Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Market

The market had been there since anyone could remember. For six days a week, the streets were empty and sullen, the shop facias faded in reverence to the sun; all things remaining closed in anticipation. The rusted skeletons of stalls formerly and stalls-to-be were carted with infrequency in the early mornings of the week and put in place: helpful council red paint used cleverly to demarcate each allocation. In doing so, it etched a permenance onto the concrete of the streets, it earmarked the market's timeless validity.

Once a week this dormant calvacade would awaken into splendid colour and vibrancy; from my second floor windows I could see these empty streets and eventual hubub in something like time-lapse. Curiosity would get the better of me, and anyway- are we not composed within our environments? Oh, colour me in.

On market day, it was as if the entire neighbourhood could not contain it's excitement. Shopkeepers would arrive on six thirty, coming in white vans, the families in 4x4's to lay out tables and build up their palaces: neat arrangements of goods, wares and vividly coloured price tags. By ten o' clock that morning the streets would be filled with a mingling fraternity, many colours of skin, eager to be impressed.

On this particular Sunday, such recently uninspired weather had produced a thick July glow. Stalls were laid out like tents inviting all the hustle and bustle inward for shade. On the corners, hot dog vendors had seized an opportunity. Certain shopkeepers had brought small radios along, such is the vibe, their clatter fills the air. Different speakers crossfade an abstract ethnicity that alters as one browses.

Geographically, it was near and far away enough to remain a hidden treasure. Not a hundred feet away around corners, glass skyscrapers reflected a blue sky that was only marred by the trails of a departing commercial airliner. They all ached toward the heavens.Below, there could have been five hundred stalls hidden in low buildings and winding, narrow streets. Noone would know. A colloquial drinking hole seemed to signify your transition from that world to this, at any rate it appeared itself closed in the distance. As you walk amongst the crowd, you notice the fervor. Stuck with tiny steps, the crowds seem endless. Street names disappear. Stall after stall of identical coloured ensemble, not small curios of interest, no no, their hegemony maddens you. That it had not occured to any of the stallkeepers to engage in diversity was to me, staggering. The effort expended without merit since six thirty that morning, for this draining onslaught of similarity.You came here for coffee, perhaps clay-wrought cups and such, but no- these wares can roughly speaking be put into three categories:

The first is of clothes and textiles. Colourful stalls, garments lain flat-packed in polythene, lined up either on tables or vertically from their boxes. Some stalls may specialise in a particular kind of faux-leather, and others may cater exclusively in traditional clothes for a certain ethnicity- but the vast majority of these stands hawk similar wares. Generic shirts and plain trousers, nondescript shoes and rails proposing to offer knock-off High Street brands, slight seconds. All of the above for prices lit up with colourful tags carved as explosions or thought bubbles, writ in black marker. Five pounds. Ten pounds. Three for ten pounds if you're lucky. These, sometimes laminate. I am sure they expect you to haggle, though I don't see much of it. Is this an English thing? The darker skinned here, by far a majority, look perfectly at home.With the exceptions of the two leather and the handful of speciality stalls, all the clothes here seem completely identical.

In a smaller amount, but noticable all the same, are the dozen of so emporiums of music and video. Each of these advertises their intent by demonstrating the innate worth of their Music over a cheap speaker system- often to the point of distortion. These can be heard, as I have mentioned, wherever you are in the market. These collections, most generally, are world music set in brightly coloured cases, though I have spied 'The very best of the Rat Pack' and other more Western compilations, all canononical. There are large sections devoted to religious music, often choral and very contemporary. I once saw a woman stop in the street in appreciation of a gospel number, but this is not an uncommon thing.

Lastly, and boasting the least representation, I counted three stalls hawking supplementary electrical goods. These were run by bearded men in jumpers not befitting the heat of the day. On these stalls, tables would be laid out with small boxes containing such vital household goods as plug socket covers, AV cables made redundant with the advent of SCART, electrical extension cables and the like. Upon walking past these stalls, do not be surprised to hear the shopkeeper invite your interest with a gambit of "you want one metre, I have one metre" or similar boast, whilst holding said length of cable up to the sky. Inviting your interest, like I said.

Competition is fierce. Shopkeepers call out bargain price after bargain price, bounce off each other's offers. Some are, naturally, more competant at this than others. Such public performance relies upon confidence and an undeniably good deal. The neccesity to compete in this manner is made ever more important by the climate in which they compete. Since the entire market is consisted of rival traders selling identical products, the process of advertising those wares becomes of utmost importance.

From a consumer's point of view, exactly where one shops is of arbitrary importance.Perhaps all anyone wanted from this market was clothes, fabrics, pirated ethnic music and plug socket extension leads- but they seemed like strange bedfellows. Why those things? I had gone intrigued, searching for ambiguous things: a pestle and mortar, perhaps a pepper grinder, a cafetiere, a Shish, some organic farmhouse delicacies, a surprise.

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