DD’s 36th Woodford diary

swvgddjulyaug19cmyk©Evelyn Rowland / evelynrowland.co.uk

Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local.

I have just bought a new broom. The old one was shedding bristles, so it was more of a hindrance than a help. My neighbour observed that it was “follically challenged”. I enjoyed that, and was prompted to head for Wickes without delay. (Sadly, no longer any hardware store locally.) I bought the one described as ‘heavy duty’. New brooms have developed a rather scary reputation. For doing away with what others, perhaps, had established before: “Making a clean sweep of things.”

Not applicable, of course, in this instance, as that was exactly what I wanted. But on my drive over to Loughton, I found myself thinking about new beginnings in general. Specifically, with the car radio tuned to Classic FM, I thought about my beginnings in music. I was eight. I had pigtails and a brown leather music case. Leather was rationed then, so I expect the case was second- or even third-hand. Quite an expense though, so my parents must have been confident I would stick at my piano lessons. They were right. I did. Somehow, even at the age of eight, I knew I must make a go of it to sort of ‘honour my family tree’. My mother’s mother had been an accomplished pianist. She had died in the flu epidemic of 1918 leaving four children under 10 and a husband fighting in France. My father’s sister had been a concert pianist. She also died in her thirties. In childbirth. On Christmas Day. Hard times!

I might have started earlier if my twin brother and sister hadn’t arrived when I was six. Things got rather busy, but I’m pretty sure I had mastered Chopsticks even before I was taken through the French doors of the elegant Georgian house on Broomhill Road, Woodford Green, to meet Miss Goodwin. I learnt quickly and was soon playing Dolly’s Lullaby and Gathering Peascods. My other grandma came to tea every Saturday. Always wanted the lullaby. I loved her, of course, but not when she regularly interrupted my playing to remark: “I think, dear, you must imagine that this room is larger than it is.”

Just think of the tedium for the adjudicator and the hapless supporting parents when, at my first music festival, I was the eighth of eight players to perform Gathering Peascods. The Congregational Church was almost next door to Miss Goodwin’s house. It had been irreparably damaged by a flying bomb late in the war. So, perhaps that lovely room where I played my first scales, and experienced the inevitable weekly feelings of guilt at not having done enough practice, had also suffered in the attack. It was destined, like the church with its impressive steeple, to be demolished. It disappeared finally under the Sir James Hawkey Hall and the road-widening scheme at the top of Broadmead Road.

I learnt last week about another beginning. I was talking with Marcello in his restaurant opposite the cinema. It’s called Bella Naples. My son and his family took me there for a birthday lunch on Good Friday. We all loved it. A different dish for each of us. All freshly cooked to order. To begin with, Marcello asked if he might join us at our table so we could chat through what we’d like to order. A very relaxed and unusual approach. I started with a baked goat’s cheese dish served with thin slivers of courgette, fried crisp, almost caramelised. Delicious. I asked our host if I could come back for a chat to hear his story.

He had made a new beginning about 15 years ago. Left Naples for London. He was ambitious. “I wanted to travel but if I was going to work as a chef somewhere, Japan perhaps, or Malaysia or South America (or even South Woodford, I thought), I needed to learn English. It was the first requirement.” He visualised taking perhaps six months. But “doing things properly” was something he had absorbed from his family, especially from his grandmother. “I was very close to her. She was a hard worker. It wasn’t an easy life. She died only a few weeks ago. She was 101.” So, he worked his way through college in London for three years, cheffing for a number of “mega operators” and emerging with fluent English and a love of books. (By the way, the phone rang several times while we talked, but “don’t worry,” he said, “that’s just Mum. She rings every day”. (From Naples, of course!) “What are the most popular dishes?” “Probably the seafood pastas, especially the calamari. I do it in the proper traditional Italian way, coated in flour and deep-fried and served with aubergine baked with mozzarella.”

I had a confession to make to Marcello: since he first opened for business, I had been discouraged by the name: why not either Beautiful Naples or Bella Napoli? Not this hybrid: Bella Naples. He gave a rueful smile. “When I first opened, people asked me where I had come from. I told them Napoli. They mostly replied, ‘Oh, where’s that?’ So, I changed my plans for the name. It was to have been Bella Napoli, of course. ”Well, dear readers, imagine how I felt, considering the time and effort he had put into learning our language! And time and effort is what he puts in today: Bella Naples is not part of a chain. There is no fall-back position. What you get is this young Neapolitan and his chef.

I had my hair cut today. I asked Cathy if she had been to Bella Naples. “Oh yes! We love it. Small. Intimate. Lovely atmosphere. And, of course, Marcello, with his tall black chef’s hat, his beaming welcome… and his spectacular eyebrows!”

I can’t follow that!