A Life of Crime vs. The Free Market Part II
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 surely 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.
The Strange Case of Demise Not Equalling Deserted
Despite the dreary lack of sales, 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.
A comparison that could be considered an ageist slur; though only if the person seeing it that way isn’t familiar with any of the incarnations zombies tend to come in these days.
These days zombies are just as much, if not more so, portrayed as fast and jumpy, instead of simply slow and hunched.
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.
Reasons the Influx of Olds were Zombie-esque, Parts 1, 2, 3
- They didn’t find the stairs a problem; so making them oblivious to what was once a major complaint.
- They moved through the place in droves like whatever they wanted wasn’t there; in this respect it felt the poor plot was having a dig at the traders by suggesting they didn’t have brains.
- They’d leave by the rear despite it not going anywhere of benefit to them; the burger van hadn’t started doubling-up as the World’s Best Local Post Office, and burgers were most definitely not that generation’s thing.
A Brief History of Burger Consumption in Croydon:
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; for 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 UK branch opened in Croydon in 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 signalled the beginning of the end.
It all sounded terribly dramatic at the time, but taking a look around today, it seems mum was righter than wrong.
Back to the Market:
Not even the all time classics of East Lane could raise a cursory glance or smidgen of interest.
An example of a traditional ballad from 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?
Worth it, I swear on me granny.
G’wan, have a touch; lovely bit o’ cloth
Fiiive bob? . . .
I don’t want your uncle bob, a doner kebob
Not even a blowjob!
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 had been gleefully anticipated, frustration started to set-in. Most of the traders were new to the game; more recession-related redundancy payments equalling the capital to buy stock.
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. When the songs didn’t work, I was left with no choice but to break a cardinal rule of single childhood.
Giving Things Away!
It was a tactic I’d seen used at a market before, when myself a child.
During the run-up to a Christmas circa 77/78, my dad and a ‘business associate’ 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, while creating a constant buzz by frequently tossing things into the crowd for free.
It had worked a treat.
I started handing out pairs of socks to passing pensioners gratis.
At least, I tried to being either 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 hot in ‘em.
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 more than 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).
Quite why I’d had so much of them, though, wasn’t simply just down to events in Croydon. To grasp the full grating picture, the story returns to my time down East Lane with the person who introduced me to working on them.
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.
- Next, Part III: East Street and the Mystery of Charlie Chaplin
- Previously in this series, Part I: A Tale of Gratis Woe
Thanks for reading. 🙂
N. P. Ryan.