Home. Mine was once a launderette, back in the ‘70s. I wasn’t living there then. I was hardly even born then. But there’s still evidence of it all over the place – from the peculiar frontage to the panoply of pipes protruding defiantly out of the flooring. But times have changed. At least for this building.
For me though, my home is more than a house – more than four walls, windows, roofs and doors. It’s more than the place where my family and I eat, sleep, or take refuge from the cold and rain. It’s the scene of our everyday victories – big and small – celebrating a good day at work or school, a festival or birthday, or just an elaborately-constructed sofa den. And of course, it’s sometimes where opinions are argued, tears are shed, and shoulders are hugged.
Our home isn’t just bricks and mortar. It’s the stage on which our lives unfurl. And I know how lucky that makes me, especially when so many people don’t even have basic shelter.
Homes can change, of course. And they usually do. And if parents still live in our childhood home – as mine do – we may find ourselves visiting the homes of previous selves. Even when I pass near my late grandparents’ home, I’m immediately immersed in joyful childhood memory, my grandparents’ ghosts reassuring presences in my mind. Different homes, each one with its own sense of place and time, of experiences had and lessons learned.
‘Homeship’ can also seep out from the physical structure of buildings, and into the surrounding streets and communities; we often refer to our place of birth as our ‘home town’. For me, that’s Manchester, a place where I regularly return, and whose football team – City, of course – I still fervently support. And, to an extent, there’s Vancouver, home to my mum’s family, where many happy visits throughout my life have instilled a deep sense of homeship to that verdant Pacific city.
But for 20 years now, my home has been London. Like for many others, it actually took a while to feel at home here. It wasn’t because I didn’t know people; I was lucky to have a few friends here already, not to mention a medical-student social scene right on the doorstep. It wasn’t that I found London too big or impersonal either; I was a city boy after all. Indeed, as I resided in student digs in Hampstead – an oxymoron, I know – I soon found that London’s no amorphous sprawl but more an urban jigsaw of distinct neighbourhoods.
No, the issue was as much about me as it was about the city. I was in my early 20’s, a time when my sense of identity was on the move – new ideas, beliefs and values were being formed, old ones being reexamined. And, for me at that time, with my own shifting currents, London’s sweeping mega-canvas of identities, narratives and history felt just too vast to connect with.
So it’s taken a while, but I now love London – you can probably tell from my other posts! – and it’s very much my home.
I realise now, that feeling at home is a very particular and unique instinct. You know it instantly when it’s there. And sometimes you can even go to places you’ve never been before and suddenly feel its presence.
And this was the feeling I got when I visited Campania & Jones, a cosy little restaurant nestled inconspicuously on the corner of a cobblestone street, close to Columbia Road and its flower market. Round here, it’s largely residential. But as you approach the place, a red awning and a couple of tables out the front hint at something quite different. Indeed, an old Victorian lamp-post stands out front, as though beckoning you into Narnia.
Campania & Jones is exceedingly homely. It’s in the architecture: rustic, inviting and snug. There’s a conservatory at the back, and a stable window on the side. In fact, back in the day, it used to be a dairy, a home for cows.
But its homeliness is more than its brickwork and history. A warm welcome greets you as you step through the front door. Which will probably be ‘Ciao!’ since this place is run by a convivial Italian family – ‘family’ being pure fantasy, since the staff are presumably not even related. Still, it all feels like walking into someone’s home – in the back room, there’s mamma threading pasta dough through a formidable pasta roller, in the kitchen papa is preparing some old family favourites, and out the front there’s the daughter warmly dishing out the food.
It suddenly brought back memories of another modest little restaurant – in Lecce, Puglia – also on a residential street; ringing the doorbell, we were greeted and escorted into a back dining room. There the family served up an astounding spread of antipasti, and a quite humorous moment when the nonna became so carried away with her description of a local chickpea dish that she actually scooped up a forkful and, with a doting arm cradling my back, fed it to me like a toddler.
Meanwhile, the food of Campania & Jones also sings of the Italian south. Antipasti of deep fried pizza balls are handmade with love, a far cry from those plasticky Pizza Express billiard balls. Little slices of bruschetta brim cheerfully with cherry tomatoes. Then a dish of hake: baked in a sunny sauce of tomatoes and plump capers, served on farmhouse crockery, accompanied by a beguiling glass of greco, and eaten whilst sitting outside under the last rays of September – well, this could easily be the Mediterranean.
Except instead of a vista of sapphire blue waters, thyme-scrubbed hills, and lemon groves, it’s urban chic Shoreditch. Graffiti declaring someone’s innocence decorates the corrugated ironwork of a timber yard opposite. A dedicated little shop specialises in restoring old record players. A smattering of circular smudges against a wooden gate hint at an impromptu game of football. Fairy lights drape over a high wall.
The overall feeling is of an idyllic agriturismo that’s been incongruously transplanted into the heart of East London. Sitting out on that sun-soaked table felt like straddling two very different homeships – one suffused with that very particular sense of Italian family hospitality, the other being that of urban London, my home.
All afternoon I watched people come and go: this curious intersection of cobbled streets a cross-section of London life. In the early afternoon there passed by young professionals, local hipsters, and delivery drivers. Later strode out an array of mums, crisscrossing the road with buggies in tow, like some street version of a synchronised swim routine. Then came parents escorting their school-children, dawdling several steps behind with over-sized satchels slipping down their shoulders. Finally, the 4pm tribes of uniformed teenagers – joking, jostling, gossiping.
People milled about seamlessly, a melange of hijabs and hipster beards, kufi-hats and headphones, burkas and skateboards. This is my London. This is home.
So whether home is your place of birth, your current abode, your surrounding community, or carried in your heart, it’s an important part of our lives. Which is why places that make us feel at home – like Campania & Jones – are so wonderfully special.
What does ‘home’ mean to you? A particular place? A particular person? A particular mentality? And have you been anywhere where you instantly felt right at home? (If you’ve enjoyed this post, you may also like another piece I’ve written: ‘It’s Not Just Kricket; Reflections on Religion and Diversity‘)
CAMPANIA AND JONES