Thursday, September 20, 2012

dust and string: the new Brick Lane

Brick Lane’s a part of London I have strong memories of from the ‘80’s. It was the home of Northern Indian food, my first bagel and the edgy market piled high with stolen goods.

I’d heard the East End had changed. For better or worse, like the rest of London, I wasn’t sure.  To absolve my divided heart, I went the long way via Mile End. It was almost a relief to see the street market outside Whitechapel tube selling predominantly Asian food and clothing. And that Tower Hamlets was as raw and real as ever.

I hit the Whitechapel Art Gallery and soaked up some of the best art in London, took a breath and turned into Brick Lane. The first block looked more or less the same, wall-to-wall Indian restaurants resisting gentrification. But with every few paces the shops began to change, Caucasian faces predominated and vintage emporiums flourished. Gone were the cheap days of the East End. These shops sported 60’s frocks for a mere £100 and rayon scarfs for a tenner.

One sweet young thing working in one of these stores confided loudly to her colleague “I love dirty, old stuff. The dirtier the better”. And I observed from the price tags - the tattier the goods, the higher the price.

Two things redeemed Brick Lane in my eyes.

The first was a juice and a salad at Suzzle.  Although a newcomer, the café seemed less cynical than the new retail wave. I felt like I’d stumbled on a piece of Collingwood, a tiny shopfront that combined street art with simple food. No sandwiches thank God but salads, tarts, cakes, fresh juices and the like. The salad was just what I needed and it gave me hope for the ‘new’ Brick Lane.

The second was a couple of old Geezers. Or rather blokes in their late 50s with Cockney accents. And impressive DSLRs. I have a bad habit of following unknown people with cameras down laneways. It inevitably leads to great street art. After their initial surprise to find someone following them, we got chatting and our paths crossed frequently over the next hour as we traversed the side streets in search of some colour. Good to see it’s not just the new kids on the block that appreciates the art.

At Maggie Alderson’s prompting I continued onto E2.

It was full of guys like this:

In a bespoke shoe store, a local gallery owner was talking up the new show opening the next week. The artist apparently does amazing things with dust.


Shoreditch seemed full of people who secretly hankered after a more salubrious postcode, selling enamelled baking dishes and legal string (I kid you not) at exorbitant prices. It was something that Remo did in the 80’s in Sydney. Only he did it with greater aplomb with better products.

It was almost a relief to hoof it to the grime of Old Street station. With the homeless congregating under make-shift shelter, public toilets sporting blue lights and string, if it was to be found, tended to hold up trousers. Legal or not.

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Blogger Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hi great memories of midnight bagel munchies after work in the early 80's rooting through tat at the market, finding a huge Neil Douglas merric Boyd plaque on a rag and bone stall for a tenner...

5:19 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

George we were lucky to live there in the '80s I reckon. Despite Thatcher. The place was real. And those bagels made my heart sing :)

8:13 am  
Blogger Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Oh yes, I went back for the first time in 30 years this year for a get together with the old crew and the next wave that came in the 90's very emotional London looked a treat...
going back can be dangerous but worth it...

9:08 pm  

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