I am a travelling female CEO: fly me.


Screenshot 2019-09-27 at 21.10.26I write from a noisy LA Airport Departures Lounge Bar; the muzak is ok, my Lady Bar Attendants funny, witty, sassy. They seem to like entertaining a female barfly; the flirtations of my lascivious male neighbour elicited polite tolerance and a chilly stare. Quite right, too.

My window for writing is delivered by Virgin Atlantic, whose services I have not enjoyed for about 25 years and whose airborne delights are delayed by almost two hours. Accustomed as I am to flying BA on business jaunts, this Virgin adventure was forced upon me by a threatened BA Pilots’ strike, cancelled too late for my convenience (the Pilots had a point, I don’t mind).

Back in the mid-90s, Virgin Atlantic was the Air Carrier of Choice; it delivered Cool Britannia in spades: edgy, ironic, full of Branson Pickle. But not now … or perhaps we just don’t want that any more.

A regular business traveler, I want airline representatives to be infused with kindness and generosity of spirit; I ask only for well crafted, essential comforts even in Economy or Premium Economy (Business and First are not yet on the cards). BA delivers all of this with aplomb … and two whole bags in the hold. Today Virgin checked me in with cursory attention, the second bag exciting a possible $100 fee and accusatory Dontcha know the flight’s delayed? Yeah … problems with the incoming aircraft. Oh, good. No I didn’t know. Sorry would have been nice.

I have written before about my solo travel experiences around the UK; Travels from the female business executive includes my stay in George Melly’s Manchester hostelry of choice, his favourite simply because he wanted to see how much worse it could get on his next visit. Although its jazzy credentials made up for the less-than-compelling and enduring scent of previous guests, I wouldn’t go back.

Today I am at the tail end of a week-long visit to the USA, starting in Boston where a Condo provided excellent accommodation, a kitchenette and privacy. The discovery of short-term ApartHotels has been a revelation; cheaper and better than a good hotel, the opportunity to buy food and eat in, gym, swim and generally be independent and unobserved is too good to miss.

My judgement of a hotel relies on a warm welcome and top-banana room servicing. All of this and more I received at the Embassy Suites in Irvine CA.

Simple but assiduous care from a hotel is essential support for one who has daily back-to-back meetings, the effort and chutzpah for which elicit exhaustion unalleviated by the need to network and mingle with colleagues and new contacts of an evening. The fresh-and-clean room is a joy to return to and generous tipping will ensue.

Actually a good hotel bar with sexually neutral servers prepared to protect you from the Hairy Brigade is also an asset.

Which brings me to the essential lack of glamour surrounding Single Female business travel, mainly the  perpetual advances of opportunistic prowling chest-beaters endemic within hotel corridors, bars, the aisles of airports and planes … shh, there’s one on the next table … Historically, my efforts to divert these hirsute individuals with charm have failed; I have learned that  a Hard Stare and Utter Disinterest does the trick. If not, a robust Fuck Off will nail it.

Young women: do not feel incumbent to entertain these creatures. They are two a penny and you will not arrive at your deathbed wishing you’d spent more time with them.  Let them return home to their weary wives and girlfriends; doubtless, said WAG is infused with regret. We can only hope she breaks free because truly, all women deserve better.

Those who are not pressed into regular business travel generally assume it to be a Bit of a Gift – oh come on, you have a great time! It’s glamorous, it’s paid for, it’s freedom. I’ll tell you a secret: it is none of those things. Business travel is gruelling, tiring and frustrating, mainly because hard work lies ahead and the equally hard work you were doing before you left has – unlike you – not gone anywhere. More than that, BB is not with me, not here to divert my attention from the mundanity of delays and TravelCrap. Not here to make me as happy as he does. The hardest sacrifice of all is enforced distance from him.

My blogs are usually more optimistic, but as I colonise this particular corner of the SlapFish bar at LAX Terminal 2 (the one without the pedicure service), truth is required.

It’s not so bad; it’s actually quite funny,

© Giovanna Forte 2019

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Frames, facades, finials and flourishes: how buildings tell stories.


Nose_picking_gargoyle____by_tallnthin.jpgI have a window fetish. There, I’ve said it. Mullions or muntins* of different widths make my hair stand on end; they let the building down, its facade a jumble. Simply put, both God and the Devil are in the detail … and detail is where stories can be told.

Buildings that combine to create our urban landscape can provide pleasure that will soar or crash during a ride through London streets. When observing architecture both old and new from my trusty moped, the heart can leap at a triumph, sink at lazy building design and twist with irritation when faced with something that should never have passed planning. But the greatest pleasure lies in spying a detail that hints at the story behind the building, its context, intent and aspiration.

There is something wonderful about a building façade that is proud to address the world around it. Brick has made a huge comeback in recent years, although the craftsman bricklayer is unlikely to enthuse over the faced panels often used to create the illusion of a traditional brick wall. Some architects reference the building’s historic context by specifying a material or finish that speaks of its past; a favourite of mine is the Turnmill Building, faced with bespoke bricks designed as an homage to the nature and form of Clerkenwell’s warehouses.

The Peabody Trust is known for the design of beautifully detailed, elegant estates that provide not just function but respect to occupants; from its earliest developments, the health of tenants was at the forefront of the architects’ brief, taking into account basic requirements for natural ventilation as well as spaces for children to play, and for the elderly to perambulate and socialise. Unlike today’s developments, designed and marketed to a specific generation or family-type, a Peabody Estate ensured that adults, children, singles, couples and families lived and played side by side. They delivered elegant, cohesive design, thoughtful detail and often, imaginative touches too; a story of social responsibility with respect community and individual alike.

Speaking of elegance, let’s turn to the pervasive glazed façade, an unedifying solution exemplified neatly by the Lexicon Building on City Road. Here, SOM with Squire and Partners have designed a handsome building, each apartment sealed with floor to ceiling glass.  Presumably the developer was happy to avoid the expense of window openings or balconies; now fully occupied, all these high windows feature drawn, full height blinds protecting the occupant from the magnified morning sun beating straight into their home – and the panoramic city views for which they have paid a premium. At launch in 2015 a two-bed apartment here cost a cool £1.4m – a substantial sum for hot, blind home.

Balconies once offered beauty for those both inside and outside a building, their design perhaps giving expression to a plainer façade; from delightfully carved stone or wrought iron coaxed and curled into wonderful designs, even the most modest but carefully crafted balustrade had the capacity to lift the spirits for passers-by. Apartment blocks have become ubiquitous in their design, often ignoring the context or story of their environment.  This repetitive architecture is bereft of the creative thought that could transform its presence in the street. The Bagel Factory in Hackney Wick missed a trick: why are there no lovely fat ironwork circles within the balcony frames, to echo not only the building’s lovely brand, but its history too?

Dull grey steel vertical bars proliferate balconies on myriad new-build apartment buildings; worse still is the use of solid glass, denying the smallest pleasure-giving breeze to flow through the enclosed space.

Value design is embraced by those responsible for delivering major projects, forgoing opportunity for contemporary art and craft to flourish within our city scapes. Just a little more investment into the commissioning of artists could, for instance, deliver wrought iron railings cast into a hallmark design for the developer. Interestingly perforated metal might create shapes that throw fascinating strands of light into the interior they embrace; a façade of many balconies could feature words and letters that combine to reveal a poem when viewed from the street.

Imagination, art and sculpture has a part to play in the built environment; older buildings feature embellishments that speak of its intent, or they may just bring a playful lift to an otherwise perfunctory function. Riding through London I see gargoyles below gutters, sculpted embellishments around windows, thoughtfully crafted fanlights, a date carved into a lintel, wall or gable.  Today the opportunity is missed, most especially in the design of municipal buildings when once the architecture may have spoken of the area’s backstory or hopes and dreams for the future.

Haggerston Baths and Washhouse was built with the best materials that celebrated the area’s brick and tile industry. Intended to engender pride amongst the residents of one of the poorest boroughs in London, this red brick building provided beautifully designed public amenities within, and a compelling exterior enhanced with colonnaded balcony, topped by a cupola with a gilded ship weathervane. Author and local resident Ian Sinclair reports that ships on pub signs and weathervanes confirmed London’s self-confidence as a world port.

Which brings me neatly to finials, embellishments implicit to the Regency overtones of my home town, Brighton. Here, it is as if in commissioning his Pavilion the Prince Regent gave permission for buildings to enjoy themselves, for the architecture that emerged from this period is nothing if not elegantly decorative. Brighton and Hove rooftops are alive with animals, dragons, gargoyles, angels and more simple but ebullient ornamentation. The exuberance of its architecture has surely played a part in the town’s cheeky reputation.

All over the world, craft, art, sculpture, turrets, domes, finials and flourishes celebrate the buildings we come to love and remember. Legacy architecture that speaks not only of the history of surrounding streets but respects and uplifts its residents and workers.

Glass and steel serve a purpose and I’m all for modernism, but it seems that imaginative, humane and creative building design has been “valued” out of contemporary architecture. In these times of uncertainty, of dissatisfaction with the world around us, perhaps developers might think about how to create more artful, spirited context and legacy that can make a real difference.

  • Mullion: a heavy vertical or horizontal member between adjoining window units
  • Muntin: narrow strips of wood that divide the individual panes of glass in a traditional sash

© Giovanna Forte 2019

Posted in architecture, Buildings, Craft, design, Design and architecture, Life and romance, London, property, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Female health and routine jiggery-pokery


iu-1I feel a caption competition coming on. Framed by my open thighs, the two women’s faces looked up and laughed.

This check-up Down There was another reminder that internal female furniture requires all manner of routine maintenance to keeps things on an even keel.

Whatever needs to happen, it is important to not mind. All women know that certain milestones in life involve sharing our bodies with numerous healthcare professionals; it is something we just get used to. To be candid, sometimes things can get so complicated between our legs, it is reassuring to know there’s someone who can tell you what’s what. When it comes to routine scans, screens and related jiggery-pokery, the words it’s nothing sinister are as good as sung by a choir of angels.

The sort of medical folk whose career choice has taken them into other people’s nether regions are generally kind and gentle; this does not preclude a convoluted procedure becoming too absorbing to remember that the body part with which they are so engaged still has a person at the other end.

Following a Brief Skirmish with Cancer some years ago, colonoscopies punctuate my year and I am immensely grateful to the highly qualified people in our NHS who find the business end of my body quite so compelling. Occasionally, too compelling.

There is someone attached to that bottom you know and by the way, it is supposed to be a one-way street! The Colo-rectal surgeon in question was introducing into my posterior something necessarily but uncomfortably penetrative – and doing so with unwarranted enthusiasm.  My emphatic outburst caused a cease-fire; he looked up in genuine bafflement …. and apologized.

A couple of months ago I deliberately arranged for both “in and out” clinical interventions to take place within 24 hours of each other; if one’s body is going to be subjected to serial invasion it is better in my view, to focus the activity into a concentrated period of time. When dignity is restored, it does not have to be disrupted again for a while.

There’s a lot to be said for dignity, but the health of one’s internal goings-on is even more important. Whether you like it or not, Sisters take heed: make sure the maintenance of your bits and pieces go hand-in glove (as it were) with a sense of humour.

It’ll be worth it in the end.

(c) Giovanna Forte, 2019

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Landlords, tenants and an uneven playing field.


home-sweet-home-hanging-posies-heart

Not so sweet when you rent…

“Remember, tenants should be aware that at any time, in the periodical phase of their tenancy, they can be evicted by landlords – tenants should bear this in mind when standing up for their rights.” 

This telling phrase appears in the Private Renting section of Hackney Council’s website. To be fair, Hackney is on tenants’ side by highlighting this proviso, and supports the removal of Section 21 of the rental housing act.

Fairness is uncommon in Private Landlord and Tenant law. If you are not a mortgagee – or in plainer terms, the customer of a bank or building society that owns your home – standing up for your rights puts that home in jeopardy. Mortgagees are in effect, tenants of benign “lending landlords”, who are happy for properties to be improved because ultimately everyone wins. Lender makes money, tenant becomes home owner.

The deal with Private Rental is that whilst you do not “own” an asset that may gain in value, you do not have to account for sometimes costly maintenance bills. Yet whilst you are obliged to treat the property with respect and effectively pay to be on-site manager, the issues you raise won’t necessarily be attended to.

The problem is that currently the law falls in favour of Private Landlords; simply, they can delay making repairs for all manner of reasons and if you complain, you get kicked out. This, despite certain repair delays leading to damage to the fabric of their asset.

My first rented home of over six years, was owned by a Landlord who fulfilled every aspect of his obligations, appreciating a tenant who cared for his asset. At the end of his fixed rate mortgage, he offered to share the saving, reducing my monthly rent by £100.

The second rental was not so edifying an experience, involving a Landlord who, in response to our complaints over a flooded basement refused compensation and asked what do you expect if you want to live in a nice old house?

Our last privately rented home (my third) suffered a number of issues. When we moved in, the house had not been cleaned as promised; we had to scrub floors and fittings before unpacking and found a rodent skeleton behind the (mouldy) fridge. The most serious ongoing issue was a leaky gutter directly above the front door; our Landlord took over eighteen months to fail to fix it. We warned him that the brickwork holding the hinges of the external security door would suffer, causing one or both of the hinges to come away from the wall. This situation came to pass, compromising the security of his house – our home. Not only this, but this steady stream of water soaked us, our post and any visitors to the house when it rained, creating a dangerous doorstep hazard. All this for over £2,000 per month.

Managing Agents do not come out of this well, either. The agent eventually appointed to that Tower Hamlets’ property also failed to act on any repairs. When, despite assurances to the contrary, we discovered that the Landlord had not met his legal requirement to protect our deposit, the Agent wrongly advised him and us that the long-standing law to compensate the tenant for up to 3x the deposit in this failure, was no longer in force, advising us to leave and let live. The Agent also appointed himself legal counsel to the Landlord and offered us the same service, something not only rife with Conflict of Interest but given his lack of legal qualifications, somewhat misplaced.

This, our fourth rental home is one that we love; we want to stay here in Hackney for as long as possible; here our Managing Agents do their best with a private Landlord reluctant to spend a penny on even essential repairs. Hackney’s stark warning about eviction for claiming our rights, combined with a standard annually renewable tenancy is already a cause for concern – and not a little insecurity.

Landlords notwithstanding, our rented properties have been left in a far better condition than when we moved in, something already in evidence in our current Hackney home. Why? Because quite simply, we want to live somewhere lovely, and if it isn’t when we move in, we’ll make it so.

Appallingly, tenants cannot legally withhold rent in situations like this, or in any situation around the failure of their Landlord to fulfil his or her obligations – and there is no way of guaranteeing they will, without risking eviction.

If you want to live somewhere half decent in  London, you can end up paying more than a million-pound mortgage repayment. If personal circumstances (such as ploughing every saved penny into your business) mean you do not have the deposit required to secure a mortgage, private rental it is and regardless of a ten-year track record paying that equivalent million-pound mortgage, you will never qualify for a mortgage-for-real – another much needed change to property finance and law, right there.

With private housing rental on the rise, something has to change; high deposits, low salaries and a reduction in the cascading of wealth to the next generation mean that mortgage criteria exclude the vast majority of young people – and entrepreneurs of any age.

Private Landlords need to be held to account, Managing Agents need to be more closely regulated and Private Tenants need to be treated with a lot more respect. The removal of Section 21 is a start. Ultimately a rental home needs to be long term provision, not a temporary stop-gap that benefits Landlord over Tenant.

After all, everyone needs somewhere to call home.

Posted in Business, Consumer rights, Design and architecture, Family, Home, Landlords, Life and romance, London, property, Property agents, Property rental, Tenant rights, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Let Me
Wire Agency
Natura Pizzeria
42 Rue Victor Hugo
Chateau Rigaud

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


DSCF2745

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.

small-cupola

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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