Moving house, Spandangled, Spain … and the joy of magic pants.


Span_poster_4Fortewinks’ May post was delivered with little insight as to the Very Difficult Time that was unfolding. Because every now and then the outcome of precipitous events does not become clear until later: this was such an episode.

Shortly after my birthday (Hello to half a century), a Texan investor who “guaranteed” funding for my business delivered a last-moment bail on his assurances; a muddled explanation around an oil well that required attention didn’t impress at the time, even if it brings a wry smile to my face now.

Naturally the glorious BB helped to deliver resolution to the company’s woes, all the while the two of us doing battle with a residential landlord who was less than keen on righting the wrongs evident in his property, rented at a not insubstantial London rate.

Silver linings prevail however, and whilst investigating our rights around Recalcitrant Landlord’s lack of landlordly duties we discovered a far better place to live … and moved there. Our new home lies further East, a haven nestled at the edge of an established and beautifully designed 1960s local authority estate.

We have swapped our noisy Brick Lane town house for a quiet and joyous detached bungalow with substantial gardens ; it is also a mere stride from the canal, Lea Valley and Olympic Park. Here, dusk is accompanied by glorious cries of swifts and parakeets; myriad friends live nearby and the best Spaghetti Vongole outside Italy is served not five minutes away. East End suburbia quite simply rocks.

One of our first and most entertaining evenings was spent at Spandangled, the brainchild of Brilliant Graphic Designer and Lovely Lettings Agent (aka Early Years Shoreditch DJ). EYSDJ was a mainstay of Original East London, spinning decadent discs during days and nights when the streets were colonized by artists, innovators and ne’er-do-wells; all of this long before the next generation arrived to throw up outside badly run bars and persuade parents to acquire overpriced studios from developers who transformed deliciously dodgy doorways into fanciful foyers.

EYSDJ’s experience is apposite here, for superficially at least a night of dance on the first floor of a Wanstead Pub may have little to recommend it. But in expert hands this party was one of high note – indeed, of many notes including jazz, soul, funk and acid tracks that brought limbs and love to life. Sons of Spandangle, you surpassed yourselves … thank you.

The second week in August saw BB and I take our annual trip to friends in Carcassonne and Bordeaux; on our return, Beautiful Boyfriend was abandoned for Favourite Girlfriend who whisked me away to her family gaff in Marbella, land of bling and bounty. Here, mornings were spent swimming and lounging; afternoons involved languorous lunches and sunny siestas … more than that I cannot say, for what happens in Spain, stays in Spain (don’t blame me: any Sebastian, Carlos or Enrique will concur).

These four super-busy months have been in turn stressful, Spandangled and super-sunny. With optimism in my heart and head I anticipate the next post to be delivered with much good news – and without too much delay.

As for the magic pants: come on now … did you really think I would reveal all?

© Giovanna Forte 2018

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Posted in Art, Design and architecture, Entertaining, Family, Food and wine, Friends, holiday, Home, Life and romance, London, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hello to half a century (and then some).


55Fifty-five is not an insubstantial age but not as old as I hope to be one day – assuming I will remain in fine fettle of course. This year’s birthday celebrations extended to before and beyond the day itself and I bring you now the marvellous and varied shenanigans that have led to this Bank Holiday weekend.

On the 16thof April BB and I took a rare week away together; much as we love our family and friends, being bereft of their company for the first time in two years was rather lovely. Watching our pennies right now, this break heralded our first Package ‘Oliday at a grown-up resort in Gran Canaria. The Idyll Suites were perfect and yes, pretty idyllic too.

Our beautiful apartment overlooked a huge infinity pool around which state of the art recliners reclined, nestled against substantial umbrellas. A button on each brolly allowed one to call the pool-boy who would order and deliver refreshments on one’s behalf. A child-free zone, peace abounded with exemplary staff on hand … and a beautiful setting. Interspersing dinner out with our own self-created delectations of local food, a splendid week and good rest were much enjoyed. All this, flights and car … for £100 a day each. Can’t knock it. Let’s hear it for the Package ‘Oliday, our first – and certainly not our last.

I returned to full-throttle work and the pre-birthday week sped by; Thursday featured a night at the Chelsea Arts Club in a rare but successful mixing-business-with-pleasure session, followed by Friday at home to prepare for The Bash. I concocted myriad fresh, small plates and a large Forte Mess (a dish to which I will return later).

The jolly partygoing group comprised most of my Beta Boys including Brilliant Chef, Picture Editor, Fantastic Photographer and Silver Fox. Other guests were made up of FirstBorn’s friends and ours: Master Musician, Mystery Russian, Dazzling Lady Architect, two Fine Filmmakers (one male, one female), one Surrogate Daughter and two Surrogate Sons, Brilliant Young Lawyer and Literary Events Guru. It made for an eclectic and kind evening with candid conversation, cross-generational bonding and so much more.

At some stage, the younger guests invited The People Next Door, accompanied them home again (with the rum) only to return before too long in livelier spirits than before. Having attempted to contain everyone downstairs, a group dispersed up to the dining room where debate raged on all manner of topics … adding intellect to the general jolly melee. Our last guest departed at 3am giving way to brave clearing up, which in turn at 4:30am, gave way to a desire for bed. Blissful sleep descended … but not for long; BB and I were woken abruptly by a US number calling very early; summarily rejected, it called again and again …

As Sunday dawned far brighter than us, tidying up was completed with the help of FirstBorn and Mystery Russian. MR was taken to the Columbia Road flower market after which he strolled our Brick Lane environs and returned impressed. In preference to leaving for the UK’s more northern climes, he dallied in the kitchen to strike up an intense discussion about capitalism, the meaning of profit to the greater good and where in the world he might find more adventure and interesting people as he had found with us. A complement indeed.

Sunday Night Film Night (usually taken in bed, laptop-on-tummy) was cancelled as BB and I settled into an early slumber. Monday arrived only too soon; post-birthday work was as onerous as pre, and the evenings socially busier than our exhausted selves would have liked.

Tuesday brought to dinner a wonderful journalist friend of some 20 years. Here more lively intellect abounded than I was perhaps prepared for, covering politics, education, business and buildings. Of course, buildings. Debate subsided however with the arrival of my newly-concocted birthday pudding:

The Forte Mess
Ingredients
1 x pack of crushed ginger biscuits
1 x large sliced banana
1 x large tub of coconut yoghurt
Handful of crushed walnuts
Zest of half a lemon
Grated nutmeg
Chia seeds
Method
Mix into a mess
Eat

Wednesday required a serious overhaul of self, for tonight was the Maserati Reception for its Top 100 Entrepreneurs 2018, a list for which I had unknowingly been nominated and accepted. Happy days. The event took place on the 17thfloor of News International’s headquarters at London Bridge; BB and I mixed and mingled with bright people, met Mr Maserati (Europe), the Business Editor of The Sunday Times and more people of influence who will doubtless come in handy at some time or another. After possibly too much champagne and an interview,  BB led me from the building to a not unreasonable but very sensible early night.

A busy Thursday-at-the-coalface dispersed into hot bath and bed with slow Friday bringing dinner with dear friends South of the River (for those who know not London, this is a whole different world to London North of the River and for Northern Folk, can be quite scary.) We arrived safely however; parents were met and chatted with before leaving for another engagement, beautiful nine-month-old baby was cooed at before being taken a-bed and delicious dinner served. Home by midnight we rather felt we had escaped lightly given the party-going history of these new parents. Clearly the novel role of Mum and Dad took its toll and we Oldies sank thankfully between the sheets at a Godly hour.

The grand finale to my two-week Birthday Bash was this Bank Holiday Saturday night at the Arcadia Spectacular, an extraordinary festival set within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park just two Central Line stops from our home.

We were lucky enough to find ourselves in the Backstage Bar where we encountered not only far thinner crowds but The Rogues, a band of boys I had not seen for far, far too long. The Promoter (who facilitated our attendance) and The Invisible Impresario (founder and host of London’s best ever, now demised, illegal drinking club) were accompanied by Crazy Universe Child (about to turn 60) and myriad familiar and less familiar faces with whom conversation was broad and very jolly.

At around 10pm with wine and beer in hand, we converged in the main arena to witness the extraordinary goings on; a gigantic spider made from miscellaneous mechanical and non-mechanical parts, beaming rainbow lasers across the crowd, breathing fire and flames into the sky, extracting unsuspecting guests from the ground … and doubling as a stage for bands of whom – unlike everyone else present –  I had never heard.

Unfamiliarity with the script and score didn’t get in the way of much jumping around, singing and conjoining in embraces with Rogues and BB; a fine time was had. As the event drew to a close, our group meandered into the street discussing the various afterparty locations and which one to attend.

Yet BB and I did something we have never done before; without a word, we exchanged glances and quietly peeled off to find a cab and be delivered safely home, far, far from the madding crowd.

Lying awake briefly, my thoughts meandered and I began to think the unthinkable … might, just might we be growing up?  Hmm … I don’t think so. There’s plenty of time for that, after all.

© Giovanna Forte 2018.

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Highs and lows: London by scooter


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My Cavalryman on his Yorkshire Grey

Look up and see spires, finials and pinnacles that make up London’s skyline. Look down, and you will find grit and glory, the hurried and harried steps of strangers, pigeons, dogs, grilles and gutters. Both above and below: all of life is here.

And so it is, that the highs, lows and in-betweens of London shape the opening credits of my journey to work from Brick Lane to Bloomsbury. Each day I seek out new treasures, and each day, I am rewarded.

Until late last year, my local commute took just five or ten minutes, red lights and wayward pedestrians permitting. Now, with a journey of between 15 and 30 minutes I have time to look around, to see the hitherto unseen  –  and what joy there is in the streets that unfold around me.

Have you ever passed The Yorkshire Grey pub on the corner of Theobald and Gray’s Inn Roads? Next time, look up to the corner and bid good day to the handsome Cavalryman who sits astride the eponymous Yorkshire Grey, a horse adopted by 18C stage coach companies that operated along this busy route. It’s no wonder he looks puzzled; what will he make of the cars, trucks, bikes and lorries that have replaced his four-legged friend? At least someone has seen fit to keep him clean; earlier images show him cloaked less in his smart red uniform, more in soot giving him the very same complexion of the Inn over which he presides.

The last few years has witnessed the happy revival of The Old Sessions House on Clerkenwell Green, an elegant and favourite part of historic London. Built for the Middlesex Quarter Sessions of the justices of the peace, the House was also home to Avery Weighing Machines before it became the centre for London’s Masons. When these august people departed, it fell into disrepair … until two Swedish brothers brought it back to life.

Watching rightful glory be restored to this building has been one of the visual joys of any ride into town, for it has been effected with integrity and love. Now home to creative start-ups, exhibitions of photography, fashion and more, this formerly derelict structure is populated by Londoners and tourists of every age, creed and colour; not only has its very being been restored but its public purpose too.

When you pass The Old Sessions House, look west, skyward to the high 19C terrace where green folliage can be spied atop one of the buildings; this, I am reliably informed, is an urban vineyard from which just a handful of fine bottles are harvested annually. Would that I could sip Vin de Fleet as it should be called, for this very river flowed beneath the Farringdon Road before being buried in a system of underground tunnels. The wine, if my sources are correct, is delicious and will doubtless become equally legendary in time.

If you visit Philpott Lane in the City, a poetic and historic vignette tells the story of a workman who, on crafting the top of that building fought with his colleague over a missing sandwich; he fell and died. Two mice and a piece of cheese now commemorate the event. Learning of the carving during a compelling Cabversation, I know to look for it when in that corner of the world.

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Haggerston Baths’ Weathervane

Taking a wider route home through Hackney more recently, my heart soared upon sight of the familiar Haggerston Baths, another wonderful public building fallen into disrepair; beautiful though the building is, it was more the cupola and ship rising from the roof in triumphant manner that moved me.  No ordinary vessel, this is a gilded weathervane, surely to remain in situ post-restoration, when the building is returned to the public domain (alas, without its poolish function)?

Would that such imaginative quirks might adorn our dreary, faceless contemporary public buildings; no celebration can feature now, for all such development is grasped by private sector hands.  God forbid that commemorative architectural flourishes might be commissioned to stir the public soul; they cost money dontcha know?

A timely moment then, to cast our eyes downwards, across the lower echelons of London’s highways and byways. This view reveals a whole different world, one colonised by sleeping policemen, by feet of every size and shape traversing our pavements, bridges and backstreets; by sometimes astounding graffiti created in defiance of political and private sector sensibilities. Long may it last, this particular brand of London graffiti.

Let’s start with the sleeping policemen; these annoying speed-bumps installed as traffic calming measures, have become implicit to every side street and even some major arteries. Visit the South Bank however and you find that the bumps don’t. A triumph of trompe l’oeil, of style over substance they are completely flat, yet their implied height forces traffic to slow and good heavens, they work. How much has Southwark Council saved with this imaginative trick of the eye? I for one, am impressed; aware of the sleight of hand, I still reduce my speed – although given I ride a 50cc Benelli perhaps this boast is a little optimistic.

When waiting at traffic lights, an aspect of pavement life that I very much enjoy is watching myriad feet of all shapes, and sizes step, saunter, stroll and stride through the city. Women in suits and trainers march with intent; girls in heels teeter across the pavements playing don’t-step-in-the-cracks to avoid becoming wedged between the slabs.

A man’s shiny shoe cuts a sharp suit through the crowd; Converse sneakers signature the insouciant hipster, whilst soft lace-ups trademark the jacket-and-trouser manager. Generalisations for sure … but also generally correct and gratifyingly amusing to observe.

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East London Street Art

Let’s round off this litany of life with a glance at London graffiti; of course, Banksy is the King of street art, but there is so much more of worth to see and consider; works created by thinking people, by those who have something to say and find in the street an audience prepared to listen with their eyes. Some is unsightly, much can help to open your mind.

Next time you walk the streets of London, put your phone away and look around. There’s a whole world out there; it can be beautiful and even if not, it just might show you something you hadn’t seen, or didn’t know before.

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Magic Hands: the marvel of massage


imagesHurly burly: life is busy. Rest and relaxation can be hard to come by as one’s mind keeps the plates of work, domestics, love and wellbeing spinning. Meanwhile, against the odds, somehow the body keeps going.

Under the skin, below the radar it hopes you will notice that it needs respite. Muscles grow tense and succumb to cramp, limbs ache, back becomes stiff; yet the brain learns to screen it all out, giving way to the busy-ness that prevails across modern life.

This past week has seen me travel to the USA and back again, with a total somewhat cramped flying time of over twenty hours; the interim involved two different beds (strange pillows, uff), much dashing about with bags, long hours slaving over a hot laptop and despite visits to gyms and a swim, little physical joy. Sleep away from home is never seamless.

Always a fan of massage, I had not found anyone whose professional attention really worked, until some six years ago I met Magic Hands, his massage thorough, strong. If from time to time MH could not see me when I needed him, I strayed elsewhere experiencing pointless prodding, soporific strokes and other terrible techniques that left my body irritated and frankly, unrequited. Lesson learned: when you find the right pair of hands, remain faithful.

But it is not just the body that needs attention. Many moons ago, my glorious Mother arrived in my bedroom to announce Giovanna, I have something to tell you now that you are 20. You must always massage your neck and face. Otherwise they will drop, you will get wrinkles and you will look old. This is very important.

She gave me a copy of her bible: Joseph Corvo’s Zone Therapy. Mother’s face was so wonderfully preserved that in her 80s, one of her carers announced I washed your mother’s face and neck this morning and spent a lot of time looking for the scars. What scars, I asked. The scars from her facelift. But she doesn’t have any. That’s because she never had one.

So the workouts began; pressure points across the forehead, around the eyes, cheekbones, jawline and neck received rigorous attention. To supplement this, Mother showed me how to exercise mouth, cheeks and chin using myriad distorted grimaces, grins and frowns. These combine to bring vitality to the face, worth every precious minute; certainly no one must ever witness the process. It’s not pretty, but feels fantastic.

As with the more visible face, a body needs kindness and acknowledgement too. It is after all, the only one you’ve got.

Having helped mine through myriad crises, challenges and periods of intense plate-spinning, MH understands where to go, find whats wrong and fix it. Rocks across my shoulders, back and legs are relieved of tension; limbs are stretched free of stress. He is the only man I would allow to be quite so intimate with my cellulite, with every sag and crease; all are treated with spot-on precision pressure. Hands and feet too, find extraordinary joy in release.

A weekly ministration with MH is now routine; grateful mind and body work with efficiency and effusion.  Far from being an extravagance, massage mends, it treats and heals. Give it a go; you won’t regret it.

For another local Magic Hands who also does home visits contact James Huntley – tried, tested and recommended.

© Giovanna Forte

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Saying the unsayable: high five to self.


DWA_Winner_Logo

Beating the Apple MacBook Air

22 December 2017: from Ex-Boyfriend and minor shareholder, by e-mail
Dear Friends, Romans, Countrymen, ex boyfriends, boyfriends who have inherited cash recently, and any of their poor unsuspecting mates, please lend me your ears. We, ahem, haven’t actually flogged anything again this year, but as you can see from the enclosed forecast, we anticipate becoming billionaires by about next March.

We have again managed to bring in some more unsuspecting schmucks to give us further cash to provide us with holidays abroad etc, but in order to swing this we are having to reduce the initial value of your shares yet again from a pittance to almost fuck all. Sorry ‘bout that.Obviously, you could prevent this by chucking yet more money at us, and if you did we’d be happy to trouser it immediately. Yours, The Ponzis.

24 December 2017: from major shareholder, by text
I am happy to continue to support you and enjoy your never-ending enthusiasm and passion. You will get there I have no doubt. It’s not been an easy few years but you’re entering the important stretch of road, so hold your nerve!

29 December 2017: from prospective US partner, by e-mail
Your work is very impressive. The undertaking that Forte Medical has made is breaking paradigms and should be commended. I will work hard to make this a valuable relationship and support you.

The current climate and tolerance for abuse might indicate to Ex-Boyfriend that now is not the time to deliver such a missive. To my eternal regret, this individual was an early investor, although his contribution came with caveats.

First, he attempted to dissuade me from launching Forte Medical and its ambitions, offering to fund an MBA as you haven’t any qualifications it’s a better idea than making a fool of yourself. Then he announced that if I loved him, I would not embark on the mission: if you make your business work and I haven’t made mine work, you will make me look like a c*nt.

I rebutted his wishes, so he wrote to the fund managers for London’s LDA Early Growth Fund, providers of our seed funding. His e-mail declared me inept and unfit to run a business; their investment would be as good as thrown away.

This uninvited rush of memories brought numbness, followed by a realization that eleven years later and very much against the odds, I have prevailed. It has indeed been tough, but my investors’ money is still there, the business is on the cusp of great things and I am stronger than ever.

Here then are some hair-raising tales about just some of the hurdles and challenges encountered by someone inept and unfit to run a business.

The biggest challenge I failed to anticipate is how healthcare providers – NHS and private – nurture inertia towards urine collection. It’s a waste product and it’s not glamourous. Over the last eighteen months however, the hard-won research and data generated by my tiny business over recent years has started to penetrate the thought processes of policy makers and our success is crystalising into when not if … although my belief in the former has never wavered. But the story so far also provides a cautionary tale to others embarking on launching and running a new business so please, make that cup of tea, pour that glass of wine … and sit comfortably.

In the early years of our product development, a global multinational approached the company with an interest in licensing our technology. Their tests revealed that it is far more efficient than you think it is. A licensing fee was offered, equal to the amount put into the company at the time. Along with a promise of royalties on sales of 300m in Europe alone, this could have been an attractive “early win” for all involved. The dialogue ended, however, when it became clear that the royalties were less than parsimonious, delivering no benefit to shareholders. Our lawyer advised that the entity concerned may want simply to license and shelve our device, leaving their own systems unencumbered by competition. We walked away.

A year or two later and in need of funding to accelerate sales, we were introduced to and commenced discussions with a wealthy serial entrepreneur. This gentleman pledged to fulfil the whole funding round and deposited a comfortable five figure sum into the business while he conducted due diligence. Six months later when, without the promised investment we were on the brink of disaster, he recommended that I should meet with his friendly Administrator who would arrange a pre-pack, allowing him to snap up the company for a minor consideration, without its promotion to other potential buyers.

Depressed, exhausted and very worried I agreed to the meeting; on the day however, my befuddlement vanished and with fresh clarity, I declined to attend. I simply could not let down my shareholders, many of whom are friends and family. They had invested in good faith and deserved far, far better. Knowing that our coffers were empty, Serial Entrepreneur demanded the immediate return of his initial deposit … or else.

The following morning, on top of the winding up order received from Serial’s lawyers, I received calls from HMRC and VAT Inspectors, suddenly under the impression that the business was being mismanaged. Coincidence? I think not.

Immediate candid conversations with a handful of my most supportive investors delivered most of the much-needed funding, out of which I promptly repaid Serial Entrepreneur. Forte Medical was safe; he was thwarted.

For my enterprising peers, a valuable post-script to that episode is that the fund managers to whom we paid a monthly retainer were asked to check Serial Entrepreneur’s credentials. He’s fine, they said. Take his money. When the dust had settled I conducted my own very simple Companies House search; this man had in the previous year or two wound up 13 young and promising businesses. Happily, number 14 escaped. More happily still the HMRC and VAT Inspectors gave us a clean bill of health along with some excellent small company advice. My kindly VAT man even took a Peezy home for his wife, who suffered with routine urinary problems.

Let us fast-forward three years, when user and clinical feedback indicated a need for product design improvements. For Peezy Midstream to achieve better performance and cheaper manufacture it had to be re-engineered and for this costly process we needed fresh investment. I was introduced to a Consortium of investors who showed great enthusiasm for the business and agreed to fulfil the whole requirement. One week prior to the funds being transferred, they called a meeting.

We’ve changed our minds, they said. We will not invest but are happy to provide you with a loan at a reasonable rate of interest; all being well we may invest when new funding is required. In return, we would like you to assign to us the Intellectual Property relating to this and future products.

Without hesitation, I declined the kind offer; my (then) finance director declared the plan to be entirely normal and urged me to accept. I called our lawyer on loudspeaker who, on hearing the Consortium’s proposal, laughed loudly. The meeting closed and prior to leaving the gentlemen made sure to foreshadow our early demise; like those before them, they were disappointed.

What of our struggles on the clinical side of the business? One day I will elucidate further upon the leading UroGynacology Consultant who offered to deliver a successful clinical trial in return for shares; the Clinical Nurse Specialist who on finding that I knew of her department’s 30% urine specimen contamination rate asked me to leave the building; the patient safety executive who saw nothing wrong with urine spilling onto toilet floors – its what floors are for; the midwives who instruct pregnant women to rinse out and reuse the bottle for essential and important diagnostic antenatal screening designed to detect everything from pre-eclampsia to gestational diabetes.

On business development, I have encountered sales professionals whose talent for selling themselves outweighs their capacity for the job in hand. One such highly recommended freelance provided detailed and very promising monthly reports; wondering when the orders would arrive, I called some of the prospective customers apparently poised to sign juicy contracts. Few of them had heard either of him or of us and the ones that had were simply perplexed as to how or why a box of Peezys had been dumped on their desks. His referee later confessed he had provided the recommendation simply to get the chap off his own back.

Reader, there are many more tales to tell of wily folk, unscrupulous adversaries, scurrilous sales and healthcare professionals, who quite simply are not. Despite these misadventures, I have continued to develop our business proposition along with valuable R&D and established an undeniable need for our world-first MedTech.

I must acknowledge Ex-Boyfriend is correct on one thing: investors have indeed been diluted over the last eleven years. But he was – and is – wrong about me. Rome wasn’t built in a day; not only am I one to finish what I have started but being keen to learn, I have fresh and growing expertise around apposite areas of of my work: medicine, microbiology, manufacture, sales, marketing and more. Having also gathered a fantastic team and influential supporters, success is on the horizon.

Together, we are successfully changing entrenched and outdated attitudes to basic medicine. In the UK we are engaged with NHS, Department of Health and Hospital Trust leaderships. Across the pond we are forging relationships with the US Military, insurers and major healthcare providers; Forte Medical’s Austin office opens in early 2018.

In parallel with taking Peezy Midstream into generic use, we are developing new devices designed to enhance the results of early stage liquid biopsy cancer tests; my investors stand to own something of immense value over the next few years, for with at least three products selling globally, a return of over x10 would not be unusual.

Investment does not stop here as our new developments need funds not least to turn our MedTech into digital smart devices; savvy investors with an eye on integrity-based businesses and long-term reward understand that owning a smaller part of something valuable is better than a large part of nothing.

Meantime, whilst spinning the plates of enterprise and pulling rabbits out of hats, I have helped My Girls grow up and leave home, said Goodbye to my Mother, survived a brief skirmish with cancer and much more. When all is said and done, someone somewhere had to do this job.

2018, I think you and I will get along nicely.

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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.

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