Our street markets are being threatened, so who will come to their aid? You. That’s who.
If there's any greater pleasure than standing beside a stall of perfect pastel-coloured eggs, staring at a pair of denim-effect leggings stretched over an enormous inflatable arse mannequin, munching through a £1 bowl of grapes, as the smell of 300 pigs’ trotters wafts across the morning air, then, my friends, I don’t know it.
I love markets. Between the ages of seven and nine I exclusively wore turquoise-and-purple shellsuits bought from Market Drayton market, with nothing under them but white vests off a stall run by a woman with hair a metre high and a voice like a chainsaw. I buy all my toiletries from a market stall outside Footlocker in Walthamstow. I’ve walked for an hour to visit a street market in Deptford just because a woman told me they sold leopard-print satin bedding (if they did, she got the last set). So the news that Ridley Road Market (where I once bought a live giant snail to give to my friend George as a tenth birthday present) is under threat hurts my heart and puckers my bowel like a shard of ice.
Apparently my local council is planning to increase charges for stallholders by up to £10 a day from April. It’s all part of a plan to make Hackney street markets self-funding, after the government cut the council budget by £60 million. But, whether you blame the council, the government or the price of fish, the risk to London’s markets is worse than that of catching your tit in the zip of a £7.99 fleece sold off a wooden table outside Percy Ingle.
Firstly, street markets are some of the last truly multicultural spaces in London. Where but Walthamstow Market will you get a woman selling West African wax-print cloth beside an Iranian woman selling eyeshadow? Where, other than Ridley Road Market, will you see a puffa-jacketed white guy selling carrots across the road from a West Indian record stall? Where but Whitechapel Market will you find a Pakistani woman selling £1 gold earrings, a Polish guy with a table covered in gently sweating lemons and an American couple selling churros out of a van? And that mix is important: if we as a city don’t share our spaces, our food, our cultures and our conversations, we risk the future of all of them.
The loss of traditional street markets to luxury flats, chain restaurants, ubiquitous retail empires and private corporate development means the loss of London as I once loved it. A street market is a public space that promotes private enterprise. A shopping centre is private space that promotes public consumption. The former makes a community click. The latter leaves the community as hollow as a drum.
Whether you’re looking for courgettes, waterproof trousers, a potato peeler, cannabis- themed sportswear, a matching T-shirt and legging set covered in high-contrast horse illustrations, a bowl of tomatoes, a wedding ring, eggs, loaves and fishes, a Bob Marley clock, baby clothes, seven different types of parsley or just the chance to chat about the weather with the people who hold this city together, then take yourself down the market. And do it now. Before London sells out.
Want more ranting and raving? Read Tom Huddleston's column on why London is already a dystopia.