This week’s secret London spots come courtesy of Paul Trynka, whose blog Market People is the ideal accompaniment to the local markets special in Time Out magazine this week. Of course taking time to notice the most interesting characters also means you take time to notice the most interesting corners of the city on your travels, and Paul has chosen a selection of his most unusual favourites. Ashleigh Arnott
Geepharm, 1-3 Blackheath Hill, SE10
I’ve spent the last few years working on books about Iggy Pop and David Bowie and I love the fact they both have a connection with this unassuming, neglected shop in Greenwich. It was in this very basement that David Bowie rehearsed his commercial breakthrough Ziggy Stardust, now 40 years ago – and also where, few months later, Bowie’s new protegés, Iggy and his Stooges reunited to rehearse Raw Power (after the usual moans about having to haul themselves all the way over to South London).
Café, Queen Mary undercroft, Old Royal Naval College
There’s a great bar/cafe in this Greenwich landmark that everyone knows about, namely the Old Brewery, but in the other corner, underneath James Stuart’s Navy Chapel (one of the first major Greek Revival interiors in London), is this cheapskate’s gem: a café at lovely student prices, 80p for a posh tea, well under £2 for a sarnie. Which is all the more of a bargain when you can eat them while sitting among the austere Tuscan pillars in this modernised, but still beautiful Georgian undercroft.
Observatory Gardens, Greenwich Park (Turn left out of the main observatory gate, through the little iron swing gate and follow the path that skirts around the top of the hill)
While tourists queue to have their photo taken on the Meridian Line outside the Observatory, just up the hill, this secret garden is usually empty but for the occasional fox stretched out in the sun. It’s peaceful, private, but spacious, with a great view of the rear of the Observatory buildings. There’s a second secret spot, a few hundred meters away, next to the Park Tennis Courts – a circular, private garden that sits atop what was once a reservoir, the perfect place for a furtive picnic. Sadly, I’ve never been inside the subterranean reservoir, nor in the network of secret tunnels or conduits around the park – let’s hope none of the equestrian competitors in this year’s Olympic end up in them…
Alleyway, Cheshire Street (opposite Kerbala Street)
This is just one of the anonymous but resonant locations that I love about London. Up until five years ago, there’d always be interesting market stalls down here – then, in their wisdom, Tower Hamlets allowed an insipid new block to be built, which has sucked all the life out of this section of Brick Lane market. Lots of traders disappeared during that cold winter before last, and never returned. But still, this little alleyway is like a little memorial to Cheshire Street as was. Although the view from the little bridge over the railway is not as magnificently decrepit as in its heyday, it’s a favourite shortcut through to Weaver’s House and Spitalfields City Farm.
Fang Liu’s market pitch, Brick Lane (under the overground flyover, Brick Lane)
Why Fang’s stall (above)? Because it epitomises how markets change, one bit dies, and another springs into life. Fang’s is the perfect stall, just random items selected with a distinct eye and spread out on the pavement, rain or shine. Fang’s story is as unique as any trader’s, but it reflects our times; he came from Beijing, where they don’t have markets like London. Hanging out on Brick Lane forced Fang to abandon his natural shyness, and now he revels in his new friends. He tells wonderful stories, as of one fragile 70 year old who comes and visits him regularly, sharing old photos and memories. Fang or ‘Mr Confusion’ to his friends, embodies our city’s heady mix of resonant, comforting familiarity, and aggressive, discomfiting change.