This month we chatted with illustrator and animator Monika Forsberg about her hometown, good old London Town. She's picked some of her favourite things to share with us, from pubs to al fresco swimming, we can’t wait to take up her tips and dive in.
Monika Forsberg hails from Lulea, a coastal city in Swedish Lapland. This is Sweden’s most Northerly destination, a place where winter feels never ending and summer lasts forever. Having spent her early life in such a place of weather extremes and natural beauty, what led her to settle down in a city that has a population of nearly 9 million people?
“I never felt the need to leave my hometown but I couldn't see how I could live there and thrive doing art. I didn't get into the art school I'd applied to (in Stockholm) and my then boyfriend lived in London. I applied to Camberwell College of Arts and got in. I moved a couple of weeks later.”
Parliament Hill Lido
When you think of a city the size of London, it’s hard to imagine getting a real connection with the great outdoors and the wild thrill of the elements but even in this city Londoners have been taking a dip for centuries. From the Romans to the Victorians, swimming in the Thames has a long history in the city. It is no longer a popular pastime to go swimming in the capital’s river and since 2012 it has been illegal to swim in a large swathe of it. Luckily London boasts several Lidos and one of them is Monika’s favourite building in the city.
“I do love the Parliament Hill Lido. It is a beautiful building and not many things beats swimming there at night.”
Kenwood Ladies’ Pond
Built in 1938 and Grade II-listed, this is the only stainless steel lined outdoor pool in the country. A great spot to catch the thrill of cold water and fresh air without risking the pollutants and boats on the River Thames. If this still feels a little urban and enclosed, Monika recommends The Kenwood Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. Women of London have been swimming in this pond since the 1920s surrounded by weeping willows and wildlife. This pond is for women only and is a tranquil haven from hectic city life.
All that bracing cold water and exertion must make a girl famished. Where does Monika like to eat when she’s out and about?
“Al Parco at the edge of the Hampstead Heath. It's not fancy food but it's cosy and it feels like you're on holiday when you sit outside.The restaurant is one of them places perfect to go with the whole family on a sunny Thursday when you fancy a meal out as well as going for a snack and a glass of wine after swimming at the Ladies pond. Also I tend to take out of town friends there for a meal and catch up when they’re visiting. It’s one of them places with a lovely atmosphere friendly staff. A relaxed place for talking and eating.”
Monika is a big fan of the British pub.
“I like pubs that are pubs, not too fancy and I like pubs that you can meet friends and chat or simply stop off and have a drink at after a cycle ride around London. I don't go out much in the evenings these days, work and family life has a bigger part in my life but when going out at night the same rules apply, I like a place where you can meet friends talk and laugh and have a good time.
“I’ve not lived in Sweden for 22 years so most of my memories are of going out Boxing day (in my hometown Lulea). We would go to a few bars and freeze half to death whilst waiting for the nightbus home. Also it's a lot drunker way of socialising in Sweden.”
She couldn’t choose just one favourite, there are so many good drinking holes in London so she took us on a virtual pub crawl.
Places to drink
First stop is the Gipsy Queen in Belsize Park. Dating back to the 1860s this is a traditional English pub with a ‘Cuban inspired beer garden’.
Drink up, next stop is the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town.
Originally known as the ‘Bologne Gate’ in honour of Henry VIII’s victory in France in 1544, this pub was once a coaching Inn, before becoming a gin palace in 1871 when the name was changed by a signwriter probably sozzled on the stuff. The pub also has a fine musical heritage as its ‘Timebox’ music night helped launch the careers of Blur and Coldplay.
The last pub on Monika’s list is steeped in history. Story has it that during the 18th Century it was a drinking den for a drinking club called The Corporation of Stroud Green. They even had an official enamel badge made for members which was recently discovered in the archives at the V&A.
They now serve great british food, real ales in a traditional setting with a modern decorative twist.
Although British history is pickled in liquor, London is a fantastic city for museums and galleries, many dating back to the victorian era. "I love the British Museum, but I prefer to make art rather than look at it."
Not all art is of such a traditional nature and places like the Camden Arts Centre seek to engage, inspire and educate current and future artists. They do show world class contemporary exhibitions but also boast studios that schools can use free of charge.”
Like a sketch or painting, cities are made up of finer details, parts that when joined together give character to the whole. Lamp posts, fonts engraved on stone, the fabric covering the seats on public transport. Sometimes it takes someone seeing a city for the first time to see what makes the place unique and Monika remembers quite clearly what made an impression on her when she first arrived.
“I think I fell in love with London aged 19 when we travelled on the train from Gatwick to Victoria and I saw all the houses with their irregular extensions at the back of the houses. None looked the same. In Sweden there are so many rules and regulation, everything is well thought out, measured and...grown up. I fell in love with the British childish, slap dash attitude to authority and rules that day.”
The Last Word
We cherish words as well as pictures, and the languages spoken in cities really add to the music of the place.
We asked Monika what are her favourite English words (cover your ears if you are offended by saucy language).
“Pretty much all swear words are great, bollocks, wanker, twat also...But I also like the word Wildflower. Or is that two words; wild flower? I do love the English language it has so many layers and is playful and has a nice rhythm.”