Brick Lane Market 8
This is Paul Macatoni, the sack seller, with his fine display of printed hessian coffee bags from Africa, Asia and South America, that he has been selling on Sclater St for the past six months. “They’re popular, I’m in a niche market,” he admitted with glee, “People use them as decoration, storage, or to re-upholster furniture, to make cushions, beanbags and one lady even made a handbag out of one.” The amassing of so many sacks draws attention to their aesthetic qualities, attracting curious crowds to admire their typographic decoration and exotic trade marks, ensuring a brisk trade for Paul. The rest of the week he runs a call centre in Chigwell, but on Sundays Paul is big in sacks.
This is John Calcutt who has been trading on Brick Lane each Sunday since 1974. “I’m from Hoxton and I used to come down here when I was a little boy, and the stall next to me sold performing fleas.” he recalled affectionately, casting his eyes up and down the market, “It was absolutely packed by eight in the morning, they used to ring a bell at one o’clock then and you had to stop.” Now semi-retired, yet still energetic and limber, John comes from Dagenham to sell rugs here and in Deptford, three days a week.“I don’t like getting up early in the morning but I still come because I’ve got a mortgage to pay,” he confided as he began to fold up his wares, turning morose in his weariness. “I’m just hanging on,” he confessed to me in a whisper, “I don’t even break even but I don’t mind coming, as long as I don’t lose too much money.” It was an admission that revealed John’s depth of sentiment for Brick Lane. But then John remembered that he is close to paying off his mortgage, the result of thirty-seven years hard work here in the market, and brightened visibly, “Another three months, and I’ll be free in July!” he declared, triumphant.
This is Laura & Milly, two skinny art students from London Metropolitan University who have been trading here on Brick Lane for seven weeks, selling books and bric-a-brac from a folding table.“It’s been tough, we’re not going to lie - but today’s been really good,” revealed Milly, sharing an emotional grin of achievement with Laura.“This is our food money for the week, we’ll go food shopping tonight before we get the bus back to Stratford.” she added in excited anticipation of a feast, revealing how essential the stall is to their survival during their studies. The pair fell into market life almost by accident. “We got pissed one night and thought, ‘We’ll give it a go!’” confessed Laura with a blush, making light of the origin of this brave endeavour that has made such a difference to their quality of life -“and now we’re both addicted, because it’s too much fun.”
This is the amiable Frank Ganeda – dealer in minerals – who was born in Eastern Europe, raised in Canada, and after ten years here now admits, “It’s hard to remember the original reasons why I came.” Fascinated by the legends and the touch of all his multi-coloured rocks and crystals that glint and gleam in the sunlight, Frank has found his ideal occupation in life – permitting him to go travelling to warm places each Winter and buy stones, which he can then sell in London each Summer, the high season for sales of minerals. “One of the fascinating parts of this job is picking what to bring to Brick Lane, I can spend hours deciding,” he disclosed, his pupils sparkling with the intensity of his polished stones. And whichever you pick, Frank will regale you with his eloquent patter, outlining their propitious influences, and sometimes rattling them together in his cupped hands and holding them up to your ear, saying, “Let me show you how they sing together.”
Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman