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Sarah Toner: ballet teacher

23 Oct

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Gillespie Road looks so ordinary but it is home to an astonishing array of sport-related businesses – there’s the old Arsenal stadium (the reason the tube was renamed Arsenal in 1932), the Gunners’ Fan Club and The Sarah Toner School of Ballet. Here ballet teacher Sarah Toner explains why ballet is good for us all. Interview by Nicola Baird

Sarah Toner: xx

Sarah Toner: “I love ballet with all my heart.”

Sarah Toner has always loved dancing. She went to ballet school in Hertfordshire, joined a company in Portugal and then danced with the Birmingham Royal Ballet (which was the original Sadler’s Wells).  “I love ballet with all my heart,” she says when we meet at Cinnamon Village at 109 Highbury Park.

“I loved the training and the camaraderie, but being a free spirit I found it difficult to tolerate the ballet world, with its hierarchy and the way things are always done the same.” It didn’t help that Sarah’s elder sister was at the same school, followed the same career and initially joined the same company of dancers.

I was always the naughty little sister and we were always competitive. We are both tall so we’d both be the big swans, or the two old ladies or the two evil sisters – and yet we’re very different!”

Sarah Toner calls Cinnamon Village her office. “I have a cappuccino every day,” she says. Other local café haunts are Cinnamon 2, Paul on Upper Street, the Highbury Barn pub for coffee at 7am, Vintage Café, the new Highbury Arts Club. Special meetings are held out of the borough at Covent Garden Hotel in Monmouth Street, not far from Danica which supplies her students’ leotard, skirt and shoes.

Sarah Toner calls Cinnamon Village her office. “I have a cappuccino every day,” she says. Other local café haunts are Cinnamon 2, Paul on Upper Street, Highbury Barn pub for coffee at 7am, Vintage Café, the new Highbury Arts Club. Special meetings are held at Covent Garden Hotel in Monmouth Street, not far from Dancia which supplies her students’ leotard, skirt and shoes.

This love-hate relationship with ballet companies means that Sarah has spent chunks of her dancing life working freelance. A highlight was a year-long tour with the Pet Shop Boys in the early 1990s. The show kicked off in Japan, went via the US and Europe before finishing at Wembley.

Even for a dancer it was glamorous,” says Sarah who was one of 10 classically trained dancers and two street dancers on the tour. “We were so well looked after. There were lots of quick changes, a brilliant choreographer, Jacob Marley, a good per deum (for daily expenses) and the Pet Shop Boys were really kind.”

Sarah, now 49, ended up in Islington because her husband – also a dancer and who she is now separated from – had a place not far from Sadler’s Wells.

“I always thought I’d move back to west London but then I had a baby, and another, and another and you stay where you are for them don’t you?” Eventually the family moved to Gillespie Road.

Opening a ballet school
“I opened my ballet school when my marriage ended. I had to find a way of being a full-time mum and working. My youngest, Lulu, was only six so came to all my dance classes – she’s done a lot!  Then it seemed like a financial necessity but it has become the most enjoyable chapter of my life.”

lp (8)All Sarah’s kids are performers – Seb, 18, is working on a music tech BTEC; Molly, 14 is at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts  and  “always on TV in the programme School 4Stars”, while Lulu, 11, has just won a place at the Royal Ballet School (where the mythical Billy Elliot nearly botches his dance future at the interview stage).

My parents knew nothing about ballet. My mum, probably like lots of mums, thought it was a nice thing for a little girl to do. Ballet gives you such confidence and self discipline. It teaches you to learn to enjoy being quiet, and to listen, as well as to understand anatomy and how the body works. My classes are not twee, there’s lots of discipline, but we don’t do exams, and we are very creative.”

Many of Sarah’s students are very young, but she loves working with Year 5 -7, she says this is the perfect age to progress quickly and get to love dancing, rather than attending a club because your best friend will be there.

20131014_110214

Baby ballet classes are run at 45 Gillespie Road for The Sarah Toner School of Ballet.

People watching
As well as baby ballet – for two and three years olds – and a range of dance and exercise classes Sarah runs a Fabulous in High Heels course. “Years ago I worked with actresses on deportment who needed position coaching for costume drama. Then one day I was people watching in the City and kept finding myself seeing beautiful women, so elegantly dressed, but thinking ‘they’d look so much better if they just softened their shoulders or relaxed their knees.’ A friend encouraged me and I ended up writing Faboulous in High Heels (£9.99). It’s not my mission for every woman to strut around in high heels, but it can give you the confidence to be that woman who looks fabulous as she enters the room…

A favourite client, Jennifer Saunders part of the Ab Fab team, wrote the preface and since then many women have put on their heels for the course. “Mums come with their daughters, and sometimes it’s dads who send their girls – I think because they are so horrified that their daughters are turning into these glowing young women.”

The book comes free with the course.  “I find that for the women coming to the class it’s often nothing to do with how they walk in heels – they’re lacking in body confidence, so I help them go away feeling better about themselves.

Shri Chew, who’s lived in Islington for 36 years, helps Sarah run the Sarah Toner School of Ballet. “We met because our daughters were friends at St John’s Primary School.”

Shri, who’s lived in Islington for 36 years, helps Sarah run The Sarah Toner School of Ballet. “We met because our daughters were friends at St John’s Primary School.”

Busy busy busy
The one flaw with Sarah’s life is she has so little time for herself, oten not finishing classes until 9.30pm. “I do some lovely things – I’ve just done an event with Louis Vuitton at Selfridges,” explains Sarah, “but I go out less than once a year!”

20131014_105712As a result Sarah can’t recommend glam places in Islington – but she says her mum, Ann, comes up from “Cambridge once a week to cook the teenage grandchildren a roast dinner, and “She goes to the butcher on Blackstock Road for chicken, oh and my daughters have their hair cut at Zebra with stylist Annie.”

“My kids have had to share me with 200 other children,” explains Sarah, “but I feel it’s made them very tolerant. I hope they’ve seen me being kind, and not judgmental – because you never know what’s going on behind closed doors.” And that’s where we leave this interviewee – Sarah glam in her long black suede (flat!) winter boots catching up over a coffee with her colleague Shri in their unofficial office, Cinnamon Village. Here’s hoping this has inspired families to send their daughters and sons to ballet class, and everyone else to try out at least one of Sarah Toner’s exercise classes.

  • The Sarah Toner School of Ballet at 45 Gillespie Road, London, N5 for baby ballet.
  • There are always half term workshops.
  • All other classes run by The Sarah Toner School of Ballet are at Joan of Arc Community Centre on Kelross Road, N5.
  • Christmas Extravaganza 2013 for children aged 8-16 years is on Sunday 15 December. Rehearsals start at half term.
  • For bookings contact sarah@sarahtoner.co.uk or see http://www.sarahtoner.co.uk or text 07968 891751.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

 

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Pat Tuson: urban nature photographer

29 Aug

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  Pat Tuson, 68, best known locally as leading the Gillespie Festival team, grew up in the East End but it’s Islington birds and blooms that feature most in her urban and plant photographs.  Interview by Nicola Baird

Pat Tuson: xxx

Pat Tuson: “I’ve always been a bit of a whiz with family history, but I was amazed to find out recently that my grandmother was born in the Paradise Cafe, 129 Holloway Road, N7 (near St Mary Magdalene Church) where my great grandfather was a coffee house keeper. It’s my only Islington connection but one until recently I knew nothing about.”

“I was accidentally born in Somerset, but we came from Bow* in East London, near where the terrible cycling accidents happen opposite where McDonald’s is now,” explains Pat when I track her down at the Ecology Centre off Drayton Park. She’s armed with her Nikon D300 camera waiting for the wind to die down so she can take photos of summer plants.

Pat was a war baby – born in January 1945, and her dad, known as Jack (“actually Denis Archibald – he was the seventh son so they’d run out of names,” says Pat joking). “My grandfather was a scrap metal dealer, and so was my father. There was no stigma to being a scrap metal dealer then, as there is now, and my father was a respected member of the local comunity and the Catholic Church. He was oftern referred to as ‘one of nature’s gentlemen’.”

Life in Bow
“My father was married in 1940, but he’d fallen off a roof a few years before and then rolled under a lorry. He was there concussed for two hours before anyone found him. He was in hospital for two years and nearly didn’t make it. It affected him always – he needed a stick and he was very nervous about my mother and I.”

“We lived in a little row of terrace cottages (not as grand as Whistler Street off Drayton Park, N5) that were in very bad condition. They were held up with wooden supports and our house had a corrugated roof. My uncle lived next door – he was a Labour councillor in Poplar, and became Mayor too.”

“In 1944 doodlebugs* had been dropped a few streets away – seven or eight people were killed, and my father was very nervous, so we went to Minehead. I was actually born in Bridgewater. A note was sent to my father saying he’d had a daughter and then he had to walk to the hospital [21 miles/33km] as there was no public transport due to the bad weather.”

The family was back in London by spring 1945, but in addition to post war austerity they had to put up with a lot. In 1951 Pat’s little brother died just four days after he was born, and then Pat was diagnosed with TB (caught from another uncle). “TB is contagious,” she explains. “I was only eight, and I didn’t feel ill, but I was carted off to High Wood, a sanatorium in Brentwood*, Essex for five months. The cure was rest, you had to stay in bed. I couldn’t understand why I had to go to sleep at 6pm in the summer when the light was flowing in from the window. My parents didn’t drive but I saw them on Sunday visiting. I made more friends towards the end – you start getting up for an hour at lunch, but I don’t remember how I spent the time, though I’ve always liked reading. I loved Biggles and adventure stories. At the end you are institutionalized, but I wasn’t happy there. As an adult in hospital I’ve been well-treated but when I came out of High Wood I didn’t like nurses.”

In those days TB was treated with isolation, and then a year off school – Pat had no chance of catching up the lost work and ended leaving school in Poplar before she was 15. Yet getting work at the start of the 1960s was no problem. “I could do clerical work and typing. I got my first job in Holborn,” she says. “Jobs were plentiful then and there was lots of choice.”

1960s London
It was the ‘60s and inevitably the teenage Pat fell in love with fashion. “I’ve still got a collection of very old Vogues, though I did sell some recently. I wore the trendy stuff. I loved short skirts from Biba and Mary Quant; I loved the first Biba shop. But then you grow out of these things and get into fleeces. Now I have an extra small, a medium and a large so I can wear them on top of each other when it’s cold.”

Pat met her life partner, Chris Ashby, at a party in Chelsea when she was 22. He’d grown up in Blackpool and was working as a mechanical engineer so they tried out Edinburgh, Liverpool and Spain. They moved to Islington in 1973, though In the mid-70s the pair spent a winter on the Island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides watching and photographing the wild geese that wintered there. “We arrived home with four kittens which we’d rescued from drowning, which eventually led to me setting up a cat sitting business in 1992,” she says.

“When I was young everyone got married,” explains Pat. “I always said Chris was too mean to pay the 7/-6,’ she says with a gentle grin, “but my parents weren’t smart people and they didn’t mind what I did, as long as I was happy and healthy. We’ve been together for 46 years and still not married… but we may now, for financial reasons!”

The Ecology Centre becomes a jazz stage with a cafe behind during the Gillespie Festival (on the 2nd Sunday of September).

The Ecology Centre becomes a jazz stage with a cafe behind during the Gillespie Festival (on the 2nd Sunday of September).

Islington changes
“In 1973 Islington was already slightly trendy – it started being so in the ‘60s. Then it became more established, lived in by older people. Because there are now lots more flats there are more younger people again, but I feel it’s become very over-crowded. Our house (behind the Emirates Stadium) is now surrounded by people who are new to us. They are packing everyone in and there isn’t enough green space. They build on every tiny little corner: if you can squeeze a house or a flat in, then they’ll do it. In the 1970s Peter Bonsall, parks officer, opened up Barnard Park* http://www.barnardpark.org/history.html, but since then we’ve lost half of Gillespie Park with the Quill Street development.”

One of the many lovely views at Gillespie Park, just behind the Ecology Centre.  Find it seconds away from Arsenal tube, just off Drayton Park in the shadow of Arsenal's old and new ground.

One of the many lovely views at Gillespie Park, just behind the Ecology Centre. Find it seconds away from Arsenal tube, just off Drayton Park in the shadow of Arsenal’s old and new ground.

Keeping it green
In a bid to deal with Islington’s lack of green space Pat and Chris have an allotment, were stalwarts of the Green party for years and also used to run the Islington Wildlife Group (part of the London Wildlife Trust). They also joined the campaign to save Gillespie Park from being built over in the late 1990s.

“The first festival was part of that campaign, 27 years ago,” explains Pat who still helps co-ordinate the annual community festival with a green edge held in this unique ecology park behind Arsenal tube. “You can’t imagine the amount of work involved for everybody. You’ve got to make sure the insurance is in place, the police and fire brigade are informed and that all the stallholders are happy…” Despite the workload, Pat, and her team, will ensure everything’s ready for the 2,000 visitors expected to turn up for the 27th festival on Sunday 8 September from 2-6pm.

(c) Pat Tuson - Gillespie Park Local Nature Reserve under snow with Common reed Phragmites communis in foreground Highbury Islington London England UK.

One of Pat’s beautiful pictures of urban nature, by (c) Pat Tuson – Gillespie Park Local Nature Reserve under snow with Common reed Phragmites communis in foreground near Highbury Islington London England UK.

Why I love cameras
Q Why do you photograph Islington?
A: Because it’s there when I open my front door. It’s a fascinating place and the supply of images is never ending.”

Q: Where’s your favourite place to take photographs in Islington?
A: Well, it should be Gillespie Park, but I rather like just wondering around the streets and looking at people’s front gardens to see what’s growing over their walls or railings. So if anybody sees their front garden in a smart magazine I hope they don’t mind!”
Feeling good
After successful heart surgery in 2012, Pat’s health is good again – “because I’ve got so many bits of metal and wires inside me, and take so many tablets,” she jokes. As a result she is able to add more pictures to her urban and plant photography collection, which is exactly what she heads off to do when our interview finishes. So, if you see a woman (possibly in fleece) photographing overgrown plant signs, allotment produce or a perfect bloom – at the Festival or locally anytime – there’s a strong chance it’ll be super-organised Gillespie Festival co-ordinator, Pat Tuson.

See Pat’s photos here http://www.pattuson.co.uk/. Her photos are also stocked by Gap Photos, Nature Picture Library, Ecoscene and Alamy.

Pat’s partner, Chris Ashby, may be able to feed your cat if you are away, check prices and dates at 020 7609 5093.

It’s free to join Friends of Gillespie Park

Gillespie Festival is on Sunday 8 September 2013 from 1-5pm. It’s a free event – the entrance is close to Arsenal tube.

If you’ve enjoyed this piece about a Gillespie Festival committee member you might also like to look at interviews with other committee members – Diane BurridgeStephen Coles, Sue Jandy and ex-committee member Angela Sinclair-Loutit.

Words*

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy the most popular of all islingtonfacesblog posts, Nina Marcangelo from Alfredo’s Cafe on Essex Road which had 800 viewers in a week, 187 views on its 2nd day up and 97 facebook shares.

Manuel & Stella Saavedra: puttin’ on the Ritz

22 Aug

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. London is a big draw for people all round the world. Manuel Saavedra – born in Spain – and his wife Stella – from the Philippines – came here to seek their fortune in the late 1960s. They met in the heart of London in the 1970s and married. Now both retired they talk about their years living in Islington. Interview by Nicola Baird

manuel_portrait

Manuel and Stella are a lovely couple who generously let their back yard be used by the Blackstock Gardeners of N4 for the seed and plant swapping parties that are run two or three times a year. That’s how I found out Manuel is a skilled gardener and expert at saving rainwater, in a collection of rain butts, to use on his thriving plants. This year he is growing blue potatoes, beans, fennel, brussel sprouts, a grape vine and a cucumber. Many of Manuel’s plants were grown from seed given out at one of the Blackstock Gardeners’ Cake Sunday events.*

Manuel: “I was born in Galicia, in the north west of Spain. It’s the next province to Santiago di Compostela. In Galicia it’s green like here. It rains and it snows. We were a farming family, growing wheat, sweet corn, potatoes, beans. It was nice in one way because there was no one to tell you when to wake up or go to bed or get the products ready. In that way were very rich. But to buy a dress we had to sell an animal, or eggs or a cheese. From a very young age my eight brothers and sisters found their way out to a different job. We saw people coming from abroad with the good suit, the good tie and shiny hands. They were so well dressed and had a pile of money. We went out and they said “I’ll pay for him”. That tells me, it tells us all, I must go abroad to Germany, England, or Holland. We never asked how they made their money – they were waiters or washing up…

Stella: “I was born in the Philippines in the city. My mum is from the Philippines and my Dad from China. I’m half and half. I came to London to study nursing at Great Ormond Street Hospital when I was 26. When I got here in 1971 I’d only known hot weather, but I liked the cold. In the beginning I was lonely as there were no Philippino people, now the community is a big one. But I soon made friends and was happy.

Manuel: “From 1969-83 I worked at the Top of the Town (a theatre restaurant, now the Hippodrome) in Leicester Square. I learnt English there. There were three restaurants serving 864 people at two shows a day.  When it closed in 1983 they said it wasn’t profitable, but we were still serving 350-400 customers daily! In 1970 I started working two jobs. Sometimes I only slept three hours. I joined the Ritz Hotel as a commis waiter*. The customers were excellent at the Ritz. Instead of complaining about my English they tried to correct you. I remember Hart to Hart (starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers) was filming in London in 1981 and we opened the buffet for 24 hours a day. I also worked in Mayfair at the Bristol Hotel (now the Mayfair Holiday Inn at the back of Aeroflot) and Browns, opposite Green Park.

Stella: “We met in Leicester Square. It was the nurses’ day off and we said let’s go to the discotheque at the Empire Mecca – it’s a casino now.

Manuel: “If you worked hard you got good money and good tips. I rented a room with my wife first. Then I was able to buy a flat, then a house. In my time you worked hard, but you could make good money – not like today when hotel staff get maybe £6 an hour, below the minimum wage.

Stella: “At first I lived in Holloway. The council ended up compulsorily purchasing the house. It was knocked down and now it’s the Argos car park.

Manuel: “I bought this house from Mr Protter. His mummy had died here. He was in the military, living in Essex. The house has five bedrooms now but with Mr Protter it had been two flats and squatters were getting in. Islington Council had given him £18,000 to do the place up, so everything was new, wiring – everything. My neighbour Lily said Mr Protter’s  mother had been here for over 60 years. I don’t think many people have lived in this house.

manuel_plaqueOn Manuel and Stella’s living room mantelpiece is a blue plaque picture provided by neighbour Naomi of a turn of the century census giving information about the 1911 residents of their home – Daniel Taylor, house painter, his wife and eight children (see pic). There are also photographs of the couple’s son Leonardo, now 34, graduating from Derby University. Leonardo lives in Chiswick now, but he went to primary school off Holloway Road and to St Aloysius Secondary School.

Manuel: “I remember my Mummy, before she passed, telling us at the fiestas to ‘Eat properly before you leave the house so you don’t have to spend even 10 pesetas. If you don’t need it, you don’t spend it.’ That’s why I tell my son ‘Don’t spend money’. I never used to go to the pub, and I don’t drink now. It’s because I was in hotels and in charge, so you can’t really drink. You have to behave yourself. But I don’t regret the hard work.”

manuel_stellabooks

Bricks and books for the grandchildren.

manuel_fennel

Manuel’s thriving plants grow along the boundary wall.

Manuel: “I stopped work in 2006. I noticed I couldn’t pick up a tray from the floor because of my back. But I like Gillespie Park and Finsbury Park and sometimes go for a walk with my friends. We go two or three rounds around Arsenal because it’s all level. I’ve never been to a game but my son went a lot of times with his school friend. I saw the stadium at a conference once…”

manuel_water

Ingenious water saving means Manuel never needs to use mains water on his plants, or to wash his son’s car.


Words*

  • Join the Blackstock Gardeners on a Cake Sunday by bringing a cake to share and then catch up on gardening tips and local news over a cup of tea. You can see photos of these events in Naomi Schillinger’s 2013 book Veg Street.  Or follow her blog here.
  • Commis waiter – entry level waiter who sets the cutlery, brings bread/water/condiments to the table, etc. See here.
  • Hart to Hart info here.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy the most popular of all islingtonfacesblog posts, Nina Marcangelo from Alfredo’s Cafe on Essex Road which had 800 viewers in a week, 187 views on its 2nd day up and 97 facebook shares.

Roy Griffiths: carpenter artist

15 Aug

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. If class, career and cancer can make or break a life then the experiences of furniture maker and shop owner Roy Griffiths shows how to turn adversity into advantage. Plus quick detours around the swinging ‘60s, art and Zen Buddhism. Interview by Nicola Baird

roy_griffiths_servants

On Highbury Hill, N5 you can still see the old entrance bell signs used by either visitors or servants.

“I was a war baby, born in 1939. My family were all servants looking after the posh people. They were chauffeurs or chambermaids. My mum was a milliner and my Dad a postman,” says Roy Griffiths, now 73, with matter-of-fact pride sitting on one of a comfy pair of sofas in his massive 9,000 square foot shop at 137-139 Essex Road. It’s been a furniture or kitchen shop for the past 10 years but Roy now has plans to sell bespoke kitchen cabinets at an affordable price (£5,000 instead of £20,000).

There are a couple of show kitchens on the shop floor plus some eccentric furniture (a Pacific island coffee table) and some stylish oil paintings, done by Roy during his art school days.

The building also boasts an art studio, a carpentry shop and a penthouse. Roy offered to do this interview spontaneously (despite never meeting me before) and is clearly busy – his mobile buzzes often and there’s a fitter working on the other side of the shop who needs supervision.

Roy began life in Islington. He was born in St Mary’s Hospital and then went home to 124 Northchurch Road, N1 which the family rented. He was evacuated to Torquay “later my sister bought a hotel there, well more of a boarding house,” but then the family moved back to Wood Green. When Roy was 14 – and at a grammar school -they moved out to Hertfordshire. It’s a slow northerly route that many Islington families follow, even now. In the 1960s Roy was back in London to attend Hornsey Art School, he then taught art for three years in Norfolk, before taking up a place at the Slade (a famous art college). It was a heady time in the art world – think David Hockney, Derek Jarman, Lucien Freud and sculptor Allen Jones. “Look, I’m an artist by trade,” says Roy explaining how he left the Slade at 27 and became an antique dealer. “I didn’t think I could do art and feed my family.”  That’s another fascinating story… Roy “married Mimi, a girl from the circus – well her dad was a high diver. I chased her around Europe!” Successfully chased as the pair have now been married 50 years.

ROY’S TIMELINE 1939 – born in Islington 1960s – art school (and worked as a teacher) 1967-1993 – ran an antique shop in Fulham with many famous customers (eg, Paul McCartney). The shop was closed when Mimi became paraplegic. 1976 – set up Cross Keys Joinery which specialised in painted furniture– Ray sold it in 2007 to retire in France 1996 – bought 137-139 Essex Road building which was run as a furniture shop 2009 – Set up Green & Fay (named after his daughters Polly, 49, and Lucy, 44 who both live in London still) 2011 – Diagnosed with neck cancer, had chemotherapy and also rekindled his interest in Zen Buddhism 2013 – September – plans to run Green & Fay as a kitchen shop which sells furniture.

Seize the moment
So now he’s 72 and retired to France at least once, what is going on? “People say ‘You don’t need money, why do you do it?’ But artists don’t retire. They drop dead in their boots,” explains Roy. “In 2011 I was diagnosed with neck cancer. Cancer’s been the best thing that happened to me. When you get it, you know nothing about it. Then you read up what the Macmillan nurses say and find that something very odd happens – many people disappear and people at work start leaving. They either think cancer is catching or terrifying. They run for it. They can’t talk! It creates tremendous pressure. It nearly broke up my marriage. It made me come out of the closet as a Zen Buddhist – but Zen Buddhism helps you be calm and happy and appreciate nature.”

“Cancer makes you concentrate your mind on the quality of your life – not on your wife or children or employees. You ask ‘What do I want to do?’ And I realised I just love making furniture. I made a fantastic living with carpentry. I went out and bought £5,000, maybe £10,000 of kit and started making furniture again.  I’ve done my tour of duty – and it was a tour of duty. I’ve got a lovely family and over the years I’ve employed 200 to 300 staff and helped them feed their families. Now all of a sudden I’m doing what I love doing, making furniture.”

And he’s doing it back in Islington – a place clearly dear to his heart. “Well my wife doesn’t like suburbia. And Islington has a very mixed alternative society.  There’s something special about Essex Road – Upper Street is incredibly posh, it’s where Blair went for lunch – but Essex Road is full of immigrants who work hard and run their own shops. Essex Road is cosmopolitan. It’s one of the last streets with a butcher, baker and fishmonger.

Supermarkets have taken over the high street with their express and metro stores and killed off small businesses, but not in Essex Road. Here’s a culture that’s very attractive to artists and creative people.”

Roy Griffiths’ story shows how to embrace change and craft them into the life you want to lead. Right now his shop is open from 11.30am-2.30pm on Saturday, so you can go and find out more for yourself. Make sure you ask to see the chocolate joints – Roy’s brand new carpentry technique.

Green & Fay is open on Saturdays from 11.30am-2.30pm – go see Roy’s lovely art works and find out about the cupboards he makes. From September 2013 the hours will be longer. See http://greenandfaykitchens.co.uk/handmade-kitchen-units.php

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy the most popular of all islingtonfacesblog posts, Nina Marcangelo from Alfredo’s Cafe on Essex Road which had 800 viewers in a week, 187 views on its 2nd day up and 97 facebook shares.

Cemal Kilnic: shopkeeper

7 Aug

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  At 92 Gillespie Road there’s Arsenal Food & Wine, open from 6am-11pm, and next door the Four Angels café. Shop owner and Arsenal fan Cemal Kilinc talks about 10 years running an Islington corner shop. Interview by Nicola Baird

Cemal Kilnic: xx

Cemal Kilnic: runs Arsenal Food & Wine corner shop on Gillespie Road.

“We had a family tragedy in 2011 and lost my brother’s wife and three kids in a crash (all lived in Haringey). They were five, eight and 13. It was reported  in the English newspapers*. It was the school holidays so they went to Turkey, they wanted to come back early – it was the day before they were coming home. We lost all of them, if only there was one…” says Cemal wiping tears away.

It’s an agonizing way to start an interview but for Cemal and his brother Turabri – who wasn’t in the car – there is no way they can forget the horror of that summer two years ago. So, they made a shrine next door to the shop – the Four Angels Café.

Four Angels Café is a lovely local amenity – it serves good tea, coffee and macaroons. I’ve used it for interviews for islingtonfacesblog before, see Stanley Smart here.

But if you go to the back of the café, by the leather sofas, you can see the four angels – black and white pictures of Cemal’s youngest niece in a pretty dress; all the kids happily posing; plus Turabir and his wife looking chic. On a shelf to the left of the family pictures there’s also a heartbreaking memento, four pairs of empty party shoes.

Essential stop-off for anyone using Gillespie Road.

Essential stop-off for anyone using Gillespie Road – cafe and shop.

Corner shop
“The cafe used to be a betting office, William Hill and next door, my shop used to be a launderette,” says Cemal after a break. He’s extra busy as his brother has gone to Turkey. “But then they opened a Tesco on Drayton Park and make it look like a corner shop – they shouldn’t be allowed, it means local shops suffer.”

“Mine is a tiny corner shop,” he says, “but our busy time is 4-7pm when people walk along from the train station.” And of course on match days – although a big fan of the Gunners, he “can only watch on the TV. But all the staff like the match days!”

Birth, bees and books
Cemal finished high school in Turkey in 1982. I guess that means he was born in 1964, but he isn’t so sure that he’s 49 years old. “I was born in the village so my dad and mum only know roughly my age. We could all be five years younger or older,” he says laughing. “I wish I’d been born in this country (the UK, just like his 19-year-old daughter Melisa was who is in her 2nd year at university, studying psychology), as my English is not perfect though I can read and write.”

He’s being modest though; his English is 100 per cent fine.

“In my dream I wanted to be a doctor in my country. But to start university you have to have very good points. I only had enough to be a teacher, and I didn’t’ want that. So I can’t be a doctor,” he says “I’m disappointed,” but he’s laughing again now.

It’s a curious dream as when he was three or four years old, Cemal refused to go to hospital for treatment. “My dad had 10-15 bee hives, for honey, and when the bees swarmed I tried to get home to safety, but fell down on a sharp stone so I’ve got a scar [it is actually quite a Harry Potter type of scar on his forehead]. My mum and dad tried to take me to the hospital but I cried because I was scared of injections… so they didn’t take me.”

In the end the political situation in Turkey saw Cemal and his family coming to the UK in the 1980s. “I can’t do anything in Turkey and the government was punishing people. At the time Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, so there’s no visa. But then I came with my family – my mum and dad and my brother the next year – as I had friends here, and we’ve stayed until now.”

Moving countries is a brave change, but recently the Kilnic family has had to face up to real challenges, not just the terrible car crash in 2011.

“My father, who was born in 1934* was walking on the pavement in Haringey in 2008 and a push bike hit him. He fell and hit his head. He spent one year in hospital but is now disabled.” This puts a big strain on the family – and even more so since his mother fell injuring her back. She is now partially disabled and still in pain, even after an MRI led to her having a vital operation in Turkey where his sister is a nurse.

Racks of fruit.  Spot mangoes, apples and melon all stocked by Arsenal Food & Wine on Gillespie Road.

Racks of fruit. Spot mangoes, apples and melon all stocked by Arsenal Food & Wine on Gillespie Road.

Daily life
“It’s been a very big headache,” Cemal says. And running a business can be too. He’s adamant that he only wishes to keep to the law. “I don’t want to sell alcohol to anyone under age 18. I want to protect my daughter, and to protect all our kids,” he tells me. But a recent council sting operation has caused him much concern. “Everything comes on me,” he says with a sigh. “But we’re humans, not the God. We can make mistakes,” he adds, clearly worrying about a possible upcoming fine or even court case.

Arsenal Food & Wine has plenty of loyal locals. One, Kelly, suggested I interviewed him. Others share gossip with him when TV people, who live locally, pop in. “I don’t know their names, but I see my customers looking at them or taking photos,” he says, happier now. “And some of my customers print out pictures to show me.”

Walking away from this interview I think about how difficult it must be to run a corner shop in Islington. The hours are so long; you need to be great at planning so your stock is right and doesn’t run out. You need to be fantastic at maths so neither you nor your customer are short-changed. And you need to be ever polite, and ever vigilant for shop-lifting or spotting potential under-age drinkers or smokers. It’s not all about staring at the TV and listening for the cash till kerching, that’s for sure. Just some of the reasons we all need to be friendly to the stars who run our local shops.

  • Arsenal Food & Wine, 92 Gillespie Road, N5.
  • Four Angels Café, 94 Gillespie Road, N5

Words*

English newspapers – a report from the Daily Mail (25/08/11) is here

Born in 1934 – possibly, see why above.

Bereavement – the national charity Road Peace http://www.roadpeace.org/ helps support families after traffic deaths. Locally there is CARIS Islington Bereavement Service, http://www.carisislington.org, on 020 7281 5200, or Email carisislington@yahoo.co.uk which “will visit anyone in Islington who has been bereaved, regardless of disability, gender, race, religion, or sexuality, or whether the bereavement was recent or a long time ago.” The service is free and confidential.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy the most popular of all islingtonfacesblog posts, Nina Marcangelo from Alfredo’s Cafe on Essex Road which had 800 viewers in a week, 187 views on its 2nd day up and 97 facebook shares.

Stephen Coles: vicar of St Thomas’

31 Jul

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. “I’ve promised not to write a book until I’m 80. That way no one will be offended,” says Stephen Coles who has been vicar at St Thomas’ Finsbury Park since 1989 and a priest since 1982.  So how do we find out what he thinks of the locals, how he became friends with Abu Hamza, and whether he enjoys his job? Interview by Nicola Baird (warning: this is a long interview)

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 17.52.34

Stephen Coles: so often smiling.

Rev Stephen Coles is outspoken, controversial and fit (he trains at the Sobell gym three times a week). He’s an openly gay vicar, the only Islington member of the General Synod and well-known for being pro-women priests (at St Thomas’ the Curate – a trainee priest role – is Pauline) and anti-church schools. His church is a temple of incense, his sermons are stimulating and his congregation growing.

“The comparison between the theatre and the church is quite a natural one,” says Stephen rightly guessing my direction. “You have to have a way of presenting and to engage people. I’m sure the energy that goes into being a quiz master (eg, for Friends of Gillespie Park’s annual quiz night) or an MC (at the Gillespie Festival, on the second Sunday of September) or preaching at a service comes from the same place. A wedding is always a show, but the priest in charge is the only person who knows what’s going to happen. I always say at the start something to make people feel included. If you examine relationships at a wedding you’ll find an enormous amount – divorced, partners died, or a disappointed marriage, or gay.”

In 2005 my husband, Pete, and I were one of the four or five couples a year Stephen married at St Thomas’. Yet it was only in 2006, when civil partnerships were legalized, that he was able to marry his partner, Rashad Zeynalov.

“In 1967 I was aged 18 at Oxford (studying history) when homosexuality was decriminalized, but not for 18 year olds,” says Stephen recalling a difficult time. “It was decriminalized for 21 and over. Going on to Cambridge to do a PGCE (teacher training) meant I could be a new person and be confident about my sexuality.”

He then taught history at secondary school for three years before travelling overland to India.

Indian spirituality
“India had a lot to do with my vocation. It was 1974 and I was 25. My friend Rupert was doing crop research in India and another friend and I thought we’d go to see him. We stayed away for a year. It was the first time I’d really had the opportunity to spend time in countries not majority Christian.”

“I ran out of money after eight or nine months and then my mother said that there’d been a teachers’ pay award backdated. It was £500, enough to keep me going for four more months – though I did have to borrow my air fare to get back! I travelled to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then all around India and spent less than £1,500 in a year – but I rarely slummed it.”

Traveling was a big change from life ruled by the school bell. “It was very unhurried. Three or four times I took the train from Delhi to Hyderabad – that’s 33 hours. I met Moslems, Sikhs, Hindus, Zoroastrians* and found out a lot about other religions. I found as a consequence that it was possible to be a very committed Christian without saying everyone else is wrong. In India especially I met people who obviously had very good lives – talking to them enriched my Christianity and challenged it. It made me ask deeper questions.”

Stephen stayed at ashrams* including the famous one in Pondicherry, and went on a Buddhist meditation retreat in Madras. “In all the countries I went to it was perfectly normal to ask about religion. In Iran I was introduced to the first indigenous Anglican Bishop, Hassan Dehqani-Tafti,* who always talked about Islam in a positive way” (years later Hassan’s son Bahram was assassinated and Hassan came to preach at St Thomas’ about martyrdom).

One of those questions was whether to be a monk or a vicar. Another was where to study. “When I was accepted for ordination by George Timms – a short man with a loud voice – he said ‘you’re not going back to Oxford or Cambridge because you’ve been there,” says Stephen, irrepressibly warm and witty (later on in the interview Stephen can’t help himself giggling as he remembers the caring job he had for a housebound friend Clare, who needed help “after a very bad fall over her blind poodle”. At last, at 29 and a half years old he took another degree at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield http://college.mirfield.org.uk in West Yorkshire, which included a dissertation on the dialogue between Christianity and Hindusim at ashrams* in Tiruchirapalli, South India.

He became a Deacon in 1981 and has been a priest since 1982 – with his first job at St Mary’s, Stoke Newington, which has “ two churches: Stoke Newington is a place of tremendous pretension,” says Stephen laughing.

Life at St Thomas’
But when he joined St Thomas’, it felt like home.  “I know I technically live in Islington, but Finsbury Park is not Islington. This is not Highbury. Finsbury Park is a mixed and messy place – which is its strength. Middle class professionals have started falling down Highbury Hill to where the old white working class and first generation Caribbean were living, and are now beginning to retire. It’s interesting this mix of stable and movement – lots of people in the parish have been here quite a while. “

All about Abu Hamza
“When I arrived Islington had neighbourhood offices and neighbourhood forums (it’s where I met Diane Burridge). At one meeting there were some people from the mosque, when it was called the Indo-Pakistani Cultural Centre. I suggested to one, Malik, that it would be nice to get to know each other. Every six weeks we met at my house (known as The Cardinal’s Hat) for tea and biscuits. We gradually got to trust each other and could ask challenging questions that no one could take personally.”

Then there started to be trouble at the mosque every Friday. “The mosque was funded by Saudi money, and the Saudis wanted a dome, but Malik said as ‘soon as you put a dome on a mosque, people start trying to fight for power’.”

Not long after all the Algerians moved into the top of Blackstock Road and the mosque’s congregation changed again.

“There was obviously quite a power struggle,” says Stephen. “Then 9/11 happened and Abu Hamza spoke out. I had to speak to him so the Sunday after 9/11 I went to the mosque by myself and said I’ve been here a long time, and I’m anxious that what you are saying will make it harder for Muslims and Christians locally to get on together. He said ‘I beg to differ’. But I breathed a sigh of relief. I saw him once more, but we’d had two robust conversations.

Then Abu Hamza was arrested. “The Rabbi from Stamford Hill and I went along to the Old Bailey as character witnesses. I went because I refuse to demonise him. He’s a human being with whom you can have a conversation.”

The contact should have ended when Abu Hamza was sent to prison, but it ended up creating a friendship, with Stephen visiting Hamza two or three times a year for eight years, for two hours at a time.  “It was the end of Ramadan, a time when I send cards to the Muslims I know. I decided to send one to Hamza in Belmarsh High Security Prison and I knew he was vulnerable as he has one eye and no hands. I think it is vital he’s treated well as a human being – so he can’t make any suggestions that he has not been treated impeccably. I got a reply by return saying he’d very much like to see me. It took a year to see him as I had to get MI6 security clearance.

“The first visit was in 2004, and we talked about all kinds of things. His lawyer and I assumed he’d know about my sexuality (Hamza has strong homophobia), but we didn’t talk about it. I wanted to show that whatever he said I just was going to treat him as another human being. It was taking loving your enemy seriously.

In 2013 Abu Hamza was extradited to the US on terrorism charges (including taking 16 hostages in the Yemen in 1998 and advocating violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001 and conspiring to set up a jihad training centre in Oregon, US).  “I don’t even know where he is, and I’m very concerned about him,” explains Stephen. “He’s in isolation in an American prison [awaiting trial] and will be in prison for the rest of his life. I’m waiting for the new American ambassador and then I’ll send a letter asking if I can keep in touch. I’m imagining letters.”

More tea vicar? Some questions for Stephen Coles
Q: Where would Jesus live in Islington?
“Where it would most challenge us? He’d sleep on the steps of the town hall.”

Q: What’s wrong with church schools?
“I sometimes talk about a child in a church school being impoverished. At Gillespie Primary they will be sitting next door to a Muslim child. They’ll learn what it’s like being brought up as a Muslim.”

Q: Do you know your area?
The church is in two postal districts, N4 and N5.  Part of my work is being in N4. I’m a lazy cook but I shop locally, I like eating in restaurants in Blackstock Road, but go to different ones

Q: Is your congregation growing?
Given the fecundity of the water the birth rate is high locally

Q: Do you still have good links with the mosques?
Yes, but there are two full time Imams missing at Finsbury Park – the North London Central Mosque and Muslim Welfare House. I hear the problem is finding people who speak English fluently; are properly trained (Abu Hamza was a nightclub bouncer brought in to keep the peace) and they must understand  the context – what it’s like to live in London now.

Q: Do people lie to you?
“If I’m asked to read the banns (give notice of an upcoming marriage) it’s very unusual if the people have got separate addresses. And if they do I suspect they are telling me a half truth because they are slightly frightened to tell the vicar.”

Passing on and parking vouchers
If weddings are rare for Stephen, funerals “are quite unusual because unless someone asks for the local CofE priest the funeral director* makes all the arrangements. I do half a dozen a year, and there is a burial and cremation rota for the local clergy to take the funeral and can then pass on any pastoral needs to the parish priest/vicar. Islington has good bereavement services – Rucksack for kids and CARIS, which was established by the churches. After the Marchioness sank on the Thames (in 1989) CARIS was asked to help with counseling of surviors and bereaved.

“A crematorium is only about death,” says Stephen, “but church has other associations.” However some people were put off funerals at St Thomas’ because of… parking problems.

Stephen explains: “Because the church isn’t a home or a business it is not allowed parking vouchers. I pointed out to the Council that Islington’s only crematorium is at East Finchley, and is virtually inaccessible by public transport.  There’s no way, in the time available, to get to these places except by car. But, the last thing a parking attendant wants to do is give a parking ticket to someone at a funeral! So Islington council changed their mind and now lets us have permits.”

Stephen has also had the foresight to allow ashes to be interred in the church garden, and added a couple of benches to enable anyone to make a contemplative visit. It’s another example of his thoughtfulness. Church is very live for many people, for some it’s just for the big events, Christmas and Easter, or a venue for those just hatched, matched, or to be dispatched. Whatever way your spirituality takes you there’s no doubt that our campaigning and outspoken priest, Stephen Coles, is an impressive community resource. Finsbury Park is lucky to have him.

  • St Thomas’ the Apostle, Finsbury Park (built 1889), on the corner of Monsell and St Thomas’ Road. Parish communion on Sundays at 10.30am. Holy communion on Wednesdays at 7pm. http://www.stthomaschurch.co.uk
  • CARIS Islington Bereavement Service, www.carisislington.org, 020 7281 5200
  • Rucksack – supports bereaved children in Islington, contact numbers as above.

WORDS*

Ashram –  a contemplative retreat. For instance the ashram at Pondicherry, http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org . Also see more about the late Bede Griffiths at http://www.bedegriffiths.com/ashrams/

Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti – was Bishop from 1961-1990. He survived an assignation attempt, and saw his son murdered.  The last 10 years of his ministry were spent in exile. See obituary here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1918728/The-Rt-Rev-Hassan-Dehqani-Tafti.html.

Zoroastrianism – is an ancient Iranian religion and religious philosophy, see more. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism

Islington funeral directors – the three main companies Stephen Coles works with are:

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy the most popular of all islingtonfacesblog posts, Nina Marcangelo from Alfredo’s Cafe on Essex Road which had 800 viewers in a week, 187 views on its 2nd day up and 97 facebook shares.

Tina de Freitas: ice cream van lady

17 Jul

It’s not just children who love Tina’s Ices – the electrically-powered, super quiet ice cream van parked by Highbury Fields playground. When the sun comes out you may well spot builders trying to cool off, adults treating themselves and even dog walkers in the queue. Tina De Freitas knows there’s nothing so bad that a 99 cone with strawberry sauce and a spoonful of sprinkles can’t make better. Interview by Nicola Baird.

It’s not just children who love Tina’s Ices – the electrically-powered, super quiet ice cream van parked by Highbury Fields playground. When the sun comes out you may well spot joggers trying to cool off, adults treating themselves and even dog walkers in the queue. Tina De Freitas knows there’s nothing so bad that a 99 cone with strawberry sauce and a spoonful of sprinkles can’t make better. Interview by Nicola Baird. “My first day here selling ice cream was my first Mother’s Day, in March 1998, my son Marcus was a baby, and I had no clue about ice-cream. This was not my dream,” here Tina gestures at me with a laugh because I’m sitting in the driving seat of her colourfully decorated ice cream van - surely most children’s dream office chair? It’s certainly a magical place to interview a busy ice cream seller. It also makes Highbury Fields - with its tunnel of London plane trees and mowed paths winding through the long grass – look the perfect spot to spend time with an ice cream. But for Tina it’s just a job, though one she now loves. On that first day she was in the same Shalimar van but had persuaded her now ex-partner (also an ice cream seller) to paint her name on the bits that needed tidying up – hence “Tina’s Ices”. At first they worked together, each in their own van. Tina got the spot be the playground where she still parks up. He was by the exit near the swimming pool. Give us a 99  In Tina’s native Portugal, they don’t have vans selling ice-cream. “Back home every Sunday after church I had an ice cream as a treat. I don’t really eat it now” – which is perhaps lucky for her waist line as she has 1,000s of ice creams in her vanilla-scented van. During a sunny July lunchtime rush people snap up rocket lollies, 99s, calypso, twin cones, single cones, Mr Bubble, Solero, Mint Magnum, lemon ice and two scoops.  And for every child there’s a kind word. Regulars – especially students at Canonbury and William Tyndale “all know me and say ‘hello Tina’,” she says as a group of students walk back to their primary school, heads swizzled towards her van, after a morning of sports on Highbury Fields.” When Tina started 15 years ago she didn’t know how to make a 99 – now she knows all about this most popular of all ice cream van choices. “They never were 99p,” says Tina. “They were invented in the 1930s when money was different (pre decimalisation) it was pounds, shillings and no ice cream cost 99 pence. The reason why it is 99 is the chocolate is called 99 flake” [she shows me the yellow Cadbury’s box to prove her point]. “I have this argument every day. It can take a while to explain to tourists that it is just the name of the ice cream!” Despite such a huge selection the most expensive item Tina sells is just £2.50.  And she has to work long hours – often starting at 7.30am at the cash and carry, an hour commute, and then once at her pitch there is no time to drink, eat anything but a snack or even pop to the loo. “People do make comments when they sun comes out,” says Tina injured, “they shout ‘Oy you must be making a fortune’, forgetting I’ve been here three months doing nothing. But most people are “generally very nice in Highbury, the children too.” With one exception “One day I heard lots of police sirens – then suddenly someone jumped in through the window (it’s quite a small serving hatch). I assumed he was going to rob me and I ran out of the van, screaming. This was 12 or 13 years ago. But he was wanted by the police, and they found him. I remember his face – but now he comes and buys ice cream with his wife and kids. He’s never said anything to me. I don’t think he’s told his wife!” Maths lessons Plenty of families use an ice cream treat as a chance to offer first lessons in maths. Tina is happy to help – “if I know the child well, then I’ll count the change out. Sometimes I’ll trick them and give them too much or too little to see if they notice.” She’s far too kind to let a child make a mistake, but it’s certainly a good way to learn. In fact Tina’s son, now 16, “used to come in the van every day when he was little. He learnt his colours and counting here before he went to school,” remembers Tina looking around the tiny space she works in and then up at the printed van roof, decorated with cute characters holding vanilla cones. “That’s why he doesn’t like to come now, he thinks he’s too big.” But he’s wrong! As Tina puts it, “There’s no age limit for an ice cream.” Although she does admit to quiet amusement at the adults who “come for a jog, and then have an ice cream after. I think it’s going to kill them – being hot then eating something cold -but it is good for business.” Over the years Tina has made many friends, seen children grow up and even won the hearts of the Highbury Fields Association. She’s pleased too to have the electric power supply. “There were a lot of complaints from the neighbours, but it is better for me too. It saves on diesel and the engine is turned off.” Tina’s Ices by Highbury Fields playground sells ice creams and cold drinks seven days a week from about 12 noon until 8.30-9pm during the summer. (If it’s a cold day Tina works from 1-6pm). Find her there from March-October. PIC CAPTIONS: “My ex-partner used to have a van by the swimming pool. He felt trapped in the van – it’s a small space and it can be boring. But I love this job. You meet people and kids. I wouldn’t be in a boring job. “I don’t do much in the winter – I look after the house and be a 100 per cent mother. In summer I spend more time on Highbury Fields than in my house.” “The mini ice-cream van on the steering wheel is a present from a little boy who gave it to me for my big birthday on 25 April. I want to get another as there’s a shop on Upper Street selling vintage toys but it’s hard to get there.” “I’m a very cool driver,” says Tina who commutes from Woodford, Essex. “When drivers see an ice cream van they bip or overtake. There’s no point in retaliating or being rude, if I was they’d follow, and everyone knows where an ice cream van goes.”


“I’m a very cool driver,” says Tina who commutes from Woodford, Essex in her Tina’s Ices van. “When drivers see an ice cream van they bip or overtake. There’s no point in retaliating or being rude, if I was they’d follow, and everyone knows where an ice cream van goes.”

“My first day here selling ice cream was my first Mother’s Day, in March 1998, my son Marcus was a baby, and I had no clue about ice-cream. This was not my dream…” here Tina gestures at me with a laugh because I’m sitting in the driving seat of her colourfully decorated ice cream van, surely most children’s dream office chair? It’s certainly a magical place to interview a busy ice cream seller. It also makes Highbury Fields – with its tunnel of London plane trees and mowed paths winding through the long grass – look the perfect place to spend time with an ice cream.

“My ex-partner used to have a van by the swimming pool. He felt trapped in the van – it’s a small space and it can be boring. But I love this job. You meet people and kids. I wouldn’t be in a boring job.

“My ex-partner used to have a van by the swimming pool. He felt trapped in the van – it’s a small space and it can be boring. But I love this job. You meet people and kids. I wouldn’t be in a boring job.

But for Tina it’s just a job, though one she now loves. On that first day she had a smaller older van. The one she’s using today she persuaded her now ex-partner (also an ice cream seller) to paint her name on the bits that needed tidying up – hence “Tina’s Ices”. At first the couple worked together in Islington, each in their own van. Tina got the spot be the playground where she still parks up. He was by the exit near the swimming pool.

Sweet treat 
In Tina’s native Portugal, they don’t have vans selling ice-cream. “Back home every Sunday after church I had an ice cream as a treat. I don’t really eat it now,” – which is perhaps lucky for her waist line as she has 1,000s of ice creams in her vanilla-scented van.

During a sunny July lunchtime rush people snap up rocket lollies, 99s, calypso, twin cones, single cones, Mr Bubble, Solero, mint Magnum, lemon ice and two scoops.

And for every child there’s a kind word. Regulars – especially children at Canonbury School and William Tyndale School “all know me and say ‘hello Tina’,” she says as a group of students walk back to their primary school, heads swizzled towards her van, after a morning of sports on Highbury Fields.”

I’ll have a 99
When Tina started 15 years ago she didn’t know how to make a 99 – now she knows all about this most popular of all ice cream van choices.

“They never were 99p,” says Tina. “They were invented in the 1930s when money was different (pre decimalisation) it was pounds and shillings then [and no ice cream cost as much as 99 pence]. The reason why it is called a 99 is the chocolate is called 99 flake” [she shows me the yellow Cadbury’s box to prove her point]. “I have this argument every day. It can take a while to explain to tourists that it is just the name of the ice cream!”

“The mini ice-cream van on the steering wheel is a present from a little boy who gave it to me for my big birthday on 25 April. I want to get another as there’s a shop on Upper Street selling vintage toys but it’s hard to get there.”

“The mini ice-cream van on the dashboard of Tina’s Ices van says Tina, “is a present from a little boy who gave it to me for my big birthday on 25 April. I want to get another as there’s a shop on Upper Street selling vintage toys but it’s hard to find time to get there.”

Despite such a huge selection of ice creams and lollies the most expensive item Tina sells is just £2.50.  And she has to work long hours – often starting at 7.30am at the cash and carry, an hour commute, and then once at her pitch there is no time to drink, eat anything but a snack, or even pop to the loo.

“People do make comments when they sun comes out,” says Tina injured, “they shout ‘Oy, you must be making a fortune,’ forgetting I’ve been here three months doing nothing.” But most people are “generally very nice in Highbury, the children too.”

With one exception
“One day I heard lots of police sirens – then suddenly someone jumped in through the window [it’s quite a small serving hatch]. I assumed he was going to rob me and I ran out of the van, screaming. This was 12 or 13 years ago. But he was wanted by the police, and they found him. I remember his face – but now he comes and buys ice cream with his wife and kids. He’s never said anything to me. I don’t think he’s told his wife!”

“My ex-partner used to have a van by the swimming pool. He felt trapped in the van – it’s a small space and it can be boring. But I love this job. You meet people and kids. I wouldn’t be in a boring job. “I don’t do much in the winter – I look after the house and be a 100 per cent mother. In summer I spend more time on Highbury Fields than in my house.” “The mini ice-cream van on the steering wheel is a present from a little boy who gave it to me for my big birthday on 25 April. I want to get another as there’s a shop on Upper Street selling vintage toys but it’s hard to get there.”

“I don’t do much in the winter – I look after the house and be a 100 per cent mother. In summer I spend more time on Highbury Fields than in my house.” 

Maths lessons
Plenty of families use an ice cream treat as a chance to offer first lessons in maths. Tina is happy to help – “if I know the child well, then I’ll count the change out. Sometimes I’ll trick them and give them too much or too little to see if they notice.” She’s far too kind to let a child make a mistake, but it’s certainly a good way to learn.

In fact Tina’s son, now 16, “used to come in the van every day when he was little. He learnt his colours and counting here before he went to school,” remembers Tina looking around the tiny space she works in and then up at the printed van roof, decorated with cute characters holding vanilla cones. “That’s why he doesn’t like to come now, he thinks he’s too big.”

But he’s wrong! As Tina puts it, “There’s no age limit for an ice cream.” Although she does admit to quiet amusement at the adults who “come for a jog, and then have an ice cream after. I think it’s going to kill them – being hot then eating something cold – but it is good for business.

Over the years Tina has made many friends, seen children grow up and even won the hearts of the Highbury Fields Association. She’s pleased too to have the electric power supply too which makes her van as good as quiet while it is parked at her pitch. “Years ago there were a lot of complaints from the neighbours, but the electric is better for me too. It saves on diesel and the engine is turned off.”

Tina’s Ices by Highbury Fields playground sells ice creams and cold drinks seven days a week from about 12 noon until 8.30-9pm during the summer. (If it’s a cold day Tina works from 1-6pm). Find her there from March-October.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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