I remember when the market at Camden was part tourist-oriented advert-for-itself, part designer-grunge pink-neon retail-cube and part temple to the bourgeois buddha of tasteful eco-consumption. Now nothing is sold here, everything is free and hand-made by individuals who have fully developed the furthest branches of their mind-body-vibe-vitality tree, and who now produce such delicious fruits that, on tasting, one hardly knows what to do with oneself. Personally, reactionwise, I favour the backflip.
Most stalls humiliate description in their epic, seductive, eclecticity. Farmers do not just present their hour-old radiant peas, coconutty purple carrots, whole sweet walnuts, tamarind pickles, oregano honeys and the like — all of which taste as real and vivid as walking into a forest after a year in the cinema — but they also bring along the spinning tops they’ve wood-turned, the intricate stained-glass deco-windows they’ve painted, the silk waistcoats they’ve stitched, the Iranian-carpets they’ve sewn, and so on. All unique, beautiful, free.
Some stalls tend towards speciality, and so are easier to describe. One man there was in love with apples, and shared his Burr Knots, Black Wildings, Foxwhelps, Brown Cockles, Ramping Tauruses, Electric Broadtails, Hagloe Crab-flaps, Norfolk Beefings, Spank-my-girdles, Cornish Imbeciles, Skyrme’s Trumpet-Kernels, Bitter-skids and Bastard Rough Coats, all the while, as he handed over rustling paper bags to his guests, advising them on which were best for fire-roasting, which for flavouring ales, which for broiling, which for October, which for May, which had a nutmeggy taste, which caraway, which biscuit, which — even — banana. He told me that all these species of apples, and hundreds more, had been cared for by his family for centuries, in a secret orchard, hidden away from apple’s darkest days.
We made our way past an inflated snail dance and a brass band playing acid house until we got to Jun’s stall. He was sitting smoking a pipe in front of a stupendous array of freaks and beauties, bowing flowers, smiling pies and choirs of monkeys. He greeted us with a sage nod and we inspected his wares. In the middle of the waxwork display was a set of miniature ceramics; plants and animals rendered with inhuman precision. Ai-chan picked one up, a half-sized half-peeled china tangerine. In awe we examined the beading and bobbling on the skin, the tangle of pith and the feeling of living plumpness in the flesh.
“How did you do this?” she asked Jun.
“I looked at the tangerine,” he said.
After this we went into the estate agents: