Tuesday, 15 May 2012

To Market- To Market

A market is a place to both hunt and gather. There are endless possibilities, you might find nothing, but maybe just maybe... the next stall will have... something completely unique.
Even the other words for market are evocative: how could you not be drawn to a flea market, a bazaar, a fair, a car boot sale, or a souk...

light shades for sale in Kahn el-Khalili

My first souk was Kahn el-Khalili in Cairo, a maze of ancient little sellers where I spent a very nice evening with my cousin. She browsed and bargained tirelessly and I walked about, mouth watering, trying to simultaneously take it all in and keep my Egyptian pounds in my wallet. It was early in my trip and I had many days and nights to stretch my pennies over. 

Rover on the street in the souk- Cairo 2011

The retail lure tugged at me, but stronger than that was the delight of looking at so many exotic treasures, the intricate lights, the fabrics, the jewellery, vintage snaps of Egypt in postcards, jewelled scarab beetles, hookahs, ornate enamelled cups... and on and on. Eventually we had to stop to eat- braving the local food before heading back into to maze for more.

meal break at the souk, Cairo 2011

In one of my favourite books, Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson, the main character travels from her small town in Queensland to London. There she makes a life for herself as a dressmaker and on weekends she wanders about the many markets, trawling through boxes of bits and bobs- maybe taking home a buckle, some sparkling buttons or a broken piece of jewellery. I can’t recall the scene precisely, (and have no access to a copy of the novel) but the mood of it always fired my imagination to want to do as Nora did; wander about at a London market, trawling through one of those boxes massed with a miscellany of beads, odd earrings, cuff-links, belt buckles... looking for that particular piece of buried treasure, that was dirt cheap and absolutely perfect.

Not to say that I haven't gotten a kick out of searching amongst similar boxes of bits at Australian markets and antique shops, but although the Kongwak market is pretty hard to beat- getting to do precisely as Nora did IN LONDON has tugged at my heart- something about the power of fiction probably.

Before I got to London my mum forwarded a picture of a a vintage flamingo print dress her friend had picked up at the Spitalfields Market in London – they knew I would get a kick out of seeing it. 

Alison's Spitafields market buy

I couldn't resist the recommendation, there are so many markets in London, and only so much time, so I followed the flamingo pointer once again. As luck would have it I had some Australian buddies (who love a bargain hunt) to drag along with me. Spitafields traders vary from day to day and we got lucky with our day because the very first stall we came to exactly fitted with my imagined London market scenario. Boxes and boxes filled with shiny objects of dubious worth set out for us to run our fingers through.

boxes of bits!-Australians at Spitafields, London 2011

I was still a backpacker at this point and had been restraining myself against purchasing anything much for months on end, but I was happy to look, just in case a perfect (little) trinket caught my eye. Mostly the looking was reward enough. But... in amongst the jumble I did find a very nice, very kitsch thimble to add to my collection – and a perfect British souvenir- a Royal wedding commemorative thimble... for Andy and Fergie.

Is that a badger next to the boobs?
You never know what you will find.
We eventually dragged ourselves away from the first stall and explored the rest of the market- it did not disappoint, and although my thimble was my only purchase for the day I loved looking through all the stalls laded with steam-punk jewellery, taxidermied foxes, animal skulls, records, stamps, more thimbles, vintage frocks, cameras... and some pretty characterful market vendors as well.

Spitafields treasure

More recently J and I were the vendors at a Car Boot Sale in Edinburgh. You arrive early to the underground car-park, line up to get yourself a trestle table, and then wait for the buzzer to sound before you can unload your goods. Everything is strictly regulated. Early sellers will be asked to leave. Early buyers at these markets have a determined agenda. Rushing from stall to stall searching out their quarry: handbags, mobile phones, particular clothes brands all get snapped up early- presumably to be re-sold some-place else.

Car Boot Sale buyers and sellers
Our little stall had some house clearing miscellany – a pair of gum boots, speakers, CD's, tools and other boy toys. Nothing much that would draw me in, but plenty of people came to look and we re-homed most of our stall. I must admit that on my breaks from the stall I spent more than we made- but that's all part of the market fun. My haul was some coloured cotton reels, DVD's and a packet of stamps for my stamp collector friend- which were featured in her blog.

more treasure in Edinburgh

Pretty restrained I thought, even though there were many to choose from though I resisted the thimbles that day. You don't want to over do it- best to leave a few pennies in your pocket and the heart yearning for something I say. The next impossibly perfect something might be just around the corner.

my little market bits and bobs for the last 12 months


  1. Dr. Indiana Jones15 May 2012 at 07:29

    I once sold some pewter relics at a car boot sale and used the cash to buy back the Ark which the geezer next door said he found in a US govt yard sale. Blatant theft I say!

  2. Nice bit of royal kitsch there, sb. And now i have this incredible urge to go spend all my money in markets....Find some incredible post, perhaps! I think you were very restrained with your purchases!