Portobello Road is an antique
s market like few others. It is also enormous: it goes on and on. Unlike some places where you can walk the length of the market and see it peter out at the far end, Portobello goes on for well over a kilometre, as the crow flies, and the thing about crows is that they don't have to stop in every side street
, in every covered arcade
full of shop
s and stall
s, and in every strange barn-like thing where children might get lost for hours.
If all you want is tourist things, I suppose it offers the same things as everywhere else in the world -- chunky jumpers, bongs, crystals, Bob Marley posters --; but what Portobello Road does is antiques. Real ones: not junk or bric-à-brac or 1960s Matchbox cars, though there's plenty of that too of course.
I was looking for an ushabti, one of those little turquoise faience Egyptian statuettes, to go with my cuneiform tablet and my Greek lamps and Roman glass. I felt I had just enough money to splash out a little bit on something useless but inspiring like this. I walked up and down Portobello Road and kept finding places that had whole cabinets full of ushabtis. Small cabinets, in some of them, and mixed with other antiquities perhaps, but there were plenty around to make my choice from. It would have been equally true had I wanted seventeenth-century German watches, I'm sure.
And these are real. No doubt about that. I lingered and listened to one kindly old lady explaining to her niece or grandchild or friend how to study them. She reiterated her advice in a nutshell: "BM, BM, and BM."
She probably had the best collection too. The ones I came closest to buying were ranged around in her tall glass cabinets, and I stayed a long time, and came back after I'd seen the other ushabti-shops. But for the £30 or £40 I could afford I could get a fine turquoise one, but worn and indistinct. One with the beautiful fine features I really desired would be £80 at least, and my poverty would not allow me that. I came away without any.
Elsewhere I saw incunabula: books printed before 1500. Hundreds of pounds for a book. That's what you go to Portobello Road for.