...in the bottom drawer
I knew I'd lose it so I put it in a safe place, and now I can't remember where it is.

currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
about me || email me || RSS feed || give me a present || A blog about urban planning, if that interests you

[more photos]

February 05, 2006 || 8:53 pm
Market forces

Since coming back to Cheshire Street after over a year away, I've noticed a lot of changes on my beloved East End Sunday markets. Actually, they're really quite radical changes - seemingly having altered more in that year than in the three and a half previous years that I've lived in Bethnal Green.

Firstly, you no longer have to get up at 8am to catch the best of the market. It used to be that all the good stuff was gone by 9 (well - all the really good stuff was gone by 6) and the whole market packed up around midday - at least, the bits I loved the most, being the dodgy stolen-goods flea-market super-cheap non-organic veggies and headless dolls bits. Now the whole thing barely kicks off before 10. Well, a few little bits do - but this is really symptomatic of the massive underlying shift in clientele and legality. No longer headless dolls and stolen bikes underneath my windows. No - the police have decided that the market can't happen any further down Cheshire Street than the Carpenters, and certainly no dodgy stolen random crap. That doesn't mean, of course, that people don't still sell the most random things in the more 'legal' part of the market - but it certainly means that if I come back home at 3am on a Sunday morning, there isn't the same throng of early-bird dealers and wheelers starting to stake out the territory, peering at chairs in the gloam to see if they can spot a genuine antique or smoking under the streetlights in that way which makes London still so Dickensian.

And of course, the Carpenters Arms is no longer functional, so one can no more get an 8am pint to sip on the pavement while selling or browsing. And even the posh bit on Brick Lane itself and in Spitalfields - well, I got there the other day around 10 and there was nary a stall to be seen - everyone still unloading their vans. Incredible. It used to be almost unbearably crowded by 10 in the olden days. But now, you can go down at nearly 5pm and its still just about going - the real crush comes around 12-3 or 4 - so strange, and yet I know I haven't really the right to mourn.

Even the cute kooky shops on my street are opening later than they used to. 11am for Labour and Wait and all the rest, when it used to be 10. I'm a late riser so you might think this would suit me, but actually I would rather it still woke me up early, that lovely sound of just people buzzing on the street below, footsteps, no cars, the odd little call-out. I liked getting up earlier to beat the rush - the benefit of being a local - and then retiring to have a coffee or go home when all the outsider trendy crowds arrived. But somehow its just not quite the same, beating the crowds when its still only 10.30. I also liked the fact that people coming from across town had to make that real effort to get up early too, to hunt down the real stuff, the good vintage clothes or stolen old-school cycles. Now - well, its just a little bit too easy. And you don't really find that much good stuff any more, either.

Still, some elements of the illegality survive and change, too. The DVD trade has expanded massively and become an entirely Chinese operation, extremely well-organised, with a man or woman every few yards down Cheshire Street selling porn and children's films, the latest Hollywood blockbusters and the latest Bollywood alongside the latest X-rated girl-on-girl, all 3 for a fiver or some ridiculously low price. When the police arrive they are adept at vanishing, as are the Eastern European cigarette sellers.

But all in all, with the opening of the 'up-market' in the Truman brewery and the decline in the dubious trading down my end, the balance has shifted in favour of more handbags and printed t-shirts, organic pastries and badly-made young designer dresses. And that's even without the next stage of evolution that can be seen in full flow at the far end of Spitalfields, where the stalls have been squeezed out, Norman Foster architecture pushing in, and you get chain crap like Giraffe and (oh, sell-out) Patisserie Valerie catering to Boden-clad professional couples with mewling brats in oversized strollers.

Sigh. I'm such an old codger. But at least, the Mon-Sat market on Bethnal Green Road hasn't changed hardly one bit. I can buy my winkles and spuds undisturbed...



Post a Comment

My del.icio.us page

Developing [news]