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!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.


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Listen to a Londoner: Sasha

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 littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers. 

“Sasha”, early 30s

“Sasha” is in her early thirties and writes The Happiness Project London anonymously.  The HPL encourages Londoners to live their lives by a set of rules shown to improve happiness; including being active, connecting with family and friends, doing charitable acts and learning new things. 

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
Sasha:
About seven years with a brief sojourn to Prague in the middle.

LLO: Tell us a bit about The Happiness Project London.
Sasha: 
It started out as a “make the most of London” blog to inspire myself and my friends to try new restaurants, exhibitions, gigs.  I love giving recommendations and finding new things to do, so it allows me to express my interests and enthusiasm, and put all my suggestions in one place.  However, the thing most Londoners lack is free time so I try not to overload people with what’s on.  Even visiting a new restaurant or pub once a month would fit into the HPL rules.  Oh and I try not to blog about places I don’t like and only focus on the positive.  

The blog developed when I went to Turkey during Ramadan and spoke to a man who told me how fasting had made him feel closer to his family and friends, and charitable towards those who were hungry.  Even though it was hard, he felt happier for doing it.  I thought about London, and how we live a rather selfish life, and decided to add a charitable element to my blog – doing things for others to feel truly happy.  So, it became The Happiness Project London.

LLO: Have you found a place in London – other than your home – that always makes you happy?
Sasha:
The view from Waterloo bridge at any time of the day or night.  I try to stop there, take it all in, and have a “London moment”. 

LLO: You’re also a budding photographer. Share a photo with us?
Sasha:
My problem is I don’t take enough time over photos which is why they are all blurry.  But anyway here’s one of a bus thundering past outside Liverpool Street and my beloved but underplayed trombone.

LLO: One of your Happiness Project rules is to keep active. Do you have a favourite gym or park for workouts?
Sasha:
I hate the cold, so in winter, I either go to the gym, do yoga or play hockey in Battersea Park.  In summer, London’s best asset is its many parks – I love playing tennis in Brockwell Park with its views over the City, or cycling to somewhere like Richmond Park.  I have an old-fashioned ladies bike with wicker basket, which makes me sit up tall and take in the sights.

LLO: In another rule, you recommend taking classes or attending talks or exhibitions. Have you found any unique classes worth taking or know of any upcoming talks or exhibitions you could recommend?
Sasha: 
City Lit has great and cheap classes – everything from jewellery-making to history of art.  I’d like to do an arts and crafts course because I’m fidgety and it would occupy my mind better than TV. 

Otherwise, the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy is definitely worth visiting; the British Museum has some great free events and I’m hoping to watch some Mexican guitar there this month; and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum is always great – especially late night Fridays where you can drink wine under the dinosaur skeleton afterwards.

LLO: Are you still on a quest for the perfect burger in London? What’s the best you’ve found so far?
Sasha:
Hell yes.  I love burgers; have to have at least one a month.  I’ve tried about four or five since the quest started, mostly in pubs and once at McDos, but have not found anything great enough to write about yet.  My list of places to try is huge thanks to comments from people visiting the blog, worrying as I’ve put on half a stone since writing about food.  I’ve heard a lot about Byron and I’d also love to try a posh burger at the American Bar in the Stafford hotel in Mayfair.

LLO: If I only had one night in London, where would you tell me to eat dinner and then go for drinks?
Sasha: 
Great Queen Street or the Anchor & Hope serve wonderfully simple hearty British food like pheasant, duck or beef – it’s what I imagine people eating during a hunting weekend in the 19th century.  Or if you want to see London’s upmarket cooking at its best, I’d direct you to Chez Bruce, a Galvin restaurant, Pied A Terre or the Wolseley. 

Although I’m partial to the odd martini, my favourite places to drink are comfy old men’s pubs, so I’d suggest you try something like the Prince Regent in Herne Hill, the French House in Soho, or The Scolt Head in Dalston.

LLO: Will you share three of your favourite London blogs or websites?
Sasha:
The London Foodie (http://www.thelondonfoodie.co.uk/) has a wonderfully positive attitude to life and food and is a great supporter of my blog.  Urban Junkies and Le Cool are great for suggesting exciting things to try (although my main problem is finding free time in my diary). 

LLO: Describe a perfect day in London
Sasha: 
It’s a summer Sunday, about 30 degrees.  I start with coffee at Opus on Acre Lane or at Rosie’s in Brixton market.  I text my friends, none of whom are busy.  We arrange to meet at Brockwell Park or Clapham Common, someone brings a Frisbee and another a big blanket.  We sit and drink ciders and chat until later on when we go to a nice old man’s pub with a beer garden to eat burgers, chips and coleslaw – The Landor or The Coach and Horses.  Finally, we watch some live music – perhaps at The Windmill in Brixton or Cargo in Shoreditch. 

Thanks Sasha!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.