think my favourite has to be the Lime and Coconut cupcake although it’s almost an impossible decision.

LLO: I hear you’re up for a cupcake tour of London… Tell us the starting point, the ending point, and not-to-miss stop off in the middle.
DC: Bake-a-boo in West Hampstead is the perfect starting point, particularly for anybody with allergies. It is also delightfully pink and girly and they do wonderful ‘Afternoon Teas’ on cake stands for Hen parties and the like. Crumbs & Doilies have a stall in Covent Garden, among other places, and were one of the first companies to support Cupcake Camp London by donating a prize. They do a great ‘name this cupcake’ competition on their website every month and whoever does their piping is a genius – Johnny Depp in icing is quite a sight! Lastly I would travel down to Greenwich Market and visit our Cupcake Camp Vegan judge, Ms Cupcake. Discard any preconceptions you have of vegan cake: these are delectable and rich and not at all healthy… love it!

LLO: After all those cupcakes, what’s a fun way you’ve found to work it off and stay fit?
DC: Most of the cupcakes I bake go straight into the bellies of my boyfriend and his friends, thank God! If they’re not around, I try to get the cupcakes out of the house as quickly as possible to avoid becoming as big as a house. I’m captain of a social league netball team in Islington and we’ve just won our league for the third season in a row, with a random assortment of teachers, hotel executives, insurance brokers and corporate PA’s. Come to think of it, they always complain that I never bring them cupcakes so I should probably get baking before they start a mutiny.

LLO: I’m in London for one night only and want to get off the tourist trail. Where would you recommend I go to eat and drink?
DC: La Porchetta in Chalk Farm produce delicious pizza and pasta in a lovely setting. I was taken there for Valentine’s Day a while ago and keep meaning to go back! Alternatively, the Pizza Express in Kentish Town is in the most incredible Art Deco building, with a floor to ceiling mirror design and wide, sweeping features. I think they have planning permission to tear it down, which would be a disaster as it’s the most beautiful building in the area. The best place for drinks is FiftyFive Bar, down the road in Camden. They serve 180 different cocktails and have a 2-4-1 offer from 6-8pm on Monday-Saturday. Definitely get there before 7pm, though, because it get seriously busy at the bar! If only it didn’t clash with my netball league, I’d also be there every Monday for ‘Mojito Madness’: 2-4-1 on all 12 Mojitos. Genius.

LLO: Best London discovery?
DC: My boyfriend keeps nagging me to get a bike so we can cycle the Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to Limehouse and the Thames. The path is a bit narrow at Regent’s Park but it’s almost a direct route to the Primrose Bakery – result!

Thanks Daisy!

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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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