Sunday 6 February 2022

Chronicles of a Newly Published Author

 Petticoat lane in east London and an immigrant's memory-building

Photo by Deborah Jaffe

Talking to yourself can be useful. And writing means being overheard.” Zadie Smith, “Intimations

More than being overheard, we writers hope that our readers will eavesdrop on our conversations. Even when there’s no other interlocutor but our reflection on the mirror. We don’t want to be read by accident, but with intention. So, yes, please, come closer and place that glass on the wall.

Memory-building works in different ways. Years after I visited Spitalfields Market and Petticoat Lane, I ended up cycling down the latter in my first shift for the Felix Project as a volunteer. By them I’d been in London for twenty-one years.

For almost a decade I was a volunteers’ manager, amongst other roles. First, at Enfield Arts Partnership, in Edmonton, and after that, at the Field Federation of Churchfield and Houndsfield Primary Schools, also in Edmonton. Along the way, I learnt the value of volunteers’ selfless contribution to society. Long before Eton-educated, twenty-five-grand-shed-owner David Cameron’s ill-conceived, opportunistic “big society” idea, I had already seen evidence of communities coming together for no other interest than to improve the lives of the many.

Eventually it was my turn to become a volunteer. It all started in 2012 with a local group, Bountagu (a portmanteau of Bounces Road and Montagu Road in Edmonton, Enfield), a Big Local-funded project that sought to tackle various pressing issues. It, then, continued behind the mike at East London Radio, co-presenting different shows and leading one, “The Marathon Man”. Since 2018 I have been volunteering for the aforementioned Felix Project, hoisting a heavy, Deliveroo-style bag onto my back and cycling from café to café, restaurant to restaurant, or supermarket to supermarket, collecting unwanted food in good condition in order to re-direct it to where it’s needed most.

That’s how Petticoat Lane (or “The Lane”, as it’s known by locals) and I reconnected. The market on Wentworth Street runs six days a week and the one on Middlesex Street (word has it that the street changed its name from Petticoat Lane to Middlesex Street in the 1800s to spare the blushes of virtuous Victorians who couldn’t deal with the thought of underwear) operates only on Sundays. In regards to the latter, it is said that one of the reasons for its presence is the influence of the Jewish community. Since Saturday is their Sabbath, it makes sense for them to shop on a Sunday.

That’s how we build our memories. That’s how we take pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. That’s how one day we catch ourselves talking to ourselves.

And you reader, yes, you, you are more than welcome to place that glass on the wall and eavesdrop on our conversation.


  1. What a funny thought about the name change! Your book is making its way up my TBR pile and I hope to get to it soon.

  2. Thank you. And all volunteers - and authors.

  3. I will look for your book. All the best.

  4. Hi ACIL - thank you for all you do for the urban poor and those in need of help ... congratulations on the publication of your book - all the very best - Hilary

  5. Very good, sir. But in all of that essay, I am most taken aback that you have an Edmonton there. I had never heard of it and thought that it was a completely Canadian name. Now, like so many other place names, I find that the name also has British origins. Not that I mind too much since all of my roots are British. 😎

  6. Hi, how are you? We don't know each other but I would love to talk to you as a Cuban in London. I would like to ask you a couple of questions that might help a couple of my friends from Cuba. I hope that's ok. Literally I just need 5 min of your time. Thank you in advance! Maya

  7. First of all Cil ..Brilliant picture of you! Your girlfriend must be very happy ! Hope your new book will be a success! Will be thrilled to read it
    Sincerely, Anita

  8. Wonderful volunteer work you did and a well written piece that I eavesdroppe on!

  9. "Thank you for nice information
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