I leave Jack asleep in the bed that was once mine and is now ours and begin my journey into the dot to dot of city lights. At night, Tower Bridge is all lit up like the Disneyland castle. It never gets old, this feeling of freedom and gratitude that fills me crossing this bridge with the Thames beneath me. The car is too warm and the radio is too loud, but I don’t say.
We arrive in darkness, my drive and I.
A gentleman with an Italian aubergine in his hand and shearling jacket on his back gives me directions. This jacket is teamed with a flat cap that frames an elegance of cheeks, a Cheshire Cat smile and dark, dark brown eyes with a beautiful silvery ring of blue. His name is Prince. He doesn’t ask why I’m there, but I tell him.
As King Prince and I say our goodbyes his boss, a tall, strawberry blonde man who reminds me of Brick Top, emerges from his office waving some kind of breakfast-filled sandwich to shoo me away. Prince tells me not to worry about him, so I don’t.
Different lengths of stubble, baker boy hats and several layers of knit, down and fleece line the passage of diligently displayed fruit and vegetables. An heirloom melon, artistically carved as if it has been cut by those zigzag scissors you’d have at school, is displayed like an open oyster to entice the punters. Inside lies a strawberry, acting as the pearl.
These nocturnal souls in quilted gilets, hoods and hats work through the night to keep us fed. For many years, the stallholders of New Covent Garden Market have supplied London with, “only the best fruit, veg and flowers, darling.” They live an upside-down life: sleeping through the day and coming alive at night. Their breakfast is a midnight feast and lunch strikes as the nightclubs kick out.
The café, a metal cargo ship container, has a hand painted sign, ‘Tony’s’. Inside I join the queue and wait my turn. The man in front wears a Burberry trilby and does a little jig as he waits for his. I hand over my 60p and in return receive my polystyrene cup full of that comforting Rosie Lee and head out to the hustle.
Richie the florist’s silver hair and thin gold chain catch my eye like a magpie. His lilac Lacoste knit becomes camouflage as he passes a tie-dye cloud of soft pink, purple and blue hydrangeas in full bloom. As I leave he hands me the reddest bunch of tulips you’ve ever seen; as red as the cross on the St George’s flag that flies above where we stand.
By the time Jack wakes they’ll be on the windowsill.
The word is that the markets are on the move in the next three years, so if you happen to see these ladies and gents of many layers looking confused and rubbing their eyes in the sun, please remember that they were the night owls and early birds of New Covent Garden Market.
A world of its own.