Wrapping up one’s hair in purple silk and feeling the scratch of several underskirts has a strange effect. It encourages wistful ambling along country lanes; hands brushing hedgerows and mossy stiles. This is possibly accompanied by a strong desire to shout “penny a flower.” However, my mock-cockney accent is worse than Audrey Hepburn's as Eliza Doolittle, and thus I stick to inhabiting the look of a character, rather than giving it voice.
Yet, the flower-girl feel of the clothes here brought to mind a favourite book of mine - Clive Boursnell's selection of photographs capturing Covent Garden market in the sixties. There were barrow boys, porters and violets sold for several pennies apiece, arched windows glowing and apples stacked high. But the 'flower girls' there were dressed much more practically than me. I'm assuming that anything as whimsical as white brogues would have received short shrift. My get-up is rooted in fantasy rather than function.
Clive is my 'honorary' Uncle (in other words, I adopted him into the role). He is a warm, giving person with a rich past and a truly great capacity for portraiture. He recently followed up the initial depictions of working lives with a new book called 'Covent Garden: Then and Now'. Previous traditions and locations are no more. His updated images show gaggles of teenagers with shopping slung across their arms like treasure. The cobbles are crowned by brand names and crowds. As photos of old and new Covent Garden sit side by side, one can see a direct transition from the market as a place of selling and bartering as livelihood, to the market as an economic concept geared towards profit. Or maybe that's me, idealising the past again (it's a habit that's hard to shake).
Vibrant markets do still exist. Take Borough Market. Although laden down with tourists, their iPads held aloft, it retains the element of visual wonder. Huge rolls of cheese stacked like car tyres. Salamis and chorizo fringing the meat stalls with red. Squid, lobsters and prawns displayed alongside the massive head of a monkfish. Piles of fruit, lines of olive oil, rows of spices in pots, squat jugs of sangria, chutney jars, cider barrels, wine bottles, thick chunks of meat. The other four senses have their turn too: smells of bubbling curry; the rough texture of parmesan crushed between tongue and teeth; sounds of stallholders shouting; the tart, musky taste of balsamic glaze with truffle. It is food as a spectacle, albeit one where the audience is packed so tightly that movement may become difficult.
It’s a far remove from my local weekly market. Trading in the same small town hall for years, the crates and tables were recently relocated following a town council decision to renovate the hall and remodel it into an events and wedding venue. What could have spelled interim disaster for the market instead fostered renewal. The site transferred to is larger and busier. Customer trade is up, and the sense of life and community continues. Maybe that's what I enjoy so much about markets. Big or small, they're communal places. Plus, there's some really tasty food.
My outfit is composed of a vintage Betty Barclay dress bought from a vintage stall in Bath, second hand brogues and family inherited accessories.