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First Annual Report

August 27, 2010
by the gentle author

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)

31 Responses leave one →
  1. paul permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Dear gentle author, congratulations and thank you for enriching my day.

  2. August 27, 2010

    CONGRATULATIONS Gentle Author! It has been a wonderful year for us readers, too. When you throw that house party, give plenty of advance notice so that those of us who are far, far away might — just might — find the wherewithal to come!

    I look forward to many more years rambling through the East End with you as our guide.

  3. Annie J permalink
    August 27, 2010

    I work at Mile End and live on Goswell Road, and as a London-based New Yorker, I adore this city even more now than my native one. I began reading your page in January, and I read it every day. I dream of having a stall at the market, which I plan to do when I retire, and I have learned an enormous amount from your posts. Congratulations on a year of splendid writing, and may you keep on going!

  4. August 27, 2010

    Congratulations on making it through an entire year! I admire your dedication and perpetual fascination in and affection for your subjects each day. I am always here reading despite never commenting and I hope you keep on going for many years. This blog educates and inspires me and I love how it encourages people to celebrate and explore their local community. Thank you! You are a big hearted woman indeed.

  5. August 27, 2010

    Thank god I stumbled across you on Twitter. I have since been back to site many times this week and enjoy your words and your beautiful pictures so much.

    PS I want your life, it sounds amazing

  6. Ros permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Congratulations gentle author. What a wonderful first year you’ve given your readers visually and in writing. Thank you for all the introductions to the people, the animals, the plants and the objects which surround you and for all that you’ve shared so vividly and tenderly. Here’s to everything that lies ahead.

  7. August 27, 2010

    Thank you for brightening up some very dull days and showing me curious and magical people and places. I always thought of you as a genteel and charming man rather than a big hearted woman, but that also works. I look forward to more hidden beauty from you in the future….

  8. mcneill permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Happy Anniversary! I read this the other day and thought of you:

    ” … I began to see the place with a new clarity and a new understanding and a new seriousness. Before coming back I had been willing to allow the possibility that I already knew this place as well as I ever would. But now I began to see the real abundance, the richness of it. It is, I saw, inexhaustible in its history, in the details of its life, in its possibilities. I walked over it, looking, listening, smelling, touching, alive to it as never before. I listened to the talk of my kinsmen and neighbours as I never had done, alert to their knowledge of the place, and to the qualities and energies of their speech. I began more seriously than ever to learn the names of things – the wild plants and animals, the natural processes, the local places – and to articulate my observations and memories. My language increased and strengthened, and sent my mind into the place like a live root system. And so what has become the usual order of things reversed itself within me; my mind became the root of my life rather than its sublimation.” Wendell Berry

  9. Candice permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Dear Gentle Author,

    Happy anniversary! I look forward to my daily “read” of your blog every day. Thanks for being so kind to a person you didn’t know from Adam and suggesting that we try St. John’s Bread and Wine restaurant for lunch the last time we were in London. Being from “over the pond,” we never would have known to go there. Here’s to many, many more years.

    Candice (from D.C.)

  10. August 27, 2010

    Thank you so much for being a little oasis of calm, good sense and perspective during my working day. I enjoy your pieces tremendously. Spitalfields is a truly special part of London and I’d move there in a second if I didn’t love Bloomsbury so much!

  11. August 27, 2010

    Every morning there you are in my inbox ….my daily fix of ‘people watching’ or place watching.
    Thank you for the window on your world. I hope I live to at least 87 to read the final revelation..the last post ..
    ‘The Gentle Author’.

  12. Sarah permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Congratulations on your year it has been amazing, and I have loved all the adventures and journeys I have been on with you to take photographs it has been very exciting and can’t wait to do more over the next years.

  13. elegantfaker permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Thank you for this wonderful blog. It is a constant source of wonder and delight for me. Looking forward to much, much more from you in the future.


  14. August 27, 2010

    You have brought your part of the East End to life. You have made the East End something tangible rather than just a name for an area of London that many people would simply associate with wartime bombing, Cockneys and 60’s gangsters. Congratulations on your ability to keep finding fresh stories and for as long as you do, then we shall keep on returning to read them.

  15. Cav39 permalink
    August 27, 2010

    My heartfelt thanks to you for this superb blog. And thanks too to Diamond Geezer who led me to it with a link from his blog.

  16. Pamela Freedman permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Charming – Gentle Author

    What you are doing is absolutely magnificent!

    What can I say; I wish you the best of luck in the future.

    I look forward to meeting you again for a cold beer and salt beef sandwich.


  17. Gabriela permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Thank you so much for this wonderful year and your faithful work. I hope this health programme works for many years.
    English is not my mother tongue so often I’m too lazy to leave a comment. But I’m here every day. Best wishes, Gabriela

  18. Rhianwen Guthrie permalink
    August 27, 2010

    You are indeed big hearted, though I nearly had a heart attack when I read you might be a woman. Whoever you are you have become a very welcome part of my life and you have brought people and places, animals and plants daily into my home where before this year there were none (well, few so interesting, anyway).

    Huge thanks for your big heart, and congratulations on a wonderful first year…


  19. Gary permalink
    August 27, 2010

    Congratulations and thank-you for such an interesting window into the hidden places of East London, Give Mr. Pussy an extra saucer of milk tonight
    Best Wishes

  20. August 28, 2010

    I marvel at the strict deadline the Gentle Author has set himself.

    This is journalism at it’s most un-selfish best.

    Good luck & keep the tales coming !


  21. August 28, 2010

    Dear Gentle Author

    Thank you so much for your wonderful writing – having discovered you in the early days, sometime last summer, I have become addicted. Along the way I have learnt and discovered more about the wonderful people who inhabit Spitalfields, and the fascinating history of the area. Leaving me feeling more connected, and very lucky to also inhabit such a special corner of London.

    Good luck with the rest of the journey, and thank you again for taking us all along with you as you make more discoveries.

  22. August 29, 2010

    I am a bit tardy in leaving this comment, but that does not diminish the enthusiasm with which I write. Your posts are truly unique in their range of topics, wealth of information, stylish writing and affection for life in Spitalfields.

    Bravo! Happy Anniversary!

  23. P B permalink
    August 29, 2010

    A line to congratulate you on your beautifully written and fascinating pieces which have become a ‘must read’, and which communicate so quietly and eloquently both what is special about Spitalfields and about London as a whole and why one lives in the city and values it. While, manifestly your method of dissemination is deliberate and carries its own very special and lovely character, may I urge to you consider at some stage also putting a selection of your Spitalfields Life writings and illustrations in book form, because even these days, a book is an easy way to see a ‘story’ in a rounded way and right through (compared to endless scrolling which is tedious to do and so one is disinclined to do much of it). Many, many congratulations on Spitalfields Life.

  24. SueC permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Belated congratulations from Devon where I’ve just been collecting blackberries – not from the banks of the Exe – but from the garden, which is bathed in the glorious light of a late summer evening.

    Your site is always one of half a dozen favourites visited at the start of each day while drinking the pre-work cup of tea. It just goes to show that a simple idea can often reap the greatest rewards, and your readers are certainly rewarded every day.

    Looking forward to the next twelve months, and the next, and the next…..

  25. Ian Harris permalink
    August 31, 2010

    Man or woman, you are indeed a gentle author! Congratulations on your first year, I have
    been hooked from your first musings.

  26. September 4, 2010

    Thank you Gentle Author. Not only do I read you most days, deliver your milk 3 times a week, but I have also had the privilege of being an article…twice. I have gained many new customers because of your writing and if I could cover the entire world on my round I would have gained many more!! All I can say is carry on the good work and I look forward to you joining me after a good snowfall this winter. Should be some awesome pictures before the rest of the world walks on the fresh snow!!!

  27. the gentle author permalink*
    September 4, 2010

    I look forward to it, Kevin!

  28. Sonia Murray permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Dear Gentle Author, do you have any idea how much you are appreciated? Your website is a pure delight! Each morning over coffee I look forward to opening Spitalfields Life and spending a happy hour viewing the beautiful hidden gardens and artists and East End characters, the vignettes and treasures of daily life you have discovered and written about for us all to enjoy. I’ll visit Spitalfields when I come home – whenever that will be. I live 6,000 miles away in the U.S., and my husband is no longer able to travel. I’m homesick, and your articles and pictures are a taste of home. Thank you so much!

  29. August 28, 2012

    Hello, I check your blogs like every week.
    Your humoristic style is awesome, keep it up!

  30. Shawdiane permalink
    June 1, 2015

    But who are you ?
    Will we ever get the privilage of knowing your name ? After all, I receive with pleasure and glee
    each morning the delights of your hard but pleasurable work. My email box just would not be the same without my Gentle Author popping in each day with more delights. I never know what you will share but always you please the senses. My days would not be the same without your rush of history ; you are such a great treat.
    Having had the pleasure of living in London for 15 years, I now reside the calm life on the beautiful Isle of Wight; but each and every day you bring to me memories of the London I love.
    Our Great City will remain in my heart, what a privilege my days were.
    Long may you continue your labour of love.
    And thank you (whom ever you may be) from the heart for sharing.

  31. Stuey the time traveller permalink
    August 3, 2023

    I couldn’t pass by this momentous occasion and echo nearly everything said above (but not the bit about scrolling – I’m fine with it!)

    Sadly, I’ll never be in a position to attend any party that might be thrown, my time travelling skills are severely limited to backwards, by the time I get to the date of any party that has been, I’ll only be there to clear up afterwards.

    I just cast my eyes over the home page to check that you’re still writing (gladly, you are) in the full knowledge that I might never reach it – it’s another anniversary for you and I admit I was tempted to read it, but no.

    God willing, I’ll get to it one day.

    Onwards and upwards, thank you for the enlightenment you bring.

    (One final observation for now, I’ve always had your card marked as a woman, a woman of taste and discernment – but in truth, to me, it matters not as long as you keep writing for us all.)

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