Listen to a Londoner: Interview with Tom Williams

Fancy going on a treasure hunt around London? Tom Williams has been creating since 2005, through his popular project A Door in a Wall, sending players to ringing phone boxes and footballer’s flats (some pictures of events below). Not a bad way to discover something new. Of course, this means Tom knows lots of London’s little nooks and crannies (and therefore, London’s little secrets).

LLO: Tell us about your project, A Door In A Wall. How does it work, and what’s awesome about it?
TW: ADIAW is a group I run that creates games and interactive events in London. Some things we make are small (10 people, half an hour) and some are big (500 people, 4 days!). We’re best known for our series of murder mystery treasure hunts, where teams of players spend a day exploring the city, looking for hidden clues and characters in a quest to unravel a fiendish detective story. As well as leading people around London and getting them to see its streets and buildings in a new light, the interactive nature of our events means that players get to feel immersed in the game. The excitement you get from drawing information out of a mysterious character or solving a puzzle using things you walk past everyday is what makes these events so popular.

LLO: Why did you start A Door In A Wall?
TW: Just for fun initially. I’d been planning games of one sort or another for friends for a few years before ADIAW sprang to life and we started offering them up to the wider public. Selling tickets allowed a bigger budget and some wilder ideas and things have just grown and grown. Our events have continued to be popular so the challenge is trying to make things bigger and better each time!

LLO: Having run A Door In A Wall since 2005, you must have stumbled on lots of London’s secret places. Share your insider knowledge with us? What are your top three favourite discoveries?
TW: Finding new, fun locations to use in our events is a constant challenge, but very rewarding. Sometimes these are interesting shops or bars, sometimes they’re dingy alleyways, and sometimes it’s just conveniently arranged street furniture.

One of my favourite game locations has been St Dunstan in the East – a park in the City of London set amongst the ruins of a church. Entering through broken arches late on a summer afternoon, the place has a cinematic quality. Charming features are hidden around its corners and if you stop by on a weekend it’ll often be very quiet.

A pub usually fits somewhere into each of our larger games and last year we were able to have a clue located in the fantastic Queens Head on Acton Street, just South of Kings Cross. Nigel the landlord keeps a top notch beer selection that’s constantly evolving, and the pub plays host to a rich range of events. A small and perfectly formed Victorian pub; if only every street had one.

Finally, this isn’t somewhere we’ve used in a game…. yet, but I’ve grown fond of recently: the Full Stop cafe on Brick Lane. Winding through the jumbled furniture from the busy street to the counter at the back feels like you’re stepping miles away from city buzz into a comfortable living room where the coffee is superb, the staff friendly and the stereo is introducing you to your new favourite band.

LLO: How would you spend an ideal Saturday in London from when you wake up to when you go to sleep?
TW: Not being a morning person, my ideal day would start with a lie in and proceed, at around midday, to a perfect fry up at a newly discovered greasy spoon. I’d then go and experience some incredible immersive art installations on the Southbank, followed by hunkering down with some superlative coffee in a quiet cafe with an eclectic jukebox (see above) and jotting down some ideas for the best game I’ve ever designed. The evening would be spent at a secret gig for a huge band that me and my friends had all somehow scored tickets for (it’s London – this can happen!), then a raucous afterparty back at my place, where the neighbours were all out and the floor repelled all dirt. This would bleed into Sunday, naturally, but thats allowed, right? I did lie in after all.

LLO: Tell us a story of a memorable moment that could only have happened in London.
TW: I like to think A Door In A Wall’s games provide people with such unique moments. We delight in putting our players in unusual situations, from answering a ringing phone box to exploring a bloodstained hotel room or hiding in a footballer’s flat, we like to think these are things most people don’t expect to find themselves doing on a normal day out.

LLO: If I only had one day in London and wanted to find somewhere to eat away from the tourist trail, where would you recommend?
TW: It’s well known to many a Londoner, but I’ll give the nod to curry house Tayyabs. Always busy, always delivering the most mouth-watering mixed grill in E1. BYOB keeps the bill down and the swift service means you can get right on with making the most of that one day!

LLO: Favourite London drinking haunt? 
TW: For some years, The Gladstone in Borough was my local and, while London has a wealth of quality pubs, I can’t see anywhere else coming close. Run by musicians, the pub features a kaleidoscope of live, low-fi artists, most of whom you’ll never have heard of, but many of whom will send you away smiling. The Glad is cosy, sure, but it only adds to a comfortable atmosphere where it’s easy to strike up a new friendship or forget your worldly worries. Plus they do Pieminister pies, which are ace.

LLO: Tell us about an interesting Londoner you know who is doing something worth talking about.
TW: My splendid friend Rhea Taylor runs Brighter Later, a series of gigs that present some fantastic up and coming bands in London, all for a hugely worthwhile cause. Rhea puts a huge amount of effort into organising the shows and she knows her new music inside out. Last year we got to hear BBC poll winner Michael Kiwanuka perform a sublime, stripped down set to a small but entranced audience in North London, with all the proceeds going to the Teenage Cancer Trust – a fantastic night.

LLO: Ideal London location for a date night and one ideal place for a night out with the guys?
TW: Assuming it’s more than just drinks, a favourite dinner date venue of mine is Covent Garden institution Joe Allen. The food is delicious, but unpretentious, and, as they cater to a post-, as well as a pre-theatre crowd, you know you’re not going to get interrupted if it starts getting late. The place is popular with actors and you can score the occasional celebrity spot; once Liza Minelli was sat on the table next to me, though this had to be pointed out to me by the Maitre d’ before I noticed…

When it’s just the guys, you can’t beat a bar crawl. Whether it’s seeing how many bizarre craft ales you can drink on a trawl through Clerkenwell, or a debauched series of spirit-powered pit stops along Shoreditch High street, a more energetic night always pulls in some surprises!

LLO: When is your next Door in a Wall event and how do we join in on the fun?
TW: Our next BIG game will probably be in the autumn, though something smaller could happen before then. The best way to keep up with what we’re up to is by signing up to our mailing list, via www.adoorinawall.com, or by ‘liking’ us on Facebook. That way you’ll be the first to hear when we announce new events.

Thanks Tom!

And here is A Door in a Wall.

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Charlotte Hu

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 stephanie.sadler@hotmail.com.

Charlotte considers herself “just a wanderlusting shutterbug”. You’ll most likely find her embarrassing her friends by photographing restaurant dishes from every angle before she lets them start eating. A few of her photos are included in her interview. 

LLO: Where are you from originally and what brought you to London?
CH: This is always a tricky question! I was born in China, and grew up between Birmingham and Hampshire. I moved to London for university, and now call it home. Bought my first flat this year.

LLO: Best part about living in your postcode?
CH: Diversity. I rarely sit a bus journey without overhearing a conversation in a different language. Now that I’ve moved into ‘Little Portugal’, maybe I should learn some Portugese from my neighbours.

LLO: In one of your latest blog posts about hanging out in East London, you wrote “Oh and dim sum. There’s always dim sum.” Where’s your favourite place in London for dim sum?
CH: My favourite places are Top Of The Town (in Chinatown) and Royal China (Baker Street). My favourite dish is called ‘xiao long bao’, which are steamed meat dumplings with a little soup inside. Can’t beat dim sum for a weekend brunch. Pic below –

LLO: You take some fantastic photography. Who and what inspires you when you’re set loose around London with your camera? Share a London photo with us?
CH: I like to get lost on purpose. I’ll take parallel and intentionally wrong routes to wherever I’m going – that’s how I discover new things. I’m also inspired by people, but often feel too shy to take pictures of them. Sometimes I tag along to protests… at least then I know they want to be seen!

LLO: Favourite quirky or unique London discovery?
CH: I’m a huge fan of Secret Cinema. They screen films in different locations around London, but won’t reveal the film until the credits roll. They transformed Alexandra Palace into a Middle Eastern desert for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, with camels and elaborate markets. And they brought 1960s colonial Algeria to the Old Vic Tunnels under Waterloo for ‘Battle of the Algiers’. It’s incredible!

LLO: What do you do in London when the wanderlust sets in, but there’s no time or money for actual travel?
CH: The best thing about photography is seeing through the eyes of friends and artists from around the world. There’s so many inspiring exhibits and galleries around London all the time. We’re spoilt for choice, really.

LLO: Have you found a place in this city that always seems to make you happy? Where and why?
CH: Sitting on top of Primrose Hill never fails to calm me down. Everyone else there is equally chilled out, so it’s a great place to just breathe and take in the panoramic skyline.

LLO: London is a city where people constantly come and go. What advise do you have for newcomers to London?
CH: Don’t pronounce it ‘Lie-says-ter Square’ or ‘Holl-born’. Just kidding. My advice would be to take advantage of all the free and cheap things to do in the city. There’s enough going on to fill every weekend with something different. Have fun!

Thanks Charlotte!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Call for Questions

As some of you already know, I will be leaving London next week which means Little London Observationist will be frozen as is until I someday return. I’m off on new adventures and will continue a blog in the same way from a new location.

For next weekend, the last weekend, it’s been suggested that I answer a Q&A for the Listen to a Londoner post. So this is an invite for you to ask me all the questions you like over the next few days. I will choose 10 or so to answer for next Saturday.

Listen to a Londoner: Kirsty Allison

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.

Kirsty Allison
Image by Kelli Ali

Novelist, film producer, fashionista, rock n’ roll queen, journalist, Ibiza party girl, teacher, DJ, editor, stylist, poet, traveller and, most importantly, born and bred Londoner, this is Kirsty Allison…

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years? Anything in particular you miss?
KA: I used to frequent a goth club called the William Morris in Wimbledon, I drank snakebite and black, and pretended to be an art student before I became one.  I was thirteen or fourteen.  I’d like to take a time machine back to those times, and have a talk with myself.  London will always have speakeasys and people trying to fight the powers that they think restrict them, it’s the nature of British culture, thankfully, like the city itself, it’s all about contrasts.  The best advice I got at primary school was being told to look up – at buildings…there’s more sky around London than there used to be – rooftop bars, penthouses, I like feeling elevated, rather than suppressed by the towering infernos of our city, although they inspire me.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: Which area of London are you most familiar with? Write us a mini-poem about why it rocks.
KA: Shoreditch, is my bitch, She’s the devil to my itch, Roaming there, my artistic lair, Makes my teenage dreams fall fair.  The seen it all before they were twelve year olds, or the enthusiastic old boys and girls, We’re hunting for where we lost our souls, and this is where I like to roll.

LLO: You’ve challenged yourself to wear a different outfit every day for a year. If you were to do it again next year, which five London shops would you hit first to build up your wardrobe?
KA: I’d drop by Fiona Doran’s (aka Mrs Jones) Emporium on St John’s Street. She’s an alma mater who’s guided me like a lady with a lamp in her dress for years.  Beatrix Ong has recently opened a shop in Sloane Street, she knocks class and sex into heels.  I collect Alexander McQueen, so it’s hard to think of a wardrobe without some of his original pieces.  The Vivienne Westwood shop at World’s End features clothes she’s sewn herself.  The Shop below Maison Bertaux in Soho is great, and I love Kokon Tozai.  Off Broadway rocks, set up by the divine Donna Kernan.  Concept stores like http://www.ln-cc.com and Dover Street Market…I could go on…Liberty’s is a pleasure to shop in…whoops, how many was that?!

Image by Gaynor Perry

LLO: Ambit just featured an excerpt from your first novel Medicine and you made the cover! You’ve got three sentences to sell your book. Ready, go…
KA: So tough to compress a work into a small space, but, it’s set in 90’s Shoreditch in an exclusive scene where fashion and music industry myths are accepted as truth.  It’s rock n roll to the max, following the downward social adventures of a fashion designer who starts managing a band, Chernobyl, fronted by a male model.  As their fate becomes stardom, she travels from Ibiza to Paris and a world tour, letting her fashion designs become increasingly bonkers.  It’s a funny tale which makes people cry.  I’ve been working on it for 15 years…

LLO: You’ve been a celebrity stylist and a model, coming across some influential names in the fashion industry. Which up-and-coming London-based designers should we keep an eye on?
KA: Louise Amstrup. Holly Fulton. Elliot Atkinson. James Long. SD Yohans.

LO: Best London discovery?
KA: Churches and graveyards are always good value.

LLO: I’m in London for one night and want to veer off the tourist trail for some food and drink. Any fabulous recommendations?
KA: I like La Trompette in Chiswick, I’ve taken my mum there.  The Seven Stars, off Fleet Street behind the law courts is entertaining, it’s proper characterful landlady stuff.  If you want to keep it cheap, C&R on Rupert Court does a good Singapore Laksa, and follow it with a few drinks at The Coach & Horses in Soho, where every table has served me as an office.  Cay Tre on Old Street is always busy, but if you like Vietnamese it never disappoints.  Lemonia on Regents Park Road.  Wholefoods Market is a palace.  Cecconi’s is proper Jackie Collins territory.  A curry in Southall. There are always new places everywhere.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: In the late 90s, you were DJ-ing internationally with the likes of Kris Needs, Irvine Welsh and Howard Marks including a residency at Manumission Motel in Ibiza. Where’s your favourite place in London to party the weekend away?
KA: The party is where you’re at.  Aside from that, The Sanctum Hotel in Soho is cool.  Quintessentially is fun.  The lure of a private member’s bar is something I fall victim to but I love a decent bass, and there are so many warehouse parties going on again, it’s easy to get lost partying.

LLO: Tantric Tourists is one of your latest creative projects. Tell is a bit about what inspired it. Any London screenings or events scheduled?
KA: Tantric Tourists follows a self-proclaimed guru as she escorts 10 American students on a quest for enlightenment across India.  It’s a comedy road movie.  The director, Alexander Snelling, and I first met the guru, Laurie Handlers, in India where she was “whirling on the beach”.  We did a test shoot at a workshop she was hosting in Primrose Hill and cracked up at the rushes.  It was too good a story to turn down.

It goes on limited release from Valentine’s Day.  The DVD is available with a discount by becoming a fan on Facebook.  More info: www.tantrictourists.com

LLO: Do you have a favourite London-based book or a great bookshop to recommend – one of those cosy ones with the slightly musty basement smell or great in-house coffee shop?
KA: This is mainstream but I used to like Borders, they had chairs, it was an easy place to get lost in. Waterstones in Piccadilly does a good job, as does Foyles (if only the Westfield rates weren’t so high they’d still have a second floor).  There are many indie shops doing a great job. Broadway Books is hitting the mark. And my local library has a cafe in it, long may it last.  The Daunts in Marylebone is great because it has all these wonderful wooden bannisters, and they are so excellent at travel books.  Judd Street Books is lovely for art books and oddities, towards Bloomsbury from Kings Cross.  The Oxfam bookshops are always great.  The customer service in Hatchards is good. I love a good bookshop, I clear my head by walking through them, flicking through those who manage to hold their fort on the shelves.  The Espresso Machine is a concept I’m excited about – it’s so called because in the time of a coffee you can order whatever book you desire in whatever paper you choose – so if I wanted Lolita in baby pink, Bob the Paedo is my uncle…(almost) any bookshop or library is serving the future of England a favour.

Image by Laurence Tarquin Von Thomas

Thanks Kirsty!

For more on Kirsty’s fascinating life, lookie here: www.kirstyallison.com

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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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