Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 30 seconds
Everyone has a story. Journalist and author Angela Neustatter talks about the joys of sharing a home with her extended family. Interview by Nicola Baird
For years Angela Neustatter has lived in Islington writing talked-about features for newspapers. She ran the Guardian fashion pages while living off Highbury Fields, and has written for most of the broadsheet newspapers. Sheâs also written numerous books â many drawing on her own experiences including Hyenas in Petticoats which looked at feminism from the 1968 to 1988 andÂ This Is Our Time contemplating the challenges of mid-lifeÂ in 1996. Then in 2014 out came The Year I TurnâŠ a quirky a-z of ageing, written in her 70th year.
Angelaâs interviewed everyone too, from her own hero, the author William Trevor, toÂ Julie Christie and Helen Mirren. Many of the Islington Faces interviewees have said they know her, and suggested sheâd make a great interviewee. And of course Angela does, but itâs off-putting sitting side-by-side on her huge sofa noticing that my expert interviewer subject has clocked my clumsy note taking. So unnerving that within 10 minutes both my biros give up which means she has to lend me one…
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âWe got the commission but when I showed him my collection of notes he looked at them in horror. On the computer he had a mind map. He hadnât written a book before but he helped organise me,â explains Angela. Eventually the pair found a good way of working â Angela did the interviews and a first draft. Cato gathered practical material and then took over the text.
âBy the end we were very much partners,â she says and soon were on to their next double act â running a five week course for students at London College of Communication, down at Elephant & Castle, entitled âI want to be an Entrepreneurâ.
âItâs been an interesting life,â says Angela in the vast living space of the converted N1 pub she and her Dutch husband, Olly, bought in 1999 and then spent a year doing up before they could move in. Itâs quite different to the Victorian and Georgian terraced houses and hasÂ enough space to enable her eldest son move in with his Japanese wife and young family. Thereâs play space for her grandchildren in the living room, including a rope swing dangling from the staircase which leads to the roof garden and Catoâs music studio. The walls are vibrant with interesting art and over-flowing bookcases. Not all the rooms are huge â Angela creates stained glass panels in a tiny space.
This afternoon the large wooden coffee table has been parked (it’s on wheels) under a long family eating table so that itâs out of the way while Angela and friends did their morning yoga and pilates.
âPeople say itâs very bohemian,â says Angela sitting on the blue leather sofa thatâs positioned to catch the daytime sun and the warmth from the wood burner. Sheâs dressed in a warm blue cardi but itâs dressed up with four eye-catching necklaces.
Move to Islington
Angela grew up in a suburban part of Surrey, met her husband in 1969 when she was working in Amsterdam and then moved to West London where her first sonÂ was born.
âWe were living with my father in 1979 when Olly was knocked sideway by this double-fronted Georgian house in Highbury heâd cycled past. He thought we should move in, and my dad did too, but I think the bank thought that I was an arch manipulator like Regan*! Then my dad died, but he left us just enough to buy this wreck in Highbury Place. The kids had a glorious upbringing â they could scribble on the walls because we never got around to painting them!â she said. âIt was a beautiful house but it always needed money and was always cold â then someone came along and wanted to buy it!â
After living on Highbury Fields it wasnât easy to find another place. âLooking at houses depressed me and I was getting despondent. They either werenât right or had just been done up by bankers with gold faucets which you couldnât justify ripping out. Then Olly said heâd seen an old pub in Cross Street. It was a filthy stinking mess but we could see the potential. Someone else had bought it – but they were willing to sell it to us.â
So Angela and Olly got to work on their second Islington wreck. With the aid of an architect friend who put them in touch with a good team of builders they were able to turn it into their home â and have now lived there for 16 years.
Places Angela Neustatter likes in Islington
- I love going to the theatre. I like the Almeida â last show I saw was the Bacchae. I also like the Rosemary Branch theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, N1. But I donât go out much.
- I used to live on Highbury Fields and love it. I like to stamp around and get some air.
- Iâve been going to the Gate Restaurant, the upmarket vegetarian on St John Street for years. But I like Mem and Laz, 8 Theberton Street too.
- After pilates and yoga my friends and I go to Piero and Rosannaâs deli at 48 Cross Street, N1 to have a cappuccino. Itâs an Italian deli with real atmosphere.
âI do value living in such a culturally mixed place as London. Iâd hate to feel Britain had become one of those places where we didnât want that mix because as I see it, itâs essential if the world is to be a happier place,â she says. âWhen we first came to Islington in the 1970s people said âyou donât want to live thereâ, but Islington is a very fine example of a successful melting pot.â
âWe live in an enclave where we know a lot of people and they look out for each other. Itâs a community that feels at ease with itself. It doesnât always of course and I know terrible things happen. Obviously it helps to have a nice family and a nice home – itâs like being in a village,â says Angela who claims she does not need to visit other parts of London much because Islington has it all,Â before adding, “And I like bumping into people, up to a point.â
Even so itâs a sociable home â in the mornings thereâs the pilates class and most afternoons her grandchildren come up for a pre-bedtime play and read filling the house with laughter. âWe had a party to celebrate girls on Sunday and there were lots of Japanese children galloping around the room,â says a delighted Angela. âMy son and his wife want this to be their family home and the trade off is that theyâll have to look after us!â
- The Lifestyle Entrepreneur by Cato Hoeben and Angela Neustatter (Gibson Square, 2015, ÂŁ8.99)
- See all books by Angela Neustatter on her Amazon pageÂ
Hina Dolls festival is held on 3 March.
Goneril and Regan are the manipulative daughtersÂ in Shakespeare’sÂ King Lear.
Over to you
If youâd like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.
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This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.
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