James Wannerton from Brent describes his experience of living with synesthesia, a neurological condition that combines his senses causing him to taste things he sees and hears.
Questions & Answers
- What's your first memory of London? Watching the tube trains at the end my grandmother’s back garden as they passed through Dollis Hill tube station on an over ground section of the Bakerloo line, as it was back then. I can still hear and taste the distinct whine of the electric motors as the trains rattled by. My synaesthetic memory of this is predominantly the tarty taste and texture of prunes mixed with rhubarb.
- What do you miss when you're away from London? Most definitely the hustle, bustle and vibrant diversity of the best city in the world. London has a unique set of sensory stimuli - the noises, smells and tastes are found nowhere else. I especially miss the creamy colour and texture of the Portland stone buildings. My overall taste memory of London has always been lumpy mashed potato.
- What's your favourite neighbourhood? Kennington, South London. I spent a lot of my early childhood playing alongside my two elder cousins in the most child unfriendly adventure playgrounds you could imagine. These little oases of excitement were cobbled together from bits of old rope, wood, rusty nails and corrugated iron with no concerns at all for Health & Safety. We also had free and open access to a row of bomb damaged houses that you could find dotted around South London at that time. Fantastic memories that come flooding back whenever I revisit. My taste memory of the area is a mix of Oxo gravy and Fruit Pastilles.
- What's your favourite building? The GPO (BT) Tower is the building I always look out for when I’m in central London. I remember visiting it with my grandmother when it first opened in 1965. We had a meal in the revolving restaurant and the view over London was magical, just like floating on air. The shape of the tower itself is something I’ve always loved and it gives me the taste and texture of warm toast and Ginger Beer.
- What's your ideal day out in London? A pub crawl taking in some of the most ancient and atmospheric pubs found across all of London. Places where people have sat down to relax and talk over real life issues for centuries. Some of these old pubs bristle with history and have a general ambience to match.
- What's your ideal night out in London? The same as my ideal day out but with a visit to “Dans Le Noir” in Clerkenwell tagged on at the end. This restaurant serves food in total darkness which counter intuitively adds to the sensory eating experience rather than taking something away.
- What's your most hated building? The “Cheesegrater” in Leadenhall Street. This building is peculiar looking and has the appearance of just being dropped there by accident rather than by design. It simply doesn’t fit in. Also, it looks like an oddly shaped wafer biscuit rather than a cheesegrater. Having said that, it is actually better than the slab of blandness that was there before it.
- What's the best view in London? From the window seat of an aircraft on an early morning flight into the UK. The beautiful sight of the city and the majestic curves of the Thames is mesmerising and seems somehow unreal from up there.
- What's your favourite open space? St James Park, a very central and surprisingly tranquil place steeped in history that begs contemplation. It even boasts a lake. The park itself has the synaesthetic taste and texture of chewing gum that has lost most of its flavour.
- What's been your most memorable night out in London? My best friend’s Stag night, spent wandering around Soho. What happens in Soho, stays in Soho.
- How would you like to spend your ideal day off in London? Lying in the sun at Kew Gardens with a good book and a huge flask of coffee.
- Where would you take someone visiting from out of town? I’d put them on one of the open top bus tours. Simple.
- What's the worst journey you've had to make in London? Stranded in South London one night, I had to use a night bus. Say no more.
- What's your personal London landmark? Dollis Hill Tube station.
- Who's your favourite fictional Londoner? Harold Steptoe. He ran a rag and bone business with his father Albert in Shepherds Bush and I always wanted to live in a house like his which was stuffed to the rafters with interesting and diverse objects such as “What The Butler Saw” machines, medical skeletons, old fruit machines and an eight foot tall stuffed, Grizzly Bear.
- What's your favourite London film, book or documentary? The 1968 Carol Reed musical “Oliver” with its depiction of a dark and mysterious Victorian London with potential danger lurking around every corner.
- If you could travel to any time period in London, past or future, where would you go? To the period just prior to the Great Fire. The city would have been busier than it is today with all the tight, meandering lanes. I’d take a nose peg with me though.
- For you, who is the ultimate Londoner? Samuel Pepys gets my vote. His eyewitness accounts of life on the streets of London written over a ten year period in the 17th Century are a captivating read that make you feel as if you are actually there. He was born, lived and died in his beloved London and I’m sure he would have agreed totally with the famous non Londoner Samuel Johnson who famously said “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”.