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Petticoat Lane, London

On October 20, 2010

Was watching a commercial for the Slap Chop (you’ve seen it, too – the one with Vince, you’re “going to love my nuts”, who chops cheese while chanting “fettuccine, linguine, martini, bikini”, throws what he thinks is an inferior chopper over his shoulder and lays it down in the sink behind him like an NBA All Star dunk, then admonishes the listener to call in the next twenty minutes “because you know we can’t do this all day”) when a British friend of mine dropped by. He said, “Vince could be selling dishes at Petticoat Lane” and proceeded to do a mix of Michael Caine and the Geico Gecko standing on the street corner peddling wares, complete with imaginary dishes laid out on his arms…

and for that reason alone, the next time I was in London, Petticoat Lane was on my itinerary.

We arrived by train into the Liverpool Street Station early on a Sunday morning…like many of England’s rail stations, Liverpool Street Station honors its architectural past while fulfilling its functional present.  I’m always struck by the height of most British rail stations and Liverpool Street also provides an interesting street level view from inside the station…

The integration of the station’s brick walls into the functionality of the Liverpool Street Station was accomplished  without being showy but without looking tired or pedestrian.

Outside the station on our way to Petticoat Lane a delightful juxtaposition of two desires: to eat Mars products and to be slim – with me the Mars products always win.

Petticoat Lane Market awaits about ten minutes from the rail station.   The market is actually located at Middlesex Street,  London,  E1 7JF.  The name of the street was changed in the 1800s – petticoat having been too risqué for the Victorians but Middlesex having made the cut.  There are several alleyway entrances to the market, just make sure you can find your way back to the station once you’ve exited.

Petticoat Lane’s hours are surprisingly limited: no Saturday hours at all,  Sunday 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Monday through Friday,  10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

Sunday morning was busy and I was immediately reminded of  other Sunday mornings – Sunday mornings spent at markets in Los Angeles – the swap market held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a market held on Vermont Avenue in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA – even the goods were remarkably the same and their were few Cockney accents, they had been replaced by Middle Eastern accents, African accents and Asian accents; even these accents were remarkably few.  Only a few true, old-style vendors hawked their goods to passers by – most silently restocked their goods or shared quick bargaining conversations with buyers.  One young Asian woman in a headphone hearkened back to my friend’s rendition of dishes being displayed off of outstretched arms.  My friend thought I was disappointed which was not exactly the word, more – hmmm, more taken aback by the homogeneous diversity of markets a continent and an ocean apart.  The world has become smaller and we are in many ways better for that but in some ways diminished by the loss of our past.

We wandered for the better part of an hour, the famous facade of the Gherkin shadowing us,

paused for my first bite of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” – a rich, somewhat sweet flavor made strangely even more palatable by their slightly burned taste,

discussed the decidedly learned appetite for jellied eels

and headed off to Greenwich to discover the Thames Barrier in Greenwich.

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