bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

Supernatural Porters

Dear Rachel

Market porters are a breed apart. By this I don’t mean that they are a breed apart from other men, but that they are a breed apart from every other species on the planet. At Camden, their main roles are the enthusiastic consumption of competitively priced lager and the ferrying of traders’ stock between storage areas in the Middle Yard and stalls throughout the Lock market. This is an important duty, as most traders are too busy drinking tea and swearing at each other to manage this for themselves. When I was at Camden, I was usually too concerned with hunting down the component parts of my stall to bring my own stock up. Especially tricky to locate were the wooden table tops, which I would usually have to carry in from the West Yard, a chore which I made less annoying – for myself at least – by saying ‘I always get wood in the morning’ or ‘Every time I see you I’ve got wood’ or some similar inane wood-related innuendo to fellow East Yard urchin Slack Matt every single time I walked past him, regardless of how large a number that might be. He left eventually, possibly due to inevitability fatigue.

Strangely, it is often considered unmanly to avoid serious spinal injury by having porters bring your stock to and fro. As we’ve discussed before, I solved the problem of having Danny and Keith at Greenwich Market referring to me as a lady in lady voices and asking what a pretty thing like me is doing in a place like this, and so forth for hours every single trading day, by redistributing stock contained within two large crates that I can’t lift among three smaller crates that I can, and saying that I had a greater volume of stuff as a cover story. This subterfuge has thus far kept me out of hospital and also allowed Danny and Keith to pursue their main hobby – writing obscenities on each others’ cars, which they will go to genuinely extraordinary lengths to achieve – without interruption.

Not only do porters possess a capacity for manual labour that borders on the superhuman, they may just possess a capacity for the supernatural, too, as we shall see. The supernatural – in terms of superstition – plays a part in the whole business of market trading. Despite being only vaguely religious I have a small picture of St Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Market Traders, above my stall. This was given to me by a well wishing customer, who I hope wasn’t doing so because St Francis is also the Patron Saint of Lonely Death. I also habitually observe the Camden Nepalese tradition of rubbing the first takings of the day across my forehead to encourage further business and the spreading of germs. While working at the Thames Festival last year I kept the ancient riverbank traders’ custom of hurling a coin into the river before kick off, which I suppose must hark back to the appeasement of an ancient water god, possibly Ludd, after whom Ludgate is named.    With pretty much every belief system from Ancient British to contemporary Nepalese covered, you’d think the average market trader is immune from any kind of ill fortune. Sadly this is not the case.

This brings us rather neatly to the market porters’ supernatural ability to bring bad luck. Around Christmas, the Goat Bag Man decided to wheel his own stock about, thereby avoiding paying the porters’ fee. This entailed removing crates from storage, bumping them over the cobbles in the Middle Yard on a barrow past the veggie bar and Barry the Cakes, up Camden High Street, and into the Lock market East Yard.   I had always been told by the porters that it was bad luck to wheel a barrow up Camden High Street on a trading day, but thought little of it.    The Goat Bag Man also thought little of it, until his fortunes took a turn for the worse when, on the third occasion he portered his own stock, the wheels fell off his barrow. An examination showed this to have come about as a result of the nuts and bolts holding the wheels together somehow removing themselves. The next day, having asked the porters to shift his stock about again and paying the requisite fee for them to do so, he found that the missing nuts and bolts had put themselves in a small plastic bag and sellotaped themselves to the frame of his barrow.  When questioned, the porters themselves put it down to poltergeist activity, which seems reasonable enough.


Facebook page: book’s coming along quite nicely as it goes, but Facebook remains hatefully evil so I’m not looking after this page as carefully as I perhaps ought.

Pictards: This weeks’ trawl through the photographic archive has revealed:

Top: self, seated in the Ornamental Hermit’s tiny room in Clerkenwell. I am sharing this image with various items including skeletons of a kangaroo and a rabbit, and an advertisement for a project called the Cirque d’Actualite, featuring ‘Amazing Spectacles Of The Everyday, Commonly Seen By All’. These include: The Bearded Man, the Iron Cannon Ball, the Death Defying Cautious Man (He Takes No Risks!), the Sensational Swimming Fish (It Needs No Air!), the Dead Pigeon (It Flies No Longer!) the Living Cadaver (He Has A Body That Lives!) and Shops. You may wonder, as indeed I do, what the Ornamental Hermit actually does all day. Well, I can reveal him to be the hitherto anonymous brains behind this, which apart from being entirely safe to view at work is almost beyond description: click here and on Thursdays we sit about in a derelict shop writing murder mysteries to pass the time.

Middle: The aforementioned Cirque d’Actualite.

Lower: Chris the Knowledge with his new sherbert* at Greenwich Market. It took Chris a year to learn the Knowledge, but it’s already paying dividends. He reckons he can do a couple of centuries** on a decent day, and a monkey*** at the weekend. Most cabbies are confident of a long one**** if they do a protracted shift and have a few crispy***** fares. It certainly makes a change from making bath salts in his actual bath and selling them on the cobbles.******

*Cockney rhyming slang – Sherbert Dab = cab.

**London market slang. Century = one hundred pounds. Also ‘ton’ and ‘one-r’.

***London market slang. Monkey = five hundred pounds.

****London market slang. Long one = one thousand pounds. Also ‘grand’ and ‘bag of sand’ (Cockney rhyming slang – Bag of sand = grand). ‘Bag of sand’ is remarkable, as it is a slang term for something which is already a slang term.

*****Cockney rhyming slang. Crispy Duck = Luck, as in ‘Things might look up – you never know your crispy.’

******London market slang. On the cobbles = at a market.

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