Listen to a Londoner: Natalie Lester

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.

Natalie Lester

Natalie has a BA in English, BSc in geography and MA in publishing; She loves English literature and her outlet is writing. Her favourite gelato is found in London at Gelato Mia in Notting Hill (dark chocolate and Biscotto). She loves the theatre and when she was younger, wanted to be Christine in Phantom.

LLO: How long have you been in London, where did you come from originally and what brought you here?
NL: I’ve been in London for a little more than a year – I just finished my MA in publishing at UCL…turned in my dissertation in September so here’s hoping for the best! I grew up in Idaho (in the US) and during my undergrad I did a study abroad in London. Ever since I have been planning to come back. In my opinion everyone should live in London for at least a little bit!

LLO: What’s your favourite way to pass a Saturday afternoon in London?
NL: Nothing beats the markets in London on a Saturday. I live right next to Regent’s Canal (Little Venice) and you can easily walk along the canal to Camden Market. If you go early enough then usually you are the only one along the canal and you get to breathe in the crisp air all by yourself. On my way to Camden I sometimes take a detour into Regent’s Park with my book… but I always make sure I get to Camden for my favourite treat in London – Chocolate covered strawberries and pineapple on a banana leaf!

LLO: Where is your favourite place to pick up an American treat if you’re craving something from home?
NL: One time I was in desperate need of some Root Beer and happened to be in the Leicester Square area so I had to pop into Ed’s Diner and pay a ridiculous price for a can of some A&W…it was worth it!

LLO: Which part of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best part about it?
NL: Well, I live on Edgware Road, which is pretty central London, so probably that area and then the Regent’s Canal area I was talking about earlier. London is great for its diversity and there is no better place to see this than Edgware Road with its plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants. And while the rest of London seems to close ridiculously early, you can venture onto Edgware at midnight and it still has the liveliness of midday.

LLO: If I told you I would be in London for one night only and wanted to get off the tourist trail, where would you send me to eat and drink?
NL: Ok, maybe this is still a bit touristy, but you can’t beat their chicken and leek pie at Doggetts Pub. It is right on the southbank by Blackfriar’s Bridge and if you want a nice meal you can go up top to the restaurant and sit by the window and watch London light up at night.

LLO: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an expat in London?
NL: Maybe this is a lame challenge to have, but I miss my clothes dryer every day! Jeans just don’t fit the same here with nothing to dry them back into shape. Like I said, lame, but other than that…oh, and trying to find a frozen turkey at Thanksgiving (an adventure that ended with my flatmate and I carrying a frozen turkey in our arms for 45 minutes on our walk back from Camden). Other than those two things I have very few complaints about London.

LLO: Tell us about a favourite London memory that could only have happened in London.
NL: Keeping on the Thanksgiving theme, last year my flatmate and I were hosting a Thanksgiving party for a lot of people and we had purchased two turkeys. Somehow we forgot that this wasn’t America and not only did we not have room for them in our fridge, but we didn’t have two ovens. On Thanksgiving day we rang up some friends that lived about 15 minutes away to ask if we could borrow their oven. We ended up carrying the pre-cooked (but stuffed and seasoned) bird down the road and stuffed it into their oven which was even smaller than ours. Four hours later I picked up the bird—who was now full of juices and twice as heavy—and proceeded to walk down the very busy Edgware Road with a 20lb bird and turkey juice sloshing all over me everytime I placed a foot down! Surprisingly, after all that poor turkey had been through, and my arms shaking for about 20 minutes afterwards, Thanksgiving dinner never tasted so good!

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
NL: My favourite place in all of London is one I discovered with my fiancé. He is a Londoner and loves to walk on the southbank by the London Eye at night when the trees have their blue lights. While we were sitting, gazing up at the Eye through a sea of blue, we noticed that there was a break in the hedge and on the opposite side of the trees was a park…with swings. Now, it isn’t like this playground is exactly hidden, but it is further back from the main southbank walkway and I had never noticed it before. We quickly climbed over the rest of the hedge and snuck into the playground to swing (my all-time favourite past-time). In front is a large tree, and when you swing at night you catch glimpses of the London Eye lights through the trees and it looks like the London sky is full of stars that you can almost touch. I think it is one of the most magical places in London.

LLO: What would you suggest if I asked you to plan a creative, off-the-wall or otherwise unique date in London?
NL: Saturday morning head down to Borough Market, bring your appetite! Spend the first little bit just wandering around the stalls and take advantage of the free samples. Then, just about midday choose something that either a) you can’t possibly resist or b) something that is really strange and you have never tried before. Don’t eat it yet, but walk to Shakespeare’s Globe and wait in line for the groundlings so that you are the first ones in. While you are waiting break open lunch and enjoy! When they open the gates make sure that you get front and centre and you can lean up against the stage! Enjoy!

LLO: If you move back to America in the future, what five things will you miss most about London?
NL: Where do I start, once you have lived in London it becomes a part of you and I think there will always be something that I miss. But, if I had to choose 5, I would have to say 1) waking up on a crisp Autumn morning, getting a Chocolate Milano at Café Nero and crunching through the leaves in Hyde Park; 2) Big Ben at night…it just looks so magical and everytime I see it at night I think that Peter Pan will come land on the hands of the clock at any moment; 3) Amazing fish and chips the the hole-in-the-wall chippies (they are always the best); 4) Christmas time in London, from the Harrod’s Christmas Parade to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park; 5) Low-tide on the Thames on the southbank skipping rocks.

Thanks Natalie!

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Listen to a Londoner: Michele Gorman

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 littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Michele Gorman, 43

Michele Gorman is an American writer, and now a card-carrying Brit, who has made London her home. Her debut novel, Single in the City, charts the misadventures of 26-year-old American Hannah who, upon moving to London, blunders her way through life and love amidst a population who doesn’t always see the funny side of her cultural misunderstandings.

LLO: Give us the basic details first – How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
MG:
I’ve been here 12 years, and am in fact now a card-carrying Brit. I moved from Chicago, but was raised in the Northeast, in a rural town in Massachusetts. I came to London because I followed my heart. My then-boyfriend was transferred from the States and I figured it’d be fun to live in a new city. I was right!

LLO: Interesting that you decided to write a book called “Single in the City” when you personally moved to London for love. What inspired the idea?
MG:
The story is definitely fictional, since, as you rightly point out, I was very much attached when I moved here, and for many years afterwards. So the idea didn’t come from being single myself. Actually it was born out of spite. My background is in literary fiction rather than chick-lit, and I’d just picked up my first chick-lit book, which I thought was terrible. Yet it was a best-seller. I knew I could write something better than that, and my expat experiences were such natural fodder that the book practically wrote itself. I knew Hannah had to be single because the story is a comedy, and a single girl’s misadventures are ripe for humour (though not always to her!).

LLO: Which aspects of British culture baffled you most when you first arrived?
MG:
Just about everything was baffling, from the British approach to getting what they want (and never directly saying what it is that they want), to daily routines like getting on the bus or ordering a sandwich. I quite like to cook, and translating the names for ingredients from American to English took some time (and I’m still not sure what treacle is).

I used to find queuing odd, but now find myself gravitating toward them and standing patiently. My family says I’ve become ‘too civilised’ for America now. I guess that’s the natural result of having to share a little island with 60 million people.

LLO: Share a little story about a challenge you’ve had to overcome as an expat.
MG:
If I had a pound for every time a Brit has said to me ‘But you’re not like most Americans.’ I wouldn’t need to work. Overcoming the stereotype of a ‘typical’ American has been a constant challenge. Part of what they think of as typical about us is that we tend to see our time in the UK as temporary.

The Brits I’ve met over the years have generally been reluctant to make friends with expats if they don’t think we’re going to stick around for the long haul. Many have told me that they don’t want to invest in friendship if that friend is just going to leave, and this has been one of the biggest hurdles against making British friends. It took more than four years before I was invited to my first proper English house party, despite having several English men and women that I counted as acquaintances. I knew I’d finally convinced them that I planned to stay when I got that invitation! And we’re still friends today.

LLO: What do you love most about your adopted city and is there anything besides family and friends you’re missing from the States that you can’t find here?
MG:
There is a gentleness about London that is surprising for a big city. What it may lack in efficiency it more than makes up for in peacefulness away from the crowds. Even in frenetic central London you need only to step down a side street to find quiet neighbourhoods, cafes, little independent shops and green squares.

It used to be the case that American products were hard to come by. Like many of us, I imported certain goods like my favourite deodorant, Tollhouse morsels and corn syrup for baking. Going into a Walmart when back in the States was unbearably exciting and my suitcases came back laden with useful gadgets. Now though, most baking and food products are available (if not in the shops then online), as are those useful gadgets. Plus Mom still regularly sends packages of things I don’t realize I need until I see them. Those plastic bags you attach to a Hoover to shrink wrap clothes and bedding are an excellent case in point; how have we lived without them in London’s tiny flats?

I do miss having access to plentiful, cheap or free live music. Coming from Chicago where hundreds of bands played each weekend in bars and pubs across the city, it was an adjustment to realize that you have to book ahead for everything here.

LLO: You’ve written for UK Cosmo, Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, Guardian, Evening Standard, etc. How did you build up your reputation as a writer having started from scratch as an expat? Any advice for others in the same boat?
MG:
All of my articles have come off the back of the publicity for Single in the City. I have a great PR through Penguin who has arranged all of that. But if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have that kind of help I’d have approached the newspapers and magazines myself. If you’re new here, go into the newsagent and write down the titles you see. And don’t discount the tabloids, though be prepared to write from a salacious angle. The editors on all these publications have to fill them each week/month and are always looking for articles (though they don’t often pay for them, so it’s not generally a lucrative career). Also, blog sites are really great for writers because they are always looking for good content.

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
MG:
The Southbank. It’s perfect for a stroll along the river, for having a coffee or drink, or popping in for a free concert/exhibit/reading. There are also of course amazing performances on all the time, and it’s easy to walk back across the bridge into Covent Garden.

LLO: I’ve got one night in London. Recommend the best place to go for dinner and drinks.
MG:
It depends on what kind of experience you’re after. If you want upscale, have a drink at the bar at the Sanderson Hotel (50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG). It’s beautiful and funky inside, and has a great all-season courtyard that is very cool, trendy and a bit romantic. Then go to Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD) for mouth-watering, very interesting Chinese.

For a more casual experience start with drinks at the The White Horse (1-3 Parsons Green, SW6 4UL), then dinner at the always chaotic and friendly Sale e Pepe, for good Italian (9-15 Pavilion Road, SW1X 0HD).

LLO: Have you developed any amusing British tendencies in the past 12 years that you’d like to share?
MG:
I queue. I tut and mutter under my breath when someone jumps in front, but rarely say anything anymore. I walk on the left instead of the right and find myself getting cross when others try walking on the right. And I now ask ‘Are you all right?’. It’s official. I’m British.

LLO: What are you working on now?
MG:
If Single in the City sells well, then I’m ready to write a follow-up.

I’m also writing a book for an older audience. It’s still chick-lit, but the heroine is 39. She doesn’t have ‘issues’ though, no cheating spouse, big behind, social life-crimping children or ticking biological clock. She’s single, well-adjusted and independent, optimistic and enthusiastic about her future. I don’t see much of this kind of writing, despite all of the real-world women like this that I know. So I’m writing one for them.

If you’d like to buy a copy of Michele’s book, Single in the City, head over to Amazon.
For more about Michele and her work, visit her website: www.michelegorman.co.uk
Follow her tweets @expatdiaries or show some support by joining the Single in the City group on Facebook.

Thanks Michele!

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