The London Grill: Mark Mason

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.

Mark Mason

[B]orn in the Midlands in 1971, Mark Mason moved to London when he was 20. Over the next 13 years he sold Christmas cards in Harrods, made radio programmes for the BBC and busked outside Eric Clapton gigs at the Royal Albert Hall. He also published three novels, several books of non-fiction including Walk the Lines, and wrote for publications as diverse as The Spectator and Four Four Two. His latest book Move Along Please is his account of the 1200-mile journey, during which he realises that your home country is often the one you know least. Combining the same mix of observation and trivia with which his Walk the Lines captured London, Mason creates a paint-by-bus-numbers portrait of Britain. He continues to do some of these things, though has now defected to Suffolk, where he lives with his partner and son.

Move along please What’s your secret London tip?
The tour at Lord’s. Even if you don’t like cricket the pavilion’s beauty will knock you out (it’s now a listed building.) Do the tour on a non-matchday and you even get to visit the dressing rooms and the Test Match Special commentary box.

What’s your secret London place?
Gresham College – brilliant free lectures on everything from quantum physics to the London Underground

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Pedestrians who walk slowly along, come to a complete stop, or perform U-turns without warning. Do any of those as a driver and you’d be banged up.

What’s your favourite building?
Impossible to choose – but let’s go for the Royal Exchange. Apart from the fact it’s stunning, it perfectly symbolises London’s genius for reinvention: one-time trading floor, now a fantastic café and bar. (Though in a continuity vein, the rents from its luxury shops still fund Gresham College, as they have done for centuries.)

What’s your most hated building?
Westfield Shopping Centre.

What’s the best view in London?
The bar of Ye Olde Mitre off Hatton Garden just after they’ve put my pint of Guinness on it.

What’s your personal London landmark?
One Canada Square – my first London home was in Shadwell, just down the river from it, and my major memory is of the flashing light at the top. Later I learned from a brickie that his mate had laid one of the bricks at the top of the building 10mm higher than the others, so he could say he’d laid the highest brick in Europe.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Film: The Long Good Friday, book: Money by Martin Amis, documentary: The London Nobody Knows presented by James Mason (delightfully surreal)

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
Posh night out: The Wolseley . . . great value: The West End Kitchen (Panton Street, just off Leicester Square)

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Simply walking round. London’s the best human zoo in the world. One guy I passed as I walked the Victoria Line was saying into his mobile: ‘It’ll be an hour and a half before I’m in Romford, Matilda. If you’re going to have a bath, have a bath now.’

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

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