bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

Mistaking Identities

Dear Rachel

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.

The ‘I Believe I Can Fry’ apron enjoys joint paternity between Tony and I, and appears both on the various outlets supplied by myself and his operations at Covent Garden, Portobello Road and Leadenhall. This weekend it appeared at the Thames Festival where, as is my custom, I put it at the front of the stall so I knew who to ignore. Knowing who to ignore is a useful by-product of people watching. For example, I will usually ignore anyone drawing attention to ‘I Believe I Can Fry’ with delight and volume in equal measure to companions who are some distance away. This is because it will be broadcast as ‘I Believe I Can Fly. No, Fry. No it’s Fly isn’t it. This says Fry. I Believe I Can Fry. Oh I get it. I Believe I Can Fly. Fry. I believe I can touch the sky’ and so forth. By this point, the person’s companions, alerted to the existence of something simple but shoutable, will have arrived and independently recite almost exactly the same opening sentence, with a slight delay depending upon when they reached the stall. Next, they will usually start to freestyle their way around the rest of our lavish range. If I am paying attention, I will count off the seconds in my head until they reach Beastie Boys tribute ‘You’ve Got To Fight For Your Right Chapati’ (routinely shouted as ‘You’ve Got To Fight For A Chapati’) and ‘Rice To See You, To See You Rice’ – a homage to Bruce Forsyth – typically remixed as ‘Nice To See Rice’. I am then congratulated with ‘Oh mate, these are brilliant, do you think this stuff up?’ I reply with ‘Yeah, kinda’ because this is the most concise way of getting across the point that yes, I did think up the actual words on the apron, but your interpretation of them adds a magic that I could never have foreseen.

R. Kelly is a splendid man whose work has bought pleasure to millions, and he has no case to answer from me. Also, the general public and I never stay annoyed with each other for long. This brings me back to my original point, of how you react to the general public when trading from a market stall. Having stated that there aren’t that many types of people to watch, it’s also worth remembering that most of them are really quite likeable, once you get over the initial impression. I always bear this in mind, which is why I often spend time bumping knuckles with, or being introduced to the dogs and children of, people with poor reading skills and a slippery grasp of wordplay as they yell their way around my merchandise. Tony is also someone who is really quite likeable, and we have quite a lot in common. After all, the last time we were reunited – at Leadenhall Market – we discussed the geo-political climate of eighteenth century Europe, and there aren’t many traders I can do that with. As mentioned, however, he regularly forgets how much thick people like anger. This in turn brings me back to the occasion in the East Yard, Camden Lock Market, when he was punched in the face. The angry person concerned was a lady who had become entangled first in the Goat Bag Man’s stuff and then his own, which drew the response ‘I think you need to go home, peasant’. It was this that got Tony punched in the face. Actually, I’m telling that slightly wrongly. She punched Tony in the face twice. She was slightly wrong herself, though, because it was the Goat Bag Man who said it.



Kindle: This week, we’re just behind a collection of Sufi Pashtun verse by Rahman Baba, and just in front of Layla and Majnun, which is an epic poem of young love. Layla and Majnun is also a study of women in Persian literature, which sounds nice. According to the cover notes, it’s impossible to underestimate the effect of Layla and Majnun on the world over the last 800 years. Bet it’s well chuffed to be behind this stuff in the ratings, then.

Pictards. This week’s celluloid adventures are:

Top: A French stick upon which I have made a start, Greenwich Market.

Middle: Pensive dog, Greenwich Market. He looks like he’s trying to reconstruct the events leading to where he was when he last saw his door keys.

Lower: Self, in the Ornamental Hermit’s miniscule but entirely fascinating room. Note the cabinets behind me, which contain skulls and skeletons of many creatures, mainly mammals, and also the third coat on the right, which was made from a blanket in 1940. In a lifetime of meeting remarkable people, the Ornamental Hermit is among the most remarkable of all.

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