The London Grill: N. Quentin Woolf

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.


[N] Quentin Woolf is a novelist and broadcaster. His short stories have appeared in publications internationally and online, in exhibitions and as part of stage performances. A passionate advocate of the benefits of peer critique, NQW has hosted Writers’ Mutual, a popular collaborative critique group for writers, for a number of years; he also runs The Writers’ Lab in East London. Having formerly presented The Arts Show for radio, NQW is now the anchor of Londonist Out Loud, a weekly podcast focusing on news, arts and history in London, UK, as well as the literary podcast The Wireless Reader. He has also appeared on BBC Radio 4. His novel, The Death of the Poet, is published by Serpent’s Tail.

DeathofthePoet_thumb.jpgWhat’s your secret London tip?
London rewards the curious. Do something you’ve never done, every day. Look down an alleyway, visit a weird museum, check out a tiny park, speak to a stranger, go to that tube stop you’ve never been to. If you’re seeing the same people and the same streets every day, you’re missing the point. Explore! The city evolves constantly – you’ll never run out of new experiences.

What’s your secret London place?
Not a lot of people know this, but there’s this one place where they’ve got all these life-size models of celebrities, made out of wax. Keep it to yourself.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
People who treat bus drivers like crap. I could never be a bus driver. I’d drive up and down the same route for about a day-and-a-half, maybe less, and then I’d feel absolutely compelled to turn left instead of right, or take a detour, or something – anything – to alleviate the monotony. Hats off to anyone who is able to stick that. These guys (of all genders) have to be patient and professional in the face of all sorts of obnoxiousness from within and without, and, yes, I know there are a few duff ‘uns, but for the most part they are unassuming, patient, reliable and uncomplaining. Some even smile. And when they don’t pick you up outside of a bus-stop, or when the bus is full, it’s because that’s how buses work. A good bus driver is good precisely through resisting acts of spontaneity. Go easy on the driver. If we are blessed with anything in London, it’s the certainty that there will be another bus along in a minute.

What’s your favourite building?
London Bridge – the old one, long gone, with the buildings on it. Heads on spikes at the gatehouse at one end, dire traffic jams in the narrow passage between the shops and houses, the odd pedestrian being blown into the Thames when the wind got up. Not to mention the fire hazard. What’s not to like?

What’s your most hated building?
The Barbican terrifies me. It’s not a complex, it’s a dystopia.

What’s the best view in London?
I did a show with London’s Air Ambulance, and up we went, and London from 1000 feet is something to behold. The only other thing in the same space is the Shard; everything else is laid out with Toytown neatness, with a river made of tin foil snaking through it. The Tower looks like a cake decoration; Tower Bridge like a Crazy Golf shot. And, even from that height, the Barbican still looks like it might suck out your soul.

What’s your personal London landmark?
That very high bridge near Highgate village. Always makes my knees go funny.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Film: 28 Days Later (2002). The knowledge that those spooky scenes of deserted London streets were done without SFX (they were simply shot during quiet moments) blows my mind. Book: a toss-up between Mrs Dalloway (1925), with the leaden circles of sound emanating from Big Ben and dissolving in the air, and Bleak House (1853), with that image of a megalosaurus waddling up Holborn Hill. Documentary: The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (1964), which details how London will meet its end, in 2164.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
Starbucks. It doesn’t fall exactly into any of the above categories, but it does understand that the early 21st Century Londoner requires the ability to a) leach electricity and b) connect to wifi while c) injecting caffeine into their eyeballs. Put Starbucks in charge of the electric car scheme, and we’d have a pollution-free city (and the shakes). Screw it – the chippy in Victoria Park Village. Heart disease never tasted so good.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
In the morning I would locate some squirrels, and attempt to feed them. Within seconds, every pigeon, gull, goose, urban fox and royal swan within half a mile would descend upon me, tearing the food from my hand, the hair from my head, stealing my trousers and leaving me to flee for my life.

Shortly afterwards, bleeding profusely, I would present myself to one of our friendly accident and emergency wards, where a sympathetic administrator would greet me by name and ask whether I’d been feeding the squirrels again.

In the evening, I’d write. I am working on a novel, and there’s nothing better than shoving off to a pub with wood chairs and an open fire, setting down a few paragraphs, growing dozy, nodding off and catching alight.

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

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