Living the Cheapskate life: journalist Amelia Tait on disastrous flatshares, Roti King & splurging on spring rolls
Amelia Tait is a London-based freelance journalist writing about technology and digital culture for publications including the New Statesman, The Guardian, New York Times, Wired and Vice. Here, she shares some of her top London 'hacks', from cheap eats to no-spend days in the city.
1. I rest my head in…
South east London, zone 3, near some lovely swans.
2. Where’s the cheapest place you’ve lived in London? And the most expensive?
The cheapest place I’ve lived in London was a flat on Old Kent Road; Monopoly squares do not lie. The most expensive was a hostel quite literally opposite the British Museum (I only needed a space for a few months before moving abroad). The WiFi was so bad that it took over an hour to load a seven-minute YouTube video, so I used to save them up like treats. Dark days.
3. Have you had any disastrous London rental experiences?
There’s no nice way to say this, no gentle way to ease into this story. In the aforementioned Old Kent Road flat, human poo came up from our kitchen sink. The landlord blamed us (cool!) and threatened to kick us out when we complained (very cool!). It was a plumbing problem and while we waited to get it sorted, we had to scoop poop water from the sink into the drain outside. There aren’t medals for this sort of thing, but there obviously should be.
4. Where’s your favourite place to eat for cheap and what would you order?
Roti King in Euston - veggie dhal and every roti under the sun. A glass of lemon iced tea. A bottle of wine emerging from a black plastic bag under the table in classic BYOB fashion. The true king of England.
5. Your perfect no-spend London day would involve…
A warm day? A picnic in Beckenham Place Park, which isn’t one of the major players but is just so expansive and lovely and pretty and also has a wooden squirrel statue. Over lockdown I’ve also been enjoying the Green Chain Walk, particularly Oxleas Wood. Not to sound like a children’s-statue-obsessive but there’s also a wooden Psammead (from Five Children and It) floating around. A cold day? Can you really beat the free museums? I love the British Museum because it makes me feel small and insignificant but also part of a great unbroken chain of history - a fab place to go when your seven-minute YouTube video won’t load.
6. Have you ever had a free Pret coffee? If so, what’s the trick?
Never. The secret is probably being hot. Help me, Gok Wan.
7. Where’s your favourite free place to visit in the city?
I love hanging out in the Wellcome Collection; specifically the library; specifically the big squishy cushions up the stairs in the library. Where else can you just lie on a massive cushion in central London? I’m always asking people where I can go to work and they recommend industrial cafes with wood and iron furniture and exposed pipes and backless stools. NO! Give me giant cushions or give me death.
I love hanging out in the Wellcome Collection... Where else can you just lie on a massive cushion in central London?
8. What’s your top London ‘hack’?
Okay, so it used to be that you can pee for free in the first class loos at King's Cross. Basically, the loos are OUTSIDE the first class lounge, so you can take the lift up and pee like a prince. However, they’ve started posting a ticket inspector outside the lounge too. I like to think it’s because of me.
So nowadays it’s a risk, will they be there, won’t they? One time the inspector was there and I showed him my ticket and even though it was distinctly not first class, he let me pee anyway. Thank you to that man.
9. If you were mayor for the day, what would you change about London?
Can you pedestrianise the city centre in a day? Even if you can, that’s boring and I’m lying. I’d make all the buses free, and also make it illegal to not say “thanks” to the bus driver.
10. What’s the biggest London rip off?
Any bottomless brunch. Unless the food is bottomless, I don’t want to know. The drinks are watered down and you just have to pee a lot. Angry just thinking about it.
Bottomless brunch is the biggest London rip off.
11. If you were going to splurge in London, where and what would it be?
Probably the Harrods Food Hall. One time, probably around a decade ago, I got a single spring roll there and it was like, £1.31. For one spring roll. That doesn’t even sound that expensive now I say it, but it was ten years ago and I was a student. Anyway, it tasted incredible. What if everything in there tastes as good as that spring roll?
12. What are your favourite local businesses?
Antonio Delicatessen in Lewisham is just great. Great pasta, great olives, great random European Kinder chocolate variations that we can’t normally get over here.
13. In three words, what makes someone a Londoner?
Wanting to be!
Have you ever wondered who makes those giant plastic ice cream cones which sit outside newsagents or seaside shops? Are you curious to read about a 41-year-old from Swansea who's never eaten a sandwich? For all this and more, subscribe to Amelia's fantastic newsletter, The Waiting Room, here.