Thursday, November 12, 2009


Rye Lane, in Peckham, south London - where I moved a month ago, and regained internet access this morning - has at least two distinct characters as a commercial street.

On the one hand, it's a forcing ground for small businesses, mostly run by and for the local African community. These shops are busy and various, but margins must be tight and turnover rapid, because many traders don't get around to installing their own signs; we have a grocer apparently called "Big Girl Clothing Company". This aspect of Rye Lane is most evident towards the southern end.

On the other hand, clustered at the north, and matching Rye Lane's character as about the busiest stretch in Peckham, there are the chain stores: Boots, Argos, Currys, Carphone Warehouse, WH Smith.

At the transitional point between the two Rye Lanes, on opposite sides of the street, two people ply their trades most Saturday afternoons.

One is a preacher with a megaphone. An Islamic preacher, although because his diction is not brilliant it took me some time to be sure of that. He seems embattled, even by the standards of street preachers - many of the rooms above the shops are occupied by vigorous little Pentecostal churches - but he isn't giving up.

The other is a woman in a jester's hat, who twists thin balloons into obscene-looking toy swords. By the end of the day you sometimes see small children swordfighting; the loser is presumably the one whose sword bursts.

I think I'm going to like it here.