I love that you can walk around London and feel like you’re in a different country sometimes… Here’s a Londoner sitting outside the Baghdad Cafe on Praed Street relaxing with a shisha.
Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview post with people who live (or have lived for a while) in London. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at email@example.com. Always looking for new volunteers.
Colleen Wagner, 33
Colleen moved to London for her husband’s job three months after getting married in 2008. She’s a high school English teacher who is at present working part-time for a London relocation agency rather than duke it out in the city schools (hey, it’s not like she didn’t give it a try…), and while she wouldn’t recommend undergoing three major life changes in one summer to even her worst enemy, her and her husband have come to truly, ecstatically enjoy their new life together in London.
LLO: How long have you lived in London?
CW: A year and a half.
LLO: If not London, where are you from?
CW: Chicago, Illinois
LLO: What is your favourite London discovery?
CW: Brompton Cemetery, a 40-acre plot of solitude among Victorian graves. I almost don’t want to promote it, as I’d hate for it to become too populated with the living…
LLO: Where in London do you go to get a taste of “home”?
CW: Partridges on Gloucester Road provided us Stove Top stuffing on Thanksgiving Day. Also picked up some Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and Golden Grahams–basically, a 10 USD box of cereal, but worth every darn pence.
LLO: What’s the coolest part about living in your postcode?
CW: On the SW10 / SW5 border, the Troubadour is ideal for coffee or cocktails and live music in the club downstairs (Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell played there in the ’60s). We attended the BRIT Awards last week just a 10-minute walk from home, and my bookish self particularly adores that Beatrix Potter lived only a few blocks away * sigh *
LLO: Heard about any interesting places you’d like to check out but haven’t had the chance to yet?
CW: After going to Proud last Saturday, I’d like to revisit the Camden Stables Market in the daytime. Otherwise, after reading the book Longitude, my inner dork would really like to see the sea clocks at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
LLO: If I had one day in London and wanted to go “off the beaten path”, where would you send me?
CW: I would send you first to one of my trusted pubs like the Drayton Arms on Old Brompton Road for a proper English Breakfast. Then, so you can get at least one London museum in, you’re off to the Cabinet War Rooms–its right by Westminster and St. James Park, but its low profile renders it easily overlooked by other tourists. If you’re thirsty, I’m sending you deeper into the city to at least gawk at St. Paul’s Cathedral from the outside before you wander over to the hidden shops and pubs around Bow Lane and/or to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese tucked away off Fleet Street (during the day, though, before the work crowd filters in). Or, if you’d prefer a quiet, leisurely day, scrap all that and head to Hampstead for the village atmosphere and rolling heath. Regardless of the daytime itinerary, by night you are being sent to Edgware Road for Middle Eastern cuisine and shisha.
LLO: Favourite London shop?
CW: Zara, but for non-high street shops, the stalls at Portobello Road Market.
LLO: Tell us about the most random thing you’ve seen in London.
CW: Feathers stuck to my store-bought eggs, as though straight from the chicken’s va-jay-jay.
LLO: Best place to try to meet new people if you’ve just moved to London?
CW: [insert shameless plug here] Why, the new London Living social network at http://www.londonrelocation.ning.com!
For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.
Waiting for the night bus in Camden on Saturday, my friends and I were approached by a scruffy, middle-aged Irish guy who told us about 10 different jokes. The pound I dropped into his palm at the end was probably the best money I spent all night.
Before that, we had queued up to get into Proud Galleries where we were on the guest list. It is usually a cool place to hang out with photography exhibitions by day and a club with bands and little rooms you can use to play pool or table football by night. On Saturday, it was packed to the point of claustrophobic, had a £10 cover charge and impossible queues at the bar. Music was decent and I was in good company, but that’s about it.
We stayed a few hours and then went back into the cold February air, walked past all of the people still trying to get in and found ourselves an empty shisha lounge with red heat lamps and comfy seats outside. The food was terrible, but the double apple shisha we shared was great and we spent the rest of our night laughing and relaxed.
Proud? Not on a Saturday night. Shisha bar? Yes.
It was K’s last night with me before he moves to Brighton. After fiddling with toys in Hamleys, walking around the Regent Street Festival, wandering the too-posh area around Bond Street, commenting on outfits that cost as much as a deposit on a house and swirling our heads round to admire a white Bugatti Veyron convertible, we were hungry.
K called his Lebanese gynecologist friend for some advice and we found ourselves on the vibrant James Street. It has a square of restaurants and men playing music in the street. The night air was warm and windless. Though you really can’t see any stars in the middle of London, it was a stunning night.
At Massis, a little Lebanese restaurant next to a French creperie, we sat outside under a tree and an umbrella and filled our tummies with kellaj (char-grilled bread filled with halloumi cheese), mixed shawarma (tender slices of marinated chicken and roast lamb) and hot mint tea. We filled our minds with good conversation.
Next to us on both sides, people chattered away in Arabic, to each other and to the waiters. People were smoking shishas and when the street music moved along, exotic middle eastern music floated out of the restaurant door.
I love that London can transport you almost anywhere you would rather be. It’s not just London. It has little slices of the whole world swirling around in one massive, multicultural jumble. It’s a beautiful thing.
If I ever moved away from here than that is almost certainly what I would miss the most.