January 18, 2021

Living the Cheapskate life: gal-dem editor-in-chief Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff on Nunhead, Silk Road & the joys of Citymapper

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff is the editor-in-chief at gal-dem magazine and an award-winning journalist, columnist, podcast host and creative. She is also the editor of two books: Black Joy, a new anthology exploring what it means to be Black and British today, and Mother Country: Real Children of the Windrush Children.

1. I rest my head in…

I rest my head everywhere! I’m a person who spends a lot of time lying down – especially at the moment when we’re all working from home.

2. Where’s the cheapest place you’ve lived in London? And the most expensive?

The cheapest was a property guardianship in Kennington. That was just after uni, so I was 20. It was infested with mice but I really liked my room actually. I remember painting it white and all of my little trinkets fitting into it really well. And, because it was an old hostel, it was huge. So even though it was gross and dingy and there was no shower rail, I made the best of it for the short while I was there.

The most expensive place is probably my current house. This is where I pay the most rent, but it’s also owned by my partner (which is great!). It’s a beautiful house in Nunhead so I feel very grateful.

3. Have you had any disastrous London rental experiences?

I’ve had a few. The first one that springs to mind was in my third year of uni. When we left the property, they tried to charge me £60 for the removal of a piece of Blu Tack from a wardrobe! And that was really just the icing on the cake. Every single appliance in that house broke. It was generally very gross.

Like many people in this city I’ve experienced some terrible landlords, for sure.

4. What's your favourite London cheap eat?

A lot of South Londoners will probably call me basic for this one, but Silk Road in Camberwell. The food is right up my street.

I’ve taught myself to make my favourite dish they do there called TEP noodles (Tomato, Egg and Pepper). They use these special type of noodles called Belt noodles. They’re just fucking delicious! For anyone who likes hearty, wholesome, starchy food with a bit of spice, Silk Road is really, really good.

My second favourite, or maybe equal favourite, is the jerk chicken, rice and peas from JB’s Soulfood, which is just up the road in Peckham. Incredible, incredible, incredible.

5. Your perfect no-spend London day would involve…

Probably a walk down the South Bank. I used to walk there with my dad and I’ve spent a lot of happy occasions there with friends.

6. Have you ever had a free Pret coffee? If so, what’s the trick?

You know what, I’ve had many, many free Pret coffees. I like to think that Pret loves me as much as I love it. Obviously, I know Pret is far from the perfect company, but I will say they have a lovely customer-facing staff base.

I think the trick is just to smile – obviously it’s harder now with a mask on! But just be polite. I’m always polite to servers because I was a waitress for many years so I know how it is.

7. Where’s your favourite free place to visit in the city?

Probably just all of the parks. I know it’s a basic answer, but I love that we have so much green space. Just the ability to roll around Peckham Rye Park during lockdown has been super special. I love going to Victoria Park in East London too.

And I have gorgeous memories of playing in London parks as a kid. I remember (when I was really little), looking out over Greenwich Park and seeing the city for what felt like the first time and realising how big it all was.

My landlord tried to charge me £60 to remove a piece of Blu Tack from a wardrobe!

8. What’s your top London ‘hack’?

Citymapper. It sounds silly but a lot of people outside of London don’t know about it, and it changed my life! I’m notoriously bad at directions.

When I was at uni here, and in the subsequent years when I was trying to get my foot in the door of the journalism industry, I also found catering work was a good hack. It paid decently for a waitressing job and you got to see loads of different buildings. I worked everywhere from Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace to the national art galleries. Finding a job that can get you into interesting places is always good if you’re a curious-minded person.

9. If you were going to splurge in London, what would it be on?

I would just go around all the different fancy bakeries in Soho, all the eateries in Chinatown and I’d go to the Harrods Food Hall. Basically everything would revolve around food!

I’m not that interested in clothes or shiny stuff. But I do like a good meal.

10. What are your favourite small businesses in London?

There are so many around where I live (in Nunhead). Before lockdown, I didn’t appreciate that as much because I was always out and about in central or at work in East London. I feel grateful in that sense that I’m getting to know my local area a bit more.

I lived in Peckham for five years before moving to Nunhead, which is on the border of Peckham but it is its own thing. We have a really cute - slightly expensive - shop here called Alkemi. They do cool Japanese crockery and arts. We have a bakery called Ayres Bakery which has been here since the Victorian times and does traditional breads and pastries. There’s a really nice fishmongers called Sopers, there’s a little grocery and a Nisa packed full of everything you could ever need - pulses, spices and so on. And we have a little takeaway coffee place called Goodcup which is really nice. So yeah, lots of places!

11. In three words, what makes someone a Londoner?

Undefinable. It’s just one word. But there isn’t one thing that defines the people in one of the biggest cities in the Western world.

Charlie's new anthology, Black Joy, will be published by Penguin on September 2, 2021. Follow her on Twitter here.

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Interview by Caitlin Allen. Follow her on Twitter here.

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