London Grill: Nicola Baird

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]icola Baird is a journalist and author of seven books including The Estate We’re In about car culture (1998), Save Cash & Save the Planet (co-writer/2005) as well as Homemade Kids, thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children (2010). After 10 years working on publications for Friends of the Earth, Nicola went freelance so she could teach journalism and blogging at the University of the Arts; teach riding at Trent Park Equestrian Centre and work from home. As a huge Islington fan it was an obvious move to set up Islington Faces Blog, which features a new interview each week with someone who lives or works in Islington. If this is your bit of London – or you did once live there – do please consider following Islington Faces Blog or get in touch with Nicola with suggestions of people to interview. Thanks.

What’s your secret London tip?
If you can, stay with someone who lives here – a friend, old friend/colleague or maybe someone renting space on Airbnb – because they’ll show you their neighbourhood. If you’re lucky it may even be Islington, which is my favourite place.

What’s your secret London place?
Parkland Walk is an old railway line turned into an amazing footpath running from Finsbury Park up to Highgate. It has fabulous plants, trees, birds and even bats. It’s not quite New York’s High Line on the art front, though it has some amazing graffiti bridges. Instead it gives us Londoners a chance to walk, jog or cycle without any fear of being hit by traffic.

Homemade-kidsWhat’s your biggest gripe about London?
Why is Oxford Street filled with buses and taxis? It’s so noisy and grimy. I like to imagine it traffic free with perhaps a travelator (like they have at airports) shifting people who don’t want to (or can’t) walk from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch and back. Now just add sunshine, perfect. Bet that would tackle the air pollution in central London a little too.

What’s your favourite building?
I’m lucky to love my home. But if we are talking big show-off projects then anything with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified timber, for example, the Olympic Park aquatics centre. And if it’s more about visitor attractions or practical commuter hotspots then I love the curved, clear roof of both the British Museum Central Court and King’s Cross train station.

What’s your most hated building?
I’m no fan of the dark tower at Archway but it’s all change and perhaps refurbished, and with the planned road changes below to Archway Island, it will look less sinister.

What’s the best view in London?
I love looking out of tower block widows on the south of the river back towards north London. What great views you get without having to go very high – including all the iconic architectural stars (from Tower Bridge to the Gherkin) plus green clusters from London’s many trees (although I’d love even more) plus pocket parks and even football grounds (or is that just Arsenal’s Emirates stadium?)

What’s your personal London landmark?
I love the way most of the people I interview on Islington Faces Blog always say they love Highbury Fields. No one away from London knows this green space, but it’s such a lovely spot for Londoners, especially if you are living in a flat, have young children or just want to escape the rat-race for a few moments.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
I have been homesick for London and then any film with the London skyline makes you feel you’re wasting time until you get back here. One great film is A Fish Called Wanda. I also really liked Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky, which has loads of Finsbury Park scenes. Islington has tonnes of writers – we are well documented by Nick Hornby and I have to also give a shout out to my West Ham loving husband, Pete May, whose book There’s A Hippo In My Cistern shows how you can try to live a green life in the city, even when you are fighting against it . . .

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
I wish I had the cash and energy to go out more, and more often. The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park does nice coffee and welcomes dogs, so sometimes me and the mutt take time out from a rainy dog walk to enjoy theatre life.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Breakfast at Blighty on Blackstock Road near Finsbury Park; followed by a walk on Hampstead Heath talking about art, climate change and novels with a friend. Or maybe a long cycle ride with my teenagers and husband which takes in the wonderful bakery, Spence, in Stoke Newington and a short section of the New River Walk (which is neither new nor a river) down to Sadler’s Wells at the Angel. After that there’s always somewhere to explore in London.

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