Cafe life in Canonbury; spice of life on the Cally; and coffee and books – and Corbyn in Highbury

Friday, 25th August 2017 — By Adam Solomons

People_Jo Hughes

Jo Hughes, 58, owns The Green Hut, a picturesque outdoor café by Canonbury Overground station operated in the family’s name for 27 years. “We’ve all had a go at running it”, she tells me, though I assume she most comfortably dons the apron. Though initially dubious at my request to speak to her about something that isn’t on the menu, Jo comes to the conclusion that there’s nothing wrong with a free bit of advertising. Jo is Highbury born and bred, with little interest in the work of editors and producers that make up most of her clientele (“They’re probably famous but I wouldn’t know ’em”). When I leave she returns to singing The Beatles, in time with a crackly radio, and awaits her next customer.

Ali Salah, 23, runs Magic Corn, a stand selling hot sweetcorn and spices on Caledonian Road. Born in Afghanistan, he moved to Islington twelve months ago and hasn’t looked back: “I’m very happy here.” When Ali’s boss arrives and barks orders, he listens carefully and does exactly as he’s told – and well. Ali insists on giving me my full change when I buy a pot with chilli (a chef’s recommendation). His care and technique is artistry, I tell him, in its own unconventional way. Nothing less, he laughs.

Claire Griffiths, 35, works at Highbury coffee-and-bookstore Ink 84, opened by Islington-based writers Betsy Toban and Tessa Shaw two years ago. “There was no bookshop in Highbury”, Claire told me, “so they set one up.” In truth it’s a sublime store, and it’s no surprise that frequent visitors include Nigel Slater, Nick Robinson and, most excitingly for Claire, Jeremy Corbyn. “I helped Jeremy buy his family Christmas presents!”, she blushes, “and there was no photographer or anything. He was just curious about a new business starting up. What a lovely man.”

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