Tag Archives: Hackney

Shots for India

I am good at the overarching plans but not at the small details. I am your ideas person. “Let’s go to India for a week, for Holi,” was one of my more recent ideas. It had been on my “list” for ages, by which I do not mean an actual list, not even a bucket list, but a mental list. The kind of list that really only has one thing on it, like Go to India for Holi, because I can’t remember more than that without writing it down.

Sam said yes, and I booked flights, and then felt like I’d already accomplished my goal. It was only in stages that we realised that we needed to make sure certain things were in place, like a visa, and vaccinations. Sam made us an appointment at the Boots in Dalston, but when we arrived they didn’t have any of the shots we needed. “You can go to the Boots in Wood Green,” the man behind the counter said, helpfully, forgetting that no one wants to go to Wood Green, not even the people who live there.

Instead, the next day we agreed to meet at our local Clockwork Pharmacy after work, which incidentally is owned by the same people who own the freehold of our building, Clockwork Mews. The sign outside our flat is the same as for the pharmacy: a blue and orange tablet.

I have cycled as ferociously as I can muster after a day spent in the stark glow of artificial lighting, and I arrive at 5:44. A small elderly Indian man is locking up. I am off my bike, looking both ways down the street, for either a place to lock up my bike quickly or for Sam. I see neither, but my frantic behaviour has caught the attention of the pharmacy manager.

“Excuse me, can I help you?” he asks, tentatively. It’s not advisable to start provoking crazed individuals in Hackney.

“I need vaccines!” I blurt out, doing nothing to allay his fears. “For travel, to India,” I add quietly.

He shakes his head and continues to pull down the shutters over the storefront.

“Ah, you’re too late,” he says, regrettably. “My pharmacist is sick and needs to go home. Usually we close at 7pm, but tonight, 6!”

I’m envious of anyone who can make these kind of executive decisions over their working lives. I remember I haven’t yet found Sam. The manager is happily chatting to me now, comfortable in the knowledge that if I’m crazy, it’s in one of the socially-acceptable sorts of ways. I rest my bike against a section of the window he hasn’t yet shuttered and pull out my phone. Sam has messaged to say he’s inside.

“Aha!” I said, as if this is a trump card. “My husband is already inside getting his vaccinations.”

The manager’s face changes.

“Your husband is inside?” He looks around suspiciously as if I’ve pulled some kind of trick on him, sneaking a Trojan horse into his pharmacy under his very nose.

“Ok, you can go in, but I’m not sure they’ll still be willing to give you what you need.”

I open the door, with my bike, the lights still flashing, and lean it up against a shelf at the front of the shop. “Can I leave this here?” I ask no one in particular, and walk to the back without waiting for an answer. As I approach the counter I find Sam walking towards me. “I’m done!” he announces, not quite as competitively as I would have, had it been me who had been seen to first.

After filling in a form and following a young Indian man to the back room, I too am sufficiently inoculated against Delhi’s microbes.

On the way out, we say goodbye to the old manager. He is jovially waiting for us to make our way out so he can finally finish the job of locking up for the night, but he doesn’t seem put out.

“You’re going to love Delhi!” he says. “When I finish with India, only then will I go somewhere else,” and I take him to mean on holidays because he has clearly made it to Clapton, “but I will never be finished with India!”

I haven’t even started with India yet and already I think I know what he means.


Taste Test

When I get there, Sam is locking up his bike outside Stour Space, where in just under a year we’ll have our wedding. It’s an art gallery and a community space that hosts evening yoga sessions and midweek, midday ping pong aimed at freelancers. We like it mainly for two reasons: it’s really close to where we live, in a cool part of London, still rough around the edges; and it has an element of surprise.

We knock loudly on the side door and hope we’re heard, and when we gain entry we’re introduced to the chef, Michel. He is French, lean and quietly amicable. Standing in the Counter Cafe the sun is slowly descending behind him, threatening to wipe out the views of progressing construction across the canal. He points to the only table that has been laid out for diners, and we drop our backpacks and our bike helmets and very nearly collapse into the respective seats. House white is promptly offered up; we are tonight’s drinking crowd.

Have you ever planned a wedding? We haven’t, not yet. Being of a certain age though, we have a growing number of friends who have. “How far are you?” sings the chorus, and– having already picked the venue and bought my dress— I confidently reply, “Quite far.” But I know that if we pull this thing off successfully it will most likely be due to the international team of doctors, lawyers, film directors, project managers, poets, architects, and accountants we’ve assembled to help. They call it a wedding party, but I hate the Shakespearean fantasy of the phrase, a mocking nod to the theatrical, sometimes tragic. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a stretch to use the oft misaligned “hashtag squad goals”.

When the caterer, Hugues (also French, but more emphatically amicable), arrives he approaches to say hello. Momentarily disappearing he returns with three additional bottles of wine, this time red, each referred to in terms of character and robustness that in our uncouthness Sam and I can’t quite associate with a taste. We are left alone with four bottles of wine, enough food for six, and a pen and paper with which to jot down our thoughts. Hugues returns to very little, just a splattered scrap of paper that reads in lazy scrawl: Yes, we like this.

Following a debrief with Michel and Hugues, Michel leaves for the night, and, pouring himself a glass of red (full of character, robust) Hugues tells us about managing the Counter Cafe of Stour Space. We love Hackney Wick; the fairy lit bars and restaurants here, the canal, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park– my favourite of London’s outdoor spaces. “We’ve been here for five years,” he says, “but it’s changing. Everywhere is being bought up, smaller places aren’t surviving.” And the arrival of West Ham? “The fans have not affected us, really. There have been one or two incidences elsewhere; a lot of the bars have simply banned colours.” There is a game on tonight, immediately across the canal from us. Every so often we hear a distant roar, but it is negligible.

Having now consumed a large ratio of the wine, I stand up and grab my helmet, as does Sam. Hugues winces. “I didn’t know you were cycling! I wouldn’t have let you drink so much!” I slur something that I intend as a farewell. Confident about our anti-destination wedding on the Hackney Riviera, we stumble to our bikes and zig zag home.