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.
Brian was born in Pimlico in 1951 and lived there till 1984. When he left school in 1968, he served an apprenticeship and then became a compositor in the print but was finally made redundant in 1975. He has been a taxi driver for 38 years, on Radio Taxis for 32 years and a chauffeur on and off since the mid-1980s. He says that this is the best job in the world if done right because its flexibility allowed him to get a degree in Irish Studies and Modern History at the University of North London in 1994. Following that, he did some minor journalism, wrote one one unpublished play and is currently writing another about being a teenager in Pimlico in the 1960s. Having recently and finally migrated from film to a digital camera, he hopes to use his recently-started blog, www.capitallettersblog.com, to show off the real London that he sees in his daily travels.
What’s your secret London tip?
Go into the City of London on a Sunday and just walk through the back streets and alleys. It’s hard not to be affected by the weight of history that will meet you and easy to imagine how life was back in medieval times. Just get lost, don’t try to get anywhere in particular.
What’s your secret London place?
St John’s Lodge, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park. Completed by Sir John Nash in 1819. It’s close to the junction of Chester Road, around one o’clock as one looks at the map. The Lodge, a private residence, has a secluded garden open to the public which is accessed through a pergola. It’s one of the most tranquil spots in London that I know.
What’s your biggest gripe about London?
People who move out of London saying that London is no place to bring up kids. Rubbish. I took my daughter to everything that I could think of from Club Row with people just selling shoes on the pavement to the English National Opera, from The Oxo Tower to pie and mash shops. She has a set of mental tools now that she’ll draw upon for the rest of her life.
What’s your favourite building?
The Queen’s House, Greenwich. I love Palladian architecture and this was one of Inigo Jones’s first such efforts. It’s graceful, in a beautiful location and just one illustration of what makes London the greatest city in the World.
What’s your most hated building?
1 Poultry, London EC2. The worst (or best?) example of Post-modern architecture I can think of. When I was a kid, I had a building set consisting of geometrically-shaped wooden blocks and this building reminds me of that. It replaced a beautiful neo-Gothic Mappin & Webb building and the only good thing about its demolition was that they found a Roman wooden drain during excavation. Whenever I can bear to gaze at this stupid building, I expect to see Di Caprio and Winslett on the balcony atop its axis a la Titanic, the movie.
What’s the best view in London?
It’s a cliché, but Waterloo Bridge, any direction, any time of day or night.
What’s your personal London landmark?
The junction of Warwick Way and Denbigh Street. My parents met in 1936 in the basement of the draper’s shop in Denbigh St that was The Madrid Club, the headquarters of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. My father sold The Daily Worker on one corner of the junction while Sir Oswald Mosley and his thugs sold theirs on the opposite corner, the site of many a battle against fascists. There used to be a menswear shop on one corner in the 1960s called Phillips where I bought lots of Mod gear in the day. Just up Wilton Road was also one of the first Wimpy Bars in London.
What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
The London Encyclopaedia, essential reading for anybody curious about this great city.
What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
La Famiglia, 7 Langton St, Worlds End SW10. Opened by Alvaro Maccioni in the mid-1970s, I ‘ve been going back again and again since then and am yet to find better Italian food in London served con amore, with love. Alvaro also had a pizzeria in King’s Road in the late 1960s to which I and my mates used to go to on a Sunday night after coming out of the Bird’s Nest pub and they’re still the best pizzas I ever tasted. Alvaro is still seen in La Famiglia these days, keeping an eye on their very high standards.
How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
I believe in using public transport wherever possible. So it’s a quick continental breakfast at my local St David Coffee House opposite Forest Hill station. On to the recently extended East London Line from there to Rotherhithe and then I’ll walk along the south side of the river as far as the Southbank for some of the best views of London.
Cutting through Trafalgar Square into Soho and it’s lunch at Pizza Malletti in Noel Street for the best pizza al taglio this side of Napoli. A browse through the used record shops that still exist in Soho and Hanway Street, I’m still trying to fill the gaps in my collection of jazz and 1960s soul and ska.
Over to Bar Italia in Frith St for the best coffee in London and, recharged, I’m walking down to the National Portrait Gallery for a leisurely gaze and some temptation in its shop. Then my beloved 24 bus that I went to school on to IL Posto restaurant in Vauxhall Bridge Road for my favourite spaghetti vongole. If I’m lucky, I’ll bomb back to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club for the second house and a taxi back to Forest Hill.