Neighbourhood watch: Simonetta Agnello Hornby loves her East Dulwich
“I wanted to give something back to the place I love”. Simonetta Agnello Hornby, the Sicilian writer and retired family lawyer who specializes in children law, says this in her latest book, “La mia Londra” (My London, Feltrinelli 2014), a travel guide that follows a very personal path.
And what is home in London? “East Dulwich was the first place I lived with my husband when we moved here from Oxford. I love it. It was a village until 1860, but a very famous one. Dickens used to visit his lover there. There is a beautiful library and in nearby Peckham there is a lively and vibrant artist’s community. It’s socially mixed, which is something I like. The other day there were celebrations for the last day of Ramadan and East Dulwich looked like a place in Nigeria.
All the Italians wish they could move to Chelsea…Chelsea and Belgravia are too dull to me. I know them very well because my parents-in-law used to live there. No, too many rich people, no soul.
Your latest book is a real travel guide. Reading it one really feels you have trod all the streets with a notebook. I’m a very curious person by nature. When I was young and living in Palermo I used to go to mass in different churches only to visit them. Until 2000 I had to go around London in my car. The South was not very well connected with public transport back then and I had to get around for work or with the children. Now that I’m retired and I have more time I can take the liberty to walk around at my pace.
Many young Italians are moving to London in search of a different life. What would you tell them? London greets anyone and allows people to live without leaving their small community. The English do not invite new people to join them and they have to make an effort. There are so many opportunities: check the internet or go to a public library and join whatever is on offer, plunge into the city, experience, do not stay among your close friends but go out and merge yourself into a new place.
Is that what you did when you moved to London? Yes, and I’m ready to do it again. At 70 years old I feel I’m ready for a new change.
“Then people came from abroad and London started to flourish again. I feel like London is mine too, I have contributed to this flourishing city like so many other people and I wanted to do something for a place that is home now.”