Covent Garden review
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Covent Garden used to be a big fruit and vegetable market. If you wanted some fish you'd go to Billingsgate. If you wanted some meat you'd go to Smithfield. If you wanted a carrot you'd come here. For three hundred years this went on, but then the 1970s came along and that was the end of that. The surrounding businesses got sick of all the early morning traffic clogging up the streets and forced it to move out. No more trampled cabbage on the floor. No more stacks and pallets of potatoes being carried around the side streets by old blokes in flat caps. Gone.
It's amazing how the atmosphere of a place can change so completely. If you bought a piece of fruit forty years ago the market man would roughly stuff it in your hands after twirling it around a brown paper bag. But if you want one now then it will probably come wedged on the edge of a cocktail glass. It's all upper class fruit. Their five-a-day used to be four pints of cider and some tomato ketchup on their chips. Now it's four dried banana chips and a fruit smoothie. Welcome to Covent Garden.
But hey... it's still a lively place to have some dinner. Make sure you come here for lunch, because they've got lots of cafes and coffee shops with outside tables. There's a Jamie Oliver place in the middle, and a better one downstairs in the hall where you can sit and listen to some classical music. That's where I recommend going (that's where I go). Look for the tables and chairs outside the 'Crusting Pipe' wine bar and restaurant. They usually have some singers and violins busking by the stairs. They're doing a bit of Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the moment. I don't know whether it's summer, spring or winter they're playing, but it sounds like the sun's out. Now there's a jaunty verse of Bizet's Carmen -- the ear shattering and glass smashing Habanera -- complete with gypsy skirt swishes and twists, and quick little hand claps above her head. Unfortunately she’s having to compete with a builder who's banging and clanging his big metal hammer upstairs, but trust me, when she's shrieking twenty feet from your table you can hardly notice the banging.
You can never be exactly sure when the classical music will start, because they are basically just buskers who do a quick stint and pass round the hat. But it's always classical music, and if you turn up after 10 AM then you can be pretty sure that somebody will be there.
Have a nose around the shops if you want, but remember that it's a tourist trap. Londoners just come here for something to eat, but the tourists get attracted by the shiny objects on the shelves. There's a little market in the middle where you can watch them dawdling by the baubles which they think will go nicely on their mantelpiece. Shall we get that colourful trinket for the house? says the wife. Then she looks at the price and changes her mind: forty quid. The reason they can get away with charging double is because the tourists haven't worked out the exchange rate yet. They still think that forty quid is the same as forty dollars.
Let me have a walk through the Apple Market and describe some of the things on sale for you, to give you a taste of the place. They sell rusty old war medals from a regimental dog; wooden numbers that you can nail to your garden gate; coloured glass bottles for your kitchen windowsill (to give it that country cottage feel); mass-produced photos of a London telephone box; colourful hat pins with huge blue feathers; marbleised buttons for your winter coat... everything you never knew you didn't want.
There's another market outside the Piazza called the Jubilee Market, which is more like a flea market, or a car boot sale. The stalls in there consist of tubular steel frames and flapping plastic sheets around fold-down tables, overflowing with boxes of bric-a-brac. Imagine that your grandad has just died and you've cleared out his house, and now you're trying to flog off all his dusty stuff. Here's a sample of some of the items on sale: pottery Dalmatian dogs; mismatched kitchen crockery; candlesticks still crusted up with candle wax; portraits of Jesus with blood coming out of his hands; faded old photos of Victorian women; back issues of TV listing magazines; old vinyl records with the peeling price stickers still on... it's all here. There are probably a few bits and bobs that you can make use of. My favourite item was a collection of spare arms and legs for a baby's doll. I couldn't see any heads, though -- I wonder what happened to them? Maybe he ripped off all the heads and hung them around his house like tinsel.
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