LouLou meets...Flora Tonking

Flora LouLou meets...is branching out. I'm still going to be introducing you to lovely Parisian bloggers but I've also decided to connect with the wider blogging community and bring you some insight into other cities.

First up is the brilliant Flora from The Accidental Londoner. Here comes the back story: I came across Flora and her blog via Twitter in 2011 and remember very clearly the first post I read on her blog, The Man on the Platform, because I was so moved by her kindness and in awe of her ability to tell a story. I've been a dedicated reader ever since and was really touched when Flora emailed me two years ago in response to one of my posts (it was also a relief to know that it wasn't just my sister reading my blog!) We started an email correspondance and met for the first time last year when I was over in London. Since then, we've run a 10k together in Amsterdam (as well as a Prosecco yoga run in Battersea Park in t-shirts which were too small for us), shared many glasses of wine,  discussed our favourite Joy the Baker podcasts and had many conversations which have left me feeling inspired. I feel really lucky to call Flora a friend and I hope you have a blast getting to know her below - this girl is seriously awesome.

Hi Flora, why The Accidental Londoner?

Well, the short answer is I never planned on living in London. I ended up moving here more because the other options open to me were unappealing, rather than having a desire to live in London; I was finding life very slow and job prospects pretty unexciting in the Midlands...oh, and there was a break-up somewhere along the way, and a desire to be back amongst my university friends, many of whom had moved down to the city when we graduated.

What was your motivation for starting the blog and what does it mean to you now compared to back then? 

One day in February 2009 it snowed. I couldn’t get in to work, so I went for a walk along the Thames and watched London taking a day off. I got the urge to write about it and after a little web-research and some name brainstorming the blog was born.

My experience of blogging in Paris thus far is a huge expat blogging community which is mostly separate from the French bloggers. What is your experience with the London blogging community?

This whole topic interests me, Lou, because despite us both being British bloggers, you are very much an expat blogger in Paris, whereas I am a ‘local’ blogger in London. So I wouldn’t claim to know much about expat networks in my city. But the impression I get is that there is a strong expat blogging community, and groups of people supporting one another, meeting up, and sharing ideas, out here. The largest sub-community I’m aware of is American expat bloggers - there seem to be lots of them over here! There seem to be lots of Antipodean bloggers about too.

That said, of the bloggers I’m in touch with and see, most are not originally from the UK. That’s actually one of the things I’ve loved about blogging - meeting people exploring the city like me, but each with their very different backgrounds.

Maybe (and this is entirely off the top of my head here!) because there’s not the same language barrier you guys have in France over here, there might appear to be less of a segregation between local and expat bloggers in London...

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I think a lot of people have this very romantic idea of what it would be like to live in Paris. But the reality of living in any big city is that there will be things which are not so agreeable about it. Could you describe some positive (and negative) aspects of London life, based on your personal experience of the city? 

Oh man, yes, this! Cities are full of opportunities and challenges, and this means that life here can be amazing but also terrifying and frustrating. London doesn’t have the same reputation as Paris for being a place of romance and wonder, but I do think people have a particular vision of what ‘big city life’ is like. In reality it’s actually not unlike life anywhere else, but you have more options here; which can be both a good and a bad thing. You have more places to go for lunch, but also more things making demands on your time (and more places you can lose your belongings!). Oh, and London is a ridiculously expensive place to live. Insane. I’ve written about the rental market in particular on my blog, which is a good introduction to London’s crazy prices for any new or wannabe Londoner. That would definitely be one of my negative aspects about living here. Others are the grinding commute, the long work hours, and the unfriendly exterior of many of my fellow city-dwellers (and I know I can be pretty cross too when I’m having a bad day!). Positives are the wealth of opportunities and things to do which I’ve already mentioned, and the fact that London is a great jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the world. We have loads of train stations and airports, so if London gets you down...away you go!

London’s best-hidden secrets? 

Most of them lie outside of the central area so beloved by tourists! Hop on a tube or a bus, ride out to the outer limits of Zones 2 and 3, and they’re two-a-penny. London is  really an aggregation of tiny villages and neighbourhoods, each one with its own vibe and unique things to see and do. I’m a sucker for hidden community gardens and green spaces, which you often stumble across when you’re looking for somewhere else. The city is also rammed with museums that aren’t as well known about as the giants (the Natural History Museum, the V&A etc.) that you find in South Kensington; museums about toys, museums about zoology, even my favourite discovery, the Museum of Immigration which is hidden in an old townhouse in Spitalfields - it has an entire tiny synagogue built in its back yard. How cool is that?

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You have 24 hours left in London before you move away. What would you choose to do? (Weather permitting of course, because as JB likes to point out whenever we visit, it’s always raining in London).

JB is a wise man. I would pack an umbrella before I set out…

I would spend my day walking and eating probably, and staying up in my own little patch of the city in North London. I’d start with breakfast in the little garden at my favourite neighbourhood cafe, Le Peche Mignon up near Highbury Corner. I’d then set off to Hampstead Heath to climb Parliament Hill for the finest view over the city (actually, I’d probably do that first thing in the morning to have an uninterrupted vista, before the tourists get up there!). I’d grab a coffee and maybe some cannoli from a cafe in Kentish Town, then head down onto the canal, and stride out east. I’d pop up somewhere along the towpath for yummy lunch in Dalston, then spend a sunny (fingers crossed!) afternoon strolling, snapping photos of houseboats and people watching. The day would be finished off with dinner somewhere fabulous - maybe MeatPeople in Angel where we always get a familiar welcome, a great negroni, and the greatest dauphinoise potatoes in the city!

I know you travelled a lot with your previous job. If you could move anywhere in the world for a career opportunity, where would you choose to go and why?

I would kill to work in New York City. It is my dream place to live (although working out there would be even busier than working in London, I think!). I have family there so it’s always felt a bit familiar. I just love the buzz of the place.

My professional life is focussed on people and cities, so as long as I’m in a big, bustling city I’ll be both happy and busy!

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One thing on your bucket list?

My London bucket list? I’d love to have dinner up the Shard - just for the views out over the city.

I’ve been listening to the BBC4 Desert Island Disc podcasts recently. So, in the very unlikely scenario of you being sent to a desert island, please tell us: 

I am obsessed with that programme! I keep great episodes on my iPod to listen to again…#geek

- the book you’d choose to take with you, on top of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare 

‘The House of the Spirits’ by Isabel Allende (one of the first books I remember being unable to put down - an amazing Latin American family saga of love, magic and politics. Total bliss.)

- one luxury item

A Moleskine notebook that will never run out of new pages, and an never-ending stash of black Bic biros.

- one piece of music

‘Feel the Love’ by Rudimental. It’s the most played song on my iPod, and always puts a great big smile on my face.

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Quick Fire questions

Favourite brunch spot? ‘Spoke’ at the top of the Holloway Road

Favourite cocktail bar? Bourne & Hollingsworth

Favourite park (for running)? Regents Park

Favourite market? New Covent Garden Flower Market

Favourite European destination? Rome (or Venice if you could guarantee all the tourists could be banished for a weekend…!)

Favourite touristy London activity? Mooching around Soho

Favourite museum? The V&A

A huge thank you to Flora for her wonderful answers. You can find her on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram (the photos in this post belong to Flora). Why don't you go and say hello : )

Lou xxxx

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