I’ve written some great travel pieces this year-Starting with Where Tourists Fear To Tread and continuing right through to The Last Stand At Nanhysglain, it’s been a grand year for exploring both the familiar and unfamiliar. For my last piece of the year I have something different. Regular readers will know how I like looking round markets and such places and this is about another market, except this time there’s a twist!
Winter came to Wales on the 27th of October at 9:37 AM, precisely. Since then it’s been gloves and scarf most days. I’ve even had to drag out the big thick coat I bought for New York, TEN YEARS AGO. It seems that every time I leave the house the weather throws down a tempest and stops whenever I get where I need to go. The tempest will resume when I try to return. The worst time was after an archery session where it decided, after being clear blue skies on my way there, to completely drench me on the return. When I got in through the front door I stood on the mat, traumatised, dripping water everywhere. That was the one time I didn’t have a waterproof or hooded coat with me, typically.
There are also essays to write, work to be done, and Morfaverse 15 to stage manage; a total of ten thousand five hundred words of super serious historical research, plus reading and coursework and the inevitable dissertation research. Fortunately I wrote most of the Morfaverse 15 stuff over the summer. Mostly, I’ve been spending my days going through the huge piles of books on my desk, books ranging from George Orwell through to J.B Priestley and an Oral History tome which was for some reason half a mile away in the Normal Site Library. Without a doubt my favourite, which was for the dissertation research, was Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye To Berlin. It was a bit of a battered, falling apart copy (taking it into Weatherspoons didn’t help) but I couldn’t help falling in love with it. It was a shame to take it back.
And finally, mid-way through October, a call came through to my university email account: ‘DO YOU WANT A STALL AT THE UNIVERSITY CHRISTMAS MARKET?’ Yes I want a stall at the Christmas market. I have exactly the thing to sell and, coming right at the end of Morfaverse 15, it will be the perfect occasion for spilling this thing of mine out onto the streets of Bangor. I could sell books? How expensive would that be? I’ll have to work out costs and save up and stuff, but it should be workable.
The advent of this, plus kit for archery and numerous other costs, mean that adventures are limited, but that isn’t too bad considering the weather for most of November is terrible. I get a few mildly interesting walks around Bangor and Bangor mountain, and one instance towards the end of the month where some pathetic kid attempts to prank me.
It’s a time when my mouth is acting up and I’m not in the mood for any shit because I’ve just failed to find paper bags for the photo prints I’ll be selling alongside the books. I’m coming up the steps behind the local B&M (a more interesting walk than the main road) when, at the top, I see something weird going on at the junction of the cul-de-sac. A kid crosses the road, following someone and shouting ‘stop or I will Taser you!’ He does something with his hands, though I can’t tell if he has a Taser or not because my eyesight is terrible- Lord knows how I get away with archery. I haven’t seen the other person, who is hidden behind a high fence, so I also can’t tell if this is some sort of joke on a friend or something. I think it might be. Then this kid who shouted about the Taser and one other come down the road on the opposite side to me. I intend to ignore them but then one of them comes over.
‘Hey mate…’ he says. I ought to walk on, but a moment’s hesitation means I am unfortunately snared. ‘I’m with the police drug squad. Have you got any drugs on you?’ This is some kind of a joke, right? Clearly, he’s trying to fleece me of the cheap paracetamol I’ve got in my pocket, or hoping for something less legal. I just respond with a ‘no’ and try to move on, but the kid follows.
‘Are you sure you don’t have any drugs on you?’ No. I don’t. This is a lie, I have the paracetamol, but if you were the real police I wouldn’t have to lie, would I? He keeps trying to talk, trying to convince me he’s with the police, so I call his bluff.
‘If you’re with the police let’s see your ID,’ I demand. He reaches into his pocket and flashes a blank phone at me. Right. Just as I thought.
I turn and start to walk away so the kid tries to get tough.
‘Stop right there sir… I need to check you for drugs.’ He gets tough, I get tough. That’s how it works.
‘No you don’t. You’re not with the police. You’re just some kid.’ I try and keep walking but now things take a turn that leaves me cold. The kid reaches for his back pocket.
‘Stop right there or I will Taser you!’ I can’t tell if he’s actually being serious. Kids these days, you never know if the little shits really are carrying Tasers. ‘Turn around or I will Taser you!’ I’m incensed, a little out of my depth in truth. I look around for another adult but the road is empty. What I ought to do is march up the nearest drive and hammer on a door, but there are no houses that I can get to from this road. I also don’t want to risk the chance that this shit has a Taser on him.
Hear Me Roar for more of my thoughts on this. The kid asks if he can use the footage, which his friend must have been discretely filming from behind a car or something. I say no, but I don’t trust him. As I walk away he keeps trying to to convince me he’ll blur my face out. I swear… If I ever find footage of this on the internet I will rip the internet apart. I have no shame in saying this incident caused my PTSD-anxiety to start flaring up. I wasn’t in the best of moods anyway.After far too long and too much shouting that I’m about to be Tasered the kid breaks and reveals this was all for a YouTube video. A YouTube video? If there’s one thing I hate it’s prank videos by braindead arseheads who think they’re being funny. It’s this sort of shit that puts irresponsible douchebags like the Paul brothers and the unfortunately not disgraced enough Sam Pepper on a pedestal- See
This wouldn’t have happened were it not that I needed to find bags for my photo prints, and in the end I didn’t find any anyway and so had to go with plastic wallets.
When the 5th of December rolls around, having had a few days to get the shitty Taser incident out of my head (though recalling it is bringing back bitterness) I arm myself with two boxes of books (Charlie Fuller, D.S Proctor, Max and Anna, Away With The Manger and a couple of spare Spawn and Swarms I have hanging around), two photo frames, a packet of photo prints, leaflets listing all my stuff and thirty signed photographs of myself (I swear I only ordered twenty), and stumble through the rain up to the main building. The market is being held in the big ‘Pritchard Jones Hall,’ an apt setting, and by the time I stagger through the door with my boxes most of the other stall holders are already well into setting up.
Finding my table, on the first row, I set everything down and strip my winter coat. I feel over-dressed now for I went for complete style, meaning a shirt, tie and waistcoat. I figured if I dressed to impress, if I looked dapper, then people might remember me more. Somebody else, I thought, was bound to have had the same idea but looking around it turns out not. I am the only one wearing my glad rags.
I’m sandwiched between two jewellery stalls and, immediately, I’m not sure this is the best place for me to be. I didn’t have a say in the matter but it might have made more sense to group me next to somebody selling similar or related stuff. Like a bookmark seller? I have seen that there is supposed to be one round here somewhere. Neither of the jewellery sellers talk to me or ask about my stuff as I’m unpacking and setting it up in the way I have planned- I don’t care though. There were workshops for this setting up thing and I took a lot of notice because I want to be seen. This is my big opportunity and it would be stupid not to get the best looking stall I can. That’s what the frames are for, for showing off the best of my prints- They’re actually the frames for my degree certificate and graduation photo, and those are still hiding behind the prints, cannibalised for an afternoon. One frame goes on top of the upturned box I brought the books in (the box is discretely covered by a Welsh flag) and the other goes to one side. Some of the books I lean against the side of the box and others I push to the front of the table at one side, whilst the prints are laid out in a neat row on the other. I step to the front of my table and take a good look. Is this noticeable? Is this good? It looks alright, very neat compared to the stalls either side of me.
Taking my place and preparing for the coming of the public, I notice that opposite me is the Tea time society. Having been to a couple of crossovers with Board Games and one of their meetings I know that they’re a very nice society- They meet in the SU’s room of requirement, which when I first went looking I thought I might have to humiliate myself by asking the way, or stroll up and down in front of a blank wall whilst thinking of Earl Grey. Sadly it’s only a bit of a spare officey type space and doesn’t have comfy armchairs or a fireplace or any cosy tea drinking facilities. That’s not why I didn’t go to another Tea time meeting though. They have two a week and whilst one of those clashes with Archery I never know if the other is happening or not. I could ask, but these last few weeks I’ve been a bit busy anyway so it doesn’t matter anyway. You can well guess that they’re selling packs of coffee, as well as cakes and stuff to drink it with.
Next to them is the craft society, next to them somebody selling mugs with animals on them and on the far side of Tea Time a person selling clothes. Again, I feel out of place. Tea and books and mugs go together, you can read one of my books with a good cup of tea in one of those mugs, but jewellery and handicrafts are a bit odd. Even my photo prints don’t fit with jewellery. The crafts, only a little. I get the sense the organisers didn’t pay much attention to the layout because even a basic glance has told me that I’m in the wrong place.
This is going to be unusual for me because I’m normally on the other side of these things, gradually turning into Rick Stein it sometimes seems, sticking my nose into everything. Now, for once, I get to watch how other people behave at these things, get another perspective. It ought to be interesting.
The first people start to come through and I’ve hardly noticed that things have begun. Checking my watch, it’s too early yet, but come they are. I wait patiently, a pleasant smile, as people start looking at the other stalls, stop a little while and then move on. Somebody pauses by my stall and examines my leaflet… Please pick up, please pick up, please pick up, please pick… He leaves it. Somebody else behind him plucks Max and Anna from the pile, has a read of the back and puts it down. They’re intrigued but it looks like a no. Somebody stops and examines the Morfasson family tree I have in the frame. This happens a couple of times before I notice what is going on. They’re seeing my stall, taking notice, but then their eyes are straying to the jewellery stall where the lady running it has strategically placed a tray of old coins right at the edge nearest me. It’s luring people away from me and she’s doing her best to do the same whilst people are browsing, before they’ve even had a chance to properly see what I’ve got.
I manage to say hi to somebody examining my wares but they move on, distracted by the coins. I will get a fair few conversations going over the next few hours, but casual browsers just aren’t stopping for long. I move Max and Anna to the corner and it starts grabbing attention. People look, but they soon move on. Eventually I fob a leaflet off onto somebody, but that is all it is. I wait, checking my watch and becoming worried that by the end of this I’ll be on the floor in floods of tears, every other stall empty, and me left with all my stock.
At last I do manage to sell a photo-print, the prospective Liverinth cover. The guy wants to buy two prints but I don’t have the change so he says he’ll come back. He doesn’t come back. Then a lady and a gentleman start taking a serious interest in buying a book. They ask questions, I answer, I give them a scant history of the Morfaverse, ignoring the bit about Mars and Apollo in a karaoke bar. The lady agonises over buying either Max or Charlie, it’s for her mum, and in the end she opts for Charlie. This is fantastic, for though I love Max the fact she went for Charlie is a notch against the publishing industry. They told me it would never sell, but look what just happened! Somebody bought it! Only later on am I horrified to realise that some sweet little old lady is going to get a book which includes a ridiculously smutty version of The Wheels On The Bus and a graphic fingernail pulling torture scene. I hope she likes it.
Time ticks on. People look, I fob off a few leaflets on people, there is finally interest, but no more buying. People I know come to say hi, surprised and intrigued by my dirty little secret. I tense when James from archery goes straight for D.S Proctor. There’s going to be a comment about shooting people with bows and arrows, I think, but fortunately I left that bit out of the blurb. He also says he never saw me as a writer. I suppose he’s right. I’m not your average writer. I don’t fit the image. I stand out from the literary crowd. I’m the modern literary outsider- Which might explain why the publishing industry have been lying about how my stuff will never sell. I may not be selling copies, but there is definitely interest here. People are taking a look, people are taking the leaflets. There are people asking questions. My lamb illustration from Away With The Manger is getting a lot of cutesey pointing and admiration.
I’m feeling exasperated by the time the crowd starts to thin, around three. Hope is not dead, however. Despite her efforts to thwart me the jewellery stall next to me is still just as full as it was at the start. The craft stall is full. The mugs haven’t disappeared and Tea Time still have a table full of cakes and packs of tea. Who actually ignores cake? What’s going on? I start, gradually, slashing my prices. Photoprints, half price at fifty pence. No movement. Away With The Manger, a bargain at £2.50! Max and Anna reduced… My Dark Legend samples, both for a fiver! Still nothing. I try to fob Away with The Manger off on a lady who thinks I’m selling photo frames (clearly, I am not!) but she doesn’t bite.
I start to see what is happening, and what has actually been happening all along. People are coming through, but they’re not stopping. They’ve just seen there’s a market on and have come for a wander, no intent to buy, just to say they’ve been. Whilst some people have been stopping to look the majority just couldn’t give a flying fig. Evidence being the table full of cakes opposite me. With some of the money I got from my one photo print sale I slip over the aisle and buy one from them, because I am hungry. I get two for the price because they need to get rid of them.
The clear indication is that it isn’t me that’s causing the lack of sales. If it was there wouldn’t still be full stalls all around me. We were promised that this would be a good event for marketing our stuff, but people just aren’t spending. They can’t even be bothered to spend a little bit of spare change on a cake for fuck’s sake. Is this what people do at markets these days? Just walk through, not look, not spend? I still have leaflets left over. People can’t even be bothered to pick up a leaflet! I didn’t even have that many of them.
I know whenever I go through a market, wherever it is, I’ll at least take a good look at the stalls. I don’t just walk through. If I see a nice looking cake or a pork pie, perhaps, I’ll buy. I’ll take samples if they’re there. I think the case in point is Manchester- When I think about it, every time I hear of people going to Manchester’s Christmas Market, they don’t go to look at the stalls, they go to get drunk. Even Bangor’s Street Food Market a couple of months back… Guess what the predominant theme of the student newspaper’s piece on it was? THE ALCOHOL! I shouldn’t be surprised at that considering they’re the university equivalent of Nuts magazine, but still… This is the sad state of affairs the British market has fallen into. No wonder there are hardly any left, and even less good ones. Something like this, as promised, should have been a golden opportunity for all of us. At the end of the day we shouldn’t be standing around like lemons with piles of stuff we can’t possibly get rid of.
Bitter, I pack up and go. Dropping my wares back home, I seek out a place called Giorgio’s before archery begins at seven. It’s where the old Greek Taverna was, the same place where so long ago Malvolio had its riotous first reading. Despite a change in ownership and name, it’s still the same place. I order a pizza and a drink and sit in the courtyard, reflecting, slightly upset that I only sold one book and one photo print.
It wasn’t that people weren’t interested. They were, some of them. There were people looking, but there were a lot more just passively passing through. Even the ones who were looking weren’t spending though. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t sell stuff. I mean who turns down cheap cake? I noticed the same thing that happened here happening at Bangor’s main Christmas street market just over a week later, when I went for a look round. Whilst some of us were looking at the stalls, trying the samples, a majority of people were just walking past, ignoring the stall holders, not even looking at what was on offer. They looked bored.
People don’t care anymore. They’d rather have their big shiny, faceless superstores than the old market. The market is an intimate thing, on both sides of the table. It’s trade at its most base and oldest level, one man to another. It forges a bond, no matter how brief, between two people, even if you’re only browsing, but people don’t want that. Thanks to the faceless, unintimate superstores and chain stores we’re losing that intimacy, in the UK anyway. People would rather go through their lives in their own bubble of ignorance rather than actually communicating with somebody else. All trade used to be intimate, when you’d go into a shop and there’d be a little man behind the counter and you’d point out what you wanted, and you could talk and spend a little bit of time with a complete stranger. I know I’m not the most confident of speakers, I know I need to work on that, I know I spend half my life speaking to the blue tits who flit around my rear yard, but when I get going with a proper conversation just you try and stop me. Shops like that would be good for people like me, at the end of the day, but we don’t have them anymore.
On the walk through the woods to archery I reflect that this, ultimately, may end up being a good day for my little thing. So I haven’t made many sales, but I now have books spare and I may, somehow, be able to get rid of them. It isn’t like people didn’t see what I had either, my name and books may be worming their way into their heads. It isn’t much, but it might be a start.