First Annual Report
One year has passed since I wrote the first post here at Spitalfields Life and now, reaching three hundred and sixty-five, I hope you will permit me a moment of reflection. Let me confess to you that writing Spitalfields Life daily has become a compulsion, an ecstatic project driven by the desire to communicate my sense of wonder at the people I meet in the East End.
How quickly this first year has gone! Yet I feel I have hardly begun, because three hundred and sixty-five stories merely scratches the surface of the subject. And I fear I shall barely have time to blink before I will be writing the twenty-seventh annual report, with less than four months left to run before the ten thousandth post that is my ultimate target.
People ask me all the time,“What are you going to do when you run out?” but it is evident to me at the end of this first year that there will be no problem in finding enough subjects for the pen portraits which are the core of Spitalfields Life. My frequent experience is that each interviewee tells me of others I should write about. Readers write in with suggestions too, and the endlessly expanding possibilities give me a sense of vertigo sometimes.
Yet, extrapolating twenty-six times from what I have already written, I already recognise that space is going to be limited. Looking back over the Bakers, Nuns, Poulterers, Paper Bag Sellers, Bell Founders, Jewel Thieves, Artists, Publicans, Novelists, Gangsters, Paper Cutters, Songwriters, Aesthetes, Cloth Merchants, Machinists, Bellringers, Steeplekeepers, Designers, Furriers, Dairymen, Nursery Rhyme Collectors, Antique Dealers, Chefs, Strippers, Sheep-shearers, Farmers, Weavers, Photographers, Shoe-shiners, Barbers, Ostrich Feather Sellers, Grocers, Playwrights, Letterpress Printers, Street Dancers, Architects, Pearlies, Steeplejacks, Rag Dealers, Trendsetters, Model Boat Enthusiasts, Priests, Sculptors, Head-dress Makers, Beekeepers, Milkmen, Ostlers, Swagmen, Mudlarks, Tailors, Laundrette Attendants, Mechanics, Beigel Sellers, Bunny Girls, Pigeon Fliers, Bankers, Dockers, Junk Dealers, Gardeners, Restauranteurs, Ceramicists and Mapmakers, I can imagine how Noah must have felt, thinking, ”How am I going to fit everyone in?” But, also like Noah, I am equally eager not to miss anyone out that should be included and so I rely upon you, my gentle readers, to direct my footsteps by informing me of other individuals that I must write about.
Walking through Spitalfields, in streets and lanes that were once familiar to William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, and more recently to Joseph Conrad, George Orwell, Beatrix Potter and J.K.Rowling – among other literary luminaries – I am constantly reminded of my predecessors. As a writer of modest ambition, I am commonly filled with awe at the nature of what I have taken on, but the truth is that it comes down to writing one story each day. This is how I keep a sense of proportion, by concentrating on the task in front of me.
I often worry about what would happen if I became sick, yet the for the first time in my life I have lived through a whole year without being ill at all. This has been the year of writing constantly – an unforgettable year, unforgettable not simply because of everything that has happened and all the people I have met, but unforgettable because – writing every single day – all the posts now exist as a reminder of what I did. They are the substance of my activity over this past twelve months.
Once I was concerned that writing was an overly solitary activity to pursue as a lifetime’s occupation, yet this year writing has led me out into the world and drawn me closer to life. I have never met more people than I have recently. When I get home from an interview and open my notebook to look at my notes, I always think “How can I do justice to this person?” Without all these generous individuals who have opened their hearts to me, these stories could not exist and the success of Spitalfields Life must be attributed to their qualities alone.
Some kind of miracle has happened. The internet gave the means of printing and distribution for free, enabling me to begin. Then, out of nowhere, from London and across the globe, more and more readers appeared to read Spitalfields Life each day, giving me the confidence to continue and encouraging me to write better stories to delight and intrigue. “You are obviously a big-hearted woman.” one esteemed reader commented, which is perhaps the best compliment anyone every paid my writing.
So many have joined along the way, that I am taking this opportunity of the first anniversary to look back over some of the prime posts which you may not have seen. During the next week, I shall be publishing a selection of my favourites from the first three hundred and sixty-five, while I take this brief opportunity to enjoy a few drinks with Sandra Esqulant at The Golden Heart, tidy my desk and make preparations for next year.
One day, I shall throw a big party for all the subjects of my pen portraits in one of Spitalfields’ finest old houses and invite you, my readers, to come and meet them. But in the meantime, as I gather my thoughts, steel myself and sharpen my pencil to commence the second year, I hope, through the practice of my work to become better at this endeavour, in order to be more worthy of my subjects – since there are so many marvellous things I must show you and more people I want to introduce.
And now I must run, because I am off to spend all night at the New Spitalfields Fruit & Vegetable Market in Stratford and in one week’s time you will discover why…
Thus, with all these thoughts in mind, I come to the end of this first year of Spitalfields Life.
I am your loyal servant
The Gentle Author
Take a close look at this character because you are going to see a lot more of him. In a previous life in Devon, he used to catch rabbits and even moorhens but now he is learning the ways of the alley in Spitalfields. A small creature with a large personality. (It started with a black cat named Mr Pussy – the first post, 26th August 20o9)