Tuesday 10 March 2009

A Walk Down Petticoat Lane

It was a very cold morning one winter, more than 20 years ago, that I was introduced to Petticoat Lane. The very mention of the word conjured an image straight out of a western movie, with raunchy ladies and their raucous laughters doing the can can, teasing their audience with their lacy petticoats. Perhaps it was for this very reason that the name Petticoat Lane, the world famous Sunday market in East London, was changed to something more sedate – Middlesex Street.

When a friend suggested a visit to this street market last Sunday, I eagerly agreed, forsaking a Sunday lie in for a walk down memory lane. Petticoat Lane Market, Portobello Market, Wembley Market are the haunts of Malaysians; visitors and locals alike – these are places you can find good bargains, almost original fakes and good leather products. And I am in need of a new leather jacket.

The market has been in existence since 1750’s, according to its history and was named after the petticoats and lace once sold there by the Huguenots who came to London from France. With more than one thousand stalls, you can find household goods, clothes, shoes, accessories and many more.

During the 40-minute tube ride on the central line to Liverpool Street, I tried to recapture the Petticoat Lane of yesteryears. The Petticoat Lane in the deep recesses of my mind was totally an alien place with a totally alien language to my uninitiated ears. Cockney was the language, so I heard, and everyone called you sweet’art or luv.

I was introduced to one Cockney word – Dicky Dirt – a shop in Bayswater where I went to look for some jumpers. Dicky Dirt is a Cockney slang for shirts, just like Her Indoors – meaning someone’s wife, similar to the Malay Orang rumah.

It was a busy market place where the likes of Del Boy (Only Fools and Horses) charmed you with their sales talks to buy yesteryears’ rejects or things that had fallen off the back of lorries. The sweet smell of roasting chestnut from corner street stalls intermingled with the aroma of hotdogs on grills. That was the Petticoat Lane Market in my mind.

And of course, as I made my way out of the station, (turn left and then right again, said the guard at the station), a familiar jingle played in my mind..”That big red building in Petticoat Lane…” It was an advertisement for a big leather shop at the top of the road, much hummed and repeated by the husband of mine. Is it still there? I doubt it.

I didn’t have any difficulties finding the street market. In the cold morning air, there were droves of people making their way there and I just went with the flow. From a distance, I could already hear the stallholders calling out to shoppers. The music coming from the stalls selling so called ori(s) prepared me for the Petticoat Lane of the here and now. There were more Bollywood songs wafting in the atmosphere of this East London marketplace. Places in East London, such as Brick Lane are more familiarly known as Bangla Town. There is a huge Asian community and so it was altogether not unexpected that I found many stallholders to be Asians, selling clothes made in made by aunts and grannies and cousins in their own warehouses nearby. Many are copied from designer labels and sold at a fraction of the price.

And of course an Asian Del Boy is bound to be found among them. As I was admiring a blouse, I could hear one chatting up my friend, telling her, he could tell from her aura that she was an intelligent girl. “And this one,” he said,” is the peaceful one. She is a very calm person.” And believe it or not, he was referring to me.

“Calm? Moi?” I asked sceptically.

“Yes,” said the Pakistani Del Boy, “ and if only you are younger!”

Suffice to say, I floated away with that blouse in my hand and spring in my step.

It was LV, Chanel and Prada galore. They even got the spelling and the colour tone almost right.

I went searching for my leather jacket – alas, I couldn’t find any that fitted me. In fact nothing suits me nowadays. They are either too small or too young. And the leather jacket that I was wearing that cold morning seemed okay still. I also scanned the area for the famous Pearly Kings of East London. Sadly, they were no longer around, only making their appearances on certain occasions.

As we walked away towards Aldgate East station, the smell of hamburger greeted us.
Halal hamburgers it says, being grilled by someone donning a ketayap. A nearby Chinese stall was selling fried noodles and we were greeted with a cheerful “Selamat Pagi!”

Petticoat Lane has changed somewhat, but that change is inevitable. But before we left, I found Fred, hunched over his stove of sweet roasted chestnuts. I ordered two packets; he burnt his already charred hands picking them up from the burning grills.

“I’ve been doin’ this for 51 years, I 'ave. This same spot ‘ere. Ne'er had to use thongs or nuthing’, he volunteered. “Mind how you go, sweer’art”, he said, waving us goodbye.

So, that was Petticoat Lane last Sunday, and I still have the jingle of the red big building in Petticoat Lane, playing in my head.

Picture of Pearly Kings and Queen taken from Strangebritain.co.uk

Petticoat Lane market is open every Sunday from 9-2pm.
Take the Central Line to Liverpool Street station. Turn left and then right - you will not miss it.
Or take District or Hammersmith Line to Aldgate East station.


Chahya said...

Petticoat Lane? At first I thought you were joking hehehe.

Your description is vivid, I feel like I've been there :)

Pi Bani said...

Tengok aje the title of your posting, the first thing that came to my mind was the old TV series, Pettycoat Junction.

Anyway, this Pettycoat Lane, kira ala-ala KL's Petaling Street lah kot?

Kak Teh said...

chahya, mana ada joking? hahah! thanks - i hope you feel as if you were there.

Pi Bani, oh yaaa I memang lupa abt Petticoat junction. yes, macam petaling street laa.

Naz in Norway said...

Kak Teh,
For a while, I was lost in PLane :)
I miss UK today and you are responsible!
Keep warm, sis.

SkyJuice said...

Kak Teh,

I miss walking around and going to the markets in the UK. *sigh*

Kak Teh said...

Naz, macam pasar malam! Except for the cold lah! I was lookinga round for gerai me soup or laksa kedah. Tak jumpa.

SkyJuice, mai laaaaa! I thought you are coming soon?

NanaDJ said...

Kak Teh,
Thanks for revoking the memories and reminding me of how much I miss London.Soon, soon...insyaallah.

SkyJuice said...

Not anytime soon, Kak Teh. Nak kena tunggu habih MSc dulu la rasanya. Hopefully, I'll complete my studies by end of next year, insya-Allah.

Kak Teh said...

NanaDJ, now mas pun dah murah dah with airasia making its inaugural flight tomorrow. So, cepatlah book. I will be at stansted to see the first batch of passengers arriving and the one leaving. Unfortunately, I am the one left behind :(

SkyJuice, Insyaallah, you will be here. Concentrate on your MSc first and am sure you'll sail through.

Ms B said...

I think i've been there once or twice. back in my yesteryears, I used to get my stuff at Victoria Market in Melbourne. It is always the atmosphere that keeps us coming back.

That reminds me, i need to jot down all these markets as I'll have guests from home next month.

ps: Jason Mraz lah kak.

Kak Teh said...

Ms B, I usually shy away from street markets because in those days, I got very paranoid bringing small children there. Now budak2 dah besar okay lah.

I think the markets and carboot sales outside london is better.

Hmmm, still tak tau...must ask children.

Pak Tuo said...

Yesterday, seems like walking down the frog,luv.

'Not sure is' West-Enders' stillon the tube luv'?
Did Desperate Den the Governor,did the bonk!

ayiee.Seems,Billysgate Market a stone away Kak Teh.

Cherio..luv'I'm off to the Battle to get some Apple.Jolly good 'Adam and Eve' script off yours.

Pak Tuo

tireless mom said...

Dear Kak Teh

Mesti name got from the English ladies nya petticoat ni. Thanks for sharing. I can imagine how the situation is there and also can smell the hamburger. Hmmmm... sedap.

Salt N Turmeric said...

Memang exist rupanya petticoat lane. Ingatkan saje Kak Teh buat nama. hehe.

I love going to flea markets or markets like that but Michael of course tak suka esp since byk sgt walking. The alst time i go to the flea market yg less than 10min drive fr our place was like at least 6mths ago! *roll eyes*

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Kak Teh - I'm with NanaDJ here..thanks for invoking the memory of Petticoat Lane, my favourite haunt for china and winter coats... Alamak, macam teringin sangat nak pi jalan2 kat sana.. hehehe

Kak Teh said...

Adam@ Pak Tuo,
Is walking down the frog a cockney rhyme? Googled it but couldnt find it, if you can adam and eve it.

Yes, eastenders is still around and of course Dirty Den did it. He was the buddy everyone would love to hate. But they had to kill him off for some reasons best not explained here.

Kak Teh said...

TM, yes, certainly from the ladies' petticoats! Can you imagine a road in Malay named Jalan Kain Dalam...hahaha! But in Alor Star, there was/is alane called Lorong Selak Kain - according to old aunts tale, that was a kind of red light district where women of certain characters tried to attract their customers by selaking their kain. Another more believable version is that you have to angkat your kain as your walked there because of the tall lalangs. Tak tau yang mana nak percaya.

Kak Teh said...

Farina, One flea market I went to recently was along Lake Geneva - I didnt realise that I had walked miles because not only was the scenery beautiful, with snowcapped mountains but also the lake and the beautiful goods on sale.
Aaah, perhaps you should jog alone to the flea market...or ask him to jog along. so, sama-sama bersenam and bershopping.

Kak Teh said...

Puteri, the wintercoats are still there and cheap! Teringat nak beli, tapi dah nak spring. I didnt see any crockeries or i would have bought some...not that I have space for them .and more importantly, not that I entertain anyone.

DrSam said...

Hopping from car boot sales, one to another was our favorite friends and families weekend activities while we were in Durham. Always found many good deals.

Pettycoat Lane somehow missed a spot in our travel map.

Word of the day - Her Indors. Tq for sharing.

Kak Teh said...

Dr Sam, I can count on one hand the number of carboot sales I have been to. The ones in London are not that great - but I believe you can find good bargains in places like Durham. I went to the one near Liverpool - forgot the name, but the malaysian student community there are living very well buying flat screen TV for £15 and royal albert plates and tea sets for £10!

Oh yes, I have been to the one in Exeter - had to buy an extra bag to bring back all the bargains! And I only went there for a conference..not to shop. yes, you shd take your indoors there and you had better adam and eve it!That's me talking cockney.

Pak Tuo said...

You had me 'bubble bath'there Kak Teh,macam kumpulan Jenaka yg.masuk Bintang RTM entah tahun berapa entah!! lupa dari Alor Stak 'Kumpulan Kak Jah' punch wordnya "...nak tergelak Kak Jah'..

Anyway walking down the frog,expression of down the road'Down Memory Lane'..I'm down the 'Frog 'n' Freaking luv!!well the Famous Petty Coat Lane was made popular by Julia Andrews in her children films 'Mary Poppins'.

Yes area of the EastEnd at time I rasa macam merayau kat Mumbai or Dakka.
Inglish ...alittle bit,nahi,acah!!

Same ole'Jimmy' here luv.
They bonk on 'tea leaves and ruby!!sweetie.

Pak Tuo.

Fadhil said...

Now why would they want to change the colourful Petticoat Lane name to Middlesex Street? Middlesex... it sounds like neither here nor there, if you ask me ;-)

Your mention of Only Fools And Horses had me smilin... it was a favourite comedy show of ours. The whole house would be sittin' in front of the telly to watch it. :-)

Kak Elle said...

I must make a point to stay longer next time round so can scouts around.

KG said...

Kak Teh,

I spent 3 years in Aber and 1 year in Walpole Road, did my Bar...but I took it for granted and didnt visit all those markets...now doa doa anak anak pi belajarq kot belah sana, mak bapak bolehlah pi walk down memory lane!!
I miss those thick fries and mushy peas!!

Unknown said...

Kak Teh,

Petticoat Lane is not like what it was back in the 80s (mind u I can only recall it from the 80s) and it has indeed changed.

Its now become like the markets in Birmingham.

If u ask me, it best to go to car boots of places where there are not many "coloured" . I spent a couple of summers in C&G and those were the best car boots I've ever been to. Even better than ones in Wembley.

Oh how i miss shopping there!!!! The Bally factory in Norfolk ehehhehe heaven.

Uncle said...

Dear Kak Teh.

I am currently in Mekah and location is facing the Haram. Ours is now the closest to the Holy Mosque. Zam-Zam and Hilton pon kalah. Madinah was almost 2 years ago.......


ManaL said...

And also untuk beli tshirt souvenir london (4 tees for 10quids) nak kasi family kat msia, YeS, thats one of the reasons i'd go to pettycoat lane. Otherwise, i am more of a "daily" portobello market person where i'd stopped by to get meself some fresh stock of fruits and vegies en route to going home from college in those days.

Cakap pasal banglas kat situ, they have the habit of staring at u, esp the smaller, shorter darker fellas along the street. Right, i am a Westender meself, so ta-ta east. And its a relatively shorter distance to Alperton, acton town and Southall from where i was.

PS: Dick Van Dyke (Bert) did an OTT cockney in Mary Poppins. So la tak original.

D said...

Kak Teh,
aaah... Petticoat Lane! Of course it exists! Have only been there twice: once as an undergraduate more than a decade ago and the last time was with the late Mr D. We stood in a queue for some fried scampi and fries, I think. They were more like those fishball cucuk at our pasar malams but being hot was what appealed to the crowd I guess. Chestnuts? Those I am reminded of a lad in Princes Street Edinburgh who used to shout: 'Hot Chestnuts! Hottttt Chestnuts! Berangan! Berangan!' (when he saw us from Malaya passing by).

ps: will catch up soon. too many happenings!

ray said...

Komen Pak Malim kucing ray yg alim.

Saya tak pakai petticoat, kata Pak Malim yg penakut.

Desert Rose said...

Kak Teh,

And I hated it when hubby refers me as 'orang rumah' and told him its soooo jurrasic, not knowing that its soo Cockney eh...

Ida Hariati Hashim said...

Salam Kak Teh,

Bila I tgk petticoat, terus i visualize petticoats the butter biscuits..sedapnya dung in steaming earl grey makan time hujan2 ni..hmmm

butterflutter said...

That was the place we borong our souvenirs. The queen anne's shop near there jugak kan?
Must korek tabung see if can bring the whole family for a visit after 10 yrs.

Rie said...

hi Kak Teh,

how do I get in touch with you via email?
I've been visiting your blog now ever so often since I got to London, and I'd like to extend an invitation and share with you some information regarding a Malaysian film fest that will be happening soon here in London.



Mama Rock said...

aahhh kak teh, i have never been to uk...but you have translpoorted me there vividly, and virtually :)

Anonymous said...

Middlesex Street? What kind of a name is that? *sheesh* Looks like the insane urge to rename roads is rather contagious, eh? *laughs*

That said, I love wandering around these flea markets, not only around London, but across the country. You'll never know what gem of a bargain you can find.. esp at markets in smaller towns where people just want to get rid of their grans'/great grans'/parents etc etc "junk"!!