bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog
Home » Blog
May 14th, 2013
I’m not sure I believe in horoscopes, although I do see how having several different innate character types would be useful if you were inventing a species from scratch. As a means of prediction it seems flawed to me, although no more flawed than an origami salt cellar. This is the official name for one of those paper devices from everyone’s childhood which consist of four folded quarters, the contents of which contain a ‘fortune’ which is revealed and read aloud after the ‘enquirer’ has first picking an assigned number and colour.
Recently on my stall at Greenwich Market, I was confronted by Dalek Stu’s endearing son Peter and Mental Dave, who owns an imaginary hotel in the Bloomsbury area, who appeared from different directions at the same time. Peter shoved an origami salt cellar at me and asked me to pick a number, to which I replied ‘Four’. Mental Dave informed me that former Spurs and England midfield maestro Glenn Hoddle was looking for me in Marks and Spencer, to the amusement of nearby customers. Meanwhile Peter, having counted to four and rearranged the salt cellar accordingly, asked me to pick a colour. I said ‘Blue’, while Mental Dave asked if I’d heard any more from Phil Spector about his car keys. Peter unfolded the origami salt cellar and invited Mental Dave to read what was written there.
‘The Problem Is You’re An Idiot’, he said, quoting the salt cellar and bringing a look of ill-disguised glee to my customers.
‘That is uncanny’ I said, and walked off to get an Americano from Coffee Keith, leaving them all to their own devices.
March 5th, 2013
I am fond of the middle class, and would invite them to give themselves a round of applause if they weren’t already doing so. I don’t really have the self-loathing to get involved properly, but I am definitely partial to the things they like – I keep loose leaf tea in a caddy, I own a folding bicycle and a box set of The Thick Of It, and not only do I understand cricket, but I consider it to be the most exciting boring game in the world. I have a decidedly middle class snobbery about stuff, too – for example, I think tomato sauce with a roast is poor form, as is gravy on the same plate as baked beans. This is more to do with style than class, I suppose, because you’re either Blue Peter or Magpie, Swap Shop or Tiswas, Liberty or Selfridges. You can’t be both.
In my case, I am tempted to suggest that this is genetic. My grandfather thought that sandwiches cut diagonally were ostentatious and that eating them would make him a class traitor, but that garden gnomes were tacky and common. I discussed this recently with his daughter – my old dear – as I rolled around her living room in an armchair. There is such a thing as a castor cup, which is placed under chair wheels to prevent this happening: demonstrating the irrational snobbery of the family line, my old dear refuses to have them in the house.
February 20th, 2013
Keith’s coffee van at Greenwich Market is so small that when he’s driving it, it looks as though it’s been painted onto his jacket. If it were mine, I would save petrol by bouncing it there like a basketball. It is in fact so very miniscule that my only involvement with it on Sunday – I wasn’t trading due to a state visit to the east end – was to almost run over it as I cycled past him at Elephant and Castle, causing it to flurry about in my slipstream like a Kit Kat wrapper.
If you are unfamiliar, Elephant and Castle is a joyless mess in south London, through which I cycle often and as quickly as I can. The nicest building there is the Imperial War Museum, which housed Bedlam lunatic asylum when it left Whitechapel, and the only cheery feature are the tube station lifts, which play the same sound when the doors open as Pacman does when he eats a power pill and runs about chasing ghosts. I assume this is a deliberate feature, as Elephant and Castle is a stupidly complex maze of tunnels and subways – not unlike that which Pacman has to charge around – and the station itself is one of the most haunted places in London. If they were any more similar, your reward for clearing a screen on Pacman would be a Bakerloo Line train to Regent’s Park or Marylebone, both of which are much nicer places to be on a Sunday afternoon then Elephant and Castle.
February 8th, 2013
I was speaking to a gynaecologist recently, and was impressed by the way she could sketch a female reproductive system without looking at the paper she was drawing on. We were talking on a non-professional basis, but she estimated that she’d drawn over eight thousand female reproductive systems in her career and, as an encore, drew another one as a single unbroken line. I suggested she arrange for cannons to go off and glitter to come down from the ceiling when she reached the ten thousandth, because something like that should be given a sense of occasion.
Market trading is more difficult to represent with diagrams, so instead I turned the paper over and drew the principal causes of the War of the Roses, as I’d been reading about them that morning. Despite the Battle of Hexham having to appear on the back of a market rent receipt placed next to the main drawing, it worked quite well, and I was struck by how weird we’d be to play Pictionary against.
January 17th, 2013
There are no consecutive months more dissimilar than December and January, and this is especially true for those of us involved in market trading, the chip shop scuffle at the ragged end of retail. For a start, there are far fewer traders in January; Christmas attracts any number of Kirstie Allsopp fans who don’t understand that unless you actually are Kirstie Allsopp, no one’s going to be interested in something you saw her make on her show and thought you’d replicate for the retail benefit of the general public. Essentially, these are craft show traders – the giveaway here is that they talk about ‘table fees’ rather than ’stall rent’ – and are used to operating in a rather more sanitised environment than Greenwich Market. Not that Greenwich Market is rough in any way (in fact, it borders on the genteel), but it is a lot rougher than a trestle table in a home counties scout hut, to which they are more suited.
Another difference is underlined by the the mentally ill, who are vital to the overall ambiance of any proper market. Indeed, at Camden they form the core of the trading community itself, and while they are less in evidence south of the Thames, my favourite at Greenwich is Dave or, to give him his full name, Mental Dave. Mental Dave is something of a mascot, and his wise words are welcomed by all. I think I’ve mentioned him before ages ago, when he gave me Theo Paphitis’ forty digit phone number and spent an afternoon issuing threats and warnings to golden retrievers, but I particularly enjoy his string of imaginary hotels. This prompts him to say things like ‘I can’t stop to chat, Boris Becker’s waiting outside on a double yellow, he’s working for me at the Dorchester’, which is disconcerting if you are unfamiliar with him. Those of us who speak in terms of stall rent value people like Mental Dave whereas those who talk in terms of table fees are not quite so at ease, as we shall see.
January 9th, 2013
One of the ways Danny copes with market trading during the quieter parts of the year – such as January – is by having text sex with grandmothers from Lewisham. Danny’s romantic texting technique is best described as forthright and committed to getting things over with as quickly as possible, and I am often drafted in to add a line here or there, check spelling, edit out the more horrifying parts, or generally jolly things along. As I usually trade near Danny and also get bored easily, I am sometimes handed the phone and asked to keep things ticking over while he is busy with a customer or walking his dog, and as it’s always nice to find a new low, I’m happy to oblige.
The latest such occasion was on Sunday and involved some tired old dinner lady called, probably, Alison or Janet or Mags or Peggy. While supplying me with background information, he told me that he likes to say ‘What’s my name?’ in a threatening and aggressive manner at critical moments during sex. Intrigued, I asked for a vocal demonstration. Upon receiving it, I larfed for eight minutes, to the point where I had to return, weeping with mirth, to my own stall to calm down. I assumed that this ‘What’s my name?’ business was something to do with her senility, but he told me that it ‘adds a bit of terror’ to proceedings. Considering the answer is presumably ‘Daniel’ – not a conventionally terrifying name – I’m not sure how long a menacing atmosphere could be sustained in this manner.
December 27th, 2012
I am spending Boxing Day in a house which no one has walked or driven past since Christmas Eve, when I arrived here via Land Rover straight off the train from London. I am about as far into the countryside as it is possible to get, and not being naturally rural would certainly have gone mad by now if the house in question were not equipped with merlot and Smarties in special fire extinguishers with which I can be hosed down by my companions whenever I feel a panic attack coming on.
This all means that I’m not spending Christmas with my old dear and, embracing technology, I suggested that we communicate by Skype, which involved setting her up with an account and such over the phone. I instilled the importance of taking care over filling in the registration form, as I sensed that this could be a bit annoying to someone who has yet to grasp the concept of a search engine and can only find things by typing the entire url of any given website into the address bar. Taking this advice, she confirmed what she was writing by loudly repeating each letter of her name as she typed it. The location part of the registration form was dealt with in a similar fashion. When we got to the password, I said that she should keep that to herself, so she observed security by loudly whispering each letter instead. The password was skype22 if you’re interested, although I have changed it now. In any case, access to my old dear’s Skype account would be fairly useless – I’m the only person on her contact list, and I’d know if you’d hacked it, because you wouldn’t spend the first eight minutes of the conversation away from the keyboard deciding which cardigan to wear.
September 26th, 2012
In keeping with the rest of the place, the stairs in the upper storage area of Leadenhall Market are ornate and other-worldly. They are the sort of stairs you have to really commit to, though – steep, twisty, barely wide enough to climb and the cases I have to heft up them are very heavy indeed. Physical strength and fitness are assets for a market trader, and while never having been anything other than slightly overweight I decided to try fasting for a larf in May, and have unexpectedly lost 40 lbs since. On paper, this makes me more suited to my occupation, however this is sometimes not so in practice, as we shall see.
I stopped to adjust my grip while wrestling a case of jewellery boxes up the Leadenhall stairs a few Fridays ago, at roughly the same place where a stouter man might stop for a breather. Whereas our imaginary stout friend would have completed an uneventful ascent thereafter, the case rested against my upper pelvic cavity and caused my jeans to fall entirely down to my knees. This was not an ideal turn of events, and although there was another trader nearby, I felt uncomfortable with the prospect of requesting assistance. I therefore battled on trusting that my new conjoined denim leg warmers would not cause me to topple back over myself and heap further indignity upon an already un-suave situation. Fortunately they did not, although anyone enjoying a lunchtime bevvy outside the Lamb would’ve seen something they may never have forgotten, had they happened to look up.
September 12th, 2012
I am often told that being a market trader must be great for people watching. This is true. However, you quickly learn that there aren’t that many types of people to watch. Understanding this enables you to develop a kind of shorthand which then enables you to efficiently sort them into accurate demographic groups. I suspect that with close enough observation this would be possible no matter what means you employed; in my case, I use the medium of kitchenware.
For example, I can tell a great deal about someone by how much of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ by R. Kelly they will shout when confronted with an apron which has ‘I Believe I Can Fry’ written on it as a lazy but effective wordplay. Even if I was to trade blindfolded, I would know as soon as they got as far as ‘…I can touch the sky’ that I was being serenaded by someone with access to competitively priced tattooing facilities and large amounts of bad food. Observations such as these are all well and good, but ultimately it’s how you react to such people that counts. People projecting R. Kelly lyrics in response to a novelty apron aren’t necessarily dull, stupid, plain, predictable and disappointing, but there is always the risk that they might be. There are, after all, a lot of thick people about. The thing about thick people is that they are very good at being angry. I had to explain this once to Tony, with whom I once had an unlikely but successful kitchenware alliance, shortly after one of them punched him in the face.
August 29th, 2012
‘Each morning when I wake here in Spitalfields’, writes the Gentle Author at one point in Spitalfields Life, ‘I lie for a few minutes contemplating the squirrels gamboling in the yew tree outside my window before climbing from my bed to start another day’. If you don’t know the Gentle Author or Spitalfields Life, the latter is the creation of the former and documents people and places in and around the Spitalfields area of east London, including the famous market there. The Gentle Author and I live in very different worlds, although we both write about market life quite often. I have had plenty of time to consider these differences recently while at Greenwich Market, in the quiet couple of weeks between the various Olympic Games which are being held next door. Well aware of what they have done to Greenwich, I have been fond of referring to this pause as the lull before the calm.
Not having the opportunity to listen to squirrels playing in trees, I started last Sunday by cycling to Greenwich from Tooting Bec, via Clapham, Brixton, Peckham and Deptford – as is my habit on trading days – and walked straight into an argument between Danny and Keith. This broke out because of the way Danny started his day, which was by pouring Marshall’s water bowl over Keith’s chair, as part of an on-going attempt to convince him that he is incontinent, and therefore eligible for the forthcoming Paralympics. Marshall, needless to say, is a dog. Marshall started his day by eating some money, which as you can imagine did little to cheer Danny up. Be that as it may, Danny has been routinely pouring water over Keith’s chair in this manner for several weeks, but on this occasion Keith’s counter measures caused little short of civil war.