Thursday, February 08, 2007

chiswick ... new moscow-on-thames

Can't live wiv 'em; can't live wivout 'em.

A vampire wind cuts through the city and races across the river to suck the blood’s heat from the traders and night workers in the concrete wilderness of the New Covent Garden Market.

In one of the narrow draughty caf├ęs, tired men slump in plastic seats over plastic tables that are littered with cold oily plates and half-drunk mugs of strong tea, talking quietly in a low kind of growling hum, or slowly turning the pages of the cheaper tabloid newspapers.

Behind the counter, the fierce looking Turk whose passion is football is cooking breakfasts, whilst two pretty women with East European accents are busily running the counter, making our tea, buttering our bread, and despatching our food to the tables.

The steel door creaks and a plump young woman enters hesitantly, dressed in unbecomingly heavy clothes, her drab hair tied back with a rubber band, grubby looking spectacles reflecting the cold fluorescent lights on her pale upturned expressionless face. Her mouth is small and turns down at the corners. There is a lack of the Market’s usual post-Dickensian ebullience in her demeanour; not the sort of girl to command two seconds of a stranger’s interest as she shuffles towards the counter.

She waits silently in the short queue behind a couple of Polish lads who are struggling to count out some change for their tea and cheap sandwiches, and she squints up at the blackboard where a surprising cornucopia of choice is neatly proclaimed.

The atmosphere of weary respite prevails for a few more seconds until, from the mobile phone in her pocket, a woman’s shrill strong voice speaks electrically in a loudly aggressive Cockney monotone, theatrically tinged with an annoyed mixture of curt boredom and impatience, announcing vehemently that,

“There’s a text message, you dirty bitch !”

Like a ripple centred on her cringing embarrassment as she fumbles to silence the thing, smiles begin to spread all around; and from the farthest corner beside the draughty door, a few hoarse words are spoken,

“The Salvation Army’s here, lads !”