The Grill — 16 March 2018

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.
GIBSON SQUARE, a pseudonym, has been writing CabbieBlog these past nine years. The blog, which recently published its 1,000 post has, in the past, included London subjects as diverse as Dr Johnson’s Dictionary to Winston Churchill’s nanny. He has written for London’s Evening Standard; Metro; Time Out; and the Londonist. He contributed to The Spirit of London the official 2012 Olympics book which was given to all participating athletes and was presented to Her Majesty The Queen. Recently retired he intends to write the definitive account of the cabbies’ green shelters.

What’s your secret London tip?
Well two, if you are a Londoner take Samuel Johnson’s advice: “. . . you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts”. If you are new to the capital you could do a lot worse than take a London Taxi Tour.

What’s your secret London place?
Where do you start? I suppose the most surprising contrast is Goodwin’s Court, just off St. Martin’s Lane. At the heart of the frenetic West End is a little piece of Georgian history. You can imagine Jane Austin leaving one of the bow-fronted shops wearing her recently purchased bonnet.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Cabbies famously complain to any passenger foolish enough to ask their opinion, so I’ll restrict myself to just one – Transport for London. When they created this inept organisation nobody realised its name would be an oxymoron. It neither works in the interests of Londoners nor provides adequate transportation, but at least it has managed to achieve its purpose and reduced average speeds in London to 7.3 mph, slower than in Victorian times.

What’s your favourite building?
As a Londoner, I was born in Fitzrovia, the question should be: What is your favourite building apart from St. Paul’s? The south front of Lambeth Palace is my choice. Showing its longevity in every brick, with crenellated towers, guarding the main entrance, it is forbidding, even stark in style, but I love how the terracotta shines near sunset. It’s a beacon of Christian continuity in a complicated world.

What’s your most hated building?
To be truly reprehensible something has to be offensive at many levels. The designers of the Strata Tower at the Elephant and Castle have risen to the challenge admirably. So high, its ugly exterior can cause offence wherever you are in London. Installed at a cost of £1.5 million, the roof turbines rarely move, the wealthy residents on the upper floors apparently have complained about the noise the turbines create. A worthy recipient of the 2010 Carbuncle Cup, but where it has trumped its rivals is, as the Guardian reported:

while providing the required social housing within its wonky zebra cladding, the less well-off tenants have a separate entrance, along with segregated bicycle storage spaces, postal deliveries and even rubbish disposal

A blot on the landscape both aesthetically, culturally and morally.

What’s the best view in London?
Waterloo Bridge at night. Look east and there is the City spread out before you; looking west you can see the Houses of Parliament. Go to the southern end, between the White House apartments and the Hayward Gallery look through the gap to see Big Ben framed by the Millennium Wheel, it’s just a pity the colour is now Coca-Cola red.

What’s your personal London landmark?
It has got to be Shakespeare’s Globe. The English might have ignored the greatest exponent of their language, and it took an American director to convince us that Shakespeare’s genius needed celebrating, but at long last, this has given us a unique playhouse.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Regarded by film historian Geoff Phillips as the best TV play Britain has ever produced, The Knowledge by Jack Rosenthal follows a diverse group of ‘Knowledge boys’ and explores their journey of redemption and discovery.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
Countless restaurants would describe their establishment as ‘unique’ when most are variations on a similar theme. For a truly unique place to eat the Cabbies’ Green Shelters have no equal. Only twelve are now functioning providing cheap nourishment for drivers. How they manage to cook numerous meals in a kitchen the size of a broom cupboard never fails to amaze.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
The last thing I want to do is a drive, so the Skygarden is my secret tip where you can get a free view of the city, then it’s on to a walk around London Zoo with my grandson. Generations of my family have either been keepers or have worked for animal charities. Could we have a potential ‘Super Vet’ in our family?

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