A long-time resident of the optimistic ‘zone 10’, James was seized by the spirit of Dick Whittington and made his pilgrimage to London-proper in 2014. He circulates exclusively between galleries and their cafes and writes about theatre, art and nonsense at jfitzgerald.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter: @jamesfitz789.
This Londoner is an amputee pole champion
In 2001, I crashed my motorbike near Tower Bridge and smashed up my lower left leg. Despite14 operations, it got more and more painful over the years. My mobility reduced and my world felt like it was getting smaller. I work as a hairdresser, and you can’t do that job when you’re basically high on painkillers all the time. When doctors gave me the option of amputation last February, I can’t tell you how happy I was: it felt like finally taking back control. Before my amputation, I’d got into anti-gravity yoga, where you use a hammock as support. By luck, the only place in London that taught it was minutes from my home in Old Street, and that same studio also taught pole. I was fascinated with pole and the tricks people could do, but I always assumed my leg would prevent me from giving it a go. Then a girl turned up who had part of her arm missing due to a birth defect. I thought: If she can do it, so can I. 'Amputation felt like taking back control’ My first pole class was really difficult. It takes time to develop grip-strength so that you don’t slide down the pole. But I quickly got hooked. Straight after one class, I’d book the next, even though my hands were covered in blisters. I loved learning the tricks: my favourite is a genie-to-handspin-backflip, which is as complicated as it sounds! My amputation didn’t stop my progress: 11 days after the operation, I was back in the studio. I did lose a bit of confidence: talking myself into doing a backflip off the pole was diff
So you’ve never been to… Jazz After Dark?
In a nutshellGaudy, art-lined bolthole and shrine to Amy Winehouse: one for the Soho bucket list. Where is it?On Greek Street, so just round the corner from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. This place is more low-key, without skimping on late-night good times. What’s the vibe?It’s a tiny place – even the musicians spill off the stage – so prepare to be squashed in like notes in a super-hectic sax solo. Winehouse’s old hangout is a bit like the late star herself: imperfect, but impossible to take your eyes off. The decor is best described as ’80s futuristic. What makes it a great venue?It’s like strolling into a jam sesh the whole world’s been invited to. You’ll see funk, R&B, soul and Latin from across the planet (maybe all at once). And in the daytime, it’s a gallery – the walls are filled with the owner’s paintings of celebs who’ve come through his door. Who’s the most famous person spotted there?Amy, Amy, Amy. She first showed up demanding a job behind the bar – only to be given a gig instead. Show after show followed, and so did noughties A-listers such as Pete Doherty and Kate Moss. A VIP ‘room’ (cubbyhole) features a sofa that Winehouse supposedly perched on while writing tunes. What’s the booze situation?Glasses of wine (£5.10) and bottled beers (£4.35) are typical, but at £7.50 for cocktails, you’ve paid much worse in Soho. No prizes for guessing who the Back to Black is named after. What’s coming up?If you’re after something specific, September has shows from two European v
So you’ve never been to… The Dublin Castle?
In a nutshellA rowdy, beer-sloshing pub backroom that’s one of the top places in north London to see tomorrow’s rock stars. Where is it?Five minutes up the road from Camden Town tube. It’s where Irish navvies building the local canals and railways came in Victorian times to splash their beer money. What’s the vibe?Unlike some shambolic live music nights in Camden, gigs at The Dublin Castle are serious business. The staff pride themselves on sound quality, and when this place bounces, it really bounces. What makes it a great venue?Reassuringly resistant to change, The Dublin Castle has been family-run for three decades and has barely had a spring clean in that time. But as the venue that helped kick-start the careers of Blur, The Killers and countless newer acts, it has something forward-looking about it too. Years after the supposed death of coolness in Camden, that’s all the more valuable. Who’s the most famous person spotted there?Two-Tone tunemakers Madness got a weekly slot here in 1979 after pretending to be a respectable jazz band. Singer Suggs is still Castle royalty and sometimes pops in to muck about behind the bar and pour himself drinks – a prank copied by Amy Winehouse. What’s the booze situation?You’re in Guinness territory. Pints are £4.90, or more for something more local from Camden Town Brewery. Doubles are a fiver. A barman tells us: ‘I think we might do wine as well.’ What’s coming up?Plenty of girl power. All-female Irish ska crew The Skatuesques visit on
So you’ve never been to… The Water Rats?
In a nutshellAn unfussy boozer whose teeny backroom stage is graced by the occasional megastar. Where is it?Just a quick scurry from King’s Cross station. Traditionally this isn’t the smartest part of town – but sometimes grungy is great. What’s the vibe?A key pitstop on London’s indie circuit, this place hosts just about anyone who’s going somewhere. The pub’s split into two rooms – bar at the front, stage at the back – and you can normally tell how well the band’s performing from the size of the bar queue. A typical crowd contains students, one or two headbangers and often a curious backpacker from a nearby hostel. What makes it a great venue?The awesome history. There’s been a watering hole on this site since Tudor times, although the present establishment started life as a Victorian music hall. Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx once visited. How’s that for a rock venue getting a bit ‘bolshy’? What’s the booze and food situation?Ales start at £4.60; it’s extra for lagers on tap or bottled craft beers. Because half the pub is a comfy seating area, the grub is more than just an afterthought. Heck, you can even get a full english brekkie here if you want to (throw in a bloody mary and it comes to £15). Who’s the most famous person spotted here?The Water Rats hosted Bob Dylan’s first ever UK performance back in 1962, and The Pogues and Oasis are among others who’ve made their London debuts here. Oh, and in early 2017 Katy Perry chose it for an intimate London show. (And she liked i
Things you only know if you're a Covent Garden performer
…according to Corey Pickett, 26. London has the planet’s most popular pitch ‘Hundreds of years ago, performers would have just walked up to Covent Garden. Nowadays, artists audition for 40-minute timeslots, and the different pitches are allocated at the start of the day by a draw.’ Even fools have their rivalries ‘The way I look at Covent Garden is that all the idiots from all the different villages have got together. It’s amazing and horrible! I’ve made the most incredible bonds, but there are people who say to you, “hey, you stole my line” or try to push other people’s shows into the dark by overrunning. Fortunately, Covent Garden is very good at keeping that under control.’ The best acts hold fire on the pyrotechnics ‘A guy on a 12-foot unicycle juggling with fire has been seen before. You have to find a balance. My act is a juggling unicycle show, but I also improvise games with a kid volunteer to create physical comedy.’ Not all statues are art ‘I’ve worked alongside some amazing statue performers. On the other hand, some people put on a basic mask and have a cheap “levitating” trick. Personally, I don’t see a Yoda mask as a statue. I see that as someone trying to make easy money.’ Events elsewhere can shape a day’s earnings ‘If there’s recently been a terror attack in London, say, then there’ll be fewer tourists. On the flipside, sometimes you’ll do a show at what seems like the worst time of year – then all of a sudden three tour buses from Manchester turn up.’ For
Things you only know if you’re a London physio
…according to Ed Thompson, 29. Hardcore training is causing a lot of Londoners grief ‘The main complaints I get are knee or back pain. High-intensity workout groups have become popular, but people are jumping into demanding forms of exercise too quickly. Their bodies can’t keep up. People worry a lot about the type of exercise they do, but it’s more about getting into the habit of doing any exercise at all.’ Your horrible commute might actually be good for you ‘Being in a commuter city means most people are moving for at least 20 or 30 minutes either side of their working day. If you don’t like the gym or sport, you could think about getting off one bus or tube stop earlier and walking. It’s just a way of getting exercise banked.’ Standing up can burn as much energy as long-distance running ‘When you’re standing, you move around more. Supposedly, if you work in an office and stand up from your lunch break to the end of the day for a year, you burn the same number of calories as doing six marathons.’ Londoners have all sorts of reasons for their aches and pains ‘Most of the people I see are not marathon runners; they’re just ordinary Londoners trying to keep active. I had a City worker who wanted sessions at 4am in his office. I’ve had Thursday-night patients who work in the media and turned up for their appointments pissed. I even had a lady come in with a finger injury because she’d been playing the violin too much. Physios don’t judge!’ For more unique London voices, sign
Things you only know if you’re a tourist information officer
…according to Inma Ferrer, 50. There’s only one proper tourist office left in central London ‘I manage the City Information Centre, run by the City of London Corporation. All staff here speak at least three languages. It’s the last of its kind in central London. Originally we only covered the Square Mile, but now we cover all of London and the country too – so I get questions about Stonehenge and the Cotswolds.’ Even locals can feel lost in the city ‘Of course we mostly help tourists. But we actually get a lot of Londoners too – people who feel overwhelmed by all the information on the internet and want some human advice. I’ve even given tips on the city’s best rooftop bars.’ The London police have won an Olympic gold medal ‘There’s a lot of incredible history people aren’t familiar with. Take the City of London Police Museum. Many Londoners don’t know it’s there, but it’s free to visit and full of interesting artefacts, including a gold medal won at the 1920 Olympics by a tug-of-war team made up entirely of London police!’ Long before gin, Londoners made wine ‘One of my favourite secret London green spaces is Cleary Gardens, where you’ll find birds, insects and grapevines. In medieval times they used to make wine in this area. Sadly the grapes are just ornamental now.’ People think The Beatles lived on Liverpool Street ‘There has been a bit of confusion over the name. People also ask if they can find the University of Oxford near Oxford Street. I’ve also been asked where to
Things you only know if you’re a cycle courier
…according to Oli Abbott, 23. No delivery job is too weird ‘I’ve never been late for a job, because mostly you have no idea what you’ll be delivering. It could be emergency medication. But I’ve picked up a cat box before – no cat, just the box – and a friend once delivered a breast pump.’ Some jobs literally don’t need a bike ‘I’ve been asked to deliver two doors down before. It’s because businesses like jewellers sometimes use couriers as insurance, if their own staff aren’t covered against being mugged in the street. In fact, I once made a delivery within the same building.’ Couriers love to race – there are even overseas fixtures ‘I’m definitely competitive – I like to beat my mates just on a normal work day! But we also have cycle messenger championships. Recently, I went to Brussels to compete at the European tournament, where the race course imitates a day at work. Sadly I got a puncture.’ It’s precarious work, but the community looks after you ‘There’s no sick pay in this job. You could twist your ankle, and that’s you out of the game for two weeks. But we do have the London Courier Emergency Fund, which provides support and financial help to couriers who have suffered an injury at work. Quite often, the money has been raised from messenger races which act as fundraisers.’ One of the biggest hazards for cyclists is smartphones ‘Three of my five crashes have been caused by people on their phones, crossing the road without looking. One of them was a policeman! It didn’t
Things you only know if you’re a food photographer
…according to Jade Nina Sarkhel, 28. The perfect shot can make or break a restaurant ‘Instagram dictates how some people choose their restaurants now. I took a photograph of a bowl of pasta for a place called Bancone that pretty much went viral, and they’ve grown so rapidly on social media because of it. A poorly done picture of that same bowl of pasta wouldn’t have conveyed the same quality.’ Your phone camera needs natural light to do its thing ‘For the best results, photograph your food near a window on a cloudy day. Yellow artificial light changes the colour of food, so use natural light. And clouds diffuse direct sunlight; if it’s sunny, use a thin piece of napkin instead.’ A spritz of oil makes any dish look more appetising ‘The most common trick we use is to have an oil spray and brush to hand. If something dries out or doesn’t have much glisten, some oil brings it to life. We also use fake ice cubes so real ones don’t melt and dilute the drink, and I’ve used toothpicks to hold a stack of pancakes in place, so they didn’t fall over during the shoot. But most restaurants in London keep things authentic: the food is still completely real!’ Even for a photographer, taste is more important than looks ‘My job is important, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. If you’re a real foodie in London, you won’t go off just an image. I live not far from Tooting and there’s a Pakistani restaurant I’ve eaten in for years. You walk past and they’ve got fluorescent lights and football o
Things you only know if you’re a theme park ride designer
…according to Michelle Hicks, 27. Live tigers trump looping the loop ‘I worked on the Tiger Rock ride at Chessington World of Adventures, which opened last year with live big cats – a family of tigers – roaming around you. Speed, drops and going upside-down are all impressive. But in my view, what makes a great attraction isn’t the hardware but the story it tells.’ You can’t buy a Gruffalo off the shelf ‘Most engineers working on big construction projects use pretty standard elements that are slotted together on-site like a big Meccano set. But at a theme park, everything is bespoke. For the first ride I worked on at Chessington, I was getting questions like, “If we put in a four-metre-high figure of The Gruffalo, how much would that cost?” I had to go away and think about that one.’ Rollercoasters need MOTs ‘Safety is always absolutely top of our list. The 2015 rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers affected everyone greatly. Every year, all our attractions go through a series of rigorous tests and we get issued a new certificate to show everything is safe. If I was at a fairground and there was a rollercoaster without one of these displayed on it, I probably wouldn’t go on it.’ Adrenaline is the best way to beat the commuter blues ‘There’s nothing like the sense of escapism that a theme park offers. Londoners need to be able to go somewhere they can forget about the stresses of daily life. Even I still go on holiday to theme parks!’ The Gruffalo Summer Party is at Chessington
Things you only know if you’re an interiors stylist
…according to Joanna Thornhill, 38. In 2019, Londoners are totally over ‘shabby chic’ ‘You’ll still go into a chain coffee shop and see a rustic bare-brick wall or distressed wood panels – but now you know that’s been through planning meetings, and it has a really naff feel. Authenticity gets pushed out as the brands move in.’ The fastest way to interior nirvana? Just add fabric ‘The quickest and easiest way to add some colour or personality is with soft furnishings. Throws, cushions, rugs, curtains: that’s all stuff you can get very cheaply if you shop around. Also, if furniture belongs to you, you can coat it with easy-to-use chalk paint or even stick on some wallpaper with double-sided tape.’ Instagram influencers can be a force for good ‘Some people have become famous online for having lovely homes, and even quit their jobs to be full-time influencers. The good thing is that they often cut past the brands and magazines. They don’t suggest replacing everything at once: instead, they’re upcycling and mixing new items with things they already have, with less of a sense of “buy, buy, buy”.’ Generation Rent is suffering from a lack of decent design ‘Back in the day, you’d rent for a couple of years then grow up, buy a house and start caring about interiors. Now, people aren’t buying until their thirties or forties, if at all – so we need to have a mind shift about caring for our rented homes. It’s a missed opportunity for your mental wellbeing if you don’t make a bit of an eff
Things you only know if your job is getting songs on the radio
…according to James Pegrum, 40, of Viaduct Promotions. It takes a lot of legwork to get a song on the radio ‘I spend most of my working days going in to the big radio stations across London, playing them new music that I think they should put on air. If it’s a really big DJ or producer, we make sure we’re taking along something that they’ll like – otherwise they just won’t see you next time. I think that back in the ’70s and ’80s, anything went: people had massive budgets and got away with doing whatever it took to get an artist on a playlist. Our work is much more regulated now!’ The Wu-Tang Clan are ageing disgracefully ‘I work with some bands, like Underworld, who are still exciting creatively but whose crazy days are behind them. But that’s not the case with all artists. I went backstage with the Wu-Tang Clan and they were exactly as you’d expect them to be: drinking big bottles of Hennessy and chatting up the ladies.’ Industry types love small venues like The Shacklewell Arms ‘We have such a diverse music scene in London, and as soon as there’s a buzz about a band, pluggers will be there watching. You’ll see us at lovely little venues like The Shacklewell Arms in Dalston or The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington.’ The Crazy Frog changed lives ‘Sometimes you have to suck it up and get on with promoting the project. A long time ago, I worked on the Crazy Frog record, and I’m constantly mocked by my friends for it. But that helped get me to a place where I could make my livin
Things you only know if you’re an AI research scientist
…according to Jane Wang, 36. AI can make London greener ‘At DeepMind, we want AI to help solve the world’s most important problems. You can use it in city planning to predict the effect of widening a street, or to see how transportation can be better optimised. We think AI can have an impact in environmental issues, and are already using it to make our own buildings at Google use less energy.’ ‘Artificial intelligence’ can mean many things ‘In my view, AI is quite a broad category: it includes machine learning, but also other things that involve taking a data set and trying to output something that’s more useful. To me, even Netflix show recommendations are a type of AI.’ AIs are still a long way from thinking exactly like humans ‘Our neuroscientists are trying to better understand the functions of the human brain. But there are things humans do that we can’t capture yet, like symbolic reasoning: seeing a phone or TV and knowing what you can do with that object. That’s still difficult for AI.’ The job involves surprisingly few robots ‘Very few of us work in robotics. Most of my day is spent at a computer: programming, writing papers, or preparing talks. In sci-fi movies, some AI researcher will code something up in an hour. In reality, AI is a group endeavour that involves hard work and collaboration with a lot of people.’ It’s not all about Silicon Valley ‘Along with Canada, London is absolutely a hub for this industry. Here, there’s the opportunity to see the effects our
Things you only know if you’re a gallery assistant
…according to Adeola Ajediti, 55. Picasso doesn’t come up in the job interview ‘I knew nothing about art when I started at Tate Modern. Back then, I was willing to do anything to get off benefits. But in 18 years I have learned so much, and now I have the confidence to tell a visitor, “We don’t have anything by Rachel Whiteread just now, but can I show you a Barbara Hepworth instead?”’ Kids behave better than some adults – but teenagers are the worst ‘Small children are often the Tate’s best-behaved visitors. They just seem to love learning as much as they can in here. On the other hand, big groups of foreign students are much more troublesome. You’ll see them playing on the escalators or running around. Often their teachers just aren’t controlling them, and there’s not a lot I can do about that.’ Security guards play a bigger role in art galleries these days ‘We need more security staff in London galleries than we did before, but it means that my job has got more interesting. Before, I was stuck in just one room, stopping people from doing this or that. Now I spend my day roaming free in the building and showing visitors all the things they can do.’ Diplomacy is as important as art history ‘What we call “patrolling” involves a lot of mind-reading. You learn the tell-tale gestures and body language of a person who’s just about to try and touch an artwork. If a visitor does get upset at being called out, you just have to step away and avoid making them angrier – especially if
Things you only know if you’re a maître d’
…according to Shaun Capewell, 30. There’s no such thing as ‘fully booked’ ‘Maître d’s are the wish-givers. Here at Sketch, you’ll get a walk-in table with me if you give me a bit of yourself. Show me some engagement. Tell me why it’s so important for you to eat here specifically – don’t be that person who just wants a selfie in our loos. Above all, be nice. That goes a long way nowadays.’ The show must go on ‘I’m a former backing dancer for Kylie Minogue, so I love that some of the job of a maître d’ is pure performance. I tell my team to create the illusion that everything is going smoothly at all times, especially during the “cardio hour” from 8.30pm to 9.30pm. Even when we’re feeling the burn, no one is allowed to see our masks slip. Everyone is well drilled: I don’t normally need to unleash my inner dragon.’ Working in the service industry is part psychology, part diplomacy ‘A restaurant is always working on you in lots of invisible ways. The maître d’ needs to analyse a diner in minutes, then use little tricks to keep them on side: maybe an exaggerated bending-down to show an angry guest you’re properly listening to their complaints. It’s all about pre-empting confrontations.’ A maître d’ never forgets a face ‘We build a profile on someone to give them a more personal service. What’s their favourite dish? Which wine did they drink last time? How many visits have they made? Since protecting personal data is a hot topic, a maître d’ needs a photographic memory of regular g
Things you only know if you’re a tower block window cleaner
…according to Jordan Edge, 27. There’s more glass to clean in London than ever before ‘All the tall new structures being built are great news for anyone in my job. The Broadgate Tower in the City is 33 storeys high, so by the time we’ve finished cleaning it, it’s time to start it again. Other sites, like the Nova Building in Victoria, take a while because of their odd shapes. You can spend three hours rigging up the ropes, and just 15 minutes actually scrubbing the windows.’ Being an adrenaline junkie helps ‘The first time I saw one of the buildings we were going up, I pretty much ran a mile. But you quickly lose that fear and get excited about going higher and higher. I love getting to look over London early in the morning when the city’s nice and quiet.’ You find some rare wildlife on London’s high-rises ‘Once you’re experienced on the abseil, Londoners come to you asking for all kinds of help. I once got asked by a bird protection agency to go down the side of a building to rescue an egg in a nest, while a falcon was trying to peck at me!’ Window-cleaning can be the safest job in the world – or the riskiest ‘People do get hurt sometimes, because there are some dodgy companies out there that take risks, but my company, NJC, is not one of them. Part of my job is to make sure everything is safely attached to the building at all times. The only thing I’ve ever seen fall was years ago and it was my own wallet. It had £200 in it and a homeless gentleman down below helped me pick