“When the rain’s coming in horizontally and you’re clinging on to your stall… it bonds people!”

 

Whether market traders count as heroic or deluded, Alex counts as the most heroic or deluded of all of them. He’s run a book stall at the Greenwich Clock Tower market for over three decades – and when the weather’s grim, he’s the one you can count on to turn up. Many times I’ve seen him, with just two or three other intrepid souls, standing behind the stall while the rain buckets down, and visitors are nowhere to be seen. In the past few years, after the adjacent Stockwell Street market closed and fewer visitors come to check out the markets in Greenwich, I suspect trade has got quieter – but as long as Alex is here, like the ravens in the Tower, our market is surely safe.

Book traders are often a lugubrious bunch who, should you ask if they want to buy any of your surplus volumes, sigh and launch into a tirade against the internet, charity shops, and other banes of their life. Not Alex. Rain or shine, feast or famine, he grits his teeth and carries on. We salute him.

You are the man who has been here the longest, is at this market winter or summer, rain or shine. So.. what explains your incredible and irrational commitment?
Desperation and madness really. No… I run the market on Saturdays so that’s why I’m always here. I don’t seem to earn much money, these days off the stall – but what else would I do? I’ve been here since 1978 on and off, and it’s evolved into me running the market for Jane, who’s the manager now. And that’s why I’m here all the time.

How did you start?
I was on the dole, living in a squat in Deptford, running around Greenwich, I would take a bag full of stuff down there and sell it, that’s what started it. I was desperate then, I’m desperate now!

So you started before this area had the hotel and cinema?
Yes – before it was developed it was a lot bigger, five or six times the size of this. That was before boot sales had really taken off so most people who were going to sell stuff would come to Greenwich, it was a much bigger draw. The same as everywhere, Greenwich has been tarted up and the market has been confined. There’s no room for expansion any more. The people who would have come here years ago go to boot sales. But that’s the way of the world, isn’t it?

What are some of your great discoveries?
The best ever sale.. was a first edition of Treasure Island which I bought for 50p, from a junky charity shop in Bermondsey. And I almost didn’t buy it because it was tatty, I thought it can’t possibly be a 1st edition. But it was. And I sold that for, I think, twelve hundred pounds. I think that’s the best ever sale. And 50s and 60s textiles, I’ve done really well with them over the years. And a few good books in between two, three four hundred pounds. But generally, I’ve never made that leap into the higher end, I’m content to tip my stuff out and see what happens!

What’s the attraction of a stall? There must be a magic that draws you back?
It’s so good. There are good people on the market, it’s always fun. Well, most of the time. Rain or shine it’s good. There’s always a chance you’re going to take some money. And it’s not nine to five.

How do you feel about the future in Greenwich, particularly with what’s happening in the covered market?
I think the covered market is going to vanish, to be honest. Once that’s redeveloped there won’t be much of a market there. This one is safe, but the council might discover it  in the end and put an office block in. And that would be the end.

It would also be the end of Greenwich as a place with a particular vibe.
I think so. And there’s not a lot of that vibe left these days. Since the [Stockwell Street] market shut a lot of people have said it’s not worth going to Greenwich just for this market, it’s too small. When the other one was there you could have a good root through, and a lot of people have gone and won’t come back. We’ll see. But at the moment it’s alright. It’s full up. And the sun is shining.

Now, this Sunday, the one with all the snow. Where were you all?
Ha, sorry, Jane the manager called up and told me it was cancelled because it was too awkward for people to get there. You’ll have to change my copy now!

One week out of 52… I think you still keep your title. It’s hard work with a stall, you’ve got to be a self-starter, a hard worker, maybe a bit heroic, and maybe a bit irrational – or deluded?
You’re right. Probably, yes. Especially in the really bad weather, when it’s really windy and rainy and you get trapped and you just can’t go. And the rain’s coming in horizontally and you’re hanging on to your stall to stop it from blowing over. That feels heroic. It sounds crazy. but it bonds people in a way. A day like that, you’ve done it, and you’ve got through it, it’s terrible for business but you have a good laugh and everyone seems to enjoy it, even if you and your stock are soaking wet. You couldn’t get that in a shop!

Alex is at Greenwich Clock Street market, by the cinema, Saturdays and Sundays, whatever the weather.


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