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Archive for 2011

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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The Longest Shot Of All

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Dear Rachel

I find that efficiency usually beats incredulity when bringing an unexpected conversation to a swift conclusion.   I was able to test this on Father’s Day morning when Danny shoved his head through the side of my stall and said ‘Paul – you’ve not had the snip mate, have you?’  ‘I haven’t mate, no’ I replied, selling a ‘Quiche Is The Word’ apron to a lady from West Drayton.   Undeterred, Danny went on to explain how – and for the sake of authenticity, I shall use his exact phrase – he was convinced he was ‘chucking out less dirty water’ than before he was sterilised.   ‘My husband thought that, too’ said the lady from West Drayton, handing me a £20 note and addressing Danny ‘But I don’t reckon it’s made any difference, myself’. ‘Silly old me’ I exclaimed while assembling her change, ‘I seem to have set my stall up in the waiting room of a vasectomy clinic – if you’ll just give me a minute, I’ll wheel out a coffee table and some copies of Home and Garden and call you in when the cock doctor’s ready’.

They both departed at this point – the lady back to West Drayton and her sterilised husband, and Danny to get the teas in.  It should be noted that Father’s Day is like a second Christmas for Danny, and I’m pretty certain he was sterilised by Lewisham Council before the whole of south east London disappeared under an army of offspring starting out-of-the-blue fertility-based conversations with kitchenware vendors.

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Fun With The Unimpressable

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Dear Rachel

Our lady haired elf bearded website geek Gary – the Nerd Man of Alcatraz – once memorably stated that the problem with life is that, as a rule, you’re reliant upon people very much stupider than you to get anything done.

I am reliant upon Mike to get all our glassware and printed stuff done, and on the face of it, he is the stupidest man I have ever met.   You may recall that this is why I habitually refer to him as Child Brain.  Further examination reveals him to be a far from idiotic man, however.  If nothing else, he’s doggedly pursued a thirty year career in the production of glassware and printed stuff – something he is clearly not cut out to do – and this shows admirable determination and the willful denial of all commercial logic and reason.  Remarkably, he manages to do it with large amounts of pathos, to the extent that when he actually manages to deliver what I’ve paid him not inconsiderable sums of money to produce, I expect everything to go in slow motion and the chorus of Chasing Rainbows by Shed Seven to start up, like it used to do throughout the late nineties whenever they were presenting awards to crippled children on the telly.

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A Lady Named Disdain

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Dear Rachel

‘Andy’ is a classic, solid and perfectly serviceable name, but you don’t expect to see it tattooed in Germanic script above the left knee of a steampunky girl walking through Greenwich Market.   This slightly unusual sight occurred at the end of a routine day in casual retail, and prompted Keith and I, idly watching her progress as we packed our stalls away, to embark upon a discussion of childrens’ names.   I mentioned that if I have twin daughters I want to call them Disdain and Antipathy, whereas for a son, I am leaning towards Vladimir.  Vladimir Smith – and I don’t know why – sounds like someone with a plan, someone who knows what to do and the shorter Vlad Smith variant sounds like a Communist safe cracker or a vampire from Barnet.

Marshall is the name of Danny’s English terrier, and his main role is to hang about under and around Danny’s stall, attracting fuss from angry looking women with prams and tattoos that don’t say ‘Andy’ from Peckham and Catford.   As Keith and I continued to put forward ideas for infant nomenclature, standing by this point facing the back of our stalls, he suddenly said ‘Where’s all this bloody water coming from?’ and looked up towards the roof, which he reasonably assumed to be leaking.  ‘Do you reckon it might be coming from there?’ I said, pointing at Danny, who had just walked past holding Marshall’s water bowl, which was usually full of water but mysteriously wasn’t on this occasion, as if it had just perhaps been emptied over someone.

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The Brune Street Beatles

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Dear Rachel

I was walking to the Duke of Wellington public house, Toynbee Street, London E1 recently, carrying about my person a roll of our lettering vinyl. Lettering vinyl is pretty much what it sounds like: a roll of vinyl into which we have cut the lettering that we later melt onto the aprons and such. On my immediate approach to the pub door, I shifted the roll of vinyl from inside my jacket to my hand, and for a second or two this gave it the plausible appearance – it being dark – of being a weapon of some kind.

The streets around the Duke of Wellington – Toynbee Street, Brune Street, Whites Row, Bell Lane, Frying Pan Alley, Artillery Lane, Tenter Ground, Strype Street and Anns Place – are unpretty and discheerful, especially of an evening, but nonetheless unlikely to afford you any great harm. That is, except for when coincidences happen. By chance, a coincidence happened during the very same couple of seconds when the roll of lettering vinyl was in my hand, and involved myself and two very large gentlemen who, unlike the local street plan, were likely to generously distribute large amounts of harm to anyone they thought might, for example, have just pulled a weapon from their jacket.

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Blue Room On Toynbee Street

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Dear Rachel,

I often visit the AMT coffee outlet on Liverpool Street Station, which enables me and the Chinese girl with brilliant hair who works there to enter into our own special Wild West shootout, which she always wins by telling me what my order is before I have had a chance to tell her. My order is not difficult – white coffee and four Welsh cakes – but nonetheless she is endearingly pleased with her feats of memory and customer recognition.   I congratulate her on remembering who I am which – and this is one of our little jokes – I won’t be able to do for myself until I’ve had my coffee. To extend the jollity a bit I sometimes ask if her telepathic skills extend as far as knowing where I’m going and where my phone is and so forth, and it’s all very pleasant.

Our brief conversations also help set the scene for the second trick of the transaction, which is this: my order is actually white coffee with sugar and four Welshcakes.   It would be disappointing to say ‘Oh yes actually I like sugar in my coffee after all’, as she will know I have been indulging her for the last year or so.   Therefore, I have to steal the sugar and a wooden stirrer during the few seconds she is focused on stuff behind the till, shove them in my money belt, and sort it all out when I am out of sight, as I don’t like to spoil her moment of memory glory.   What I might do next time is say that on the advice of my dentist I’ve started taking sugar in my coffee, as this will hopefully enable her to be just as delighted to remember this whole new order in future.    I could just get coffee from somewhere else, I suppose, but that would be poor form.

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Keep Calm And Marry On

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Dear Rachel,

Early summer can be a tricky time in casual retail, and as Steve Gemstones and I discussed this over one of the recent Bank Holidays, he mentioned that he usually has a flat spot, mid year.   I said I thought Mid Year was the bloke who did Live Aid with Bob Geldof, but before he could reply, Keith arrived, waving a card for us to sign.   I worked in an office for a large telecoms company for quite a while and there were always cards going round for various things.   I would write ‘Thanks for everything, Paul xx’ in every one I ever signed, no matter who it was for or what the occasion was – birthday, marriage, leaving, retirement, or funeral – and no-one ever questioned it.    I saw no reason to change tactic on this occasion.

It’s unusual to find yourself signing cards for fellow traders, as significant events are usually well known around the market grapevine and marked with an awful lot of drinking.    However, after signing in my usual manner, I handed it back to Keith, who it transpired also had no idea who it was for, and who therefore didn’t know who to give it to next.  I explained that if you just pass a greetings card on randomly you’ll be rid of it forever, unlike what he thought would happen when he got AIDS, and amid some retaliatory swearing I lost track of it.

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