Brighton: a weekend away with the Boss


IMG_2992He proposed the idea with such excitement and enthusiasm that I felt guilty saying no. It just didn’t feel right, didn’t strike the right chord.

No brought dismay and disappointment to his face and for several days he tried to persuade me: you won’t regret it! Second thoughts softened my intransigence and by the time he canvassed a mutual friend – who thought it sounded very much like great fun – I began to wonder if my attitude was a little dated?

It transpired then, that one bright and sunny early November afternoon – my decision having undergone a u-turn – I found myself pillion behind a very happy man, on a highly polished 500cc Royal Enfield. We traversed suburban London into more open B roads, cruising happily cross-country to the place of my birth: Brighton and Hove.

The sun lifted the chill from this Friday afternoon and the ride was far lovelier than anticipated; I was free to look around, to observe, to think. The machine in question is not only a handsome beast, but a smooth ride too; BB’s pride and joy, The Enfield carries his initials on its personalized plate: B055 DLH.

We reached our destination some three hours after leaving East London; the streets were dark but the lights glittered a lively welcome and every breath of salty sea air suffused me with glowing contentment, for this city is quite simply Brighton and Home.

Our weekend away was timed to coincide with the celebrated Lewes fireworks and to pamper the man whose birthday I have twice missed due to business trips away. It transpired that two nights at One Broad Street, was exactly what we needed.

Quick shower and change effected, we jumped into a taxi to The Coal Shed, where great friend Bad Alan awaited; a Professor of Architecture, BA is clever and funny, the fine twinkle in his eyes testament to a full life, well lived. The night did not end with dinner of course but with cocktails, BA’s gloriously warm bonhomie keeping us entertained.

Any day that follows a night out with Bad Alan starts slowly and this Saturday was no exception. BB decided to recce Lewes in advance of our fiery evening adventure, while I dozed then strolled through my city exploring the evolution that has taken place over the years. Brighton still boasts its famed air of a faded mistress, but here and there it could perhaps do with refreshing its make-up even just a touch.

Brighton’s prom however, is clean and cared for; bars and galleries colonise the wide arches that extend under the road above. We strolled in the crisp early evening air, taking in a glass of wine by the beach and watched a glorious sun set into the sea. Memories of earlier times came into focus, myriad sunsets seen from my father’s cafe that lay not a hundred yards from where we sat now.

Fireworks were the stimulus for this destination and weekend because BB loves them; he loves flame pure and simple and is an accomplished fire-dancer. In the early days of our courtship he wooed me by stripping to the waist to stage an impressive fire show; my very own.

At 8pm the B055 took us smoothly and swiftly towards Lewes, necessarily cordoned off to traffic; we parked a mile away, walking into the ancient town with hundreds of others. The main street was filled with people parading in historic costume; firecrackers sounded all around, smoke and sulfur dissipated through the air, infusing the atmosphere with excitement and anticipation.

Navigating our way through the crowds, we found an alley that led to the back streets, where we picked our way up and down lanes and passages in search of the footbridge where BB promised the finest view of the main display. We were not disappointed; from our vantage point we saw not only this extraordinary show, but two others, too.

For over an hour the most intense and dazzling pageant of light and sound filled our eyes and ears; sparkling stars exploded into strings of glittering and brilliant beads that belied the eye by seeming to fall so low we felt we could reach up and touch them. All around, flawless, flaming fireworks filled the sky, dancing, waltzing and finally floating down, down, melting into their own reflection within the River Ouse below.

Tired now but still fizzing with firework drama, we began our walk through the town, back to the B055. The streets were suddenly empty save for gaggles of merrymakers, some the worse for wear, but most like us just happily wending their way.

Approaching Brighton over the Downs we stopped to pick up a bottle of scotch, the single thing we knew would bring warmth to our now frozen veins. At Broad Street, we curled up, defrosted, chatted and sipped our amber nectar. At 2am, I accompanied BB downstairs where he lit up; perched on the doorstep, we peered either side to find others doing much the same on adjacent steps; we were surrounded by late-night camaraderie.

A couple approached our B&B in some disarray, he clutching a take-away and swaying. I want to stay out, he announced to us, but she won’t let me! She glowered at him. As he shook BB’s hand congratulating him on being out she seized the bag of food announcing You can stay, but I want dinner! The door slammed in his face and he swayed gently, bafflement spreading across his blurry features until the door swung ajar, just enough to accommodate a woman’s arm.  Her hand grabbed him smartly by the collar; the last we saw of our new friend were the soles of his shoes disappearing into the house.

As our mirth subsided, a door opened across the road. A young fellow lit up, spotted us and came over; as we chatted, a girl left his building. Don’t shut the door…. He called as it clicked shut; he was without keys. She apologised, he ran over, she left, he knocked, rang bells, called up to different windows then turned, spied her at the top of the street and ran after her. They returned arm in arm and as they kissed on the doorstep, the front door opened. She smiled and walked away, he waved happily and disappeared inside.

These vignettes, this real life theatre were just the finale we needed. Clutching our now empty tumblers, we let ourselves back in and retired to bed.

Our Brighton weekend drew to a close but not before coffee with a beautiful schoolfriend, a precursor to the early afternoon ride to London. Tired now I appreciated the opportunity for silence, to look around, taking in the sights and sounds of suburbia. Approaching Purley we passed a sign for the Surrey Crematorium. Why, I thought, is it not called the Purley Gates? Riding pillion gives one time and space to think silly things.

And so dear reader, it was in happy disposition that we arrived home to hot baths and a warm bed, the wonderful weekend already a bright, bejewelled and cherished memory.

Happy daze indeed.

Advertisements
Posted in Art, Entertaining, Family, Friends, holiday, Life and romance, London, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eyre today, gone tomorrow.


EyreClosed

29th September 2017

Bars: I’ve known many, too many to mention. But none quite like the one that for over fifteen years lived at 70 Leonard Street, London EC2.

The Eyre Brothers was launched by David and Robert Eyre in 2001, a luxe yet comfy spot that offered not only fine dining, but a damn good bar and tapas to fill the gaps.

This was a place where friends gathered unprompted, knowing that someone would always be there.  And if perchance someone wasn’t there, the Brothers and their team guaranteed good conversation, looking-after and a jolly good time.

I offer you now my own Eyre story, a tale of being entertained, fed, watered and most of all cared for by kind people who were also great fun. It was here that I met some of my closest friends, entertained business colleagues and most of all, laughed heartily and a lot.

Although I visited often in the early years, The Eyre’s really came into its own for me when my company became funded in 2006; with Shoreditch being a creative place my medically oriented business didn’t attract too much interest, except here where entrepreneurial graft was understood. An abiding memory rises from around 2010, when one day I walked in looking grave; someone was trying to push my business into administration so he could “pre-pack”, shed my shareholders and seize control.

What’s wrong? asked David. I told him; I was broke and in danger of losing the little I had. He gathered the staff, gestured towards me and said She works really hard. She’s having a horrible time. Give her anything she needs and don’t give her a bill until I say its ok to do so.

In those early days before My Girls had left home, David and Robert’s place became my Telephone Box. Just as Superman would spin back into Clark Kent, it was here that after work I could drink a simple vodka-tonic, cleanse the day from my head, transform from stressed business owner into Mum, go home to cook dinner and talk about familial things

From time to time if chez-Eyre had a particularly compelling night, it might keep the regulars within its warm embrace for a few cozy hours; only friends of the house were allowed to remain. These times were always fun; I recall the end of one that was particularly entertaining. In the early hours, ready to leave I took my folded Brompton from the cloakroom. You’re not riding that at this time of night, chorused those present. I’m fine! I countered, assembling the bike. To prove my fine-ness, I rode a slalom through the restaurant. See! Look! I’m fine! Turning to ascertain their (un)impressed demeanors, I rode straight into the wall at the end of the restaurant. Without a murmur, without a chide, the witnesses brushed me down, folded my bike, called a cab, paid my fare and instructed the driver to take me home. Of course, I brought flowers round the next day to say thank you.

It wasn’t all crazy of course; this was a family enclave too. When in 2003 my eleven-year-old daughter was asked by David what she wanted to do when she grew up, she said I want to be a chef. He gave her an appraising look. What are you doing at half term? he asked. And so Youngest-of-All spent a week in the Eyre Brothers’ kitchen; I was concerned. David, she’s eleven, it’s not legal! His response: Fuck legal, let’s see if she’s any good. Banned from attending her first day, I witnessed only her return home, she looking very much like the Ready Brek kid, glowing with joy and verve. On day two, I ventured in to see just the top of her head moving around behind the open kitchen counter.

David, please don’t let her near the knives, she’s only little! I implored. Rubbish! She’s learned how to chop and she’s done all the mis-en-place for our lunch sitting. She’s a natural!, barked David. Today, dear reader, Youngest-of-All is indeed a fully-fledged Patisserie chef, number two to a Michelin-starred Russian-born, Californian-bred chef in Melbourne, Australia. If you are there, say hello to her at All Are Welcome. Tell her that Mum sent you. And by the by, I think David is as proud of her as I am.

David stepped up with yet more avuncular assistance when FirstBorn needed a Christmas job; he appointed her Chief Coat-Check Girl, briefing the staff to look after her. She spent three weeks checking coats, polishing glasses and cutlery and taking handsome tips; the role was reserved for her throughout the University years. Her penultimate tenure two years ago was the most eventful; with lower-than-usual tips she was advised by the Resident Artist to decorate her tip-tray with tinsel from the tree. In snipping said decoration, she accidentally caught the wire that made the lights sparkle: the tree fell dramatically into darkness. No-one dared tell a furious David and for over a year he thought the damage was wrought by a disgruntled customer, although with no obvious candidates his puzzlement was tangible.

An Eyre constant was the ready giving of help; when a consultant arranged thirteen lunches with NHS hierarchy, an expense I could ill-afford, David arranged for the priciest options to be removed for a dedicated Giovanna menu. Whenever I called to book I was asked Is this one of your special needs lunches? The bespoke menu was duly presented and my bills considerably lower than they may otherwise have been.

Eyre Brothers clientele was not only eclectic but circular. It was here that many moons ago I became friends with my ex’s latest ex, the woman with whom there had been some overlap at the demise of this relationship. Seeing her at the bar looking frankly dreadful, I stopped on my way out. I looked like you two years ago. There’s air when you swim to the surface. She and I became the best of friends and met there regularly, so much so that said ex avoided the place, not least because David would text him: There are too many of your ex-girlfriends in here, as she and I nattered, gossiped and generally bonded, advised by staff who knew more than we did: Never go back.

The most precious gift delivered to me by the Eyre Brothers is my band of Beta Boys, fine non-alpha fellow-regulars who rehabilitated me after the aforementioned split. Seeing my distress and knowing something of the background to events, they scooped me up, rebuilt my self-esteem and treated me like a Princess; I was complemented, encouraged, teased and welcomed into their world. The role of GeezerBird suited me perfectly and nights too numerous to mention were spent barside in the company of these talented, clever, funny men, friends of David and Robert, artists all, each with a brain the size of a grand orb plucked from the solar system. Their conversation was intellectual, quick, sharp, witty and often very silly; I was in heaven.

This bar was also a conduit to meeting entertaining strangers, people with whom one would find spontaneous conversation; this could end happily, or in heated debate …  but never ever dull. I made many new friends Eyre barside; hospitable, interesting, intelligent company so rare across London’s homogenous, loud destinations.

EB music was legendary and a thing to celebrate. Unlike most restaurants where the sounds are all wrong or simply invasive, here the tradition of jazz and blues established by Robert endured to the end. At Eyre table and bar, I discovered Mario Biondi, Van Morrison’s first and only Blue Note album and so much more. Sometimes later in the evening David might sway into a Baloo break beat, prompting merry moves from those present, sometimes to curious glances from diners unfamiliar with the place

The Eyre Brothers was not only good for me and my progeny, but good for business too as a goodly amount of our investment came from people I met or entertained here. For City or other folk with an interest in enterprise were always impressed not only by the quality of the place, but the way in which they were looked after in personable and professional manner. Every new dining guest or companion I brought here reported a return visit or two. Of course they did; once Eyred, never forgotten.

David is one of a handful of chefs interviewed by the British Library, recorded for posterity. His culinary talents were the crowning glory of this place, which meant my sometime simple eating habits could get me into hot water. For a time, the tapas menu included a delicious salad which I requested be topped with the Eyre’s unique and tasty anchovies. I would hear David from the kitchen If that’s Giovanna tell her she’s a bloody nuisance. But the anchovies arrived … until David took the whole thing off the menu; it reappeared eventually and the normal request was resumed. This time I heard Oh for God’s sake – tell her they are5.00 each! Unlike the threatened charge, the anchovies still appeared.

It wasn’t all buttercups and daisies of course. There was the famous actor who marched in with his henchmen, intending to punch one of ours whom he accused of having an affair with his lover. There were other romantic tiffs and memorably the ejecting of a courting couple from the toilets, their clothes seen billowing from under the door. There were those who were banned for bad behavior or not paying their bills; the customer who complained to David that his garlic soup was too garlicky; his bill duly presented, he was shown the way out.

Valentine’s night was always a melee of romance, disaster and bets made amongst the staff as to which diners would row, leaving one of the party abandoned, which would become engaged and which would be back for a second date. They were usually right and second dates were recognized and welcomed.

Then one day last month I had lunch there with business colleagues, a lunch which like every other had been a huge success; warm and efficient service prevailed with food that was as always, beyond excellent. Being a Friday, the day when Beta Boys and other fine folk gathered around 6pm, I returned to find the usual jolly atmosphere tempered with shock. The unthinkable had happened: an e-mail  circulated by the property’s owners announced that the lease had been sold. The end of Eyre Era was set in stone.

There is so much more to tell, so many happy memories; my 50th, Youngest-of-All’s 21st, family and business celebrations and other life-affirming occasions shared by many.

But the world works in mysterious ways and rather than allow my existence in EC2 to be blighted by the absence of this particular brand of cheer, the stars aligned; two days later the landlord of my office, a mere 200 yards from Leonard Street, announced the redevelopment of our building. Chiming with the demise of the best bar in the world my business has left its Shoreditch home of eleven years; our low-overhead policy cannot meet the demands of the now super-premium rents there. Forte HQ this week settled into less expensive Bloomsbury. The move is welcome, for there is now no reason to stay. No place can ever match David and Robert’s triumph.

All that remains is to say thank you Eyre staff of the last fifteen-and-something years. You have been more than marvelous, better than the best. Most of all, thank you David and Robert for giving Shoreditch its very finest and most original moments.

EB : RIP.

© Giovanna Forte 2017

 

 

Posted in Art, Business, Entertaining, Eyre Brothers, Family, Food and wine, Friends, Home, Life and romance, London, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Austin power: an idyllic week.


IMG_2804

Austin riverside at dusk

Times they are a-changing and Texas beckons; my modest business has found a greater appetite for its wares in the USA than on home turf. With opportunity snapping at our heels and new horizons long overdue, BB and I decided to spend a week in Austin exploring its potential as home for a year or two. 

Our first stop was Houston and we arrived at the  JW Marriott Downtown to a customary welcome glass of fizz. I have stayed here twice before and love this hotel. Temporary disappointment loomed however, as the tiny room in which we found ourselves overlooked a shabby building well. I called reception to explain that this visit to Houston was BB’s first; I was sure they would want him to enjoy more edifying sights? Within minutes we were in a super-luxe room with a 10th floor view, huge bathroom, double-ended bath and shower with room enough for two. Thank you JW; that’s more like it.

Day one: body clock ejected me from bed to gym at 7am. Returning an hour later, BB voted for breakfast in the Museum district, our planned destination for the day. We trammed there to find tumbleweed blowing through the streets; everything was due to open at 10am, and not a moment before.

After pounding pavements for a good half-hour, hungry and not a little cross, I insisted on a taxi  Downtown, to breakfast at a place around the corner from JW.  Here our plates overflowed with eggs, bacon, sausages, fried potatoes and more. My gluten-and-dairy-free diet precluded much of the calorific upholstery enjoyed by BB, but for us both, every morsel was a tasty joy.

Our second tram to the Museum District took us to the exquisite and contemplative Rothko Chapel; here the artist’s huge canvases dominate a sparse octagonal space, furnished with simple benches and floor cushions from which visitors meditate the breathtaking work.  We moved on to the Menil Collection to see art that ranged from African artefacts of many years BC to the works of Max Ernst, Leger, Matisse, Picasso, Magritte, Warhol and more. Stopping briefly at the Menil Bistro, a visit to the Cy Twombly Gallery rounded things off beautifully.

By 5pm and cultured-out, we wove our way JWard to shower, bathe and relax. But not for long; we soon ventured to the Theatre District and L’Artista, a huge restaurant which, due to the strange lack of theatre on this Friday night, we found empty but for one elderly couple and a friendly Maitre D’ called Alex.

We settled into this glamorous and deserted place; a staircase swept dramatically from an upper level and I hoped for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to descend with superlative dance kicks … Alas, they were booked elsewhere and our evening was spent chatting chummily to Alex and our neighbours, the latter regaling us with stories of their lively retirement and love of God. Our Maker enjoys a substantial fan base in Texas.

The following mid-morning, we found our pre-booked, front top-deck seats of the Megabus bound for Austin. Passengers consisted largely of a million students, one with whom we struck up conversation. She was a bio-science engineer, fascinated by my work and amused and amazed that “a CEO takes the bus!” Upon arrival at Austin, her kindly parents dropped us off at The Guild Downtown, home for the next week.

The purpose of this visit to Austin was for BB and I to assess whether or not we might live here for a year or two while Forte Medical finds its feet in the US healthcare system. We had no idea what might unfold, for I had only spent one night in Austin, a year ago. The night in question involved much merriment with live music, a rooftop bar, a giant game of Jenga and an F1 racing driver whose foot I pierced with my stiletto. In short, nothing that might persuade BB to relocate …  for all of that (Dalston-based F1 driver included) is readily available in East London.

The Guild Downtown is nearly half the price of a decent Austin hotel and everything we wanted it to be: big kitchen and living space, generous bathroom and bedroom, walk-in wardrobe, balcony. The pool and gym were on-site; the former I used each morning. In a world entirely unrelated to London life, I was on a cross-trainer before 7am then at work until 2pm after which we ventured out to explore the streets of our friendly, prospective home town.

For Austin is nothing but friendly. It prides itself on “being weird”, but when you live in East London, the bar to oddity is quite high. The difference is that Austin folk don’t fall-over drunk after 10pm; they don’t shout about their “creativity” and however weird you want to be, human engagement is order of the day, whatever your skill or persuasion.

On Sunday a colleague’s husband and daughter took us to explore the wider perimeter of town; we drove to Austin’s high point and viewed the city from above. Its complexion is varied, interesting and walk-able with a wide river, interesting homes and a surfeit of independent businesses that appropriately reflect its hugely independent spirit. Dinner south of the river, at Austin’s foremost TexMex restaurant rounded off the day with Father and Daughter, who delivered us home happy and replete.

Monday featured little of real interest to you dear reader, but much to make me fizz with delight; I found and enjoyed the expertise of I Love Lacquer, stocked up at the local independent grocery and found a purveyor of olive oils to die for. Those of you that know me will understand the joy elicited by these high-pamper treasures – all so much more affordable than in London.

Tuesday took us to the Dell Seton Medical Centre’s Health Discovery Co-Labs, where Forte Medical is taking an office from Spring 2018. This is a neat, beautifully designed building featuring office space, wet-labs, theatre … and abundance of scientific and medical intellect. Each and every person we met welcomes their British industrial and scientific counterparts with open arms; this inclusive thinking is an implicit part of a programme that incorporates education, patient care, science, research and more. Luck has a part to play, but so does a determination to transform basic diagnostic medicine, which is exactly what my company is incrementally achieving. Michael Dell, thank you for your ingenious, game-changing medical enterprise.

After our Dell visit, a friend of Sunday’s friend took us for a delightful lunch and tour of Austin’s most appropriate neighbourhoods for this Curious London Two. It seems that our options range from a groovy Downtown apartment, to clapboard house with verandah on the outskirts of town – we are not talking London suburbia here, but a mere ten-minute drive from centre. After nearly 20 years in Shoreditch, I am quite partial to the latter option, enjoying the idea of chilling on my leafy deck, watching the world go by; I will be a Domestic Goddess, safe in the knowledge that my scooter is poised outside, ready to teleport me to work at a moment’s notice. Dreams are plans, after all.

Tour over, we were dropped on Congress, outside the venue of a legal meeting arranged to discuss our immigration requirements. As we stepped out of our new friend’s car, BB spotted on the fascia of the Stateside Theatre the words: Dylan Moran.

The following hour was tough. In distracted fashion, I gave due attention to some very important matters until, solicitous meeting over, I secured online the last two tickets for Austin’s final night of Dylan Moran Grumbling Mustard Tour.

Hours later dear reader, mere feet away from stage, we witnessed the most talented, incisive, insightful, side-splitting raconteur of our generation. I’m certain that around ten minutes in, Mr Moran and I made prolonged eye contact … but who’s to know? Since childhood I have nurtured a crush on Eric Morecambe; my knees tremble in the presence of a supremely clever and funny man …  I just can’t help it.  This dark Irishman is a comedic genius and rather cute to boot. Lucky Mrs Moran.

On Wednesday we strolled riverside, admiring nature at its finest; the trees trilled with birds, water abounded with grazing turtles and darting fish. Meanwhile, ground level was awash with runners, one of whom stopped to admire BB’s shirt (he is infamous for his shirt collection). Conversation gathered momentum and she recommended us to eating and drinking places for later. Austin is full of people who notice, who stop, who give you the time of day. These streets are a world away from London, and its somnambulant army of earplugged phone-addicts, cursing anyone who happens in their path.

The extreme beauty of the river gave way to Ai Weiwei’s astonishing Forever Bicycle sculpture, to the striking, modernist Mexican Cultural Centre, and eventually to lively Rainey, a street of former residential bungalows now transformed into bars and restaurants. These conversions have been executed with dignity and architectural respect. There is one remaining residential dwelling in the midst of the hospitable porches; I wondered if the owners of this discrete home are disturbed by people believing it to be a speakeasy? They could be missing a pension-enhancing trick. We decided against knocking on this particular door and stopped instead at Lucille’s. Our week also took in an Eddie Izzard gig and the discovery of SV, Austin’s sophisticated secret bunker bar, colonised by people far cooler and younger than us.

This eclectic Austin visit concluded on Friday with a Greyhound bus ride back to Houston. It became apparent that students apart, middle-class white people don’t take the bus. Our presence was an anomaly – but happily so; this journey like its inward counterpart, afforded us an honest appraisal of the landscape, the people and the places to which we intend to become accustomed.
And yes, we liked it all. A year or two here could be a welcome break from London life and will doubtless accelerate the growth of my little business, whose potential in Texas, land of bio-science opportunity, seems to know no bounds

Interesting times lie ahead … watch this space, y’all.

Posted in Art, Austin, Business, Design and architecture, Education, Entertaining, Export, Family, Food and wine, Friends, holiday, Home, Hospital, Life and romance, London, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A weekend of bliss: champion celebrations and a slice of Eden


GardenMaxFriday afternoon, a long week behind me I pack up at Forte HQ and consider swinging barside to see who might be around and about for a general unwinding and clinking of a glass or two.

Then I think about the weekend ahead and decide no, domestics normally reserved for Saturday must be addressed tonight, for we have dear friends’ wedding celebrations tomorrow and there simply won’t be time.

I scoot home looking forward to the gentle addressing of said domestics, carried out to the accompaniment of radio plays and music. There isn’t too much to be done; laundry and ironing – the latter a pleasure because it offers slow thinking time whilst folding order into our lives. Knowing that BB will, in the ungodly hour he has to wake for his role as teacher to small boys, slide a perfectly pressed shirt over his arms, makes me happy (I am normally still slumbering deeply when this happens.) There is a great deal to be said for the sensuous joy of slipping into well-ironed sheets. These simple, basic tasks are a small price to pay for the luxury they afford and after a long week of frantic twelve-hour days, feel therapeutic.

BB returns home later and we complete the evening chatting over a glass or two of wine, relaxing in our orderly home, gazing over the garden he has somehow, over the preceding weekends, recrafted from mud-bath into tiny Eden.

A sleepy Saturday awakening, breakfast, more pottering and then preparation for the champion wedding celebration taking place in a lovely location by the canal in Hackney. We are not sure who will be there and although an after-party is planned we anticipate being home by six. We have, however, underestimated the joy in this celebration, the compelling mix of guests; familiar faces, new and interesting acquaintances. Of course, we find ourselves at the after-party, arriving home after midnight chatting happily about the sweet and uncomplicated celebration for two lovely uncomplicated people, who have found in each other rare love and companionship.

It is midday when I wake on Sunday. BB has been up for a couple of hours and together we make breakfast, speculating on how to spend the day. We decide nothing and as the weather is bright, I settle in the sun-rich garden with a magazine, while he retires to the sofa to curate his vast collection of photographs.

The garden: a whole new world of beauty captured within a pocket handkerchief slice of East London. When we arrived at this rented house it was a shambles; a coat of paint and a damn good clean sorted out the interior but the exterior needed serious attention. The work that BB has put into it is now coming to fruition; he dug deep, removing what remained of old grass and tenacious weeds that choked the few square meters of mud that the estate agent called garden. He leveled the surface, created borders and beds, replanted shrubs into spots that would be better for their health and introduced new ones bought from Columbia Road market.

He pruned the fig-tree, mended the shambolic greenhouse that marks the end of our territory, hung lanterns and wrought-iron framed mirrors in strategic and clever places. The laying of emerald green turf heralded the finishing touch to our tiny Eden.

Deck chair facing the sun, in reckless defiance of all advice given to 54-year-old women, I lifted my face to the rays, stretched my arms and legs and absorbed the unique heat created by that ball of fire in the sky. Penetrating my skin, delving into the very marrow of my bones I felt the sun literally warming of the cockles of my heart.

Eyes closed, light dappled against my eyelids I focused on sounds filtering through the air; the happy, noisy lunch taking place two or three doors down, a Bangladeshi family enjoying each others company, scents of their fragrant food arriving intermittently on the breeze. I listened to an East End Mum talking her small child through the flowers in their garden, the excited young voice calling out colours and shapes of the petals and leaves being uncovered and discovered.

This is it, I thought. This is the essence of lives lived in one of the most deprived yet burgeoning parts of London; this is what takes place from day to day in households across the nation, away from politics, set apart from the human fury that is delivered minute-by-minute by the myriad media and news channels that fight for our attention through our phones, our computers, our radios and televisions.

In generating human intolerance and dissatisfaction, what our so-called leaders fail to understand is that this simple way of being is the life-blood of the nation they seek to manipulate and rule. Here on this Sunday afternoon in our tiny Eden, I listened to the uncelebrated every day of everyday people who just want to get along, to live cheek-by-jowl in uncomplicated harmony, just as this weekend has given to us.

I hope and wish for many, more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Airbnb: the nuisance neighbour


5c7959cd-d469-4305-92a5-12ea80863899.jpg

Lovely three-bed family home. Sleeps 14.

Hot on the heels of last week’s celebration of local loveliness comes a rude reminder that all is not quite rosy in our garden, for there is a fly amidst the buttercups and daisies. Well less fly, more monster for the house next door is in fact a hotel.

Alice and Jason own the house next door; they have done it up very nicely – they tell you all about it on Airbnb. This handsome ex-local authority town house has been refitted to sleep up to 14 guests – a snip at £420 a night. Making the most of its market, the house also boasts “essential business amenities”, perfect then for company away-days or conference stay. In short, the house next door is a business masquerading as a home, for Alice and Jason live no doubt very peacefully, in the next street.

While families in East London face rising rents and fierce competition for fewer available good properties, people like Alice and Jason buy second and third homes, not to rent out to families or key workers but to revellers whose sole purpose is to party long into the night. These are people who contribute nothing to the community, to the neighbourhood or to the economy – bars and clubs excepted. They turn up, have fun and go home, leaving empty bottles, fag-ends, and knackered neighbours in their wake. Meanwhile, rents are pushed up and locals pushed out – because they can’t afford to stay.

We have been lucky with a few low-key weekends, but at 3am last night our peace was shattered by garden revelries – a lightweight issue compared to other occasions when music and myriad other noises thud through our walls well into the later than early hours.

Friday is approached with trepidation, for who knows what this week’s guests will bring? We have endured hen parties, stag weekends, corporate shin-digs and other love-ins (yes, we hear all that too.)

We have complained bitterly to Alice and Jason who presented us with a bottle of Organic wine, yellow tulips and an assurance that they would levy a fine on guests who caused us disturbance; £50 according to the website. How nice that they will be compensated for putting up with our weary texts at 2, 3, 4am. As to the guests …. They don’t live here, they probably won’t be back, they don’t need to apologise, they couldn’t care less. £50 and a finger-wagging on top of £1000 weekend won’t nail it.

Tower Hamlets tell me that Airbnb lets are limited to 90 days a year, on which basis the property is “outside the scope of a landlord licence”; I’m not sure they appreciate that this home is in fact a hotel, presumably not paying business rates either. As to the noise, they very kindly provided me with a number for Noise Control; the people on the other side of the hotel report that this has little effect. They have tried.

The calendar for the business next door shows over 40 days’ occupancy between now and the end of June. Given it has been booked almost every weekend since we moved here in November, the 90 day annual quota seems a little optimistic, but it’s not in Airbnb’s interests to enforce limits on their landlords. More to the point, the revenue from 90 days equates roughly to the annual yield of a traditional rental, so to make the business viable the more the merrier – after all, who’s counting …  and who’s to know?

Ironic surely that this house, built for people who could not afford their own homes, is being used as a commercial enterprise by others who have more than one.

There is nothing wrong with the Airbnb premise to help home-owners generate additional income from renting rooms or the whole place when they are not there.  Turning homes into hotels however, is a whole different thing. If you find yourself living next door to one, you might just agree.

Posted in AirB&B, Business, Family, Health, Home, Life and romance, London, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London E2: life’s good in the ‘hood


Unknown

Our new home.

In April 2008 My Girls and I moved into a three-up-two-down on Wimbolt Street just yards away from Columbia Road, Bethnal Green. It is here that the world famous flower market takes place every Sunday.

Despite our proximity to the market, we never heard a thing on Sunday – until we ventured forth to the packed street lined with that increasingly rare breed of shops, the independents and colonised by market stalls. The stalls here begin setting up at dawn; I know this from the occasional foray home, early doors. On weaving through the melee of trucks, trolleys and trellises, the traders often had a coffee to offer along with a friendly word.

As this Sunday street fills with people, Londoners and visitors intermingle, spending their hard-earned cash on everything Columbia Road has to offer, from flora and fauna, pots and plants to coffee, crockery and other nick-nackery. Myriad foreign tongues fill the air; Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Chinese. The street teems with men, women and children,  wide-eyed at the organised chaos of this crazy local landmark.

We adored our little house, as did our two black cats who would sit one at either end of the windowsill, for all the world like elegant black bookends. Before long, they made friends with Lara-the-dog-across-the-road; the three of them would hang out together on Lara’s ‘sill. It was that kind of a street. It’s that kind of a ‘hood.

Time passed. My Girls grew up, slipping from their Mother’s embrace into the world. Happily, fate intervened for as my children fell out of the maternal home, their Mother fell in love. Change beckoned and before long my empty nest was abandoned for the making of a brand new home on Barnet Grove, now with Beautiful Boyfriend.

Two years of bliss followed, our happiness dampened only by a regularly flooding basement, which the landlord did not see fit to fix. Mouldy belongings featured low on our wish-list, so we upped sticks and moved around a few more corners to Brick Lane; not the Ibiza-meets-students-union stretch, but a little-known residential idyll where peace reigns along with dry, light and spacious rooms.

So fond are we of this neighbourhood that leaving the close-knit streets was inconceivable; we looked at a reasonably priced Peckham penthouse – but even that light and panoramic possibility in a vibrant and emerging part of town couldn’t tempt us.

Our position on this famous street is urban indeed with rear windows that overlook a honeycomb of life, colour and eye-popping garden ornaments. Mai’da around the corner tempts us on those days when cooking seems a stretch too far. The Shoreditch Spa and its high-pamper treatments lies nearby; on locking myself out one evening I sat with a glass of wine at a vantage point in Casa Blue from where I spotted BB turning the corner to our home – just a few short steps and I was by his side.

Brick Lane has kept us close to our old neighbours; meantime, we are meeting new ones. Happily, we remain party to parties and dinners that pop up here and there – often around our own dinner table, for I am never happier than when cooking for friends.

This sunny Saturday morning I walked to Columbia Road for a hair makeover. An experienced craftsman of exceptional talent, John Birchall has created less salon, more lifestyle; his banter and humour combined with the steady popping-in-and-out of chatty locals make for a compelling hour or two – and the cleverest of cuts to boot.

Any foray to this wonderful stretch of independent businesses can include a stop at family-run Maks News for the weekend paper, Pavilion for coffee and warm, fresh bread, a chat and browse through fashionable finery at Precious, provisions from the Flower Supermarket, medicinal needs met by the lovely people at Columbia Pharmacy …  and finally a swing round the corner to seek out gardenish things from Les in his treasure-trove at Organics.

All of this lies just moments from home; familiar streets and friendly faces who greet you by name make this corner of London a truly wonderful place to be. Long may it last.

Posted in Business, Entertaining, Family, Food and wine, Friends, Health, Life and romance, London, Motherhood, Shopping, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Up and down in San Francisco: the long walk


TexturesSanFran

Rich textures in San Francisco

My recent ten-day business trip to Texas was preceded by a wonderful day in San Francisco.

Arriving at the Stanford Court Hotel, I asked if my room had a view. Not from the third floor, confirmed the Reception Staff. Would you like a view? I explained this was my first visit to the city and a relaxing 36-hour precursor to a gruelling business trip in Texas. My Receptionist smiled: Let’s see, shall we?

Key in hand, the elevator whisked me to the 14th floor and a large double aspect room overlooking the cityscape; waning sunlight highlighted the extraordinary variety and texture of this famous skyline that stretched all the way to the Bay and Bridge. I thanked not just my lucky stars, but the hospitality of Stanford Court.

After a languorous and welcome bath, I ventured out to the Ferry Building to meet a friend of many years, whom I had not seen for three or four. She lives here now; she and partner waiting for me at a French-style wine and charcuterie place inside this magnificent building. Within its walls, the building hosts myriad chic restaurants and food stores, the exterior still performing its original function as a ferry terminal. We had a gentle and lovely evening, drank probably too much, laughed (never too much) and a rather wistful parting came only too soon.

My body clock had not yet adjusted to US time and waking earlier than hoped, I decided to visit the hotel gym – unusually good and spacious for its type. Regime complete, I scooped up a hearty breakfast from the lobby and returned to my room, where I enjoyed delicious poached eggs, bacon and steamy coffee and luxuriating in a rare and perfect silence took in the remarkable panorama, sharper now in the morning light.

After a few hour’s work, at midday exactly I donned flatties and set out for my San Fran Walk. Deliberately eschewing map or advice, I preferred instead to follow the famous Forte Nose, trusting my instincts to draw me to interesting places and neighbourhoods.

Meandering first through Chinatown I paused here and there to look in the windows of groceries, health and household shops. I crossed over to roam down a side-street peppered with bohemian cafes and stores whose signs told me I had entered North Beach. I decided to stop at one tiny, but welcoming spot for coffee and some freshly squeezed orange, the latter a reminder that I needed oranges and lemons to make my own morning juice in coming days, for which purpose I had packed a traditional squeezer.

Coffee imbibed and fruit acquired, I continued through North Beach noticing the growing number of Italian places and faces, some of which threw a casual but friendly greeting my way. From North Beach then and down, down, down towards the Financial District and its glassy towers. I was not ready for them yet, so diverted left across Sacramento, up Powell and on Columbus Avenue I spotted Saints Peter and Paul Church. Despite my collapsed Catholicism I cannot resist a bit of candle action and thoughts of a comfy pew, classic carvings and glorious glass windows drew me up the steps and into this magnificent place of worship. Here, my passion for flame and colour rewarded, I lapsed into long reverie before stirring myself back onto Filbert Street, into the sunshine. Turning left I saw my first truly serious slope, which led to another, higher and still more serious slope.

Can they be serious? I thought. Who on earth decided to build this city on these hills? Before I could change my mind, I drew breath and got going and drew breath and drew breath … Although I knew not where I was headed, the anticipated view drew me (not without more breaths) to the summit and Coit Tower, which sits atop a green spot from where the views are beyond spectacular. Looking down, vertigo overwhelmed and I sat awhile until things settled and holding the handrail, began a long, slow descent to Lombard, from where I found Broadway, sight of the Bay … and the Ferry Building.

The outline of this familiar edifice was a joy; to get there I meandered through the Financial District, huge glassy towers and wide shining monoliths abounded, rendering me tiny, and not a little intimidated. The streets were quiet and few stopping places were in evidence. With the Bay glistening between the buildings, I forged on until I reached The Embarcadero from across which the Ferry Building Marketplace rose in splendour.

Tired now and happy to see last night’s destination in daylight, I strolled across the waterfront and admired the Oakland Bay Bridge where I sat awhile to revive my energy with another coffee. Duly restored, I set out back towards the City climbing up and up, down and down, up again and down again until I reached California, home to my hotel.

I decided to eat and meandering here and there, found the Gallery Café, a place that celebrates the inertia and moodiness of its staff with highlighted cuttings in the restrooms. Reader, I can corroborate, for the server who greeted me did so silently, with scowling demeanor. So famished was I that a welcome and huge chicken Caesar salad, fat chips with mayonnaise, a large glass of dry white duly arrived and I settled happily with the New York Times. Almost an hour spent here, scanning the paper and watching the world go by did the trick, and soon I was revivified and ready to move on.

Not wishing to be hotel-bound quite yet, I decided to seek out Tartine, the Bakery recommended by YoungestOfAll, my talented Patisserie Chef daughter. Guerrero Street ran through a whole different world, one which reminded me of Clerkenwell and Shoreditch – familiar territory indeed. It took nearly two hours to get there but with plasters bought along the way to protect my blistering heels, I found it, identified not by the shop front so much as the queue snaking out through the door.

Approaching, I realised that some relief was needed and decided to buy a treat, so that I could use their facilities. Alas, the interior of this clearly much-loved café precluded the eat; it was full to capacity with people waiting for whatever they had ordered and with the line from the front door too onerous to consider joining, I slipped through the crowd to the restroom. Calculating then how long it would take to be served, I decided instead to navigate to the counter, where nose-to-glass I admired the array of exquisite confections and concoctions.

Although the afternoon had progressed slowly enough, by now time was galloping along and in checking I found it was almost 7pm. Seven hours walking – no wonder I was fading. But where to find a taxi? I walked and walked, heading I hoped towards Nob Hill where Stanford Court awaited. Lucky me; before too long a taxi loomed large and I climbed in, grateful to the God of Cabs for delivering this one, now.

The driver asked where I was from and what I had been doing that day. I told him. Hell, Lady! he exclaimed. I’ve lived here over twenty years and I have NEVER EVER walked up them hills. Are you mad? No, I assured him … just curious.

At 7.30pm then, too tired to eat I stepped into a hot bath and clambered abed, sinking quickly into the deepest slumber. I awoke refreshed – albeit with rather sore feet – more than ten hours later, ready for my Houston-bound flight and the rigorous days ahead.

Thank you Forte Nose for pointing me in such rewarding direction. But even greater thanks to San Francisco for a splendiferous stay, wonderful walk and deep, deep sleep.

© Giovanna Forte 2017

Posted in Design and architecture, Entertaining, Food and wine, Friends, holiday, Life and romance, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment