The London Grill: Flora Tonking

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.


[F]lora Tonking is ‘The Accidental Londoner’, a girl from the Midlands who somehow found herself living in London after vowing that she never would. Years later she is learning how to be a Londoner, and writing about her experiences on her blog and several other London-focussed websites. She works in Central London, as an international development consultant, but her heart belongs to North London, her much-loved home neighbourhood within the big city.

What’s your secret London tip?
Walk everywhere (or walk as much as you can). There is so much to see in the city, and you often miss it, stuck beneath the ground on the Tube or whirling by in a cab or bus. And whilst you may discover some hidden secrets walking within the city, it can sometimes also be faster (and more fun!) than waiting on a crowded platform or being sat in stationary traffic on the roads.

What’s your secret London place?
Its hidden gardens; less busy than the large parks on a sunny day, and scattered along backstreets and tucked away behind buildings. Some of my favourites are in Shoreditch, Covent Garden, and Angel, and even high up above the British Library.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
OK, this is a toss up. It’s either slow-moving tourists or the misery of commuting during rush-hour. But actually, it’s the concentration of people in both of these pet-hates that really gets to me. So, my biggest gripe is probably people who slow me down!

What’s your favourite building?
This is a hard choice, as London boasts some truly glorious buildings, but I think it’s probably the Victoria and Albert museum; fantastically Victorian, full of hidden rooms and galleries (including its lovely courtyard garden) and it’s just a totally calming space.

What’s your most hated building?
I almost said the Shard – after it interrupted the beautiful skyline of the city – but I think instead the building I hate the most is Centre Point. It’s not the only building in the city guilty of brutal concrete architectural crimes, but it’s so enormous that it rather rams them down your throat.

What’s the best view in London?
The view from the top of Parliament Hill; up on the Heath, early in the morning, the entire city beneath you – that’s when London looks at its most beautiful.

What’s your personal London landmark?
The BT Tower; wherever I go in the city, if I can see the BT Tower I can orientate myself. I once worked just underneath it, so it’s become a symbol of my everyday London life.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
This question’s always going to divide opinion, as everyone has their own idea of what their London should look like, but I recently finished reading a charming novel called ‘Greenery Street’ by Denis Mackail, set in a street in Chelsea that is instantly recognisable to me, as I’ve spent a lot of time in the area. It’s wonderfully evocative of the area, even if it’s set in a different time, and gently pokes fun at the sorts of people who live there. (It’s also a publication of the wonderful Persephone Books, who are a London-based publisher who re-print much-loved books for and by and about women.)
There’s a wonderful series of films being developed by Emmanual Benbihy, that feature short film stories of lives and loves in amazing cities; so far his films on Paris (Paris, Je T’aime) and New York (New York, I Love You) have been released, but there are works on Rio de Janeiro, Jerusalem and Shanghai in production. I’d love to see a ‘London, I Love You’ finally released in this series.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
You can’t beat steak-frites with a massive glass of red wine at Cafe Boheme on Great Compton Street, in Soho. (It’s a perfect spot for people-watching too!)

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
My ideal day off would start with brunch somewhere with a friend (lots of coffee and pancakes!), before having a wander round an interesting part of town – somewhere with a few good, independent shops, maybe a gallery, exhibition or something to see. Next would come late lunch in a decent pub somewhere and a big walk across Hampstead Heath, before a bit of reading or writing in a cosy cafe somewhere. And then on to the evening . . . which could be anything! This is London after all . . .

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

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