Brick Lane Market 17
This is Ivan Tchoukouv from Bulgaria, who will shortly be making the thirty-five hour bus journey back to his home country for the Winter. “I only come over for the Summer now, working on building sites all week and trading here each Sunday,” he explained to me, “I came to United Kingdom first in 1995 in the back of a lorry.”
Since 2006, Ivan has been migrating annually, travelling back and forth with the seasons. “My wife is a teacher and, when it was time for our children to go to school, she took them back to Bulgaria because the education system is better there.” Ivan told me with a frown of regret, “Here they are allowed to do whatever they want but in my country the schools are tough on discipline.”
Ivan speaks to his family each night by Skype, missing his children who he has not seen since the Spring. “I live in a small town there, where I’ll be looking after my properties.” he revealed with a tender grin, “My house has a big garden where I keep honey bees and chickens.” In the meantime, Ivan will be making the best of crowded sleeping conditions in London for just one more week – confessing with dignified self-effacement, “In the tiny flat where I live there is a Bengali family who are Muslims, two youths from India who are Hindus and me, I am a Christian, yet we all get with no problem.”
This is Leigh Kelly and her niece Tina Allpress, two feisty East End females. “We are local,” declared Tina proudly, slipping an arm round her favourite aunt.“My dad worked as a Spitalfields market porter,” boasted Leigh, her bright eyes shining with nostalgic emotion to confide she was born in Columbia Rd and counts Mary Kelly – one of the Whitechapel murder victims – among her ancestors.
“I was here in Sclater St when I was three years old with my dad, selling chaffinches and Yorkshire terriers,” she continued, fondly recalling the days of the animal market, “we had chickens in the back yard, monkeys in the house and I used to watch the dogs giving birth to puppies on the kitchen table.”
Leigh worked in Maurice Ginsberg’s handbag shop in Petticoat Lane for over thirty years and her niece joined her there before it shut fifteen years ago.”We’re always been close,” admitted Tina, “and we can’t sleep the night before coming down to the market, we’re so excited.” Both women were feeling the heat of the October sunshine, swathed in layers of scarfs and furs against the cold. “I was up at three,” chirped Leigh breathlessly, clasping her hands adorned with rings and setting her bangles jangling, “It was dark and frosty then, but at the end of the day we go home sweaty and rosy-cheeked.”
Pictures copyright © Jeremy Freedman