Brits are rarely positive about anything – that’s more a mainland Europe kinda thing and perhaps the foremost reason voting Brexit was so popular. Nonetheless, when things are going badly, Brits suddenly range between cheerily pointing out it could be worse before whistling a happy tune, to becoming highly optimistic fortune tellers willing to make all manner of wanton wagers on the back of their wild assertions.
In another time and place Yazz’s take on anti-recession song ‘The Only Way is Up’ easily could’ve been sung by Vera Lynn to lift morale during WWII.
As mentioned Part I, Croydon would soon be back to its usual almost-constantly packed shopping, and with a bit of advertising, not to mention word going round, we in the indoor market would become just as regular a part of it as any other.
No one for a second anticipated a fate akin to Albion Market’s.
Perhaps word did go round, but only in respects to what a pain the stairs were just to get to a pissy sex den flipping burgers round back.
Bizarrely, its demise didn’t result in the market being left deserted bar the odd sleazy punter sticking their head in in the hope of a next-to-nothing bargain. There was still a steady, albeit slow and shuffling, flow of people coming through.
It was like being in a bad zombie film, where stall holders had somehow been immune to the virus due to being in the market when it struck, and for whatever plot-twist reason all the zombies came in the form of little old ladies.
Though—steady on—not for any ageist slur-type reasons.
These days zombies are just as much, if not more so, portrayed as fast and jumpy rather than simply slow and hunched; these days resemblances to the traits of zombies need apply regardless of whether the zombie quick or slow, bent over or upstanding.
After all, if the shuffling walks had led to some serious spendthrift at the stalls, I wouldn’t be sat here now writing about living dead comparisons. Instead, I’d be living it up very comfortably somewhere on the Costa del Sol.
Not only did this influx of olds suddenly find the stairs no problem—so making them zombie-esque oblivious to what once was a major complaint—they moved through the place like whatever they were after wasn’t there (either the reason for the market trader’s virus-immunity carried over to zombies too, or the poor plot had a desperate stab at humour by suggesting traders don’t have brains).
Everyday they persisted in arriving in droves only to shuffle from one side to the other without ever buying a thing.
True, some did leave by the rear – but that only made it more zombie; it didn’t go anywhere of any benefit to them. The burger van hadn’t suddenly become the World’s Best Local Post Office, where everyday was pension day; and that generation didn’t do burgers at the best of times, never mind when served from a sex shack.
Back then big department stores like Allders had their own restaurants offering quality food at decent prices – eating in one was as much part of the Croydon experience as the shopping.
Burgers wouldn’t have come anywhere close to into the running; to that UK generation they had a long-standing reputation for being poor quality. One that McDonald’s had a hard time combating when it first came to the UK.
The third branch to open in the UK was in Croydon circa 1975.
I knew it well – too well. It opened around the same time my parents split, so I spent a lot of time there on Sundays with my dad. I remember completing the challenge of repeating the Big Mac ingredients like they were read out on the TV ad within the allotted time limit to win the badge that said I had.
My dad also did it, then asked for the ‘I failed’ badge as he thought less people would have it, so making it worth having more – the look on the server’s face was a picture.
It wasn’t just the older generations McD’s had to convince; my mum didn’t simply dislike the idea of me eating there for fear of inferior quality, she believed a ‘restaurant’ opening where people ate using their hands as there were no knives, forks or plates and the food was served in Styrofoam boxes instead while all the furniture was plastic signalled the beginning of the end.
It all sounded terribly dramatic at the time, but taking a look around today, it seems mum was far righter than wrong.
Not even the all time classics of East Lane could raise a cursory glance or smidgen of interest.
An example of a traditional ballad of the Lane, not so much sung, but versed entirely by a solo vocalist in name of drumming up trade:
‘Ow much you think I want for this beautiful sock?
Certainly worth it – g’wan, have a touch; lovely bit o’ cloth
Fiiive bob? . . .
I don’t want your uncle bob, a doner kebob
Not even a blooowjob!
This very sock right here can be taken off my hands and put on a deserving foot for a mere [enter price here, so long as under five bobs obvs]
When optimism didn’t pan-out as gleefully anticipated, frustration started to set-in. Most of the traders were new to the game; the recession equalling a redundancy payment, equalling the capital to buy stock for an indoor market opening in Croydon that in being new equalled things obviously being on the up.
As far as they were concerned, I was a seasoned veteran thanks to my almost six months out in the field (sometimes literally) places like East Lane.
They looked to me for answers and when the songs didn’t work, I went so far as to break a cardinal rule of single childhood by trying to give things away. It was a tactic I’d seen used at a market before, though not any time recent to then.
During the run-up to a Christmas when I was circa seven/eight, my dad and a business associate (mate) somehow managed to secure a pitch at an outdoor market in Brentford. They sold toys by using the stall as a platform to pitch from and created a constant buzz by occasionally tossing things into the crowd for free.
It worked a treat: as one non-stop spieled the other constantly sold.
For me the emphasis was very much on the trying part of the equation. I tried handing out pairs of socks to passing pensioners only to get sneered at or completely ignored. Not to be outdone, I upped the ante and tried handing out packs of six . . .
The scarce few who did interact would say things like:
• Ooh, no, he don’t like the ones with elastic at the top – can’t wear ‘em.
• Ooh, no, weather’s warming up now – he’ll be too ‘ot in ‘em.
Whatever they said, it would always start with a resigned Ooh
Replying ‘cut the top off, then’ or ‘at least he’ll have a new pair next winter’ or ‘how about for another much loved and cared for family member, such as a cherished grandchild?’ regardless of how nicely or threateningly said still did nothing to put the slightest dent in the iron-willed stubborn refusals.
The market closed much like a very slowly burning ship. After all having put so much time into standing there hoping things would come good, no one wanted to jump – especially as rats are famed for being first to go. At the same time, nothing was actually happening to suggest it worth hanging around.
The longer we did, the more we got financially burned while bills continued to mount up without any care for flowery analogies.
I’d had enough of markets full stop if I couldn’t even give stuff away at one, so wound-up with loads of boxes of socks sitting around at home until selling them to civil servants while working security in government buildings (but that’s another story).
As writing is as much about what one wants to say as how it will read to others, writers are forced to dabble in the horribly dark art of assumption making. It’s a cross that can only truly be borne by the greatest of egos, for only then is it waved triumphantly enough to give the appearance of genius.
Being really good at guessing is probably the most important aspect of being a great writer, and in that respect my entire worth as such can be rightly judged from just the following statement alone:
At this point, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for anyone reading to suspect that my fear of giving stuff away is really down to me failing badly to offload some well dodge socks, rather than any other possible reason – particularly the hex I claimed to be under in Part I.
Especially given who eventually ended up buying them.
This is where the start of the story and my time down East Lane comes in.
I got into markets thanks to a friend known as Mr T even though they bore no resemblance in any respect to the very fond of his mother and mothers in general actor behind B. A. Baracus.
More soon in Part III