Last week, Hayley sent me a copy of Slow London, a London guide for locals co-written with journalist Robin Barton with gorgeous black and white photography by Mark Chilvers. It’s perfectly in tune to Little London Observationist, about taking the time to appreciate the little things in London life. It “invites readers to rise up – in their own time, of course – against the culture of speed, fad and uniformity, and instead, revel in the things that make living in this corner of the world unique.”
Inspired by her positive approach to London life that can too often seem hectic, I asked her if she’d like to tell us a bit about taking it easy in the city. She gladly set aside some time to share stories about Londoners who are living fulfilling lives, how and where she enjoys the slow life and gave us a sneak peak at a couple of Mark’s photos from the book.
Slow London hits bookshops around London today and is well worth a read.
LLO: Tell us about a Londoner you’ve met who most exemplifies the fulfilling approach to life emphasized in Slow London.
HC: I wish I could pick one! But one of the things I’ve noticed is that, just as the people in this city are so diverse, so too are their ways of slowing down and getting the most out of life here. From the volunteers in my favourite charity shop who are always chatting to each other about the amazing food and music they’ve been enjoying that week, to my friend who’ll sketch cityscapes as a way of making sure she’s seeing the details, it seems there are so many ways to find your natural rhythm. I’ve met a woman who was leaving packets of seeds around her housing estate so people might be inspired to plant wildflowers; been led down new bike paths under the effusive advice of a man who cycles absolutely everywhere; and learnt about a new form of yoga just last week when a girl on the bus struck up a conversation because she liked my scarf.
LLO: What is the best way to take it easy in your postcode?
HC: I live way down in SW19 – right around the corner from Merton Abbey Mills. Tucked into a crook of the River Wandle, there’s this beautiful little market every weekend with fresh food, local art and strange old knickknacks. Fishermen while away the hours as women in fraying layers chat to the people selling them veggies, and it’s all capped off with a pint at the William Morris pub, sitting out on the balcony watching the kingfishers dart between branches draping over the river. I love this village atmosphere, the local side of London that draws us in and makes us feel at home.
LLO: Favourite way to savour a Saturday in London?
HC: A lazy home-cooked breakfast listening to the radio, followed by a long walk. Doesn’t matter where – it might be around the quiet park near home or winding right through the middle of town to Brick Lane. A visit to my local farmers’ market, an hour or so in the garden, and then a long and laid-back dinner with good friends.
LLO: There’s a section in your book called “Be”, broken down into categories – See, Hear, Smell, Taste, Touch. What’s your favourite thing the capital has to offer in each category?
HC: There’s so much art to see! Whether it’s the graffitied walls of East London, the creativity rising up from the markets, or the masterpieces at the National Gallery, there’s always something waiting to take you out of yourself. Aside from the phenomenal music venues, I love the sound of the dawn chorus, and birdsong in general – I’m amazed that wherever you are in London, whatever time of day, you’ll pretty much always hear it mingling with the traffic, a constant reminder that the city isn’t as relentless as it might seem. Smell would have to be Columbia Road Flower Market, but I’ll admit that the sound of the traders’ cries are a big part of that too. Marylebone Farmers’ Market or Borough for taste, and the way the stallholders are so passionate about their produce that they love to tell you all about it as you taste and wander, wander and taste. And touch, I’d say the feeling of laying in the grass in any central London park, staring at the sky and knowing that I’m part of it all.
LLO: What makes Slow London different from other London guides?
HC: City guides tend to encourage seeing as much as possible, but as soon as you do that, you end up rushing it all and not seeing things properly. Slow London is completely different in that it’s a lifestyle guide for locals. It’s about quality over quantity; focuses on the lesser-known people, places and events rather than what’s necessarily trendy and popular; and replaces the usual guidebook formality with a tendency to go off-track now and then, to follow a few stray musical notes or divert down a particularly enchanting side street.
LLO: Share a favourite “slow London” image?
HC: Please can I have two? These are not my photos; they were taken by Mark Chilvers, who took all the photos throughout the book. I love Battersea Power Station: it’s like a lonely old giant, languishing there under the weight of its chimneys, proudly and purposelessly lording over the slow-flowing Thames. This view feels so privileged, like peering into the secrets of a different time. And the second photo is just so ‘whatever’.
LLO: I hear you spend a lot of time in bookshops. Which ones are your favourites? Any you recommend that still have that messy-basement-musty-good-book-smell appeal?
HC: For that appeal, it would have to be a secondhand bookshop, wouldn’t it? There’s just something about the smell of old ink and dusty pages. The messy old Copperfield’s in Wimbledon and the little place opposite Balham station have the added bonus of seemingly flouting all sense of order – so much the better for rummaging. John Sandoe Books in Chelsea strikes a perfect balance in stacking new and old side by side, making it one of the most delightfully chaotic bookshops around.
LLO: Best place in London to enjoy a laid back meal without feeling rushed?
HC: Does afternoon tea count as a meal? I love Rosie’s Deli in Brixton Market, and not only for the carrot cake that absorbs entire afternoons. I always find myself staying for one more tea, and another, and oh go on, just one more.
LLO: Best place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city on a rainy day?
HC: Sitting upstairs on a random bus for a one-pound sightseeing tour of some obscure part of town, enjoying the misty grey light that makes the whole city look like a romantic old black and white film. Better still, curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea, watching the rain.
LLO: Where can we pick up a copy of Slow London?
HC: All ‘good’ bookshops (the not-so-good ones can still order it in). Otherwise, although it’s not half as much fun as browsing the shelves, you can order it online at www.slowguides.com/london