Sarah Coles


Spitalfields – the name comes not from spittle but from Hospital – St Mary’s Hospital in the in the middle ages.  Now it’s the liveliest part of London.  It doesn’t have the dead feel of Belgravia, or the cheap tourist vibe of Oxford Street.  Here, Brick Lane has Bangladeshi, Korean, Vietnamese, French restaurants, for locals.  It has a shop with nothing but varieties of Turkish delight.  I meet artist nephew Nick in the nearby market – he says, let’s eat here, but I say no, I’m not sitting on a bench munching a van take-away.

We go to an Indian restaurant.  At the end I look at the bill and say, But we’ve had three bottles of beer, not one.  The manager says, they’re on the house.  ???? As we leave, the manager says to Nick, who knows the area well, Can I direct you to anywhere?  It’s spooky.   I don’t know what’s going on.

I walk Fournier Street with 18th century houses built by French Huguenots escaping Louis XIV – at one end is a house converted to a mosque with a silvery patterned minaret– at first I think it is a factory chimney – and on its door phone numbers for women in distress, and boys’ Koranic lessons.  I reach Hawksmoor’s grand and creepy church.

Nestling among the gleaming skyscrapers of the City to the south is the glassy Gourd, lit and transparent in the dark, and to the west is Liverpool Street station.

Petticoat Lane sells rolls of  patterned fabrics, not pale and English but noisy and vibrant, surely African, and next door heavy gold, coral and turquoise necklaces, and twinkly shoes.   For women, but where are the women?  Only a very few, completely chadored.  Where are the parties where these glorious fabrics are made up and worn?

Spitalfields market has everything – I find an intricately cut pop-up card of red dragons for Max’s birthday (symbol of strength and good luck), another of a dog with boxes for George and one of trees for Toby.

What grabs me each time I pass are the graffiti on derelict buildings waiting for gentrification.   They laugh with oblique messages.   Politics, wry comments, puns, and a boy at street level staring out from it.  Who painted this skeleton labelled ‘Muslim picture of Jesus’ ?  More like the paintings of Jean-Paul Basquiat than Banksy.  Changing every day.

A near naked woman marked up for breast augmentation and thigh reduction?  She’s on a playing card marked 9 of diamonds, with 8 diamonds.  A massive blue eye welling with a tear looks at you from an embryo’s head as it looks at the sorrows of life ahead.  Another peers through a wire fence.    YOU CAN’T STEER A PARKED CAR, KEEP ON MOVING.  Your right to privacy has been revoked.   Common Sense banned due to health and safety concerns.  An arrow to JOY DIVERSION.  Let’s go there, to hell with our plans!  Priti Patel marked AWFUL.  A bottle labelled CHANEL 19, CORONAVIRUS VACCINE, INFECTION ONLY.  My Fun not Yours.  Masses more, and utterly weird and I stay fascinated, only shoved by people scurrying along the pavement.

Soon they will go.  Slum buildings and the tasty cheapo dives of Brick Lane will be pulled down.  Smart flats, offices, restaurants and shops will take their place.  (And then become slums and wrecks, after my time…)  Should I feel regret?  I do, but …  KEEP ON MOVING.


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