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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Always looking for new volunteers.
Alberto “Pelos” Comesana, 29
These two Spanish guys came to London thinking they would have a great time, an easy life and maybe work a little bit. Instead, they had to work tons and combat their way through all the kinks London threw at them along the way. So they set up a website called Combat London where they help fellow Londoners to survive in the city without sacrificing fun!
LLO: Where are you guys from, how did you end up in London and how long have you been here?
PC & XI: We’re both from Vigo, a small city in North Spain, on the Atlantic coast. We got acquainted in our high school years and became good friends studying at the same uni. After graduating in summer 2006, we decided to come to London together, like everyone does to improve their basic English skills. Since that time, we’ve each spent a few years in the city, although during different periods of time.
LLO: Tell us a bit about your website Combat London.
PC & XI: Combat London was launched as a means to help all those people who are new in town and need advice, just like we needed it (and still do, in all fairness) when we had just arrived. We try to cover all aspects of living in London on a budget, such as money-managing, flatshare and job hunting, knowing London shows no mercy as the second most expensive city in the world. At the same time, we truly believe you can still have a lot of fun spending very little money, and do our best to find the best free things in town.
LLO: I hear you’re into the techno scene. Where are the best places in London to lose yourself in the music?
XI: Loads. Fabric does good nights from Friday to Sunday. Then I like the T-Bar. Some nights we just go from one place to another so you need to pay attention to flyers, blogs and word of mouth. Or ask us. Sundays are also great for dancing and you can’t go wrong with Secret Sundaze, HalfBaked, Looke, 93 or 1001.
LLO: Combat London is all about surviving on a budget. Give us a few of your top tips for saving money in this expensive city without sacrificing fun?
PC: Honestly, there’s a whole lot of cash to be saved if you are smart. You can free haircuts all over the city, attend awesome parties for free, get free coffees or samples of any kind in many places, spend half the money at the supermarket by buying wisely, try on clothes at any high-street retailer to later buy them online at lower prices…
XI: To me, it is all about organising yourself and knowing the tricks. You can eat very well in a thousand places for £5, so why would you pay £15? The problem is those places won’t advertise or be located on the main road. You have to go off the beaten track.
LLO: What’s the most unique or unusual experience you have had in London so far?
PC: I’ll tell a bad one. In our first flatshare back in 2006, we found out the cleaner we had coming once a week (who was in fact the landlord’s cousin) was stealing our checkbooks and trying to get money out of our accounts. Good for us our income was so crap that the amount asked for was too much and the payments never got through to our relief. (laughs) Things like these encouraged us to help other people survive in London by creating Combat London.
XI: And I will tell you a good one. One night I was at Fabric and I went to the loo for a wee (bear with me here). After 10 seconds I looked up and Richie Hawtin was next to me minding his own business. Richie Hawtin is for techno what Pele is for football or Lady Gaga for mainstreams. I did chat with him a minute (he was playing right that moment so he couldn’t spare more than two seconds). Pretty special.
LLO: Tell us about someone, somewhere or something really cool that you’ve discovered in London and think the rest of us should know about.
PC: I’d definitely go for Greenwich. I find it a one-of-a-kind place. Starting the afternoon in the flee market to buy unique marshmallows, carbing up to march up the hill to to the Observatory through the park and finishing off at that genuine pub on the river where Dickens used to write his novels, inspired by the great views. A winner.
XI: And I’d go for Shoreditch. Full of bars, pubs, clubs and cool shops. It also has great restaurants. It is very authentic and original. Just by walking the streets you feel yourself bemused with the art, the people, the places…
LLO: We want to go on a pub crawl. Suggest an itinerary?
PC & XI: You can start in the Wetherspoons of Liverpool Street station. It is roomy and cosy, they do cheap pints and you will easily manage a table. Next you can go to Comercial Tavern, with its wacky but stylish decoration. Further down Commercial Street you can check in The Light, for its beer garden and great atmosphere. You still alright? Adventuring in Shoreditch territory there’s Elbow Room with a pool table and also a ping pong table. Sofas are never too busy to lounge on them, which will be convenient taking into account your level of drunkness you have by now. A few places up towards Hoxton there is the Bar Music Hall, with rare live gigs and the brightest toilets I have ever seen. Marvel at how small your pupils look with lights that make you think you’re in the hospital. Relax, you’re not. Lastly, take a peek at 333. Any dizziness can be shaken off with a few wiggles to the tunes.
LLO: You say yourself that “living in London can be considered a little war sometimes”. Give us an example of a time when you had to break out the combat skills.
PC: This one happened very recently. I had delivered a few lessons before the course I conducted got cancelled not having enough students to make it profitable. I still needed to get paid for them but my employer was AWOL and ignoring my emails. So we had to pretend we were teachers from a school in Italy interested in my employer’s language centre, who wanted to meet him in London to discuss availability. We set him up in a Starbucks and got my money without ending in violence . I’m not a violent person, but I’m a hardcore action movie fan, which gave me the edge to sucessfully pull off such shakedown (laughs).
XI: I particularly remember how well we would blag our way to jobs with made-up experience. We would also lie about our long term plans, saying we were here for good, or that we weren’t gonna go home for Christmas. Until recently, I’ve always seen employers and HR people as enemies.
LLO: I need a break from the city rush but can’t afford a plane ticket to warmer climes. Any suggestions on how to escape the work-obsessed war zone without actually leaving the city?
PC & XI: Now that the weather isn’t that bad, we suggest going to any of the so green and lovely parks in the city. I’d say Primrose Hill for the amazing view when the sun sets and Hampstead Heath for its size and the chances to dip in the ponds.
LLO: If I only had one night in London, where would you send me to eat and drink?
PC & XI: It is your last night, so you deserve some luxury. Even the most combat people can afford (and should allow) one night of carefree-ness. Go to Tower 42 and order a sharing platter and lichee & champagne cocktail (you brought the debit card right?). The views are amazing, a great way to step aside and have a think. Top stuff!
Thanks Alberto and Xavier!
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