I’ve mentioned Leicester Market a few times on this blog. It’s the largest outdoor covered market in Europe and it has a special place in my heart. Long ago Mum and Dad sold costume jewellery there and I loved going with ‘to help’. I was free to wander, in a way that children sadly aren’t able to do today, and I have rich memories of colourful market characters each acting out a performance just for me… or so I thought.
This cartoon of the light bulb man was drawn
by Mick Wright for my Jewish Voices book.
You can order one of his excellent cartoons
or caricatures from Mick Wright.
Enter stage left, the light bulb man waddling and swaying from one empty stall to the next, wearing a special jacket which had one enormous pocket spreading around his body. The pocket bulged and clinked with light bulbs as he leapt across wooden-planked stalls, inserting bulbs with an expert twist of the wrist into the hanging flexes. In the winter that swinging bulb was the only source of warmth for Mum and Dad’s frozen fingers.
Next came the skip boys, pushing fully laden wicker skips from the cellar store rooms beneath the old Corn Exchange. The skips smelt musty and the skip boys strained to push their weight across the cobbles.
By now shoppers were arriving, their stiletto heels clicking, voices rising into a cacophony of sounds with brash sales patter, promising only the best, only the cheapest. "This jumper was made for you, me duck." And the rhythmic call from the fruit and veg section. "Get your oranges, lovely and sweet."
Sometimes I’d skip through the arcade to a clearing in the stalls, an open space for the pitch boys. They towered above my head, balanced on boxes, singing their sales patter to gathering crowds. Their assistants held up sets of matching plates, packs of saucepans. There was always a bargain and always someone in the crowd who appreciated a cheeky aside. "But to you, sweetheart, a special offer!"
And so I wandered on into the dusk and the market’s closing performance, the street sweepers, pushing wide brushes of mounting debris, vans and cars hooting, the skip boys returning refilled skips to their dusty dungeon home, the light bulb man, thin and ordinary, feeding his jacket with hot light bulbs until he was full and waddling again.
It was time to return to our stall, to help pack unsold jewellery into boxes and sit on the wooden planks swinging my legs and ‘guarding the stock’ while Mum and Dad packed up our little car. I always waved to the light bulb man as I squeezed into the back seat and perched beside piled-up boxes, but I don’t think he ever saw me.