The other weekend I went to meet one of the Glam Teens in the Portobello Road (now firmly ensconced at Uni and becoming more of a Londoner by the minute). To you non Brits but Movie lovers, you’d recognise this market from Notting Hill.
I spotted him, despite hoards of tourists and the rain, standing beside a guy flogging umbrellas for three quid a throw. Elbowing our way down Pembridge Road we turn left into the colourful street of early victorian houses whose pastel shades and pretty window boxes contrast strongly with the brashness and excitement of the market proper. Entering Portobello Road from the ‘top’ we’re instantly thrown into a world of antique stalls and labyrinthine shops.
Tiny rooms leading one from the other, every inch given over to whatever collection is the owners fancy or dealers trove. Vintage tea-cups and saucers,
silver cutlery (loads of that – shame it taints the food so easily. I love the delicacy of it). Paintings, lamps, lace and lockets. Furs and fans, all for the bargaining.
On the way, not far from the enormous Antique Tea Pot, a sweet smell starts to stir the air. Despite the on-off drizzle, there’s a lure about the aroma, sticky vanilla, hints of lemon. The chocolate and pink frontage of The Hummingbird Bakery punctuates the procession of pastel painted shops. This is the kensington home of the cupcake. A tiny bakers, tucked between silver sellers, with a queue that shouts the popularity of the fabulous flavours to be had within, if only you can be patient enough. And for those who really can’t wait for their dainty single boxed morsel, there are chocolate cupcakes to be bought from a stall outside, nudged in close to the doorway. Even in the rain it’s worth the wait.
Gradually antiques give way to fruit and veg, pubs and delis. A mix of stalls and stores – Mr Christians – a traditional grocers – wafts of coffee beans and crusted cheese greet us as the bell pings on the door. Little chicken and leek pies sit on a plate on the glass counter upright in their own pastry. Crimped and pierced to allow pie perfection at home.
Thick slices of Rocky Road and chocolate bathed Florentines share a dish in tempting piles. Sourdough, walnut bread and rustique, huddle on shelves by the door, shiny and seeded, a far cry from the supermarket slice.
As we wander up the road we’re besieged by tasty tit-bits, slices of pizza, more Fougasse than Italian pie. Warm on a cold drizzly day. The sun is breaking through and the tang of baked tomatoes and pungent cheese prompts an involuntary licking of lips all round. Large wooden buckets of olives, a myriad of choice from Greek marinated to Garlic stuffed.
In the distance, steam is rising high above a gathered crowd. There’s a definite sense of theatre about this food stall. Three roaring burners are warming the people in the front of the horde. Two men, with arms fully extended, make slow sweeping movements across huge paella type pans of fragrant chicken curry. It’s not just the delicious smell but the theatre that attracts the crowds.
Approaching ‘The Arches’, an area of the market under the A40 flyover (One of the main routes into London). We can hear and feel the beat of the music as it resounds off the arched walls. A constant thumping with the familiar melodies of Motown or early 70s Reggae. There’s been a secondhand CD and Vinyl stall here since I was a small child. My sister and I would steal out to listen to the music and the random conversations, comparing this album and that. Vinyl versus tape, 8 Track or now, CD. Enthusiasts rather than geeks. Open to suggestions or just flicking, as they enjoy the music and a cup of tea from the cafe cart over the road.
I wistfully leave behind a beautiful vibrantly embroidered South American skirt, with the thought, ‘Some can, some shouldn’t.’ We move on to the vintage clothing part of the market. Leather jackets soft with years of wear and sanded on seams and elbows. This is real vintage, paired with worn 70s jeans and a little floral top, second hand becomes super fashion.
We’ve walked the whole length of the market taking in its different character. People-watching as we went. Tasting and smelling all the delicious offerings a fabulous day, full of nostalgia for me and great shopping for the New Londoner.