bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

The Unsecret Code

Dear Rachel,

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.

I was in the east end because, at a time when clouds are gathering over Greenwich Market, it’s prudent to bolster your position elsewhere. That said, there was little to enthuse me beyond Scouse Andy’s valiant attempts to make twenty of the Goat Bag Man’s satchels cover a fourteen by six double pitch at Up Market. This is essentially an overspill from Spitalfields, which along with Petticoat Lane is the best known market in the area. Camden is so devoid of traders that these days it resembles a car park. Up Market resembles a car park these days because it actually is a car park, with stalls spread across the parking bays on two levels. The entire ground floor level was vintage clothing sold by bored people saying ‘amazing’ a lot and using ‘virtually’, ‘literally’, ‘physically’ and ‘almost’ on an interchangeable basis. A feature of any market visit for me is the obligatory looking after of other people’s stalls while they nip off for tea or whatever, so after being a temporary t shirt, jewellery, leather jacket and babywear vendor, I also had a cup of tea with Puja, another visiting Greenwich trader. Well, I had tea; Puja insisted upon buying coconut milk, which she then insisted on drinking from a halved coconut she’d bought somewhere on a whim. At the end of Brick Lane I bought an art deco style tea caddy in the shape of a battleship for my girlfriend who, being essentially a gay man trapped in a fag hag’s body, has a keen appreciation of Fifties kitsch. Beyond this, there was little to see.

It would be a shame to leave Greenwich, if I should have to. It’s worth pointing out that the source of the apprehensive grumbling around that beleaguered corner of SE10 is not the management. Market management is difficult job to do well. Admittedly, it’s difficult to do as badly as it usually is, too, but the management at Greenwich are better than most. It’s more to do with the French bank – BNP Paribas – who now own the place, and who have rendered the management all but obsolete. There’s no especial reason why a bank shouldn’t own a market, I suppose, although they did ask the managers to wear suits, which would be a sight to see, especially as one of them was a dwarf extra in Lord of the Rings and would look like a novelty pepper mill. I love clothes, and wouldn’t let people out of their houses unless they were well presented, but perhaps fortunately I don’t own Greenwich market. Of greater concern is the standard issue unhappy modern female sent out with a spiral bound notebook and a biro to grade traders and decide what to do with us. I would imagine that her only previous experience of markets is on city breaks to wherever these bland people and their bland boyfriends go when they aren’t shopping in Dubai – Barcelona I should think, or Paris – and that gobby London traders are kryptonite to her. If we don’t manage to steal her notebook sharpish, we’ll be knee deep in cake stands, crotched headwear and cat tapestries before we know what’s hit us.

As long as you can avoid tripping over it, Coffee Keith’s tiny van has always provided a natural place for traders to gather and discuss what they talked to each other about on Facebook during the proceeding week. However, traders’ Facebook and Twitter accounts are now monitored by BNP Paribas, so instead I write about things here, as I work on the basis that no one reads blogs, and that I have therefore rendered it invisible. It’s the ultimate form of hiding in plain sight. I have, come to think of it, invented the unsecret code.

Twitter: I’m not using this much at all at the moment. In case you’re worried, I’m generally ok. I went to the dentist last week – just a checkup, all fine.

Facebook Group: I’m continuing my drive to like Facebook. In doing so, I have discovered that the more people I mute, the more I enjoy it, which makes it of limited value as networking tool. This week, I learned via ‘I Fucking Love Science’ what Oscar Wilde said about religion, which is this: ‘Religion searches in a dark room for a black cat that doesn’t exist, and finds it’. Myself, I tend to think that science also searches in a dark room for a black cat that doesn’t exist, and also doesn’t find it, but finds a table and chairs, or perhaps a wardrobe, and tells us that’s a cat instead. This is because scientific method cannot provide perspective, and therefore science will only answer the questions that it asks itself. By extension, the only difference between atheism and religion is that atheists will believe anything.

This is a lot to explain on a Saturday morning by Coffee Keith’s van, especially to an entirely amiable t shirt vending associate of mine who lacks the capacity to grasp either science or religion, or indeed to find his own arse with both hands and a mirror. He was the unlikely source of the Oscar Wilde quote, and in his defence if there’s one thing that habitual users of social media understand it’s what a cat looks like, so perhaps there’s something in it after all.

Photards: this week’s adventures with the Instamatic have yielded

Top: Artist Lew and Up Market John. This was taken in the entrance to the Back Yard Market off Brick Lane, where they have stalls. They look too dodgy to trade in the main bit.

Middle: At the Wheatsheaf, Tooting Bec. As you can see from this table, chasers are the done thing when drinking with John the Boxes in SW17. I look forward to introducing the idea at the Duke of Wellington this season, as I think a gin and tonic is a fine accompaniment to a pint of snakebite.

Lower: Christ Church, Spitalfields, one of my favourite buildings. For many years, starting in Victorian times, the most verminous derelicts in the area would sleep en masse in the graveyard here, and as a result it was dubbed ‘Itchy Park’ by locals. Years later, it was the inspiration for the Small Faces’ ‘Itchycoo Park’. I’m more of a Kinks man than a Small Faces one, but it’s a useful fact to bring out during awkward silences in first dates, job interviews, funerals, and so forth.


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