Sunday, 24 June 2007

The day of the midsummer fair

Saturday dawned overcast and a bit drizzly in Hackney. Still, that was a lot better than the rest of the country has been putting up with during 'blazing' June with many places ankle deep in water. Saturday marked the day for the Victoria Park Traders Association summer fair and I was going to share a stall with a friend. This would be my first experience as a market trader and my stock-in-trade was my greetings cards that I've produced from sketches I made during the '90s; you can see a selection on the left. I undertook some market research last year and found out which were the favourite designs so I was happy with my selection of cards. By the time my co-stall-holder, who was planning to sell his wood cut engravings, had driven up from Sussex the sun was shining and there were patches of blue sky and we quickly set up our stall.

The area for the site of this fair is known these days as Victoria Park Village. This is a misnomer - there never has been, in the traditional sense, a village in this area of London. As far as I know there was one in Bethnal Green and there was one in Hackney in the centre of the present town. The place we now know as London is a collection of towns and villages plus the City of London and City of Westmister which over the centuries have merged into one enormous city. Many of these locations have retained some of their former atmosphere, architecture and street names and have a sense of history which can add charm to your visit or conversely they consist of miles and miles of identical houses, parades of shops, roads and tube stations which you feel you'll never find your way out of. Help!!

Anyway this modern day village of Victoria Park, which really means in, estate agent's shorthand, an area of affluence with rising house prices, is in the borough of Hackney and takes its name from Victoria Park which is in the borough of Tower Hamlets next door. I've always felt a bit cynical about this 'village' tag but I was to have the cynicism wiped off my face during the course of the day because there really does exist a feeling of community, warmth and general good will in the area and I, along with my fellow stall-holder, were beneficiaries of this bonhomie.

The stall on our left was run by a lady who used to run a flower shop around the corner until she started a family. She was selling rather elegant pots and plants and flowers. We didn't find out her name but did keep an eye on her stall several times during the day including the time when she went to sing with the band who were providing some of the entertainment. The stall to our right was run by two friends who'd studied fashion design together. They were selling children's clothes and accessories and when it rained on and off during the day we'd all help cover the stalls in plastic. We didn't find out their names either, or reveal ours for that matter but that didn't seem important at the time.

We treated the day as a holiday, sat in garden chairs, read the paper, drank coffee, chatted and watched the world go by. Occasionally someone would stop and scrutinise our work and even engage us in conversation but sales were thin on the ground. To be fair hardly any the other stall holders were making much money as far as we could see except, of course, the food stalls which were constantly busy. Everyone was hungry, including us. The best part of the day for me was meeting all my neighbours as they drifted past our pitch and who had no idea that I paint or design and were all very interested in what was on display. This included the local shop keepers and even my French teacher from evening class so while I didn't make any money to speak of I finished the day having made more acquaintances and feeling more at home in the place I call home.

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