19 May, 2007

discovering Islington (or How Far is Too Far?)

First, I have to tell you where I found this lovely photograph. It's a really clever website dedicated to... I don't really know! Odd scientific facts? Little-known myths debunked? Give it a click.

Well, in our never-ending efforts to find a house, we have entered into negotiations with that part of our brains that governs reasonable behavior: how far is too far to live, from Avery's school? This question of course begs the larger one, which is where she will go to school in the first place. The halcyon days of King's College Prep will not last forever, sadly. A year from September will find her in quite some other location, and all indications so far put her in the southwest corner of London. So why, you might well ask, would we be looking for a home in... northeast London? Fair enough.

I'll tell you why. It's because we have many requirements for a house, a dream house, all of which taken together have ousted us from the more convenient areas we might look in. Here's the problem. John wants an interesting architectural exterior. He also wants a fair amount of space. I want period details left in place, and a truly great kitchen-entertaining space. He'd be happier than I would be with a dodgy-ish neighborhood, and I'd be happy with less square footage than he would be. So either one of us could be made happy within our budget, but not both of us. So Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush, chock-a-block as they are with lovely LITTLE houses, are out because they make John feel claustrophobic. And to be reasonable (as I'm trying to be), a man shouldn't have to duck in his own house. But then, say, we try for Notting Hill, or even North Kensington, where the ceilings are higher, the houses wider. Suddenly they become almost twice as expensive. Partly the size, partly the trendy neighborhood. Get this: on Thursday we saw a five-storey house in North Kensington (or was it West Kensington) filled to the BRIM with the belongings of not only one family, but the inherited belongings of three dead branches of the same family. Every wall covered with oil paintings of dead relations, sketches of remote country districts, bird studies, hounds with dead pheasants in their mouths, silhouettes of long-grown children. And carpets, and books, and mantelpiece sculptures and vases, and several dozen quilts in various stages of quilting. Four-poster beds with draperies, like a hotel in the Cotswolds.

Just as we were leaving, we visited the kitchen (dreadful) one more time, and the elderly, white-haired, blue-cardied owner lady was sitting at the table, arranging her bits and pieces in her elderly handbag, preparing to go out. We apologised for barging around and she was very gracious. As we left, the estate agent whispered, "She was the nanny for the royal family, you know." What? Apparently before the likes of Tiggy Legg-Bourke entered the scene.

But my point is, what's a family of three, spoiled rotten from New York loft living, to do?

Get thee to Islington, it would seem. At least we're giving it the old college try. Yes, it's a hike from the potential school neighborhoods. But Georgian houses on lovely rehabilitated squares, where you can see from the front pavement through the living room windows straight out the back windows onto a leafy, plush garden? It's hard to resist. So far all we've done is write down addresses of houses for sale, and drive up there to look around from the outside. We spent most of yesterday afternoon walking all over Barnsbury, Canonbury, Duncan Terrace, all sorts of lovely streets with all the flowers just blooming, the pavements filled with young families pushing pushchairs (all looking, no doubt, for a house). And the high street, Upper Street, is simply crowded with lovely little restaurants, antique shops and a surprising profusion of hair dressing establishments. And the inevitable presence of estate agents, of course. I'm convinced that estate agents are the new High Society. They seem to hold all our future plans in their hot little hands, gloating, "Yes, who can explain it? Prices seem to rise every week! It's horrible, isn't it?"

Anyway, the neighborhood looked lovely enough to warrant at least making some appointments with these estate agents to see the houses from the inside. And we found one absolutely gobsmacking antique shop called Castle Gibson Furniture where we wanted one of everything in the place. We're pretty sure that wherever we go we'll need wardrobes and chests of drawers, since built-in closet space is not, or should not be, a feature of a Georgian house. There were great painted Victorian chests, beat-up leather chairs, a really beautiful zinc-topped dining table, all sorts of things I wanted desperately. But while buying a carpet in Morocco for a house we don't have is one thing (at least it can be laid flat while you pretend it isn't on top of another carpet), stacking up dining tables and chairs is a little silly, even for me.

Then we found a great kitchen supply shop called Gill Wing, in Upper Street, that supplied to me two sets of those metal rings that every cook apparently must have these days, to allow us to build vertical stacks of perfectly round dishes. Say you have a big saucepan of risotto. My normal approach to serving would be to... plop a big ladle-ful on the plate and maybe lean a chicken breast up against it, then dig in. No, no, no. Not in 2007 you don't! No, after obsessively watching two seasons of Great British Menu, the fab cooking show where ego-mad chefs from various regions of Great Britain compete with a four-course meal to rule their regions, Avery has informed me that my presentation must get up to snuff. So as of today, anything I put on a plate will be in the shape of one of these little metal discs. Lamb's lettuce salad with chili vinaigrette? Check, round salad. Scrambled eggs with creme fraiche and chives? Check, round scrambled eggs. We'll see.

Then we had a lovely lunch at one of the Belgo industry's outposts, Bierodrome Islington. John had a pretty good kilo of steamed moules classiques, which while fresh and good, were accompanied by a rather more boring bath than they should have been. Try my mussel recipe instead. Don't be shy with the garlic, either. I had a gorgeous plate of king prawns with a really flavoursome red chilli and garlic butter sauce. Yum. John had the "Beer of the Month," a really very tasty brew called Brugge Zotblonde.

Well, at any rate, no house yet. What I most do not want to do is have John cave to the property-ladder pressure (as in "must own something so I can someday sell it at a profit, which I can't do if I don't own anything"). That would mean we buy a puny house just to have a house, move in, and watch John spend the rest of his life looking for the house he really wanted. But we have to draw the line at Grade I listed houses in Bedford Square. We really can't look at any more houses that we cannot afford. It's too depressing.

But hey: the good news is that Avery's home! Safe from her five-day school trip to the Isle of Wight. All the Form V mothers and fathers lined up in front of the school yesterday to see the coach pull up and disgorge 26 dirty, rumpled, sunburned, exhausted but blissful gulls, full of shaggy-dog stories and shared annoying camp songs, plus boasts of how high/far/deep or whatever they went on whatever challenge. We dragged her home, running a couple of errands in the high street on the way home and enjoining her not to tell either of us anything without the other there to hear. Home to a bath, and her favorite bolognese sauce, and a cosy time reading together. It was nice to be on our own, but it's nice to get her back. Even if we didn't find a house while she was away...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you have to buy in London? Why not look for somewhere in the country within commuting distance. Far more chic than a town centre place.