The bank I was directed to for opening an account seems to run completely differently. There were no tellers that I could see and – wait – no queues! I found my way to a friendly African staffer behind a centrally located desk,
who took my name with a helpful smile and politely asked me to take a seat in bright red chairs. Music played overhead, including my favourite Coldplay album. Within minutes a polite lady appeared, smiled and apologised for the wait, taking me to her booth from an indepth explanation of my new account. Well, I thought, this is service!
After spending the morning surfing the net and trying to locate anything that was short-let and reasonably priced in the exclusive suburb of Islington that I liked (well, my dad was born here I think, and they did say the schools were great!) – I accepted the futility of the exercise in realising that exclusive suburbs don’t have cheap or easy rent! The next best offer seemed to be a number of places – dubiously without photographs other than ‘sample ones’ – in the area of Willesden Green. So I now decided to see how long it would take to get there and whether I would be stranded in the snow on a deserted and lonely station platform in the freezing dark. Three stations and one hour later I emerged in leafy Willesden Green. As usual coming out a high point of the village with little shops falling away on either side of the station bridge, I immediately saw a sign pointing down the road to a mosque. Well, I thought, this looks good. My imagined small door to a tiny musallah in fact turns out to be the huge Brent St mosque still under refurbishment. Peering in the door a worried South Asian gentleman carrying his masbahah tried to shoo me away to a different entry. I persevered and through our different accents managed to eventually get approval to pray and browse around. The mosque is huge, airy and comfortable. Yep, I like the area.
Walking back up to the train station I decided to try for cafes and busses. The cafes were limited, but the busses were plentiful and one went directly back to my destination! Muslims and halal restaurants were everywhere, with a much busier small village life than the place I had visited earlier. Catching a double decker bus I sat up the top to watch the view. These tall narrow busses seem to surf down the narrow rivulets of village streets, banked steeply on each side by quaint and sometimes crumbling shop fronts. The tall sashed windows that rise up on each side seem to lean in as the buses lurch between grated crossings and down grand residential streets with towering trees almost obscuring the sky.
People are more relaxed I notice, but tense in a worried sort of way. You see less of a cool restrained type of dude – the one my son is so adept at – than open features that display the full range of emotions. I imagine him cringing if I behaved in the manner of those around me who seem oblivious to social expectations, speaking loudly on mobile phones and above and over each other as though there was not ten people standing between them.
I break fast this time in a tiny restaurant off Oxford St with rich tomato and basil soup, light salad with fried salmon fillets on top and crusty bread. Delicious, but the owner is a little bemused by my insistence that I have to wait before I can break fast. This causes me to miss a coffee I have been dying for from the Costa coffee shop which closes across the street while I am dashing towards it. Closer to home I find the street mall which had such wonderful little cafes during the day, not spread out with rustic tables and tablecloths for Italian, Greek and Asian restaurants joyously celebrating the night. I ask for a coffee and am told I have to have desert as well (now that’ll be hard). I choose a light sorbet – so light it slips dreamily from my spoon like heavy beaten egg white – and the coffee is warm, not too strong and very smooth.
I watch as behind the tables on the mall, speed past ladies on bikes. I had seen many of these in the city also – usually no helmets, weaving comfortably between the double decker busses, little black taxis and other cars. From high heels and dressed up, to middle aged and casual, there were an abundance of fit women peddling their way around. Certainly everyone seems fitter than me, and there is little obesity. Suddenly a troop of Greek musicians start up at the tables, as a black taxi trundles through the tiny space of the mall behind them. I love this place!