EasyFoodN5 has Lunch With The Locals: Wendy Proudfoot talks about tennis, barbequeing Goose, Bothies and more.

Wendy Proudfoot can often be found having her ‘restorative’ coffee at Pia’s on Highbury Park

Rarely seen without at least one tennis racquet in her hand or several strapped to the side of her bicycle, Wendy Proudfoot is known by almost every Highbury dweller as the lady who teaches kids to play tennis or who founded the Highbury Tennis club (which now has 140 members) and organises the annual Highbury Tennis tournament. It hasn’t always been tennis for Wendy however, as EasyFoodN5 found out.

When did you move to Highbury?

“I trained as a potter at Central St Martins.” Wendy told me that she had a stall on Covent Garden Market and sold to Liberty and The Designers Guild. “I built my own studio when Michael and I lived in a little cottage in Appleby road in London Fields before we had the kids.” The move to Highbury came 27 years ago when Wendy gave up her studio for a run-down house on Balfour road before moving to Aberdeen road. “The things a mother does for her kids!” she joked. It was a joke too as Wendy felt the kids helped her find her way back to tennis.

Did you always play tennis?

Wendy first played when she was young, with her twin sister. Her parents moved to the outskirts of Edinburgh and “there was this wide, flat, tarmac road running in front of our house with no one using it.” The girls begged their parents to exchange their smoking coupons for tennis racquets then they taught themselves to play! “We had much more freedom in those days, no curfews and much fewer rules than kids seem to have today. I feel our children today need more freedom to explore the world.”

Discovering boys, the sudden death of her mother, who knows really, but Wendy gave up tennis aged 15/16 and didn’t take it up again until she had her own children. “Children are a great source of joy and energy and I wanted to feel that energy,” Wendy told me, so she thought she would re-connect with tennis. She also wanted, very much, to “reclaim” her body after having the children. “I didn’t want to go the same way as my mother,” she said “I wanted longevity and good health.” Wendy passes this message on to the many women in her tennis club. She says she notices how being fit and not so overweight really helps women deal with the menopause, hysterectomies, bunions, “all the stuff that gets dumped on middle aged women. Fitness helps with all those things, it is a prophylactic for the years ahead. I constantly see that women who are fit deal with health issues much better.”

Any food advice for a long match?

Wendy herself is a picture of glowing health. Always smiling, radiant skin and able to play 4 hour tennis matches, it is hard to believe that Wendy has had her 60th birthday! “I have a prescribed snack which I always take with me when I play,” Wendy giggles. “There isn’t much time between games so my snacks need to be easy to eat and digest, and give and instant hit.” The magic formula? I ask. A banana to nibble on between games, 3 medjool dates and, if the game is particularly long, Lucozade sport. I also take fizzy magnesium tablets to help me ‘bounce back’ the next day after a big match.”

What is your earliest food memory?

Wendy remembers doing her cookery badge at Brownies! “I made mince and potatoes in Brown Owls house — lets face it, in Scotland you HAD to be able to cook THAT! It was a very strange experience and it probably tasted dreadful.”

Did your cooking improve?

Wendy says she has done a “massive amount” of cooking over the years but she did a sensible thing and taught her children how to cook. “It’s great as they cook for me all the time!” she says but frowns remembering the Christmas when “My son, Archie, decided to BBQ the Goose. It wasn’t cooked through — he was so ill!”

Favourite local eateries?

When Michael and I walk in to ‘Deer Pizza’ the staff ask, ‘Your usual?’! I also like Finks and the new place on Mountgrove road, The Bothy. Wendy then side-tracked and told me that she and her husband spent the night of her 60th birthday in a Bothy on a rainy night in Scotland! “It was by choice, it was something I had always wanted to do so we researched one which we knew we would be able to find in the dark and rain,” She grinned, “it was terrific fun although I thought some other people were going to join us at one point but, thank fully they passed so we had the place to ourselves! In fact I slept like a top,” laughed Wendy. (If you don’t know what a Bothy is go here: http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk).

Food shops in N5?

“I love the Fromagerie but I tend to get my cheese from my cousin who owns Whalesborough Cheese in Bude, Cornwall. They post it to us so it’s like Christmas all year! I was really pleased to see a new fishmonger too, I hope they do well.”

One thing EasyFoodN5 discovered about Wendy Proudfoot is that she is extremely positive and obviously very happy with her lot. Wendy puts this down to her lifestyle of exercise and her workplace. Not many people could say their office “is the most beautiful place to be.” Wendy is pushing for the area around the bandstand in Highbury Fields to be renovated. There are plans to build a new café, a whole ‘hub’ or ‘pavilion’ but it is all going far too slowly for Wendy who feels the people of Highbury need a “safe place, a better place to connect”. She is begging for people to help her so please approach Wendy if you feel passionate about this too.

How come you’re not in tennis gear today?

“Tuesday is my day off.” She replies. But you’re freelance? “Oh yes, but being freelance, one has to be very disciplined about ones time. A structured week is vital otherwise work takes over.” (Whilst writing this up, EasyFoodN5 realises she could learn from Wendy’s wise words as she looks at the clock and sees it says 11.42pm).

What’s next?

Not surprisingly, tennis isn’t Wendy’s only love, she also has another business as an interior designer! “It’s something I do more in the winter when there is less tennis but I would like to do it more — especially as I get older. It’s just word of mouth at the moment but I would like to expand it.”

So you’re not afraid of challenge then? I asked Wendy. “If you want your head above the parapet, you have to put it there, even if you get hit with a rotten tomato, you have to put it there.”

Wendy tops up her coffee with hot water from her flask!

Wendy Proudfoot and EasyFoodN5 met at Pia’s sandwich bar, 1a Highbury Park, N5. We only had coffee, (Wendy was too busy for lunch). “I find their coffee very restorative.” Wendy laughed as she topped hers up with hot water from her flask!

I’ll show you some easy recipes and tips & intro you to some Highbury foodie places too.