Grime and glitter in the E1s

Date: 15 March 2015.

Location: The Jubilee line.

I'm taking some time to explore the city I live in in a way I always thought I should, but never ever did, back home in Melbourne. Somehow, Sunday groceries (sleepins, coffees, crosswords) and laundry-doing always got in the way. Here, where my culinary machinations rarely progress beyond heating Waitrose soup and my wardrobe consists of just 25 carefully selected items, I suddenly have the time. And the inclination.

Today was a study in contrasts.

Up first, Brick Lane Market, Shoreditch.

Cool, grey Shoreditch lives up to its gritty reputation. Unfortunately, today, so did cool, grey London weather. The cold was bitter and rain was pathetically speckling market-goers with freezing drops at unpredictable intervals.

Brick Lane of a Sunday is dotted with vintage markets, cave-like and crowded, tattoo parlour and its famous Indian curry joints. Here and there you see people stepping slyly down side lanes and around dumpsters to view the street's other famous feature: it's wild street art.

Today, alone, I zipped my black puffy jacket up the whole way, pulled up my hood and turned up Blink-182 on my iPod. Then I just wandered. Brick Lane on a Sunday is a marvellous place to be lost. Absolutely no one gives a damn.

Inside an old brewery i found the Up!Market, a steaming warm space crammed with craft vendors and, wonderfully, food vendors of all shapes and colours. There were two little ladies serving my beloved Nepalese momos, a pair of loud Venezuelans with cornbread arepa, Mexican corn, fresh juices in every shade of orange, purple and green, plump and glossy Turkish gozlemë and brilliant displays of vegan ingenuity. It was like my year of eating had come back to haunt me — in the best way possible.

I had a hipster coffee from too-trendy Belle Boiz, a fresh croissant from a Aberystwyth stall then, later, an overstuffed arepa. I stalked street art and waited out one patch of rain in the Brick Lane Book Shop (leaving later with three 80p Penguin Black Classic minis from Wilde, Gaskell and Wharton, one of which I could stow in my handbag in case of long Tube rides and two of which could adorn my new vintage bar trolley back home).

After two laps and too much to eat it was time to leave and run an errand.

Oxford St was the 'best' place to go but today I just couldn't face the Tourist Hell that that promised. However, a quick Google suggested I try E14 for shopping. Canary Wharf. Huh. It seemed a smart bet for a quieter Sunday shop and I was quite curious about where the next generation of banker-lawyers was being bred so I decided swiftly: up next, the skyscraper garden of The docklands.

One train stop and a few light rail stops later I emerged at cavernous Canary Wharf DLR station.

The day was somehow greyer still, here in this weird, windswept business amusement park. Why do docklands never seem to 'work' as a fun place in cities? It being a weekend, the wide streets were quiet and the oversized restaurants deserted, the parks completely still except for rain. I followed signs to Canada Place shopping mall without seeing another soul except one sad one in a suit. On Canada Square I stopped, bewildered. Where was this mall? I saw a Waitrose and beelined for that. Perhaps I'd get a coffee and my bearings and then try again? I took an escalator down to the basement in search of the food hall and, unwittingly I stumbled into the mall. The completely underground mall. It was surreal. Before me stretched out a long, wide and fluorescent-lit promenade lined with glittering High Street stores: Hobbs, Reiss, TopShop, Oliver Bonas. And here too were all the people, buzzing into Costa and out of Accessorize, laden with Pret bags and Mothers Day flowers. I'd already become so comfortable with the way London has squeezed contemporary living into the delicate architecture of another time that it was a true shock to step into something this purpose-built and contemporary. I wandered dazedly over to a store map and saw that this mall stretched on and on, under all of the pretty parks and tall buildings on the wharf's island. I strolled for a while in search of John Lewis but managed to get turned about and emerged up to ground level to get my bearings.

Weirdly, I'd come up on Upper Bank Street: right under my old new office. That is, the office of the Magic Circle firm I'd signed an employment contract for… and never turned up to. It was a really disquieting feeling.

As a place, Canary Wharf was both thrillingly sleek — and horrid. On impulse I bought an orchid from the Mothers' Day sale at Waitrose and fled. I hadn't even found what I'd come looking for, that being a second set of linen for the sofa bed. Joey is coming to stay on Wednesday! Stay tuned for Trouble.





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