Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: John Andrews

31st December 2020

It’s time for the annual end-of-year musings known as Shadows and Reflections. Since so many of our lives were lived in thematic overlap this year, we’ve asked our contributors and friends to focus on the small, strange and specific as they look back over the last 12 months. Today it’s the turn of John Andrews

The message from Nick dropped into my inbox on an afternoon in mid-November. ‘Finally got our Portobello documentary to a point we are happy with. I know through the festival circuit you are sometimes around a circle that show films.’ Receiving this message was one of the small things that happened this year that made it special despite all else.

I can’t remember when Nick first told me he was involved in making a documentary film about his corner of the antiques trade, his gang of ‘smalls’ dealers and their lives. It was probably as long ago as six or seven years when he used to take half of Lucian’s stall next to me in Spitz. On long hot languid days when the market was like a glasshouse oven or on cold days when you ceased to feel your legs after 10am we would talk of dreams and of schemes over infinite cups of tea.

The film was one such dream. And now it had come true thanks to the dogged work of Nick, Marek and John. It’s a tender and affectionate portrait of a road many of you may know by name and many of you may know by acquaintance. A half an hour slice of humanity that took years to perfect. As if there were intangible forces at work waiting until the time was right to release it, until it was needed the most to remind us of what we might lose. John said they made the film ‘to document the demise of a market that was once the backbone of the antiques trade in London and beyond’. Had the film come out prior to this year it may well have felt like an epitaph. But in recent months when the world re- opened you could sense a world altered. You could sense a renewed appetite for life and a street market is the very definition of that.

So, on behalf of Nick, Marek and John and all the characters in the film I invite you on the last day of this most calamitous of years to take the arm of a stranger or the hand of a lover or friend and walk with them from one end of Portobello Road to the other. To pause along the way and hear the stories of those who inhabit it. To throng amid the crowd, to revel in the smells, sights and sounds, to lose yourself amid the bustle and the hum, to count your blessings, to marvel at life in the raw and to take something away by which to sustain yourself in the isolation of a midwinter like no other.