The Return of Mick Taylor
It was at the end of 2009 that I first interviewed Mick Taylor, the Sartorialist of Brick Lane, who was then regularly to be seen standing outside the Beigel Bakery, and gained popular renown for his stylish personal dress sense. When we spoke, Mick confided that he had been unwell and so, although I was disappointed, I was not surprised that I did not see him in Brick Lane at all throughout the long harsh Winter that ensued.
But he did not return the next year, and as the months passed I no longer expected to see him any more, although there were reports that he had been spotted around Whitechapel where he lives, so I carried hope that he might return to Brick Lane one day. And then this Spring, out of the blue, I encountered Mick sitting on a stoop near the Beigel Bakery, looking debonair in his big sheepskin hat and flashing a smile, just as he always used to and I was overjoyed to greet him and know that he has returned to the location that is his spiritual home.
On Easter Sunday we sat and drank tea together on Brick Lane, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon and watching the passing show, while Mick spoke about his life’s journey that brought him there.
“If you come down here to Brick Lane somebody always helps you out with a sandwich or something. Sometimes I come here without a penny in my pocket but I get a cup of tea. All it takes is to ask nicely and people will help you out. People want to sell things and I tell them where they can sell it. Knowing how to make a shilling, that’s what it’s all about and I’ve sold anything you care to mention over the years here.
I was a war child, I had no father but I had a mother. On 9th November 1945, I was born in my grandmother’s bed in Maclaren St, Hackney. My mother couldn’t afford to keep me so my grandmother and grandfather, Florence and George Taylor brought me up. I never had anything new, only secondhand things, but they brought me up well. My grandfather was a lovely man, he never hit me. He only had one eye, he was blinded in World War I, and he worked on the barges on the River Lee. My grandmother used to pawn his suit every Monday, buy veg on Tuesday, and get it back again on Thursday when he got paid, so he could wear it at the weekend. She taught me how to cook, and I still cook dinner every Sunday.
One day, when I worked for Truman’s, I got up at seven thirty in the morning and my grandmother had a heart attack and died in front of me. I went to work but I couldn’t work because my mind was falling to bits. So I told the foreman, and then I went wandering all over the place for four days until the police picked me up and took me to Hackney Hospital and, while I was under observation, I cut my wrists. I wanted to die because my grandmother was dead.
The woman in the next bed there was Frances Shea, Reggie Kray’s wife, she had mental problems. It sent her a little crazy being married to one of the Krays, but she was a lovely girl. I dressed up smart for her. Sixteen weeks we were together, she needed a bit of company and I took care of her. Then, when they sent her home, she died at once of an overdose but I don’t believe it. I loved her, and she cured me of the loss of my grandmother.
After that, I worked for the council and I did various jobs, I started my life all over again. I’ve been married a couple of times. I’ve lived my life, I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve had some good times. I’ve two sons but I don’t know where they are. Me and their mother divorced and I’ve never seen them again.
I never had much money but I’ve always made myself smart with a few quid and a suit and shirt – buying the right clothes, the right colour, the right cut. I used to go to Albert’s in Whitechapel and pay seventy five pounds for a pair of shoes, a suit, and a shirt. For my birthday, when I was seven years old, I came down with my grandmother to buy Italian shoes in Cheshire St for two pounds, two shillings and sixpence – pointed black shoes with Cuban heels. I already knew what I wanted at seven years old – you’re born with it, your style.”
Sporting his cap at a calculated angle, dressed in his petrol blue slacks, with a singlet, silk scarf and chain, Mick was in his element that day, and even as we spoke, passersby interrupted to request photographs with him. Like so many others, Mick has found a sympathetic community on Brick Lane, where he can present himself as he pleases and be celebrated for who he is too. Neither cynical nor sentimental about his past, Mick is able to inhabit the present with equanimity. Once we had finished our cups of tea, the shadows were lengthening, the stalls were packing up and the market crowds were thinning out, so I asked Mick what his plans were for the rest of Easter Sunday, and he rubbed his hands in hungry anticipation with a gleam of joy in his intense blue eyes.
“I’m going to buy a bit of lamb at the corner shop and boil it up with some potatoes and carrots and a few seasonal things. That’s Cockney food – a bit of boiled veg and a bit of a joint and if you’ve got money left, something sweet like a Spotted Dick. I learnt to make it when I worked in a pie shop when I was a child. Whatever pies was left, I always took them home with me.“Give it to the family,” they used to say. That’s the Cockney way of life.”