My new temporary home is not entirely new. Over two years ago, when I first found my freshly-graduated self in London, a kind Accidental Relative lent me a spare room, which I eventually left for the flat in Putney. Now I find myself returned to it, and to familiar host of unique sounds and features that a home above a restaurant brings. The lovely flat in which I am kindly afforded lodging (rent paid in light rewiring and window cleaning) occupies a couple of floors above a very good and widely renowned Italian restaurant. This is a classy establishment - no kebabs served til 4am or chips doing front crawl through pools of dirty grease here. Walls are covered in black and white photos of the rich and glamourous, tablecloths are perfectly flat-ironed and laid with shining silverware, breadsticks and olives. Both lunch and dinner times draw a sizeable crowd of diners who eat their Fegato alla Veneziana under the watchful eye of the bustling Italian staff.
You can set your watch by the noisy patterns of a restaurant. The sound of extractor fans and refrigeration equipment float upwards into the flat and punctuate my day with whirs and clunks. On they go around ten in the morning as the kitchen prepares for lunch, and off again when dessert is done. Then a brief few hours of peace until around half five when preparation for the evening supper shift begins. The Accidental Relative and I debate the reason for the pounding noise often heard mid-morning. Is chef tenderising the veal? Or crushing ice maybe? Beating the washer-uppers into submission? We may never know.
Fortunately sometime after eleven at night everything falls silent, as the final throbbing powers down with a last whir. The kitchen table in the flat no longer vibrates slightly. The windows rest unrattling in their frames. In the hallway, one can no longer here the muffled chink of silverware on china, or the sound of a chair scraping across a floor.
The activity of a restaurant flows, not just throughout the buildings which it shares with other residents, but out beyond its walls. Lorries delivering gourmet cheeses and crates of clinking beer bottles disgorge their freight onto the pavement under the restaurant's awning. Yells in Italian reverberate up the narrow street, as staff take deliveries and sweep the pavement. Huge hinged stainless steel bins beneath the windows hold the restaurant's beverage stock, including thousands of ice cubes, many of which end the evening dribbling towards the roadside, never fulfilling their destiny of floating in a gin and tonic, with a friendly slice of lime.
The noises one learns to live with - the restaurant is no neighbour from hell - but just occasionally its clients intrude upon my household peace. Generally this is not through any fault of their own it must be said; a somewhat secret doorway entrance to this otherwise prominent dining establishment confuses its patrons regularly. Hopping out of cabs they stand looking in at the windows, desperately wondering how to gain access to their three courses and fine wines. Occasionally they make the mistake of assuming the door to the flat is the restaurant entrance. Usually by the time I have opened the door to inform them of their error, they have already begun to realise it themselves. Most apologise profusely and are grateful to be redirected. One party however barged straight into the front hall, announcing their reservation. A large, somewhat forceful man was practically shrugging off his coat and barking his drinks order at me before, noticing the horror on my face, he paused and asked "Is this not the restaurant?". Had I had my wits about me I should really have slammed the door behind the man and his friends and held them captive, charging them hundreds of pounds for scrambled eggs on toast. But I simply shook my head and pointed round the corner, and they disappeared, leaving me in peace. Although it might seem, from all the bangs, clangs and judders, that I practically live in a restaurant, fortunately the sounds and occasional smell are usually all that make it up the stairs and into my tranquil flat.