I needed to get a present for a good friend and I wanted it to be something locally made and interesting, so of course I tootled over to Haji Lane for an afternoon of window shopping.
Actually, I have been looking for a good excuse to visit this part of town for a very long time. The last time I stepped onto Arab Street and the surrounding district of exotic tradeshops was when I happened to be getting a very special gown tailored at a tiny boutique that had just opened. I remember walking into shop after shop admiring the glorious display of textiles - rolls and rolls of heavy silk sari cloth in glowing jewel colours, gossamer chiffons richly embroidered with gold thread, exquisite hand-dyed batiks with their painstakingly intricate prints, sheer georgettes shimmering candy bright, fine cotton fabrics looking cool, crisp and light. Even the very air of the place seemed to be interwoven with the scent of jasmine and spices, leather and wood.
Stardust was on his best behaviour that afternoon as I strolled with him along the front of the graffiti covered shophouses. Haji Lane, at first glance, appeared to be a deserted alleyway lined with green portable dustbins. There was nobody around apart from a black-and-white cat who returned Stardust's friendly overtures with a sulky yellow stare. I found out later that most of the shops open after 2pm in order to cater to the after-school crowd of indie-lovers.
We ducked in and out of a few emporiums, admiring their eclectic collection of wares but finding nothing that would suit my friend's tastes. I saw a pair of very cute and impractical platform saddle shoes, a fine silver necklace that looked like it was made from bubbles, a vintage leather handbag with enormously hideous gold buckles and a set of gilt china teacups.
Finally, just as Stardust was getting restless in his pushchair, we entered yet another hole-in-the-wall and found ourselves in the wonderland that is PLUCK.
In the corner of the store was the ice-cream parlour and beckoning to us enticingly from the front of the cooler was a row of funny little characters. Behind the counter was a pretty lady wearing a black-and-white bustier who smiled pleasantly at us. Stardust was immediately enamoured and began blowing kisses to her, much her great delight.
I decided to take a break from the hunt and release a very wriggly Stardust from his pushchair. (Now that he is learning to walk, he gets fidgety after sitting still for a long time, so I have to allow him to stretch his legs.) We shared a scoop of honey-and-walnut icecream and sat quietly on the plush seats, reading a book together.
Whilst Stardust stood at the window with his hands pressed firmly against the glass, smiling at passing tourists, I wandered around the store, trying my hardest not to touch anything - especially the display of mod belts lying enticingly on mirrored shelves.
There was an amazing collection of trinkets handmade from vintage czech crystal beads and salvaged brass filigree. Amongst these I found something simple that might look rather pretty on a bedside table which I felt would make a good gift. Yay!
By this time, Stardust was getting rather tired and so I took one last, longing look at black belt with a red enamel roundel before leaving. Stardust blew kisses at the storekeeper all the way out of the shop and halfway down the street.