The smells – roast chestnuts in EC2 and frying vadais in Matunga. The people – Jamaicans, Bangladeshis or masala dosais (as I was once referred to by a Bombay cabbie). The goods – Reebook shoes with slightly askew Nike swooshes (slowly and sadly being replaced by annoying near perfect replicas), plastic buckets and miracle window cleaners that need divine intervention to work at home. The feeling that you’ve outwitted and outpouted your friends and scored the bargain of the century. Aren’t markets wonderful?
My love for them has taken me from sulking in Maadavidhi to being delighted in Camden and robbed in Matunga. While shopping on Oxford Street gives a buzz that’s better than too much Benadryl, there’s nothing like a trawl through Portobello, Greenwhich or Camden Lock.
One of the oldest London street markets, Petticoat Lane was established over 400 years ago by The Huguenots. The prudish Victorians changed the name of the Lane and market to avoid referring to women's underclothes! I wonder what they’d think of the Union Jack thongs that flutter in the wind now?
Glitzy shoes, last seasons must haves or ‘genuine’ leather coats for just £24.99? Sinatra or reggae? Fried seafood or hot sausage rolls? Just the white turtleneck or the brown cable knit too? Shall we keep going straight or turn right here? This market throws a volley of questions at you. The hawkers smile, cajole and call out. In the midst all the colour and fun a sullen brown council estate. Behind it the tip of The Gherkin juts out. Should I stand there and ponder on this juxtaposition of rich and poor? Before I decide I’m jostled by a burkha glad girl with an East London accent and a glittering nose pin – ‘Scuse me!’ I sing along with Frank – ‘Strangers in the Night, exchanging glances…’ I’m surrounded by people I don’t know. And fall a bit in love.
S&M at Spitalfield
A Patisserie Valeria. The cult makeup brand Benefits. Organic burgers for £10. ‘Old’ Spitalfields Market is anything but. It’s cleaner. Upmarket. Affluent. International. ‘Vietnamese’ bamboo bags. Hungarian food. Japanese stall owners. No one calls out. No one pushes. No puddles to jump over or ugly bags to make fun of. It’s cool, trendy and achingly hip. Like the S&M café (Sausages and Mash) – carefully framed yellowing posters and gleaming red and white chequered tablecloths. Old fashioned. But new. I shop. We eat.
My mind keeps going back to Petticoat Lane. Two streets and a world apart.