Thursday, 17 November 2016

Meet the real locals

Sainsbury's have a store round the corner from me. It claims to be local. I know this because there’s a white plastic sign above the door saying ‘Local’. 
I've lived here 15 years and I suppose that’s long enough to consider myself local. But I’ve not seen this shop before...maybe I just haven't been paying attention?
I walk in and don’t recognise the staff. Maybe they have different people in today.
I say hello to the cashier and she seems friendly enough. I was wondering if she was going to talk to me about Arsenal’s chances for the title this season. Or when the roadworks at Highbury Corner are ever going to end. Or where’s my dog / wife / kids? But no local banter was forthcoming. It was strictly business. Fishcakes. £2.43 please. Shit. I haven’t got enough. “Can I pay the 14p tomorrow?” She shook her head.
But I’m local. In your ‘local’. I’ll pay you next time.
She said she had no idea who I was, or what I was going on about, or who my dog was. “Move away from the fishcakes sir”... security were called and I thought I’d better leave. Things were getting beyond fishy.
It got me thinking. And not a little irritated. Granted I was going to miss out on my fish supper. But more upsetting was the issue of what it means to be local. Proper local. Can it be reduced to a shitty sign? Whack it up alongside a logo and job’s a good ‘un. 
When you have to say you're local… you’re probably not. It's like those chocolate bars / magazines / TV shows that scream they're nutty. They're not.

If you're local you don't need to print it large on a plastic sign. Scratch beneath that bit of typography (FS Lola if you’re asking - ‘friendly and initiate') and you’ll find anything but. The staff aren't local. The food isn't local. The payment policy isn't local. The patter certainly isn't local. 

I think the sign needs a tweak to reflect the utter bollocks they are projecting. I would like it to read ‘Un-local’. And I’d like to see (all) the plastic signs around the country adapted accordingly please.  

There’s already an ‘Un-local’ Sainsbury’s at Finsbury Park and they’re planning to build another on Blackstock Road next. Which means now all of our real locals have yet another threat to their livelihood.
In the past fifteen years 10,000 family or individually owned convenience stores have disappeared in Britain as a result of expansion of supermarkets into local territory.
And it’s getting worse if the Blackstock Road is anything to go by. If it’s got me worried, imagine what my real local shopkeepers are thinking?
‘Local’ is officially defined as ‘relating or restricted to a particular area or one's neighbourhood, relating to a particular region or part, or to each of any number of these.
For me and many in the area it means more.
Local means having knowledge and an empathy with the people, the happenings, the gossip in the community. Quite often it is just taking the time to listen. And enquire about people’s lives. “Are the girls enjoying big school?” “How’s your back?” “How shit are your team?!”  
I get all this and more at no extra cost from the (non-ironically titled) ‘Arsenal Supermarket’. 

Or ‘The Turkish’ as it’s known in our house.
It’s our local. And we love it.
Or rather them, being Ali, Touran and Yucel. Not forgetting the Dad out the back. Each of them a diamond. 
Ali - big, strong, massive smile. A Turkish James Gandolfi.

The much-loved owner, with a heart of gold.  And the patience of a saint.

The NHS should be paying him for the work he does for the mental health of N5. He could be their only conversation all day.

Many a time I’ve waited to pay for the milk as he’s offered words of wisdom to a lost soul needing a chat, a hug. And 10 Lambert & Butler.  

Ali - the boss

Next up it’s Touran his little brother. A more gentle soul with a fantastic beard and a secret Man United fan. But not many people know that. He goes about his business in a quiet polite manner. And when United beat the Arse - not often in these bleak post Fergie days - we give each other a sly look. An unspoken local secret.
The Dad occasionally resurfaces when one of the lads returns home to plant trees on the farm. In their absence he takes over with minimal English but an Olympic standard of packing. How he gets cheese, eggs, bread, bacon, OJ and a bottle of lemonade into that little blue bag I’ll never know. 
Finally Yucel - the wiry cool one - rides to work every day to keep trim. 

Cheeky and charming - the ladies love him. And the lads do too - for his Encyclopaedic knowledge of Arsenal. And like all true Gooners he flips between loving and hating Wenger.

So far this season it’s all good. He’s loving it. And esp loving seeing me. The other week after Chelsea had thrashed United he didn’t say anything. Merely a smile. A shake of the head. Murmurs about a relegation battle looming. I pay and leave. If it gets any worse I’m sending the girls in.  


50 yards down the road is another of our locals. Shivas Newsagents.

Owned by Shila & Ash, who’ve been there ever since we have, seemingly open every hour of every day. Nothing is too much bother.

We’ve left our house keys with them, our dog, my 90 year old parents and the odd lost plumber. 


Kibar (pictured) and her sister Dilber are two of Highbury's smartest and gorgeous locals.

They somehow manage to run the welcoming Cinnamon Village Cafe while bringing up kids, going to college, visiting family back home in Turkey. And more. All with consummate ease.

Their cafe arrived in our lives the same week Dorothy did, back in 2012 when we won the Olympic bid and the Ashes. So they caught us on a good day. Thereafter, for a very long time, we didn't really go anywhere else on a Saturday morning. We just dragged ourselves in, got a table by the window to catch the morning sunshine and they'd patiently listen to my whining of lack of sleep. Which was as nothing compared to Rachel's (thought I'd mention this sharpish before I got corrected)

Their full Turkish breakfast is a classic hangover cure. The ginger zinger zaps colds. While the millionaire shortbread for pure indulgence. 50,000 calories of joy. Stories from the Coup in Turkey earlier this year a reminder of how they are looking after family back home. As well as their adopted family here in N5. Tesekkür ederim!

Further up the road towards Finsbury Park Meet David & Sally Mayers, owners of Highbury Butchers on Blackstock Road and more great locals of Highbury.

The dog and I rock up most Saturday mornings 8am, a full three hours after David & Sally have got up to prepare this wonderfully pristine shop. We're greeted with warm smiles, weather chat and complimentary mini sausages on the counter. 

We greedily scoff them down and chat over the wonderful display counter, offering every imaginable cut of meat, the mind boggling on what we could cook tonight. David is somewhat of a local legend, not just for his shop - open since 1979 - but also having gone to school with Rod Stewart. Quite a good claim to fame.

Having sampled David’s amazing lamb burgers though I’d say surely Rod could be famous for having gone to school with David? We share news, thankfully not too much footy chat - Dave has a broader outlook on life I feel  - or perhaps he’s just going easy on me on account of how shit United currently are.

He offered me a job the other day. Wasn’t entirely sure he was being serious but it made me smile. And made me recall I did once spend a year in Sainsbury’s butchery in Oxford. I quite liked wearing the hat and chatting to the locals. Never say never…

Dave & Sally

Sonar (Cinnamon Village 2 Cafe)

Just opposite the butchers on the Blackstock Road is Sonar, owner of the Cinnamon Village 2 Cafe. He always greets me warmly, like a long lost brother. (Maybe he is?) He doesn’t look much like Jurgen Klopp or the Dad from the Rug Rats so I can’t see it. But you never know. If he starts becoming incredibly excitable and emotional we could be...

As well as running this fantastic cafe with a smile that'll melt your heart and creating some of the finest milkshakes in North London, he's also a musician and performer, playing the ‘Saz’ (Turkish guitar) on summery days in nearby Clissold Park. He's always got time to chat and listen. Such rare qualities in this world. I have mastered the former. Working hard on the latter.

Through one such exchange he told me of his new love for bees. And creating his own honey (featured foreground) He's now trying to convince me to get bees too. He's offered to help set it up in April next year. Why not? The cat has been warned.

Sean (Highbury Vintners)

I’d wager Highbury Vintners (or "Sean’s" as it's known in our house) is possibly the contender for oldest #reallocal. The large airy well stocked store of today is a far cry from when it started over 20 years ago. In those days Shaun's Dad was behind the til and was a quarter of the size, with a migraine inducing orange carpet and plastic screens. But it served a purpose and Sean has taken the legacy on. And the carpet out.

He sells an incredible range of wines (and tasty craft beers) from all over the world. Of equal import are the middle class crisps aka Tyrell's. Seriously, more addictive than crack. Kids, dogs, buggies and babies are all welcome. There's 10% off a box of 12. And a free deliver service. With Dad behind the wheel instead of the til.

Sean himself is less frequently in the shop these days, bringing up his twin daughters and enduring trips around the New and Old World to bring back flagons of the sweet tasting nectar. It’s bang opposite the church. As ever the good Lord and alcohol never far apart. I'm really hoping these guys don't suffer from the bastard unlocal. Sean (and his partner and wife and general legend Gillian) have worked long and hard to get here.

The store and staff - Tom & Ben my regulars - a jewel in our backyard. Wine tasting on a Friday is the perfect end to the week. Which moved on to Sake tasting recently. Not sure if Mr Sainsbury's can offer that. Kampai to the Vintners!

Marcello (Little Sardegna)

Appearing like a modern-day Salvador Dali, Marcello hosts this cosy Sardinian restaurant on the Blackstock Road with swagger and charm. And a belting moustache. His pumpkin parcels are legendary. At times they have reduced myself and @deeebeeeteee to silence, in awe at how the soft squash is juxtaposed with his chilli sauce. It’s ingredients remain a secret, possibly more valuable than the Colonel’s very own.

I think it’s a sign of how much you adore a place when you take people you love there. I have dined here with many of my nearest and dearest. With a great sense of pride knowing not only will the food be great, but there be Marcello there to share the love. The amour and of course, those parcels. Recently he embraced my 93 year-old mum as if she too were a local.

She started rambling on in that way only Mum’s can, describing an Italian supermarket she'd visited 60 years ago in Palermo. He remembered it. Or did a bloody good job of pretending. You can't bullshit my mum. That's her job. Last summer we ate there to celebrate not only @borris15 and @rachmon21 doing their London 10k, but also Muzza's Second Coming at Wimbledon. As we salivated over the cheese and cold meats board - up there with the pumpkin - the TV remained off. A word in his ear and it was on and the wine flowed and all was good with the world.

Smoking outside alongside the man (when he’s not cooking) is also one of life's great pleasures. Although obviously I have given up this filthy habit*. I love it that he has an official al fresco table for smokers - current and lapsed - to enjoy their nicotine hit as the blackstock road goes about its madness. Grazie mille Marcello. 

It’s completely humbling - a community of people who’s generosity of spirit seems to be unlimited, who always go beyond what is asked and who don't need a plastic sign to tell me any of this.

Don't get me wrong I like Sainsbury's and their fishcakes. But I'll happily go without them, if it means my real locals don't go out of business and the community can continue to thrive together.
Wherever you live, make sure you support your real locals. Keep going in for a chat. With your dog, your kids, your thumping hangover. Keep buying the milk and eggs. And keep the Un locals at bay.

They're not from round these parts.



1 comment: