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

Posted in Family, Feminism, Friends, Health, Hospital, Life and romance, Motherhood, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Landlords, tenants and an uneven playing field.


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.

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
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
Mix into a mess

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.

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.


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, owner of Monforte Viennoiserie in Melbourne, Australia. If you are there, say hello and 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 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 “Healthcare Consultant” arranged thirteen lunches with NHS hierarchy, an expense I could ill-afford, David ensured that expensive options and all prices be removed and a dedicated Giovanna menu printed for my arrival. Whenever I called to book I was asked Is this one of your special needs lunches? The bespoke options were 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 behaviour 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 door.

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 recognised 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 marvellous, better than the best. Most of all, thank you David and Robert for giving Shoreditch its very finest and most original moments.


© Giovanna Forte 2017

Posted in Art, Business, Entertaining, Eyre Brothers, Family, Food and wine, Friends, Home, Life and romance, London, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Austin power: an idyllic week.


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


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