Just over three years ago The Girls and I left the Shoreditch loft that had been our home for some thirty months and into a less exuberant, much smaller, three-up two-down Bethnal Green cottage, half a mile East.
The moment we set foot in our new home, we threw open the front window, perched on the precariously stacked boxes and cracked open a bottle of champagne. Within ten minutes, a couple of neighbours stuck their heads in to say hello (this is London?) Within another ten, my friend Buzz rolled up to help shift boxes and, together with Sophie, who’d helped us clear out of the old place, accompanied us to dinner at the Royal Oak, to toast new beginnings.
Celebrate we did, courtesy of this marvelous pub, where someone had heard we were “moving in” and chilled a bottle of bubbles for our arrival. Bart, The Oak’s redoubtable chef whom we knew from his Eyre Brothers days, joined us and together we all strolled back to our cottage of crates for more bubbles and toasts.
Just two weeks later, on my daily stop at Londis on Columbia Road, this time seeking out cream cheese for my party Bagels, the Boys there asked if I’d settled in. “Yes thank you,” I replied, “and today’s my Birthday.” “Welcome,” they said, “Happy Birthday,” and I left the shop a big box of chocolates richer.
Some six months into our happy Jesus Green tenure, we were musing over the near-perfection of our new home, the people and shops around us. An Italian deli, we agreed, would bring our satisfaction to a rare 100%, but had little expectation that the wish would be granted. Not a month hence, however, we saw a young woman refurbishing a previously boarded up shop on Columbia Road. “What are you opening here?” we asked. “An Italian deli,” said Emma, since when Campania has purveyed some of the best Italian food in the area. Hello 100%.
Our luck and contentment has since scored a steady set of full marks. The perfect landlord installed a new kitchen; we bought some classic 1970s Danish chairs for a few quid, on the pavement outside the antiques shop on Hackney Road. Our bikes sustain a puncture and are fixed by Pat at the Cycle Centre. The Boys in Bargain World on Bethnal Green Road (great affordable glassware) always ask after my children; Smiling Man in the International Supermarket (herbs to die for) knows exactly how to hang shopping bags from my handlebars. Latterly, Brawn, which I can only describe as the perfect local supper-spot opened nearby. On the collapse of our own internet network, we are rescued by one called “neighbourly.”
Communally, Ion Square Gardens are a fine example of local culture. The rehab centre residents from round the corner, occupy the benches to the north and always offer a friendly “hello”. The playground to the south is populated with a melee of mixed culture families; bright Sarees and black Kippahs intermingle, implicit components of the well maintained swings and roundabouts. The middle-ground hosts shifting sands of couples, old and young, groups of picnicking friends and solo girls and boys just lying around.
Today’s news: a strange cat arrived in our house. Apart from a red collar, she looked for all the world, like one of ours. She strolled in, took a tour of inspection, ignored the shocked expressions on the faces of the resident felines and settled down in the living room for a couple of hours’ kip.
The forbearance the cats showed our intruder is less remarkable than it might be, because in true Bethnal Green style, they have become mates with the neighbouring dog. Grouped at the windowsill opposite they commune happily, startling passers-by.
Indeed, this afternoon, Iris and I concurred on what a blessed spot we call home, “Like our own corner of the moon,” she said as we leaned from our bedroom windows, facing each other for a proper, neighbourly chat that took place quite literally, over the road.
© Giovanna Forte
Our successful move was orchestrated by a hugely efficient Davey Stone, who completed the process in just five days from enquiry to moving in.
Love your writing G, thank u : ) S x