Brick Lane Market 14
Victor Otigbah runs a bicycle repair workshop, doing on-the-spot repairs with his pal Rob, each Sunday morning under the railway bridge, where he also sells old bikes they have fixed up. You can buy some of the cheapest bicycles in London here. “A friend of mine gave me a bike when I first moved to Brick Lane in 2005 and I sold it for forty-five pounds.” explained Victor, as we stood among the sea of bicycles for sale, “With that money, I bought three more bikes, and fixed them up and sold them too. Then the council got hold of me and said it was illegal to sell on the street, so I got a licence and I’ve been here ever since.” A Glaswegian by origin, “I used to cycle up around Loch Lomond, when I was young and cycling was my life,” Victor admitted to me,“But I didn’t know anything about bikes until I did a course in cycle maintenance, and that’s when it all took off.”
Kal Newby & Bettina Gallizzi, on the Sclater St yard, were trading together for the first time. In fact, Kal confided to me it was her first day in the market, as she handed over an old but still serviceable Venetian blind to a customer for three pounds. “Betty’s been up here before, and she gave me a call asking if I fancied coming and joining her, so I took it as an opportunity to clear out my parents’ garage.” she said, “It’s been up and down today, but we’ve sold a lot.” Kal is a sign language interpreter by profession, while her friend Bettina is a sports instructor who teaches cycling – and she reminded me that each London borough offers four hours of free cycling tuition to every resident. Bettina also runs www.velo-re.com where she sells belts and wallets she makes out of old bicycle tyres and inner tubes.
Sneizana & Justin both came from Lithuania to Brick Lane. Sneizana has worked as a trader her whole life, but when the markets began to die in her country, she realised she could do better in London and took the brave decision to move here. “This is my holiday!” Sneizana declared to me with a weary smile, since she works the other six days of the week as a cleaner. And “This is my day off,” Justin announced too – not to be outdone – because he works all week on a building site. Yet in spite of this relentless routine of work, both were keen to emphasise how much they enjoy selling old clothes in the market. “It’s relaxing. People like us, and we’ve made lots of friends,” Justin informed me enthusiastically,“There are Italians, French, Portuguese, Polish, Serbians and Croatians – every country is here and this is good!”
Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman