Wednesday, 21 November 2012

My Market Performance

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.                 

27 comments:

  1. I LOVE Leicester Market! Thank you for this glimpse into its past before I knew it. (First visited in 1973 when I left home. I lived in Leicester for a year and was a regular visitor.)

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    1. You're welcome, Anne, and Leicester Market is still well worth a visit.

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  2. Hi Ros .. I never went north to Leicester Market and obviously should have done (from Market Harborough) ... usually went south west to Oxford ...

    I love this little story of your early life - great story telling tales can leap out from here ... the light bulb man - special memories ... and I love that cartoon drawn by Mick Wright - Leicester Voices .. I must remember about that .... cheers Hilary

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    1. Thank you, Hilary, they are special memories.

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  3. Excellent post Ros, you certainly brought back some memories, me duck! Hahaha!

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  4. What lovely memories! I love markets everywhere and nearly always try and go to local markets in other countries. A lovely psot Ros. Very evocative!

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    1. Thanks, Val, there's something cry special about markets. When I grew up a bit I stood at various markets in the area and they were all full of friendly, fascinating people.

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  5. I'm in awe of your childhood at the market. I recall how I wish I had had your rich life when I first read about your market days in previous posts. I think of Liza Doolittle and song and dance. You tell your stories so well. But..... what's a skip? I tried to look it up.... Nada. I suppose I'll be real embarrassed that I don't know what it is when I find out.
    You had a LOVER-LY youth.

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    1. Sorry, Manzanita. It never occurred to me that there was a language issue here. The market skips were like huge wicker baskets on wheels. They had handles and a hefty lid and if I remember rightly, they were lined with a white material. Rumour had it there were rats down in the cellars so my Dad refused to have one.

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  6. Hello, Ros, it's good to meet you here; I have similar memories of Leeds market, which had its own magic for all our family. Eventually, we were on very good terms with many stallholders, who always valued return custom. I was sad when we moved away!
    A lovely atmospheric post; thank you.

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    1. Thanks, Christina, I used to know some people who stood on Leeds market and, yes, return customers were always most welcome.

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  7. I can totally picture these scenes! Markets are so much fun! :)

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    1. Fun and so different around the world, Jemi. Would love to know what markets are like where you live.

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  8. You painted a delightful memory of your youth - very fun. Thanks for letting us experience it all.

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    1. Thanks Joanne. Of course it wasn't quite such fun in the winter. Too cold. I chose to go to Grandma's house instead but that's a whole other story for another blog.

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  9. I'm glad that you brought your market days to life! Sounds like you have some wonderful childhood memories.
    Julie

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    1. Thanks, Julie. I bet we've all got some colourful memories stashed away in the brain's archive folder!

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  10. I so love markets - the most basic way of trading, and still vibrant all over the world. All those, cries, and smells, and colours - sun fun!

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    1. And I know that you've seen many markets in different countries, Jo. We should produce a book of markets!

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    2. Now there's a thought ...

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  11. It must have been great fun Ros,I never knew that about the light bulb man, a very strange job. I enjoy markets, when I was young it was the Glasgow Barras we went too it was lovely on Christmas eve very atmospheric,these days it sells junk and pirate dvds,I miss the way it was.

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    1. It's sad when vibrant markets turn to 'junk'. Maybe there's still some fun to be found there, Anne, if you look through kids eyes possibly.

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  12. What an evocative blog that was - I could see it, hear it, even smell it!

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  13. What a wonderful post. I can almost picture the market through the eyes of a little girl. Your words brought the light bulb man, and your memories, to life again. Wonderful.

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  14. What a lovely evocative post, Ros. My mother and grandmother used to go to the market every Tuesday to buy vegetables and fruit. In some ways it can be a frightening place for a small child too, all that pushing through big people as you try to find the right stall and everyone shouting. Although when I was in my teens one of the stallholders did ask me to marry him as I was walking past. As an incredibly shy teenager it made my day!

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  15. Thanks for taking me along on your reminiscence, I really enjoyed it.

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