“From being a place that was all about working and consuming, London has become for me a fascinating kaleidoscope of stories, ideas and possibilities.”
We talk to Rosie Oliver, creator of Dotmaker Tours, which aim to show you London in ways you’ve never seen it before…
Tell us a bit about Dotmaker Tours?
Dotmaker Tours are a collection of creative guided walks that I lead round London. Each walk uses a different theme to explore an area. Currently that’s slowness (my new London In Slow Motion walk), waste (the Rubbish Trip), animals (the Greenwich Bestiary and Thames Bestiary), and chimneys & tunnels (Chimneys & Tunnels along the River). Guided by the theme, we notice things that we might not otherwise pay any attention to, and uncover stories that don’t feature in guidebooks. I like to include in each walk a wide range of ideas and stories – be that from history, archaeology, astronomy or zoology – and look for interesting connections between them.
I also lead two walks for kids: the Greenwich Family Safari and Greenwich Secret Mission.
In busy cities such as London we don’t often take the time to really look around us – can you tell us a bit about how looking more closely has enriched the city for you?
Taking time to really look has completely transformed the way I experience and understand the city.
I used to be embarrassingly blind to the environment around me. I would travel about London focused on getting from one place to another – usually some combination of home, work, shops, cinema, pub – with my mind generally on other things.
The big change came a couple of summers ago when I was working from home in Greenwich and taking long lunchtime strolls to clear my head. I started to notice some marvellous and bizarre animals that I must have walked past a thousand times before without ever noticing. I began to devise a trail for friends, researching the animals and finding out about others in the process – and my first Dotmaker Tours walk, the Greenwich Bestiary, was born.
I find there’s a real joy in noticing things that are generally overlooked. There’s the thrill of the surprise, for example when I first spotted a delightful herd of elephants in central Greenwich. There’s also the pleasure of being party to little jokes quietly planted in the landscape, for example the Department for Transport road safety team’s animal-based acronyms: the pelican crossing (as in PEdestrian LIght CONtrolled); the puffin crossing (Pedestrian User FFriendly INtelligent crossing); and the toucan crossing for cyclists and pedestrians (because TWO-CAN cross).
More generally, taking time to notice and investigate has opened me up to the many layers of history and stories that make up the city. From being a place that was all about working and consuming, London has become for me a fascinating kaleidoscope of stories, ideas and possibilities.
You previously worked as an Environmental lawyer, how has this informed what you do now?
I used to work full-time as a legal advisor to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). I left Defra several years ago but I still work part-time as an environmental lawyer for the UK Environment Law Association and as a guest lecturer at King’s College London.
My work as an environmental lawyer has given me a particular interest in the environmental issues that affect the city and how we deal with them. Inevitably, some of those issues have found their way into my walks. For example, the Rubbish Trip looks at past, present and future ways of dealing with London’s waste and nineteenth century sewers and drains play a starring role in Chimneys & Tunnels Along the River. Ever since I worked on a European case concerning sewage overflows into the Thames whilst at Defra I’ve taken much more notice of waste related issues such as the proposed super-sewer to deal with the problem…
Among the other fascinating tours, you run London in Slow Motion – what could we expect to find out/experience if we came on the walk?
The idea behind London In Slow Motion is to provide a completely different perspective on a place that we usually experience as fast-paced and constantly changing. We’ll do this partly by exploring what it feels like to move through London slowly. It’s not a slow walk, but it does involve taking time to be still and become more aware of other tempos and rhythms, like the frenzied rush of traffic and the gradual erosion of the fabric of the city. We’ll also consider slow processes that are imperceptible – changes happening over hundreds, thousands, even millions of years – and look at architectural details and monuments that pay tribute to slow.
I’m particularly interested in the counter-cultural side of being slow in a city like London that relies on speed to function: be that a smooth running transport system to get people to and from work, or the fast turn-over of goods in the shops. So, on the walk we’ll also think about different ways that people are using slowness as a political strategy, from the slow food movement to the monthly critical mass slow cycle processions.
For more information on Dotmaker Tours or to book onto a walk visit: www.dotmakertours.co.uk
Current dates for London In Slow Motion are Sunday 22 September, Saturday 12 October and Saturday 9 November .
London in Slow Motion is a two hour stroll from Cleopatra’s Needle to Covent Garden. In a city addicted to speed, we’ll reclaim the right to dawdle and the pleasures of observing. From seasonal change to gradual erosion, we’ll enjoy the ways the capital quietly resists the frenzied rhythms of metropolitan life. We’ll notice architectural details and monuments that pay tribute to the slow. And we’ll celebrate those rebels who rail against the rush with their wilful sloth.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Rosie Oliver on 07985 464314.