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.
Jonathan Lovett and Marianne MacRitchie run Tales of Plague – part gory guided walk and part theatrical event around the city of London. Having studied in London they decided to combine two of their favourite periods, the Black Death of the 14th Century and the Great Plague of the 17th Century, into one tour focusing on the effect these cataclysmic events had on the capital. Every week you’ll find the plague-obsessives leading members of the public around vast plague pits and beautiful ancient churches, discussing strange ‘cures’ and bizarre rituals in the colourful company of medieval peasants, the sinister plague doctor and one Samuel Pepys. Discover more at: Tales of Plague
What’s your secret London tip?
Cheap theatre! Either become a ‘groundling’ at The Globe and watch quality plays for just a fiver, check out deals online such as The Donmar Warehouse’s ‘Front Row’ seats for a tenner or get up early and queue outside one of the West End venues for your cheap seats and save a bag of cash.
What’s your secret London place?
The new Reading Room in the Wellcome Collection. Reopened just a few months ago it’s a fascinating cornucopia of pleasures boasting 100 objects and over 1,000 books – as well as a beautiful space to boot. It also hosts talks and readings and the other day we dropped into a talk about Jonathan’s namesake, Edward Lovett, a Victorian cashier in a city bank who spent his spare time collecting and writing about amulets he found in working class folk’s homes.
What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Probably its rudeness. We’re both from the country and whenever we return to the city it’s as though we have to suddenly put on a protective shell just to get us through the utter joy of the tube!
What’s your favourite building?
St Olave Hart Street which features prominently on the walk. John Betjeman described it as “a country church in the world of Seething Lane” while Charles Dickens christened it “St Ghastly Grim”. Our fascination is that St Olave’s can be both pastoral and pestilential and it’s an important landmark for us being the burial place of Samuel Pepys who lived and worked on Seething Lane, as well as hundreds of plague victims during the time of the Great Plague.
What’s your most hated building?
Our present pet hate is a monstrosity called The Monument Building, currently being erected right next to the historic Monument and therefore obscuring – from some directions – views of one of the most iconic London buildings. Each time we do our walk in this part of town another blot on the landscape seems to be raising its ugly head and it does make you wonder where this downtown Dubai will end.
What’s the best view in London?
The final stop on our walk is a bit of a stunner which we only discovered fairly recently. It takes you right next to the Thames and the view incorporates London Bridge, The Shard, HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.
What’s your personal London landmark?
The Dulwich Picture Gallery where we’ve spent many happy hours. Besides the gorgeous permanent collection it also features cracking temporary exhibitions including the one on British artist Eric Ravilious running until the end of August.
What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. It’s a coruscating account of 1665 that is not just one of the best records of the Great Plague, capturing the sheer terror of the times, but is one of the most detailed accounts of Restoration London life in all its feisty filth. Many of the places he mentions still exist today and part of the fun of our walk is in following the footsteps of his narrator.
What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
The Devonshire House pub in Crouch End. It’s a boozer that celebrates the local area – we never knew Hollywood star Jean Simmons was from these parts until we stumbled across the pub’s tribute to her – and attracts some great characters drawn by cheap beer and grub.
How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
A massive fry-up in a good greasy spoon – perhaps The Workers Café in Islington – then a trip to one of Marianne’s favourite buildings, The British Museum. Across the river for a beer in The Anchor, a matinee at The Globe next door, back across the river for dinner in Delauney’s then back again for a film at the BFI before collapsing in a culturally sated heap at The Devonshire House!