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Prudent Purchases In Tooting Bec

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Dear Rachel

I have only been abroad once in my entire life – I decided on a whim to ride a mountain bike from Atlanta to New Orleans and back on my own, for reasons that now escape me – and perhaps because of this I have always found airmail writing paper curiously exciting.   It makes a lovely crackly noise when you handle it, for a start, and it has a romantic quality, too – whenever I recieve letters written on airmail paper I always imagine that the person writing them is sitting under a palm tree in the East Indies, even if they are in a rented room in Chatham.   Not that Chatham or the nature of rented accomodation are necessarily without romantic qualities of their own, of course, but they do not spring as readily to mind as a classic romantic backdrop.

I have spent a good deal of the past summer outside London, scampering around the provinces in the interests of our wider commercial affairs.   While doing so, I’ve taken to using Basildon Bond airmail paper over emails for personal correspondence as, due to what we may now call the Chatham effect, it gives a letter from Hastings or Ramsgate or Grimsby an exotic aura that it might otherwise lack.   When writing from home I usually use standard Basildon Bond post quarto paper, either blue or champagne, depending upon my mood.   For very special letters I whip out couple of sheets of Eclats D’or, which has tiny flecks of gold in it, and I favour a Parker Duofold pen.   There are only two downsides to written correspondence: 1) It could be misconstrued as self conscious whimsy, which runs the risk that the kind of women who feature prominantly in Match.com advertising will drag me off to meet their cats and parents as soon as I start to write anything, and 2) my handwriting is so atrociously bad that I routinely have to send a version of all written correspondance by email, so that the recipient can actually read it.

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Billy And My Monotone Brothers

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Dear Rachel

I was returning to London last week, having spent a couple of days tending to our commercial interests in the provinces, when I found myself considering the Essex countryside from the window of an inter city train.  While doing so, the following forgotten rhyme from my childhood suddenly unforgot itself and came to mind, as the greenery between Manningtree and Colchester tumbled by:

My friend Billy had a ten foot willy,
He showed it to the lady next door,
She thought it was a snake,
And hit it with a rake,
And now it’s only four foot four.

While I’m sure that none of the above is based upon actual events, I do have a friend called Billy – he sells handpainted Jerusalem pottery at Greenwich Market – and he can’t be much more than four foot four tall, being the shortest man in casual retail.   He lives in a flat in Tufnell Park, and although there is a lady living next door to him, neither of them have a garden and she is therefore unlikely to own a rake, or indeed gardening implements of any kind.  Whether she needs to chill out a bit, as the lady in the rhyme would appear to, I suspect we will never know for sure.

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Sarajevo Moment For Upmarket John

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Dear Rachel

The outdoors is, on the whole, very overrated, and my own natural suspicion of the countryside extends to any open space which is not enclosed by walls and a roof.  My unfamiliarity is such that if, for example, the beer garden of the Duke of Wellington public house, Toynbee Street, London E1 did not have concrete paving, wooden tables, a wardrobe and a pink scooter abandoned there in 2006 by persons unknown and now showing visible signs of disintegration in it, I would think it was part of Dorset.

The beer garden is where the lovely Chinese dvd lady, who is a welcome sight in the pubs around and between Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane markets, attends to the tipsy yet thrifty film buffs who form her core customer base.  Interestingly, selling dvds from pub to pub is not illegal, and as long as the landlord of the public house concerned is satisfied that there is no attendant illegality taking place, it is perfectly acceptable. The landlord of the Duke of Wellington is Vinny, a man whom we may safely assume is at peace with his personal interpretation of the concepts of what is legal and what isn’t. Past patrons would certainly have included both Jack the Ripper and at least a couple of his victims, and while selling digital versatile discs pub to pub is not illegal, dismembering prostitutes clearly is. To further complicate this legal minefield, prostitution in itself is not illegal either, although if the recent experience of Upmarket John, a Brick Lane trader of my acquaintance is anything to go by, not having sex with someone who isn’t a prostitute actually is.

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Doing A Luton With The Goat Bag Man

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Dear Rachel,

I’m sure you’ll know what a middle eight – or ‘bridge’ – is, but in case you don’t, it’s the ‘middle eight’ bars of a pop song, which break up the verse structure and add interest, usually by embellishing a central riff or adding a solo.  For example, this morning I listened to the Beatles’ tremendous 1965 hit I Feel Fine.  The middle eight in I Feel Fine is the instrumental bit at the end of the second chorus and before the second verse.  It’s excellent, but when removed from its context, makes no sense whatsoever.  Now imagine a tune consisting entirely of middle eights.  To return to the case of the middle eight from I Feel Fine, you’d think, after a while, ‘I like this, it’s highly enjoyable and very catchy, but I don’t know where it’s come from, I don’t know where it’s going, and I don’t know the structure in which it is supposed to exist’.  That’s what a conversation with the Goat Bag Man is like.

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For Idle Hands To Do

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Dear Rachel

We didn’t have a valid insurance certificate the last time we traded at the Thames Festival, so to be on the safe side Tony drew one for us.  Resourceful bluffing of this kind is a valuable asset when trading at events, and a great deal cheaper than getting actual insurance.  Sadly, I do not have Tony’s easy familiarity with the calligraphic arts, so when I trade at it this year I will be fully insured to do something for the first time in my life.  Lack of insurance is also a hindrance when attempting to drive legally, but fortunately not if you’re driving illegally, so I foresee no problem getting the considerable amounts of stock involved to and from the event itself.

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Walking Through Town Is Quite Scary

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Dear Rachel,

In future, whenever I have bad news to impart – redundancy, death of a parent, the unhappy results of a smear test, and so forth – I’m going to ask the recipient to whip their shoes off and boing about on a bouncy castle at a children’s party while I do so, because nothing seems so bad when you’re airbourne among all that red and yellow vinyl in the company of five year olds.  I discovered this last Monday when I was informed, in a voice shouted over the happy yelling and squealing, that Croydon had burned down, Clapham had gone up, and the whole of London had gone off.

I was eating toothpaste in the bath when I learned that John Lennon had been shot.   Thirty one years later, and being roughly thirty one years older than my bouncy castle companions, I have a much more immediate grasp of cultural events.    Therefore,  it only took a couple of hours  for the  implications of the London riots to become clear.   By three o’clock the following morning, with my bouncing shenanighans seeming to belong to an entirely different world, I was drinking tea, watching rolling news footage and finding myself unable to say anything other than the names of parts of London whose streets and inhabitants are familiar to me, as they drifted across the bottom of the screen accompanied by words such as ‘riot’, ‘looting’, ‘arson’ and ‘widespread’.

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Platform Game

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Dear Rachel,

I know a girl who went on a date with a bloke last year – an internet date, actually – and she said that he’d been basically nice, despite turning up quite late (he’d cycled across town to West Kensington) and appearing irritable and distracted throughout. Towards the end of the evening, while she was talking about her work, he said ‘I’m sorry to have to interrupt you, but I think I’ve broken my arm’ which, after she’d driven him to casualty, it turned that he actually had, after falling off his bike on the way over.  This neatly explained the lateness, irritability, and distraction at a stroke.  I would on principle marry any girl who made several hours of polite chit chat before revealing that they were nursing a more than slightly severe and traumatic injury, and I was saddened to learn that the relationship lasted only another two or three dates before fizzling out.

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The Trade Of The Tricks

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Dear Rachel

Like Saul – who we may safely assume was some sort of fish or possibly greengrocer – on the road to Damascus, the scales fell from former Camden trader and now Greenwich stalwart Magic Alex’s eyes one Tuesday afternoon in 1985, at Knightsbridge tube station. This is how, spurning a floor manager’s position at Next on the Kings Road, he unexpectedly became a magician. We found ourselves in conversation by the Amiable Shriveled Book Vendor’s stall on a recent Saturday morning, during the course of which we discovered we’d both shoplifted from the same shops in our youth, including the Next outlet from which, technically, he is still on his lunch break.

Although Magic Circle rules and the fact that I have forgotten forbid me from recounting it in detail here, I learned something called the Disappearing Pen Trick from Magic Alex many years ago at Camden. I used to baffle Pikey Dave with it for a short while, until he said he could also make a pen disappear, and demonstrated this with the equally affective – albeit less wily – method of throwing it over the East Yard wall, into the Grand Union canal. He offered to do this with my stock and also myself at various points during our relationship, which can best be described as ‘troubled’, although in his defence this was around the time as I was having a bit of a larf by setting fire to bits of paper I had placed strategically around his stall and trying to distract him long enough to get a nice blaze going.

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General Misunderstandings

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Dear Rachel

There is a sign outside the Tulse Hill Hotel in south London that says: Roast Dinner – Tastes Like Your Mums.  This is fighting talk where I come from, however, things are very different over the water and we must all learn to accommodate each others’ quirks.  In the white heat of casual retail, you get very used to accommodating people whose particular quirk is not understanding absolutely anything whatsoever at all.  For example, I regularly – and by regularly I mean once every fifteen or so minutes, not regularly as the thirty year cycle of Saturn’s solar orbit – have people running up to the stall in a triumphant manner, loudly exclaiming the type of goods on sale.   Not the extensive design work that’s been applied to the type of goods on sale, which is what makes them saleable in the first place, but the goods themselves.

For example, we sell travel card holders on our stall at Greenwich and our various outposts around London and the provinces.  One of them is the centre of a tube map I designed which shows all the ghosts, plague pits, abandoned stations and such through which all the tube lines are cut.  It’s a pretty unusual thing which took a long time to research and get the graphics right on and so forth – although this, of course, is no reason for anyone to buy it, or even like it.   However, I never tire of people delightedly shouting ‘Oh my God!  They’ve got travel card holders!’ picking one up – perhaps the ghosts and plague pits one, as discussed – immediately looking at the reverse side, which is completely blank, and then walking off in silent disappointment.   After some note taking on the subject, I can reveal that the second most common response is ‘Have you got one of these, but with the normal tube map on it?’ the third is ‘Why should I buy this when I can get a free IKEA one from a tube station?’ and the forth is simply ‘But why did you do this? which is when I employ my usual tactic of pretending that either a) this is not my stall or b) that I am Polish.

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Uncommon People

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Dear Rachel

It would make my life a tiny bit easier – although slightly sadder – if leaving Greenwich market after trading was a matter of simply walking up the High Road to the train station and heading off towards London Bridge. It really isn’t like that, at all. There’s a complex system of hand shakes, embraces, high fives and knuckle bumps to get through first, and they all have to be administered in the correct order to the right person, or I’ll look like an amateur. For example, a firm two handed handshake is the order of the day with Bill and Fabio, whereas I normally try to disturb and annoy Keith in some way by commenting that I like what he’s done with his hair or whatever, in one of many standard Keith-annoying ploys we’ve discussed before.

The most complex of all farewells, however, is with Danny.  This entails a normal handshake which morphs into an urban warrior variant, combined with a manly embrace with backslapping and finally a mutually exchanged knuckle bump with the salutation ‘K. I. B.’ which does, of course, mean ‘Keep It Black’.  Trains run very frequently from Greenwich to central London, which is fortunate, or I’d be missing them all the time.

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