A Valentine from Spitalfields
Not so long ago, I used to go out and buy my daily loaf from St John and walk home again, and the only person I knew in Spitalfields to speak to was Sandra Esqulant, the landlady of the Golden Heart. Just six months later, all that has changed entirely, now I cannot walk anywhere here in Spitalfields without meeting someone I know! My life has been transformed.
For several years, I nursed my mother Valerie at home through the Dementia that afflicted her. It was an isolated existence, caring for her, feeding her and reading her stories until eventually she died. Throughout these years, I lived constantly in the presence of death. At almost any point in the final two years, she might have died. Whenever I came upon her sleeping deeply (as I did most days when I came to feed her), there was always a moment when I had to ask myself if she had died and I would observe her breathing to confirm whether she lived, before I woke her.
Years later, it has become apparent that this experience has filled me with the compulsion to write about life. By “life”, I mean all the aspects of existence you see in the categories on the right hand side of this page. In particular, my passion is to explore human life through examining the different qualities of people. I want to use my writing to draw me closer to life. When I began to write Spitalfields Life, I had no idea where it would lead. For over a year, I had been sending pictures daily to my friends from my phone and so it was a natural progress to transfer this process to the internet. But at the moment of commencement, in envoking the name of Spitalfields, I recognised a responsibility to undertake the project with the greatest of care, endowing it with a dignity that reflects my affection for this corner of London. Though equally, I am personally vividly aware that “life” is no less an operative word in the title for me.
Kierkegaard compared the experience of being a writer to that of constantly running through a burning house snatching whatever can be rescued. I think this describes something of my feeling, as I walk through the streets here, because I have this drive to record all the stories of the people and the place, as many as I can, at the rate of one a day, before I meet my own demise. Spitalfields has always been in flux, on account of its position at the boundary of the City of London and so it is in the nature of this place that it is always changing. My pursuit is to record as much as possible, especially the experiences of the people here, in midst of this constant transformation and reconfiguration, as it happens.
Once I began to write posts, something wonderful happened. People began to read them, more and more people. It was an extraordinarily uplifting experience to discover that there was an appetite for my stories of Spitalfields and it confirmed what I had always hoped, that if you strive to do something to the best of your abilities, people will seek it out. All the generous responses I have received from you, my readers, have touched my heart, filled me with humility and given me confidence too – inspiring me to raise the bar, trying to write better and better stories to delight and intrigue you. And you have obviously been talking to your friends, because each week there has been an increase, as more have come to read.
Above all, I cannot disappoint you. The presence of you reading has inspired me with courage to go out and talk to people, seeking stories to write – and the outcome of this is that I have met so many diverse people here in Spitalfields and each one of these people has become fascinating to me in a different way. It has enriched my life far more than I ever expected. I have learnt so much and Spitalfields has become even more intriguing to me. I count my own good luck to live somewhere with an exceptionally long and interesting history, inhabited by a phenomenal range of people. The more I learn, the more I want to know, and every person I meet suggests someone else for me to talk to. And so it goes on. Over the last harsh winter (in what was previously always the most dejected season for me), there has been this rising chord as the stories have become more compelling and the readership has grown too.
At first, I assumed the role of a journalist undertaking an interview but almost immediately this boundary dissolved – because everyone I met treated me with unexpected kindness and because these are the people who inhabit the place I live. Many of the subjects of these interviews have become friends and so what began as a project entitled Spitalfields Life has quite simply become my life. Transforming my life, it has made me look at people differently as I grow to understand their motives better and the result is that the city has become a more human place for me.
I owe it all to you. All this happened because you came along. I sacrificed my career to be a full-time nurse for my mother, then afterwards I could not go back, but Spitalfields Life has permitted me a new direction. Now, because of you, I find myself in this situation where I shall be writing to you every day for the next twenty seven years and I cannot think of a more beautiful way to spend the rest of my life.
The gentle author loves the gentle reader. You are my Spitalfields valentine.
The splendid Valentine at the top is the work of Rob Ryan and I am grateful to him for permitting me to reproduce it here. If you are reading this on Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, there is still time to go to Ryantown in Columbia Rd and get one for your beloved.
The picture below is my mother Valerie aged seven, taken by my grandfather Leslie.