Fashion and Passion

A multitude of markets

Native Londoners always seem to be griping about public transport. I’m sure it is different when you have to rely on it every day for the commute but as an unapologetic tourist it has served me well so far and this morning I’m wandering down the Petticoat Lane Market near Liverpool street station a mere 25 minutes after leaving my cupboard in Marble Arch. I do have a gripe of my own however. The public signage leaves something to be desired. When you arrive at the train station there are signs to Bishops Gate market – well known but hardly a great tourist draw – while the world famous Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market a few streets away go unmentioned.

Petticoat Lane market is an old fashioned affair akin to something out of Eastenders with low grade clothes and poor quality knock-offs touted by locals who would bleed forth jellied eels if you cut them in two. The physical landscape deserves a mention. Old grubby bricked shabby frontages sit cheek to jowl with modern clean cut city flats, both sitting in the shadow of monolithic financial district glass and steel high rise office towers, including Norman Forster’s “gherkin”. As I leave Petticoat Lane I am confused to discover that it resides in Wentworth Street. A furtive glance at my map (nobody wants to look like a tourist) reveals no street in the area named Petticoat Lane. Perhaps I imagined it all.

Onto the next market at Spitalfields which is an entirely different proposition. There has been a market here since 1638 that has continually evolved and today it is an attractive glass roofed affair. It hosts countless stalls run by independent creative types selling frocks, handbags, jewelry plus a range of other bespoke goods. Where Petticoat Lane was about basics and bargains Spitalfields attracts a modestly affluent crowd looking for beautiful items that feel individual and bohemian.

Cake stall
Cake stall

A sit down with a hot chocolate enables me to assess the demographic more precisely. The average client is a yummy mummy with children Josh & Eugenie in tow and she is absolutely thrilled with her purchase of an organic yeti pube hat.

Two markets down and it’s onto the main course – Brick Lane. I’ve been once before and it was rammed but today on a wet February morning it is busy but tolerable. Brick Lane is a verb, such is it’s vibrancy, colour and youth. Other landmarks may acquire a label and then try to live up to their reputation resulting in a pale and desperate pastiche of a former glory but Brick Lane, for all of it’s obvious distinguishing physical attributes, doesn’t stand still and it is defined by the dynamic people that trade, visit and live there.

Brick Lane sweet stall
Brick Lane sweet stall

In case you haven’t already guessed I LOVE this place. I could never adequately describe the vibe so if you want to understand the experience please click on the links I have included and more to the point go and visit it yourself next time you are down instead of one of the predictable shows you intended to see. In basic terms there is a street market with stalls selling almost anything imaginable. The street is adorned by some amazing grafitti and it is home to many asian shops and eateries plus Jewish beigel bakeries.

Grafitti
Grafitti
Mixed signs
Mixed signs
Wrestling mask stall
Wrestling mask stall

The smells, sounds, flavours and hubub are intoxicating. Adjoining the lane are an expanding range of indoor markets occupying otherwise derelict warehouses. The eclectic Backyard Market sells all sorts of everything and includes a growing number of food stalls selling afternoon tea through to Egyptian salads.

The larger Sunday Up Market situated in a former brewery is a living beast and hundreds of stalls now extend across three floors. Vendors on the ground floor tend to sell things they have made themselves such as T-shirts, cards, bags, brooches, coasters, cakes, etc.

Palm Reader
Palm Reader
Salad stall
Salad stall
Cake mountain
Cake mountain

There are some wonderful designs and ideas on show. An extensive range of fresh food spanning numerous cuisines competes for your trade. I opted for a turkish stuffed pitta but I was sorely tempted by Dim Sum and a Moroccan stew.

Its a wrap
Its a wrap

Head upstairs and you step into a nirvana of second hand vintage clothing attracting a devout following of fashionistas. I presume this is where the Sunday paper fashion magazine supplement photographers come to snap their material.

Up for the cup

I’ve a ticket for the Fulham vs Notts County FA cup 5th round match and a dozen stops on the district line gets me there.

Tim on Thames
Tim on Thames

As a Derby fan I’m notionally supporting Notts because work colleague Matt is a Magpies devotee. Craven Cottage is so quaint and dated it could also be home to Hansel and Gretel. I’m sat in a wooden stand with wooden seats (this in 2010) and I can just about make out the Thames behind the far stand. I wonder how many balls get hoofed into river each year by carthorse defenders. The match kicks off and Fulham boss it. They are 2-0 up by half time and that’s a fair reflection since Notts haven’t had a kick.

It becomes apparent that I am sat in a hotspot for die-hard Fulham fans. Some of the guff spewing forth from my neighbourhood beggars belief. There’s the guy sat next to me that spends 35 minutes slagging off Bobby Zamora for being a workshy showpony (fair comment) even when he is at the opposite end to the action. Then when Zamora scores he is singing his praises. I would advise this man to look at the word “irony” in the dicitonary, once he has conquered the basics like “cat”.

Fulham vs Notts County
Fulham vs Notts County

In the row behind me a neanderthal bigott spends the entire match shouting insults at everyone who moves. It is valentines day and he is in love with his own voice and even laughs at his own offensive and unfunny jokes. Later on during one particularly unjustified tirade on an opposition player the guy next to me who isn’t exactly well adjusted himself curses this captain caveman – quietly but just loud enough that I hear. He must endure this every game. At full time it is 4-0 and that’s about right.

Fulham play a superior breed of passing football that would be unattainable for better teams than Notts but they failed to make a nuisance of themselves and get stuck in. I can’t even recall any bookings. It was as if they realised this was the end of their cup run and thought they would have a cosy day trip to London, which isn’t fair for the 4000 away fans who made the journey. Fulham have had their day and next week they play in Europe. These are heady days and I can’t help thinking this is a club punching above its weight. The fans have got complacent with success and I have an uncomfortable feeling that a downward curve lies ahead.

The final whistle blows and as I leave I notice Steve Claridge signing autographs from the exposed press box 5 rows in front, but there is no sign of Her Majesty Robbie Savage.

Lost in translation

I really should have taken a pedometer with me. Must have covered miles today. Any thought of a tumultuous finale to my circumnavigation of Londinium has disolved, especially since it is Valentines day and anywhere popular will be geared up for couples tonight. There’s a Wetherspoons up the road at Marble Arch so I head there for sustenance and to write this blog entry courtesy of their WiFi.

It is packed and I’m lucky to find a table. Every voice I hear is foreign, including the bar staff. The chap next to me at the bar is from Ethiopia and we discuss the undeniable merits of the African token based system for ordering beer. Then I strike up conversation with some folk who have just flown in from Portugal. The only discussion I struggled to understand was with an Irishman who I think was extolling the virtues of the Neeps and Tatties I ordered but could have been telling me about his day at the bookies. The food was fine and so was the gorgeous and fittingly entitled Russian Winter ale. That’s as much and more than I have any right to expect from this particular Sunday.

Beer and Posing in Las London

Status descending…

As I smugly sink into a sofa in the luxuriant 1st class passenger lounge and connect my netbook to the WiFi the smart and professional receptionist asks to see my tickets, to prove that I am “the right sort of person”. After all we wouldn’t want those “other” types getting in here would we? It turns out that I am one of the other types because my advance 1st class tickets don’t qualify for the lounge unless I pay an extra £5. My train is in 10 minutes so I turn my back at the pug faced battle axe and strop outside to mix with MY people. It was crap in there anyway – full of yattery business types dictating to their PAs. And the sofa was no great shakes.

Platform announcements may be more audible than of yesteryear but they make no more sense. The news that the 9:01 to London St Pancras is imminent and that first class travellers should make their way to the rear of the train is less than helpful since they don’t mention which direction the train is approaching from. I happen to know that it arrives from the left – the opposite end of the platform to the 1st class business lounge – and that it always will do, raising questions about the recently redesigned platform layout.

Once aboard I’m please to see that suited corporates are sparse (presumably they took earlier trains to the capital) and that there are “proper” people aboard which makes for better people watching, and less obnoxious conversations to earwig.

A date with Jimmy Hill (ugh!)

My lack of itinerary for the weekend is a front. I have ideas. After booking the hotel I decided that I was going to see some football. There are a dozen or so London clubs so there should be plenty of games to chose from over the weekend. Except this is FA cup weekend and all the local teams have been knocked out except Chelsea whose tickets are not on general sale, leaving just Fulham who play Notts County on Sunday.

Yes I can book a ticket online but I am checked into my classy Oxford Street cupboard by 11am so decide to tube it over to Putney Bridge & collect one in person. Craven Cottage is a proper old fashioned cantilever stadium that sits between Victorian Terraces and the Thames. I approach it along the Thames footpath when it starts to rain and I’m glad that I packed an umbrella but less chuffed that it is currently sitting in my hotel room. Fulham looks interesting but I’m getting wet so ticket in hand it’s a quick hop back on the tube to Covent Garden and…

A moving experience

…the London Transport Museum. It sits bang next to Covent Garden and I have walked past it on numerous occasions without venturing in, so today is the day. It’s unsurprisingly full of London transport paraphernalia.

Bus & Tram
Bus & Tram

I’m not too bothered about the “kit” so much – although there are some interesting old horse drawn trams, underground carriages and buses of a certain vintage – but the social history is compelling. Particularly striking is the realisation that so called modern themes relating to the drag of the suburban commute through to the environmental impact of the transport infrastructure were very hot topics as early as the 19th century. Three hours well spent.

Underground as a suburban salespitch
Underground as a suburban salespitch

Old habits

I’m a sucker for Mussels and Belgian beer so hunger pangs in the Covent Garden vicinity can only result in a trip to Belgo, next door to the Donmar Warehouse. My advice if you haven’t been there is to go even if you hate mussels. Situated in a large celler with oodles of copper, stainless steel, naked flames, beer to die for and the sort of comforting food to counteract the anticipated hangover this venue has an undeniably fine ambience. Efficient and engaging staff steer you to a trestle table next to fellow diners where there are plenty of people to observe and snippets to overhear. The waiters dress as monks but that’s their only bad habit. Doh!

I enjoy an entrée of 5% Cristal lager – one of the weakest beers on offer, followed by a yummy 7% Affligem Brune with a darker palour. There are many stronger beers served by the bottle – Chimay, Roquefort, Leffe, Steenbrugge, not to mention the 12% Bush Scaldis, but it’s 6:45pm and the line must be drawn somewhere.

Belgian Beer waiting for me
Belgian Beer waiting for me

Food for thought

Since I’m sat here in a Belgian restaurant I order some mussels in a Thai broth. In fairness they are very nice but nothing I couldn’t do myself. That said, it’s the whole package of food, beer, venue and clientele that makes this a worthy visit.

Belgo Thai Mussels
Belgo Thai Mussels

Time for a brief mozy around the Seven Dials area which always draws me in with its designer stores, independents and quirky coffee & nibble outlets followed by a pleasant stroll through the increasingly populous streets to Leicester Square and onto Chinatown. Sunday is Chinese New Year and this year it’s the turn of the Tiger. See my previous blog entry for your prospects this year if you must.

The lanterns are out and there is a tangible buzz. It’s a shame that the major celebrations here are taking place on the following weekend because they would be a wonderful sight to behold with fireworks and street processions led by human dragons. I console myself by joining a queue of people at a street stall in the belief that they must know something good lies at the other end. The zen navigation technique pays off handsomely with a thing probably best described as a pork dumpling in chilli sauce. A terrific treat for the taste buds. Perhaps I will return here on Sunday. Surely something festive will be going on, unless the Valentines crowd render the evening a write-off.

Things can only go downhill from here so I head back to the hotel cupboard. It may be early but there’s a few miles in my legs today.