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Brick Lane Market 13

July 10, 2011
by the gentle author

This is Jacqueline & Michael Barnes, who sell stationery together under an awning on the yard in Sclater St. “We’ve been here on this pitch about twenty-five years,” ventured Jacqueline proudly, welcoming me her to her personal kingdom of immaculately organised envelopes and felt pens. “I’m originally from Paddington, and Mike, he’s the same as me, from Paddington.” she explained, shaking her head when I enquired if she was a local, before revealing that the couple have been seduced by the East End, “We moved over to Stratford because we wanted a quiet life, and now we’re living out in the sticks.” Michael ran around serving customers with an eager grin, stretching for items with his long limbs while Jacqueline held court, chatting to me and the near-constant stream of regulars who dropped in to convey their week’s news and pick up some cheap biros and post-it notes. “It’s not been good for months and we just do it to keep ourselves amused.” she whispered discreetly, when there was a lull, “We are pensioners now, and  I look forward to coming down here – all the stallholders, we have a laugh and a joke together.”

These three keen lads from Essex are Sam, Jack & Perry, two brothers and a pal, who between them run a long stall, selling a spectacular selection of cheap tools and bicycle locks, which stretches the entire length of the yard in Sclater St. “It’s my dad’s business,” explained Sam, the eldest brother who is in charge, taking a respite from the intensity of the milling crowd and his ear-splitting banter –“I took over this bit about three years ago.” It makes for a compelling drama, as with eagle eyes, the three of them watch over the thousands of tools piled up, exchanging wary glances and sharp patter, while a ceaseless parade of customers passes along the stall. Sam’s skinny little brother Jack has been here each Sunday for several years, though he is still at school for another two years. “I was brought up around it and I’ll do this when I leave,” he informed me with a blush, his grey eyes glowing in anticipation, “and hopefully we’ll still be here in thirty years time.”

This is Kevin and his dad Tom who sell men’s casual wear at bargain prices in the Sclater St yard.“I started setting up and taking down the stalls for the traders when I was still at school, and then at fifteen I started trading on my own.” Kevin admitted with to me relish, “I left school early because I was earning more than the teachers.” Kevin, a magnanimous gentle giant who overshadows his father, has been trading for twenty years now and since Tom took early retirement, he comes to help Kevin out. “I work six days a week, sixteen hours a day nowadays,” Kevin told me as we sat in the afternoon shade at the back of his van while his father stood out on the empty yard awaiting customers -“It’s a measure of how hard we have to try these days to keep the money up.” Yet Kevin is undaunted by the challenge of market life in the recession.“I don’t like being beaten, so I’ll hang in,” he told me, catching his father’s attention with a grin and a nod. “Who could ask for anything more?” he asserted, turning to me and spreading his arms demonstratively,” I enjoy it, you’re busy out in the open air. And, when you’re making money, it’s happy days.”

Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman

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