Happy Friday, readers! It’s time for our London Grilling, where we put a Londoner through their paces. This week, we have intrepid London wanderer Kieran Meeke, author of the online Aladdin’s cave that is Secret London. Kieran shares his tips and views on finding your own London village, staying above ground and the wonders of escalator etiquette…
1. What’s your secret London tip?
Walk (or cycle) as much as possible. Look at a ground map as well as a Tube map before going anywhere. As well as discovering things, it’s often much quicker as you can cut out stops. The journey from Leicester Square to Covent Garden is the busiest stretch on the Underground – but it’s a five-minute walk, less time than the Tube takes when you allow for lifts and escalators. Don’t forget the buses, either: you see a lot from the top deck.
2. What’s your secret London place?
Well, I have a website full of them. But I came up with the idea for my website in Notre Dame de France, the French church between Leicester Square and the Prince Charles Cinema. It’s built on the footprint of one of London’s first cinemas, that burnt down because it used a gas projector, so it’s circular. I love the calm of it, so close to the bustle of Leicester Square and China Town. And you never know what you’ll find: one time a Latin mass with clouds of incense, another time an African wedding with drums and bright costumes. It’s still my favourite hideaway spot.
3. What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Pedestrian traffic. People who walk hand-in-hand, holding everyone else up. Or groups who stand around doorways chatting when they could move a few paces way and allow everyone to move more freely around them. It’s a crowded city – show some awareness of those around you, like they do in Japan. But many other cities are much, much worse: most people in London are amazingly polite: look at the self-policing on Tube escalators.
4. What advice would you give to someone moving to London?
Remember that London is a set of villages and make yourself at home in the one you live in. Find a good restaurant and become a regular and use local shops and really get to know the place. It reduces the big city to a human scale and means you will always know where to find a smiling face. Rinse and repeat when you move to a new area and you soon feel like a real expert on London.
5. What would you choose to do in London if you had more space and time?
I’d explore the East End. It’s a treasure trove of history and architecture – not to mention quirky shops, cafés and galleries – but the gems are so spread out I’d need another lifetime to get to know them properly. I’m working my way through it slowly.
Many thanks to Kieran for his great London tips – we can’t think of a better person to whisper about London’s coolest secrets with and we’re totally on board with his policy about hand-holders. Move over, people!
Don’t forget to join us next Friday for our regular London Grilling, where we put London’s biggest advocates under the microscope.