Chrisp Street Market

I love living in a scummy area.  Well, OK, perhaps not scummy, but definitely down at heel.  The strange thing about it is we are right next door to the uber posh, very slick Canary Wharf (no work wear or muddy boots please).  Canary Wharf is so posh it has its own security force checking you’re not bringing in explosives.

Well, a mile further north in Chrisp Street Market they would probably benefit from a few explosives.  It is dirty, it has strange shops that have probably never seen a profit, and I don’t always feel safe there.  But it is glorious.

It is full of real life, you see.  And real people.  Not that clean shaven white collar workers are not “real people”, but when that’s all you have – wall to wall urban professionals – you have lost something of the flavour of wider humanity.  Chrisp Street Market has mothers with little kids.  It has drunks sitting on benches.  It has young men shouting at each other.  It has people popping in for lunch in a hurry to get somewhere else.  It has white East Enders who have lived here for generations.  It has Muslims in headscarves and full veils.  It has harrassed council workers.  It has cheery market traders. with proper market stalls. There are a few chain shops, and lots of unique shops too. There are council buildings and a police station.  It is a real local hub, and if you want to see the real East End I would recommend you see it. Let me take you on a tour.

From East India Dock Road, the first thing you see is the large Ideas Store.  In my day they called them libraries, but apparently adding a few internet connected terminals and a DVD lending section makes them “ideas stores” now.  This one is green glass, 2 storeys, and quite prominent.  Not bad as far as they go.  I’ve only been inside once and that was by accident.

Now, look to your left and you’ll see the Poplar HARCA. Not some sort of Islamic day centre as I first assumed, it is infact a Housing And Regeneration Community Association. (See what they did there?).

Now, look between the two.  Into the dingy corner.  There is a little clue that you’re in the Real East End.  Being vegetarian I haven’t actually been in, but I’m sure it’s great.

Next door there is the Lansbury Pharmacy which I can recommend.  They recently spotted that my son’s prescription was 10 times too strong, something that the useless pharmacy near ASDA never did. Well done them!

Now look back to the right.  Go down the pedestrianised street with the Ideas store on your left.  You will find an arcade of shops including 2 butchers (1 Halal and the other not obviously Halal) right next to each other.  There is a key cutting shop.  There is the fabulous “Kenny’s pop-in” which seems to sell loads of random things from bath mats (our lovely bath mat and toilet surround came from there) to glass ornaments to plastic buckets.  You know the sort of place – the one where your pocket money goes a long way and you always come out with more than you went in for.  There is also a bakers – Percy Ingles – which has great gingerbread men (well, Nathan likes them anyway). A Boots snuck in too.  Last on the right is another “we sell everything” shop this time including household cleaners.  I’ll let you know if their drain unblocker is any good…

Now you are coming into the open market area. It has maybe 30 stalls, ranging from a fresh fish offering to “exotic vegetables”, cleaning products to clothes.  Lots of variety, nothing is expensive, quality a bit suspect.  Suggested games for the visitor is “guess what that strange fruit is”, and “how do you wear that item of clothing”.

The market stalls are laid out on a diagonal, which leads you naturally towards the next street of shops.  But wait a minute, before you go onwards look about.  On your left is a post office which is very busy on Giro day.  A once-loved playpark with only 2 sorry pieces of play equipment left – which makes you wonder what sorry accident led to the removal of the main climbing frame or swing set.  To your right are some hut things, containing a cross between market stalls and proper shops.  Wandering amongst them you can get your phone unlocked, eat a hot Carribean curry, and find religion in a tiny Christian book store.  More cafes and non-chain shops line the far side of the market, with a well hidden supermarket (the Co-op, none of your Waitrose here thank you very much) behind them and linked to the market by a narrow entrance.

Now look to your right, and look up a bit.  Here is the Chrisp Street Market clock tower.  It does what it says on the tin.  Its a useful landmark if you’re arriving by a bus that does not go down the main road (East India Dock Road).  It is on the side of the market, it is very ugly and the large tower serves no useful purpose beyond supporting the clock.  I fantasise that once it was once one of those towers they put in fire stations for practising putting out fires on, or whatever they do.  That perhaps the market was built on the site of an old fire station and this is all that was left.  That they stuck a clock on the top to make a feature of it.  Sadly, I think the truth is a bit more bland – this market was built in the 50s when they thought this sort of thing looked good.  Ah, well.

OK, so having surveyed your surroundings have a quick check to make sure your purse is still with you, that your phone remains in pocket and no-one has relieved you of your camera.  No? Good.  Yes?  well, carry on to the far side of the market stalls and you’ll find the local police station.  Handy!  You can see it on the right of the next picture:

Just next to the police station is a Tower Hamlets “One Stop Shop” which is the council’s way of making the queues as long as possible.  You can do everything here from paying your council tax to getting your on street parking permit.  The staff are very nice if a bit stressed, and there seems to be an unwritten rule that everyone queuing should bring an unhappy child with them.  I try to take 2 with me.

More random shops, including the Spitalfields Crypt Trust charity shop.  I like a place with a charity shop or two.  I grew up in a town which was taken over by charity shops, and that is not good, but one or two is great for a bargain even if you’re too tight to buy anything on the very cheap market itself.

Further down the road is a cake shop (yum), and the best chippie in the area (yum again).  At the end of the street on the left is the Chrisp Street Sure Start centre which has play space for under 5s and which runs lots of groups including Nathan’s old Chatterbugs group which is for children with speech and language needs.

And that’s it.  Suddenly you’re out of the market, standing on a normal residential street, looking at a bus stop and probably an angry traffic warden (don’t park illegally round here, they are very efficient).  You’ve just seen Chrisp Street Market.  Well done.

The sad thin is that the market is up for regeneration, with work starting in 2014.  I wonder how much character will be left afterwards.  Come now whilst you still can!

Nearest station: All Saints DLR

Bus routes: D6, D8, 15, 115 amongst others.

Nearest airport: London City

Nearest favourite blogger:  i love 10

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1950s housewife heaven

I am so happy! I am in 1950s housewife heaven.  Yesterday, dear reader, a large van delivered my new shiny washing machine.  This morning my loving husband installed it, right next to our stainless steel kitchen sink.  I am currently running my second load of washing, and am soooo pleased.

Since we moved house almost 3 weeks ago, I have been without washing machine.  Doing the washing is usually my job, one of the few household chores I am in charge of.  Having 2 small children and no washing machine has been pretty hard.  We get through about 4 loads a week, and I’ve had to manage my clothes quite carefully as I only have a limited supply of feeding bras and summer clothes.  Due to a kind friend with a full time job and a spare key, I have been saved the laundrette – but moving a load of washing and a small baby out of a car, down the side of the house, through a side gate and into her house then returning 90 minutes later to repeat the performance has just about done for my shoulders.

In other news from the 1950s, I dropped the eldest child off at nursery this morning and went shopping in the local “mall”, looking for some pretty new clothes (aka something that actually fit me post baby) and some presents for friends’ children who have birthdays.  I also came home with a great deal tupperware. Once home I put all our dry goods into tupperware (mouse proofing, we think we might have furry friends visiting) then did the washing up next to my shiny new washing machine.  At that point my husband popped into the kitchen to get his fried bacon lunch (ok so he grilled it himself on the george foreman) and I said I felt like he should be in car sales or advertising or something.  He pointed out that he is, infact, in advertising.  Doh! I think my brain has gone all 1950s housewife too.

All this excitement, and it was only a few days ago this week when our house was connected to the telephone exchange.  The workmen brought a cherry picker to reach the outside of the house as the wire to the mast was so old that it had to be replaced.  So, dear reader, we are in the 20th century.  (We hope to reach the 21st century in a fortnight when the internet is connected!)

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A new approach to weaning babies

There are two main schools of thought for how to wean your baby.  One is the “traditional” spoon feeding method, where you give your baby spoonfuls of pureed food, starting with just a few tastes and going up to a whole meal, a few times a day.  The other is “baby lead weaning” where you offer your baby finger foods for them to try at their own pace, which has the advantage of the baby being able to feed themselves rather than the parent sitting for hours on end wrestling spoons into their mouth.

I have discovered a third method, which I intend to use with Samuel.  It is called “accidental weaning”.  You do it like this…

First, breastfeed your baby.  Ideally with a raucous toddler around, and little time to do much.  After a while you will work out that sitting down feeding the baby is the only time you have to sit down and eat your dinner.  So, you have a biscuit, or some toast, something like that.  Something crumbly.  After a while you look down and notice there are crumbs all over your baby’s face.  And when your baby comes off the breast you notice there are crumbs there too. Infact, your baby has been suckling milky crumbs for some time.  And there you go, accidental weaning.  I think this is a much more natural way than spoon feeding or baby lead weaning.

I haven’t worked out how you get from crumbs to whole meal yet, but I expect the next stage involves the toddler “helping” by feeding the baby some of their dinner (or perhaps pretend food, or lego, or bits of toy vehicles)

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Squidgey and Bobblehead

Darren and I thought long and hard about the names for our sons.  We wanted names that would be recognised but not too of the moment, names with meaning, names which sounded balanced with our surname.

Which is a shame, as I don’t actually use them much.  It all started when Nathan was 5 weeks old.  My sister took the opportunity of more open visiting rules during a 2 night stay in Great Ormond Street to meet her nephew.  She took one look at him and exclaimed “oh, he’s so squidgey”.  From then onwards he was known as squidgey.  Or squidgeroo.  Or, infact, a variety of different pet names that have evolved over time. The most recent one is monkey midget, because he is one.  Nathan David is saved for episodes of maternal wrath where I am yelling across a playground for him to stop doing something.

The second born son has occasionally been called by his actual name, which is already migrating from Samuel towards Sammy Sam.  But more commonly he is known as bobblehead (because he has a bobbly head of course).

Neither myself nor Darren really had nicknames when we were younger, or for each other as adults, so perhaps this is venting our un-nick-named frustrations on our children.

What do you call your little ones, apart from their actual names?

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Self soothing by counting

Initial warning – this is a bragging post about my eldest and how clever he is, thinly disguised as a question about what other children the same age do.

Now that’s out in the open I can get on with the post. Nathan has been fascinated by numbers for some time now, and he was counting up to 9 using his stacking cups about a year ago. We could (and often do) use his interest to persuade him to eat when he has a food refusal (lets eat 10 spoons. here is number 1.  now there are 9 left.  etc etc).

More recently, Nathan got beyond 10 into the teens, and onwards towards 100.  One of his story books has 157 pages and they became the basis of a game called “where is the number?”  I’m sure you can guess how it goes, and with only a little encouragement about which way to turn the pages, he became familiar with two digit numbers.  He particularly likes the 80s and the 20s. He could even find pages where the numbers weren’t labelled – on title pages for each story, or on picture pages.

He started counting to himself to soothe himself too – mostly when he is lying in bed trying to fall asleep.  Over the baby monitor we would hear him saying to himself “twenty one, twenty two, twenty three” etc etc.  At church there is a snakes and ladders board marked 1 to 100 and last weekend we found an older boy asking Nathan where particular numbers were – with no coaching or prompting he knew every single one and very quickly too.

Then there were the trains.  We live in DLR territory, and Nathan loves trains. When I took Nathan on the DLR he started shouting out numbers.  I thought he was saying random ones, as I could not spot the numbers he was saying – they were not platform numbers or the number of minutes on the train countdown.  Then I noticed them – small numbers painted on the side of the carriages that identify the train itself.  He was spotting them across 2 platforms.

The latest trick is counting backwards. It started with the Numtums on Cbeebies – at the end of the program the numtums file out one by one, starting at 10 and getting down to zero. Today when we were eating we mentioned number 26 in conversation – I can’t remember exactly why – and Nathan started counting backwards from 26.  He got every single number correct, all the way down to zero, then finished off with “bye bye numtums”.

I am, of course, very proud that my only-just three year old can count up to 100 and down to zero from at least 26, and has a love of numbers.  My degree is in maths, so its lovely to think Nathan might have the same interests one day.  Plus its nice to think he is clever at some things, especially given his difficult start and developmental delays in other areas like speech.

Whilst i’m welling up with pride, another part of my brain is a bit worried.  I mean, it’s a bit geeky isn’t it?  A three year old (2 years 10 months corrected) loves numbers so much that he counts himself to sleep.  That he’s already a bit of a train spotter – and not just “look mummy train” but actually noting down the carriage numbers. That he not only knows and can read all the local bus numbers, but guesses them from the engine sounds (double deckers are D7s, singles D8).  I could be raising the next Einstein, but what if I’m raising the next Sheldon Cooper?

So, is this normal?  Do other children got through this phase, and if so when? And what (if anything) should I do about it?

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Quirks of the new house

We have been in our new house one week now, and are getting to know it.  Some of its “features” were obvious from the start – the hole in one ceiling where the gutter leak came in, the low height of the basement roof, the circa 1972 decor.  Other features are becoming apparent over time.  So far we have….

– a toilet with 3 separate leaks

– a kitchen sink which drains at about 100ml per minute, even after sink unblocker has done its work

– secondary glazing fitted so you can’t reach the opening latch for the primary glazing

– hot water so hot it literally boils as it comes out of the tap

– doors that won’t shut

– a beautiful fireplace boxed away behind louvre doors from the 80s

– a carpet so dirty it filled half a dyson with dust AFTER it had been steam cleaned

– windows that need “encouragement” to open from a block of wood and a hammer

– 3 telephone socket boxes, none of which work

– a telephone wire so old that the BT engineer took one look and immediately ordered a replacement wire from the pole to the outside of the house.  Apparently the pin at the exchange hasn’t been touched in many a year either!


Oh, the joys of a listed building.  We keep repeating the mantra “it has a lot of potential” over and over again.  Because potential is what a building has when it doesn’t have much else worthy of noting but is still structurally sound!

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I love 10!

Dear reader, I am pleased to tell you I am writing from my new house – number 10.  We moved on Friday 8th June and have been living out of boxes ever since.  But we found the essentials (underware, shampoo, wine glasses) and everything else can wait.

Its very strange living in a new place.  I haven’t found it as stressful as I feared being in a new location, hearing those unfamiliar noises that houses make in the middle of the night, worrying about whether its someone breaking in / walking around upstairs or just the neighbours.  I haven’t found it very stressful living in a dump either – and believe me it is a complete mess in here, the kitchen is at least 30 years old and we have discovered 4 leaks so far and counting.  Because I don’t cook much I can survive with a microwave, a toaster and a kettle.  Plus a sheaf of take out menus of course.  I’ve not minded having a newborn in a dirty house – we sent in a team of cleaners before we moved in, and they completed all but one room, which was finished this morning.  So the house isn’t very dirty any more, but it doesn’t have flooring as such and the carpets are also ancient.  Beetles and spiders are our friends.  We just have a rule – the baby does not go on the floor.  There is a basket, carseat, bouncing chair or bed in every room and the baby is NOT put down on a rug on the floor ever. It’s been fine, he’s far too small to be mobile yet.

The things I would struggle to live without are all working – we have heating and hot water.  The power is on and most of the light fittings work.  Most windows open, the floors and stairs are safe (sort of).  The TV doesn’t work yet (wrong cable left behind in the move) but we have music from an ipod dock speaker thing.

What has been stressful? Well, having a toddler.  Which is stressful at the best of times.  But in a house with 5 floors and no stairgates, with thoughtful windows across the staircase inviting small people to tumble down the flight and straight out of the window onto the concrete below… that is worrying.  We are spending a lot of time following him around telling him to put things down / not touch that / don’t go in there etc etc.  He is really enjoying the new house, tearing about and giggling when he finds familiar things in unfamiliar places.  He is getting very very dirty from playing on the floor in rooms where carpets have had to be thrown out.  He laughs at the small flies that come in and circle under the light fittings when the windows are open (we are near sticky trees). He has dealt with the transition very well, better than we have!  Thanks in no small part to both sets of grandparents who have been around helping with the DIY and childcare.

The other stressful thing is the amount of work that needs doing.  The idea that in a few months we’ll be (hopefully) packing the boxes again whilst teams of builders, plumbers, electricians and plasterers strip the house back to the joists and rebuild the entire insides.  The idea of how much that will cost, and whether we’ll manage to keep to our budget.  The worry about whether that damp patch is really due to a leaf blockage in the drainpipes (Easily fixed) or whether there is a full depth crack in the masonry (harder to repair) or something structural that the detailed survey missed.  But it’s also very exciting to think about what the house will be like when it’s finished.  It will be fantastic.  Huge. Clean. Full of interesting features, nooks and crannies, strange angles and unusual ceiling heights.  It will have a touch of 65 Eaton Place about it, with the kitchen in the basement and the grand reception rooms on the ground floor, then bedrooms for the “upstairs” cast and on the very top smaller bedrooms for the “downstairs” cast.  It will have original or reclaimed fireplaces but modern central heating.  It will have ridiculously high ceilings and fast broadband.  It will be our family home for many years to come (God willing).  We will be paying for it for many years to come too!

In the mean time, as we plan, imagine, design, hope and enjoy, we are enjoying the “historic features” of 1970 wallpaper, fluorescent strip lighting, and dial up internet speeds from the 1980s.  Think of us, dear reader, when you look at pictures or video online.  We are back in a slower, text only, internet age.  Somehow it seems to fit the house.

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