The London Grill: Matthew Crampton

I challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will be ‘grilled’ with the same questions ranging from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out what Londoners really think about their city. The questions are the same but the answers vary wildly.


[M]atthew Crampton recently wrote The Trebor Story, which tells how a small sweet firm from East London rose to become Britain’s largest confectioner. It’s a fun book with hundreds of pictures of sweet wrappers and factory life, along with anecdotes, history and attacks on modern corporate capitalism. You can read extracts and see pictures at Matthew’s now working on a book about Music Hall and the First World War, and he spends his spare time fishing and singing folk songs.

What’s your secret London tip?

People are often friendlier in London than in the country. Not on the tube maybe, but wherever I’ve lived around town, I’ve known my neighbours – and I prefer the London community experience to living in a small village. There’s the same upside – good people around you – but less of the downside – bad people around you – because, generally, London’s size dilutes their poison. The bigger the village, the smaller the feuds.

What’s your secret London place?

I love introducing people to the secret garden in Regent’s Park. If you don’t know it, go look for it.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

Apart from Borisconi, (gloriously described by arch Tory Max Hastings as ‘a far more ruthless, and frankly nastier, figure than the public appreciates’) – my main gripe’s the hideous property bubble that’s swept a swill of rich people into nice middling areas where once dwelled teachers, writers and cab drivers.

TrebourWhat’s your favourite building?

I’ve got strong memories of the Festival Hall from every decade of my life. As a boy I’d roll mints down the grooves in the long stair banisters. Later I’d dare to skateboard down below. In the bookshop I met my first, and last, blind date. Discovering vertigo in a box there at one of many, many concerts. A wild wedding lunch at The People’s Palace restaurant, then drunkenly seeing close friends off to Paris for their honeymoon. More recently, performing in some concerts myself, in the ballroom, the foyer and a beach hut out front. It’s a great public institution – I always feel good there.

What’s your most hated building?

Selfridges. Not for the architecture, but because it’s a palace of bling. When I hear the words ‘designer label’, I reach for my revolver.

What’s the best view in London?

Two years ago I was celebrating the Festival of Britain with a huge amateur choir and a brass band on the South Bank. We were singing Waterloo Sunset by Ray Davies. And as we sang, the sun was setting over a panorama from Westminster to Waterloo Bridge. It doesn’t get much better than that.

What’s your personal London landmark?

I’ve lived next to Hampstead Heath for twenty years of my life. There may be a few corners of it I haven’t yet seen, but not many.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?

“Hands across the ocean” growls Bob Hoskins as he welcomes some American gangsters to his crime manor of East London in The Long Good Friday. This big film is many things; not least a herald for the horrors of Thatcherism, but it’s above all a London film. Hoskins thinks he’s top dog in the top city. He, and we, get unsettled to realise this ain’t necessarily so.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

Lemonia in Primrose Hill. Best waiters in town. An old gaff with a confident swagger. There’s always a buzz – and I always have the grilled quail.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

This is ideal, so don’t expect geographic, temporal or climatic consistency. I wake up with a few lengths at the Parliament Hill Lido, water warm from a heat wave. Thence a bacon roll at Borough Market and onto a friend’s barge for a leisurely trip under Tower Bridge – which opens for us, of course. An idle cast from the boat hooks a salmon, fresh in on the tide, which becomes instant mid morning sashimi. Suddenly it’s December and I’m swept into a Putney pub for some winter wassailing with a bunch of folkies. I sing a song of my own, walk out on a wave of glory to find myself – summer again – at a lazy picnic deep in Hampstead Heath. Kids, kites, chicken legs. Over to Kenwood to say hello to Rembrandt, then a quick kip in the hammock on my roof terrace. Now I’m ready for the evening. Snifter in the Savoy, some squid at Sheekeys and wow, Springsteen’s playing a surprise gig at the Greennote in Camden. Midnight finds me high on Primrose Hill. Then, magically sober and alert, I spend the small hours driving round the centre of the city, the pavements still sweating from the daytime heat, the sweet sculptural rhythms of Charles Mingus on the machine. And back home to cool fresh sheets and a functioning blackout curtain. Well, you did ask.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

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