I write this lying on the floor. Somewhat uncomfortable, but it is my very own floor. In my new flat I have only one chair, which was here when I arrived. After less than a minute perched on its wobbly legs it is not hard to see why its previous owners left it behind. Almost devoid of any furniture at all, until I get myself organised to find some, I am grateful for the single wobbly chair. It will not be here long, but I hope I will. Here I finally am, in a flat of my own. Just me, yet I am not alone. My flat is a horizontal slice of a large terraced house, and above and below me are people and animals as independent as I yet sharing a front door, a roof and many, many bricks.
From windows at either end of my flat I can see life playing out. People walking along my new street; entering houses, leaving houses, chatting on front steps, driving cars, carrying shopping home, walking dogs and small children, even washing their cars whilst their pair of Staffordshire bull terriers dozed on the pavement. I spent my first morning in my flat cleaning, aided by the extremely kind Accidental grandmother, who tackled my new fridge-freezer, while I dealt with a locksmith and some slightly grubby skirting-boards. Hungry from our morning's slaving, we set off towards the Holloway Road for some lunch. We had only just turned out of my road however when our progress was brought to an abrupt halt.
Under the all-seeing eye of a serious-looking female vicar clad in full-length black robes, there came a procession which halted both road and pavement traffic. A couple of hundred people, wrapped in white muslin shawls, some covering their whole bodies, with varying coloured borders, came towards us; clapping, singing quietly and even ululating. In their midst swayed multicoloured, silk umbrellas, shading precious boxes and books, and a striking fellow in full gold robes. One man's bright yellow high visibility jacket glowed beneath his white shawl, an oddly incongruous turquoise plastic first aid kit clasped behind his back. (Interestingly it looked very similar to the one my father presented me with, as a cautionary accompaniment to my new tool kit, the following day. Quite how much injury one can inflict upon oneself with a small hacksaw, a Stanley knife and numerous screwdrivers remains to be seen, but at least I can cope with any accidents which might arise on a public march!)
From the yellow, red and green colours which recurred throughout the procession and the signs outside the church at the end of my street, which shares its space with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, we gathered they must all be Ethiopian. Posters in a script I could not begin to identify gave dates for some festivity I could not even guess at. As they filed towards the church, and strangely the performing arts school on the opposite side of the road, we were able to continue on our search for food. But the shawls appeared throughout the day, on numerous streets. Quiet song filled the air around the church for the rest of the weekend.
I felt hideously ignorant not to know what was being celebrated at the end of my new street. Hopefully in time I will learn my new area, and the locals with whom I will share it. But despite my newby status, I felt it had to be an auspicious sign that I had arrived amid celebrations. And so begins a new chapter...