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The wife of actor Timothy has just written a book about the years she's spent circumnavigating the British Isles with him in a barge. She tells Melissa Crowther about the draw of EC1, now she's back on dry land

Why Clerkenwell?
We've always just loved it. Even before we moved here, we would come to Smithfield every year to get our turkey for Christmas. I'm a vegetarian but even I enjoy walking through the market and looking at all those huge articulated lorries that drive all the way down from Scotland. Last year, on our boat, The Princess Matilda, we were moored in Scotland and visited many of the towns where the meat comes from. I look at the wagons and go, 'Yeah, we've been there.' When you think that the Scottish drovers used to bring the cattle by foot in the old days...

How long have you had your flat here?
For about seven years, though we're only here on and off. Because Tim works all over the world, we never spend more than four days in the same bed.... We've also got a family home in south-east London.

You're David Thewlis' neighbours aren't you?
Yes, although our little two-bedroomed apartment is about an eighth of the size of his! Tim and I don't need much room. Our family home was a big rambling place because we have three very noisy children but they've all left now and got married, and Tim and I are quite happy with somewhere smaller. Anyhow, we're used to living on a barge that's about 54ft long and 14ft wide.

Do you have any outdoor space?
No, but we look out into a wonderful courtyard. Luckily, it means we don't have any noise from the street. It can get quite lairy around here. We've come back sometimes at 1am when we've been out and it's like a completely different place. The area has a double life. There would have been a day when Tim and I would have been out there partying, leaving a trail of cigarette butts behind us, but not any more – we go to bed!

What do you love about living in the area?
The history and all the churches around here – seeing the spires and the dome of St Paul's on the skyline. It's also the buzz. In the mornings, when I go out for a newspaper and to get Tim a bacon sandwich, there are all these crowds of people commuting to their offices, and loads of Boris bikes tearing towards you at breakneck speed – it's got an energy all of its own.

Do you have a favourite historical place or building?
Whenever we have visitors, I take them to St Bartholomew's church in Smithfield. I find it a completely spiritual place. The last time I went there with my daughter and son-in-law, there was an amazing African wedding going on – there must have been 300 guests, all in wonderful fabrics and frocks. We stood there and watched in awe as they came out. It was brilliant, the contrast between the medieval and the modern.

Where do you like to eat out?
I love the fact that we can just nip into Attilio's on Cowcross Street and get a quick Italian two-course meal for £9.95. There's also the other Italian, La Cucina, next door. We try to be fair, because we know them, and if we go to one of them one week, we make sure we go to the other the next. One is rustic and one's more chi-chi but the food is great in both. Tim's got his favourite and I've got mine.

Where else do you hang out?
For coffee, I like the Turkish place just by the station, Meze Meze. I always go there for my skinny mocha and freshly squeezed orange, carrot and ginger juice – that does me as breakfast. When I was in the flat writing my book, I loved it that I could just walk out and so easily pick up some soup or something for lunch. I get my hair done at Daniel Tyrrell on Clerkenwell Road – that's where I get my copy of the Post. We don't go to the gym. Our gym is the streets. We walk a lot.

Is there anything you'd change here?
Hmm, the constant digging up of the roads. There seem to be a lot of roadworks going on at the moment. But I suppose that's just life in modern London...

 "The Voyages of the Princess Matilda" by Shane Spall, £11.99, was published by Ebury Press earlier this month. The last instalment of the four-part BBC 4 series charting the couple's travels in their boat, "Timothy Spall: All at Sea", aired recently.

 

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