London Set to Music

It’s like floating through a film, life unfolding in slow motion. The song playing in my ears the only sound I can hear. It pulses through me like blood. It becomes me. I am invisible, a silent sound, something inexpressible. I notice others who have blanketed the sounds of this city with thick sheets of music, a personal soundtrack to reality. The accountant in his Savile Row suit; the teenager with his Doc Martins and black dreadlocks; the girl with the skinny jeans and mustard yellow beret. The tiny ear buds, the giant headphones, the knowing glances and shy smiles. We seem to think we’ve figured out the secret.

Without screeching trains, beeping cars, tube announcements, slamming doors, phone conversations and sirens, the little things stand out more. Other senses perk up. I notice the smell of the chai latte the woman next to me on the tube is holding, her lilac nail polish chipping at the edges. I notice freckle patterns and green-flecked eyes. And the city flies by through the windows at the speed of light.

This is that London feeling. You know it, don’t you? It’s rare, but magical. Usually it happens while walking across the Thames, down the South Bank or through Trafalgar Square. I find myself thinking… I’m in London. I live here. This is my city. I work here. I sleep here. I play here. I ride this train every day and how many people in the world would love to be able to say that? It’s that feeling of pride, that I know this city inside and out. A feeling of humbleness that there is so much I have yet to learn and explore. But I can recommend places to eat, things to do. I know to stand on the right and walk on the left. It’s a reminder never to take it for granted.

And I smile to myself, to my thoughts and to the music. And I feel happy because I’ve appreciated something simple. I feel happy because this is London.

Just wanted to share this video with you that Londonist pointed out the other day:

Oyster Hunt from Garreth Carter on Vimeo.

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Five Londoners

On Friday, I was on the Circle line when a group of three musicians hopped on the train with their instruments and told us: “Hello everyone. Welcome to the Circle Line. We’re going to play a little song for you. It’s a jig. We encourage you to get up and dance.”

And people looked up suspiciously from their phones and books and newspapers. A few cracked up the corners of their mouths in shy smiles, others immediately darted their eyes back to their laps. No one got up to dance.

After the first song, one of the musicians said, “Okay, well maybe you’d prefer a waltz? Or do you have a headache? Or perhaps you’re just uncomfortable with social situations? If that’s the case, you can keep on pretending we’re not here.”

And that hit a note for a lot of people because then a few people did the unthinkable – they made eye contact with one another and a few even chuckled. The guy across from me started tapping his foot. The band played on for a few more stops. At the end, even the ones who never looked up from their papers dropped a few coins in the bucket.

They were good, funny, entertaining, and to lighten the atmosphere of a serious morning tube ride is a challenge indeed. There seems to be an unspoken agreement amongst Londoners that if anything odd, unusual or completely out of the ordinary happens, no one will acknowledge it. If someone walked onto that train completely naked with a python wrapped around his waist, people may glance up out of the corner of their eyes, but they would probably carry on reading their papers with a serious face.

I could spend days on end just watching the city unfold  and watch it’s people carry on through the day, doing odd things and ordinary things. It fascinates me to no end.

So I will leave you to enjoy a few photos from the Flickr pool of Londoners going about their business…


Snug Fit by Sabine Thoele

Occupy Camp, St. Paul’s by Where the Art Is

The Birds by Sabine Thoele

Waiting for the Train but a Million Miles Away by Maggie Jones

Just Walkin’ the Ferrets by JayKay72

Add your own photos of Londoners to the Flickr pool for a chance to be featured on the blog.

PS – Don’t miss the knicker giveaway! Still time to enter.

London Underground Buskers

When I first moved to London, I adored the tube and everything about it. The novelty fades after mornings and evenings crammed in like sardines next to sweaty bodies, crowds, strikes, fare increases, delays and line closures. There is one thing I still love about it though, and that is the buskers that play their tunes through many of the central stations. I took a photo of this one playing in Holborn. A lot of them have unique instruments and are very talented.

Holborn Busker

In last Saturday’s Listen to a Londoner interview, Mariano Ortiz recommended Latin American harp and clarinet maestros Diego Laverde and Cheveto Requena at Angel and Green Park stations.

Do you have a favourite London Underground busker?

Listen to a Londoner: Daisy Coole

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.

Daisy Coole, 26

Daisy Coole is a jazz and session musician who has temporarily swapped touring Europe for organising the biggest and best cupcake extravaganza this country has ever seen. Cupcake Camp London will feature thousands of cupcakes and raise money for the North London Hospice, who looked after Daisy’s father until he died in March 2010.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the city throughout your life? Anything in particular you miss?
DC: I miss being able to walk down a street without being knocked over by a 4×4, controversial as I’m sure that is! Drivers try to fit these ridiculously wide cars down the narrow backstreets of London. Use public transport or buy a smaller car! Or walk! I often have to travel with at least two saxophones, a music stand and some hefty sheet music, as well as my boyfriend’s bass and amp but I don’t need a mini truck to transport me across London: my little Ford Fiesta does the job. We are blessed with a brilliant transport system in this city. Except when you want to get from Kilburn to Hampstead. Then it’s a pain. Why isn’t there a connecting line between the Jubilee line and the Northern line before Kings Cross?

LLO: You’re a jazz musician. What’s your favourite London venue to play and what’s special about it?
DC: When I toured Europe last year, some of the best gigs were to hundreds of people in small Swiss cities, so it’s somewhat ironic that my favourite venue to play in the huge city of London is the Green Note in Camden. It’s a tiny vegetarian restaurant and live music venue which has the most incredible atmosphere. The audience are literally at your feet and you often have to swing round to avoid the waitresses as they pass between the rooms but you feel them take every step with you as you perform. Plus the food is amazing – always a bonus at a gig.

LLO: What the best thing about living in your postcode?
DC: I grew up in Hampstead and although it took me 12 years (aged 12-24) I moved back into the area as soon as I could, albeit to Gospel Oak! From my house I can walk to the posh cobbled streets of Hampstead Village, the eclectic and somewhat grubby Camden Town or the bustling (polite word for overcrowded and crazy) central London! Most importantly I’m back near Hampstead Heath, park of my childhood and the scene of many fond memories. It’s also my memorial place for my father who died last March. We scattered his ashes on top of Parliament Hill and you can see the whole of central London, particularly Fleet Street, where he spent so many years as a journalist. There is something overwhelming and yet calming about sitting on a bench on the hill and imagining the thousands of trials and tribulations taking place down in those streets. I find it peaceful.

LLO: One of your ideal escapes is an armchair in a cosy café. Share your top three comfy cafes?
DC: I hate to sound cliche but number one has to be the Starbucks in South End Green, NW3, because it’s right next to my gym – caffeine and comfort when I need it most! There used to be an amazing cafe in Camden called the Bean & Cup, which had huge sofas to sink into and loads of newspapers in the back room. They also did a divine Strawberry Latte, which I’ve never found anywhere else. My third recommendation is Proud Galleries in Camden: a gallery and live music venue with gorgeously decorated stables, in which you can hang out and have a coffee while browsing the internet, playing Wii or watching TV. The best room is pink with a big white wicker throne and loads of hanging plants. It’s also the venue for Cupcake Camp London.

LLO: As the organiser of Cupcake Camp London, give us a rundown of what to expect and why we should sign up to attend immediately.
DC: Cupcake Camp London is the first of it’s kind in this country, having started in San Francisco two years ago and travelled via New York, Paris and Sydney (among others). It is an incredible day where London’s amateur and professional bakers can bring down their best cupcakes to share with the public and raise money for the North London Hospice. There will be live bands, Frosting Shot Girls, a tombola and a silent auction where you can win seven nights at a gorgeous hotel in India! Bakers can even enter the cupcake competitions, judged by the founders of Primrose Bakery, legendary food writer, Mary Berry, supreme political strategist, Alastair Campbell and the winner of BBC’s Great British Bake Off, Edd Kimber. We have almost 2,000 cupcakes pledged so far and need lots more so sign up on the website www.cupcakecamplondon.co.uk and join us!

LLO:Favourite London bakery and best thing they serve?
DC: I’m a big fan of Primrose Bakery and bought their book while my father was in the North London Hospice. Cue much excitement when they agreed to be judges at Cupcake Camp London! Their bakery in Primrose Hill is almost painfully gorgeous with its yellow shopfront and pastel-coloured interior. I celebrated my birthday there last year with my oldest friends from school and we shared about eight different cupcakes between us. I think my favourite has to be the Lime and Coconut cupcake although it’s almost an impossible decision.

LLO: I hear you’re up for a cupcake tour of London… Tell us the starting point, the ending point, and not-to-miss stop off in the middle.
DC: Bake-a-boo in West Hampstead is the perfect starting point, particularly for anybody with allergies. It is also delightfully pink and girly and they do wonderful ‘Afternoon Teas’ on cake stands for Hen parties and the like. Crumbs & Doilies have a stall in Covent Garden, among other places, and were one of the first companies to support Cupcake Camp London by donating a prize. They do a great ‘name this cupcake’ competition on their website every month and whoever does their piping is a genius – Johnny Depp in icing is quite a sight! Lastly I would travel down to Greenwich Market and visit our Cupcake Camp Vegan judge, Ms Cupcake. Discard any preconceptions you have of vegan cake: these are delectable and rich and not at all healthy… love it!

LLO: After all those cupcakes, what’s a fun way you’ve found to work it off and stay fit?
DC: Most of the cupcakes I bake go straight into the bellies of my boyfriend and his friends, thank God! If they’re not around, I try to get the cupcakes out of the house as quickly as possible to avoid becoming as big as a house. I’m captain of a social league netball team in Islington and we’ve just won our league for the third season in a row, with a random assortment of teachers, hotel executives, insurance brokers and corporate PA’s. Come to think of it, they always complain that I never bring them cupcakes so I should probably get baking before they start a mutiny.

LLO: I’m in London for one night only and want to get off the tourist trail. Where would you recommend I go to eat and drink?
DC: La Porchetta in Chalk Farm produce delicious pizza and pasta in a lovely setting. I was taken there for Valentine’s Day a while ago and keep meaning to go back! Alternatively, the Pizza Express in Kentish Town is in the most incredible Art Deco building, with a floor to ceiling mirror design and wide, sweeping features. I think they have planning permission to tear it down, which would be a disaster as it’s the most beautiful building in the area. The best place for drinks is FiftyFive Bar, down the road in Camden. They serve 180 different cocktails and have a 2-4-1 offer from 6-8pm on Monday-Saturday. Definitely get there before 7pm, though, because it get seriously busy at the bar! If only it didn’t clash with my netball league, I’d also be there every Monday for ‘Mojito Madness’: 2-4-1 on all 12 Mojitos. Genius.

LLO: Best London discovery?
DC: My boyfriend keeps nagging me to get a bike so we can cycle the Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to Limehouse and the Thames. The path is a bit narrow at Regent’s Park but it’s almost a direct route to the Primrose Bakery – result!

Thanks Daisy!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.