Listen to a Londoner: Emma John

I came across Emma through an article she wrote on London’s East End in my favourite travel magazine, Afar.  Now her priority is the Olympics. She has been a journalist for 12 years, and lived in London for all of them. Her special interests include cricket, theatre, film and, most recently, bluegrass music; as deputy editor of the Observer magazine she tries to write about any or all of them whenever she can get away with it. 

LLO: You recently wrote an article on East London for Afar magazine. Did you happen upon any interesting little London discoveries whilst you were wondering around the area?
EJ: I’d never really ventured into that Hackney Wick/Stratford area of east London before so almost everything was new to me. I think my favourite discovery was Fish Island; the artists’ colony there is so hidden that you can actually walk around these streets of dilapidated old factories without ever seeing anyone. As soon as you meet one of the artists living there – I bumped into a knitter and a comic book artist – they start pointing out the buildings where there are good parties and dinners at night. They introduced me to the Counter Cafe, which serves amazing pies and has a great view across the canal to the Olympic park. They also pointed me in the direction of Imperial & Standard, the quirky antiques and vintage shop in Hackney Wick. Jamie, the owner, is wonderfully laconic. You can go in, browse, and he just says ‘hi’ then disappears into the back of the shop and you never see him again.

LLO: What are some of the advantages and the challenges of being a sports journalist in London? 
EJ: Right now, I guess the answer to both those questions is the Olympics! It’s a completely unique opportunity, it’s never going to come again in our lifetime, and we get to cover it. But then you start thinking about the logistics and you realise – hundreds of thousands of people are going to be trying to get to the same place that I am. Even though I live right on the train line in to Stratford, I’m having to research a load of backups in case I can’t actually get onto a train. You can’t just phone the desk and say ‘sorry, I missed the start of the game, it was a nightmare getting here…’

LLO: What has been your favourite article to write, where was it published and what was involved in putting it all together? 
EJ: Definitely the travel piece I wrote for Afar about my bluegrass trip to the South last year. It was published this month, a year after I made the trip, which is only partly because of their long lead times and mostly because I spent six months in total writing it. It was only 6,000 words but I had had such an incredible experience that I wanted to make sure every word was right.

LLO: Favourite London-based Olympic athletes and why? 
EJ: Well Andy Murray’s up there at the moment, but that’s because he just put in such a heart-stirring performance in the Wimbledon final. I’d love to see him win a gold medal. It feels like he deserves some sort of reward!

LLO: As a bluegrass fiddler, do you have a favourite spot to listen to live music in London? 
EJ: I do have a favourite spot to listen to bluegrass: the Monday night jam at the Hemingford Arms. The jam’s been going 18 years or so, and it’s run by Americans who were part of the original bluegrass revival in the 60s and 70s. It’s the most authentic stuff you’ll get to hear in the city.

LLO: Any tips for up and coming journalists who want to start a career in London? 
EJ: Find a magazine in a niche you’re interested in, and pester them till they let you come make the tea. Honestly, everyone is applying for experience at the newspapers, but you get a lot more experience and climb the ladder much quicker at a magazine with a small staff. Plus you’ll get to write about stuff you care about.

LLO: Best thing about living in your postcode?
EJ: Just the variety really. Islington is so varied, you get to meet and hang out with lots of different types of people. It’s really vibrant, there’s always something new going on, but there’s always something comforting and familiar round the corner too.

LLO: What’s your ideal way to spend a free Saturday in London? Is there anywhere you’d like to explore or visit in London that you haven’t gotten to yet? 
EJ: I haven’t really got an ideal day, but I do love taking a tiny area of London and spending a day just combing it. My sister and I started it as a little tradition between us – we’d take off a weekday when we’d normally be at work, and we start at the area’s best place for breakfast. Then we walk around the whole day on a contented stomach and just poke around into every little nook and corner we can find. So far we’ve done Fitzrovia, St James, Mayfair… I think it’s got to be Shoreditch next.

LLO: Tell us about a Londoner you know personally who is doing something cool worth talking about.
EJ: My friends Ben and John put on Shakespeare plays as a theatre company called Antic Disposition – they choose really clever and unusual locations, like the hall at Middle Temple, that give their productions a special atmosphere. Their last play, A Midsummer Nights’ Dream, got an amazing review by the Independent so I’m excited to see what they come up with next.

Thanks Emma!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Lucy McDonald

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….

Lucy McDonaldLucy McDonald, 25
(Usually, it’s 10 questions, but Lucy likes questions, so she answered 30. Bonus.)

Lucy is from the most rural county in England but her soul is a Londoner. She likes tea, merry-go-rounds, walking along the Thames, lists, the radio, food and getting dressed several times a day. She works as an admin monkey at a language school in Bloomsbury.

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
I accidentally say I’ve lived here for five years, despite the fact a year of that was spent in Mexico. Actually I similarly used to answer ‘?Donde vives?’ in Mexico with ‘Londres’ for an irrationally long number of months. I’ve known I wanted to live here since I was eleven.

LLO: Where are you from originally?
The shire, the middle of nowhere, where England meets Wales, the green and pleasant and beautiful land, the most rural county in England – Herefordshire.

LLO: Best thing about London?
It’s still possible for me to get excited about the little things – being able to jump on the tube and end up in a place that looks and feels completely different to the one I’m in now, popping and seeing the Houses of Parliament and all the sites tourists come to see. The many and glorious parks, the way people dress, the interests people have – a general and indescribable Londonness that is strongest I think at Sunday brunch time, when Saturday revellers are in recovering in cafes, wandering the streets and dressed in their most interesting togs.

LLO: Worst thing about London?
Being ground down by the insularity and commuting. The fact that travelling from one side to another – east to west, north to south – seems like an epic challenge worthy of Tolkein. Light pollution and other grubbiness. The 25 bus, expense, Victoria Coach Station. Being from elsewhere in England, it can be irritating that people from the South East don’t believe in any realistic sense that the rest of the country exists. Most bad things in London are the same in the big metropolitan cities and the mindset that puts you in. The best-worst thing about it, London is a difficult place to leave.

LLO: North, south, east or west?
LM: East. No question. 

LLO: Best restaurant?

LLO: Best shop?
Atlantis Art Materials, Hanbury Street. I like to peer in the windows of the rope shop and the umbrella shop in Bloomsbury, and Blade Rubber Stamps.

LLO: Best place to escape the city?
Hampstead Heath or the top of Senate House Library, depending if you need glorious openness or protective dusty rooms and books.

LLO: 2012 Olympics – stay or go?
I don’t know and can’t decide. Is that significant?

LLO: How do you spend your time on the tube?
Reading. If I can find another participant I like playing tube chicken, empty tube platforms allowing.

LLO: Most random thing you’ve seen in London.
Somebody stopping to help a stranger – tee hee – gallows humour.

LLO: Best place to catch a gig?
The Union Chapel, Islington

LLO: Best local band?
The Correspondents

LLO: Favourite book, song or film about London?
1599 by James Shapiro. 

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
Signing up to go and see free recordings of radio and TV programmes, Sam Smiths Pubs and the many retro nights.

LLO: Best place to spend a Sunday afternoon?
Ah, I’m too predictable – Brick Lane.

LLO: Best museum or gallery?
Tate Modern during the week, otherwise The Museum of Childhood. It’s not my favourite, but if you haven’t been you should go to The John Soane Museum. I like to sit in the big leather chairs in the National Gallery to read.

LLO: Favourite market?
Predictability reigns, Brick Lane Sunday – the Upmarket, Spitalfields and everyone along the edge of the lane.

LLO: Give us a funny London story.
I’ll cheat and copy and paste from previous writing –
Waiting on the platform at Leicester Square for the train to come, and a drunken suit, pink shirt, grabs my hand and begins to twirl me around the platform, asks what my dance would be, if I could dance any, here on the platform, between the yellow line and the commuters and the couples. I decline. He presses my hand to his heart and asks my name. I guess his instead. It’s not Charles and it’s not Jim. He takes my hand, asks my name, asks if I’ve seen the most recent exhibition at the British Museum. He tells me the last exhibition was a disappointment. Not enough artefacts. Central London has a different class of drunk.

LLO: Most influential Londoner?
Can’t think of one person.

LLO: Best London magazine, newspaper or website?
C’mon – the national British media is solely a London set of magazines and newspapers – so the Observer on Sunday.

LLO: If you were to dress up as one of the tube station names for a costume party, which would you be?
High Barnet. My hair loves a good backcomb.

LLO: Best time of year in London?
Impossible question – Autumn on Hampstead Heath, Christmas in Covent Garden, Summer in Russell Square. 

LLO: Best place for a first date?
Dates? In London? Don’t people just get drunk and fall on each other inappropriately?

LLO: First place to take a visitor?
To St Pauls, across the wobbly bridge, to South bank and along to the London Eye. Or a trip to The Globe.

LLO: Favourite place to be on a Saturday night?
The George Tavern, Commercial Road. And as far as possible from Leicester Square.

LLO: Best and worst things about tourists?
Worst thing – they get in the way and behave as if the place you live has been placed there for their own enjoyment, loud voices, big bags and not getting out of the way on the tube. Best thing – they talk loudly and think they can’t be understood so always good for an eavesdrop.

LLO: Boris is…
…a muppet.

LLO: What would you change about the city if you had the power to do so?
Not sure – I want to say make it smaller and cleaner and cheaper, but it wouldn’t be London anymore. I would take the violence out of it, and (sorry for the nod to Boris) I do hate the bendy buses.

LLO: Most interesting recent news story.
Anything told to me by John Humphrys as I drink my first cup of tea in the morning.

 Thanks Lucy!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.