Sunday, 28 February 2010

Saturday: Ferrets and Hydroflouric acid.

Top pic shows Pete and his polecat,Lucas, a charming and intelligent creature. I stroked its furry little head... nervously. I'm scared of the ferret family: it's their horribly sharp teeth and their quick sinuous movements.
Bottom pic is of Terence and me. He's a pedigree golden rat-squirrel from Venezuela who I liberated from a charity stall next to me. He hid in my pocket when Lucas turned up.
I sold three pairs of titanium earrings today to a woman who was chemist. We talked about the process of colouring titanium. The first stage of this involves etching the metal with hydrofluoric acid. This a very dangerous substance. It can penetrate the skin as fast as a ferret's canines and then create a blood clot and this can cause cardiac arrest. Czesh, who made the titanium jewellery back in the eighties died suddenly from a heart attack. I wonder if the acid had something to do with his premature death? Czesh was at college with Sharon and was a very enterprising young man who sold titanium jewellery all over the world. We used to envy his business acumen [something we lack!]. And then he died. It was a great shock and a sad loss.

Why does it always rain on Friday?

Wet rain on Stamford Market. Some rain is wetter than other rain. It is, believe me! When the rain is composed of fine drops it drifts under your stall sheet. It also penetrates clothing more effectively.

But the quietness of the day gave me an opportunity to get better acquainted with my new neighbours. On my right facing the Stamford Museum and Sir Malcolm Sargent's house, is Annielee who sells African carvings from Zimbabwe, country she has visited on numerous occasions. On my left is Brian who sells vintage records. He is an organic chemist who used to be chief brewer for Ruddles. More of them anon.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Snow stops stall ...& Eastenders

16.6 million people tune in to murder. Eastenders draws in a huge audience to find out who killed Archie Mitchell. I find it sad that so many people in this country watch this garbage, a stale negative fantasy that dwells on human misery and distorts our view of the world.

Soaps have done there bit to distort market life, too. Probably many people form their image of what being a stallholder is like from watching them. Market traders are reduced to a stereotype: chirpy, roguish, always popping in and out of the pub and taking plenty of money.

Snow prevents me from getting to Cambridge. Bloody weather!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

People on the Market

There was a 'Continental market' today in addition to the usual stalls. I bought a tasty Paella from Alfredo and Amed. It was spicy and colourful. I really enjoyed it.

It was good to have a change from the usual dull takeaway food on offer in this so called 'Rural Food Capital of the UK'. Melton has some way to go before it deserves this title, in my opinion. Stilton and pork pies and Pedigree pet foods are great products but, surely, Melton needs to have a livelier and more diverse food culture on the streets of the town? Most of the takeaway food available is bland and unhealthy. The only concern seems to make it conform to food hygiene regulations.

Mike is an artist . A very friendly guy, the kind of person that should be working on a stall. Even if you don't want to buy one of his pictures [which he under prices] , it's worth stopping and having a chat with him.

Mike lived in Colombia for several years and also in The Shetlands. A man of many talents he has been a ship's officer and a professional musician. When the weather gets warmer he's going to bring his guitar down and entertain us with some of his own songs.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Market Words

Should have stood Stamford Market today but the weather deterred me. A heavy fall of snow last night made the roads dangerous so I felt it better to stay at home with the family and do tea drinking, doodling, reading and listening to my new CD from Amazon, 'The Astounding Eyes of Rita' featuring Anouar Brahem on oud.

What words can I use to describe it? Beautiful? That's the first word than comes to mind but it conveys little.
Perhaps 'rhapsodic', 'flowing', 'melancholy' would be better,but that sounds like a critic talking. These words carry little weight. But I don't have the vocabulary to describe my delight in the music, which is a pity. The music is better speaking for itself.

Words are always inadequate to the experience they attempt to express; but some words are better than others. A profession develops a specialist vocabulary over a long period of time that carries a feeling of the daily life of those who practise it. Market trading is no exception. It has a rich hoard of words, that can be very musical.

My old and dear friend Mike used to know a bit of traditional patter that went like this:

I'm not 'ere today and gone tomorrow, I'm 'ere today and gone tonight.
I'm travelin' for a large firm in Manchester, Cock, Scratchem & Co
dealing in black and white thread, railway arches and treacle lines...

Unfortunately that's all he can remember. The piece went on in similar fashion at great length. It was the kind of language used by 'pitchers', market men who 'pitched' goods by shouting and drawing a crowd.

As Mike said in his Email to me:

All gibberish without a pause but it worked. By the time you figured out something he said, you missed a slice and wanted more. Hooked so you bought.

I'm desperate to know what comes next in the patter.

I'm hooked.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Here's the view from my stall today: spectacular cumuli being driven across the sky by a powerful north eastern airstream, their upper surfaces being torn to rags. A constantly changing drama of colour and shape.

Nobody seemed to taking any notice of it, but most people seemed to be walking along with more energy than of late. Whether you notice the sky or not it affects you.

A good healthy sky is good for your mental health.

Meteorological Prozac.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Market Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.

Philip Larkin

All those Market days that have scurried away down the mouse hole of memory! Sunny days, grey days, hot days, cold days, fascinating days, tedious days, happy days, sad days. Perhaps they need to be caught and looked at.

Market days: All human life is there! as The News of the World used to proclaim.

I've stood market on, at a rough guess, three and a half thousand occasions. Each of those days has been full of incidents, people and sensations.

Market trading is an occupation that is as much a way of life as a profession. It has been about as long as people have had surplus goods to sell and a town to take them to. Many markets have been operating for at least a millennium. Leicester Market, for example, where I stood for seventeen years [sounds tiring doesn't it!] can trace its history back for at least a thousand years. No doubt there were markets in Leicester right through the so called 'Dark Ages'. There certainly were in Roman and pre Roman times.

Market trading is now an endangered way of life. Until recently, the trip to the market was the most important shopping expedition of all, particularly for ordinary people and particularly for small towns. These trips were not just about shopping; they were also lively social events when people met up in pubs and cafes, at street corners and under market crosses. A lot of eating, drinking, flirting, gossiping, shouting, moaning, discussion on politics, dissemination of jokes, news, rumour and so on occurred on market days. There was a buzz, the crack on market days. There still is on some markets on some days and it is to be savoured: it is the raw current of life. It needs cultivating and nurturing.

Today I've just visited Grantham to get some shopping. Like most shopping trips it made me feel sad and dispirited. Chain stores, supermarkets, charity shops dominate the High Street. In the Isaac Newton Centre old people, young mothers, the unemployed, the disabled seemed to have congregated. No one eating, no one drinking [it's forbidden] no one laughing [seems like that'as forbidden too], no one looking remotely happy. This is the raw social squalor of our country. No Dickensian vitality enlivens it. Here we are in 2010, with 'stuff 'produced by cheap labour in the Far East gradually inching towards landfill sites. More stuff than we can ever need and a social fabric that is soiled and ragged and producing misery by the container load. We can't go on like this.

Changing the way we shop can help. Shopping needs to become a human activity again. Markets, a human form of shopping to my mind, can help. I want to see them come back from the brink. I'm not saying that markets are in good shape as they are. Traders themselves need to get their act together and provide better goods and better service. Many have colluded in the long term decline of markets by offering surly, mean spirited service and, to be honest, by not always being honest.

But despite the odd miserable so & so, most market traders are decent people. Many of them are fascinating people who have had all sorts of life experiences, all sorts of interesting histories. They're a group of people worth getting to know.