Saturday, August 25, 2007


Walthamstow has the longest street market in Europe. A steel and canvas spine of 400 stalls stretches the High Street for about a mile, a mish-mash of colours, smells, sounds, a collage of cultures all jammed up against each other. 147 languages are spoken in the borough of Waltham Forest alone. A walk from one end to the other is a bit like crossing a hundred international borders. It’s quite an experience on a Saturday morning. The first time I went I witnessed a full on fight between a Cor Blimey female fruit and veg seller and a Pakistani woman. It was a proper hair pulling, face scratching, obscenity spewing, tussle of pure violence. Probably over the price of cherry tomatoes. That’s what Walthamstow Market is like. Of course, between bouts of WWF (Walthamstow Women’s Fighting) there’s shopping to do. So grab your basket and join me on a meander through the stalls. Keep your wits about you and your elbows in; this is bandit country. First stop, the fruit and veg stall. Be careful around here, it’s like a youth club for dysfunctional wasps. Right, what do I want...hmmm, cabbage is out, and broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, corn on the cob, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, peas and broad beans. Carrots and potatoes it is, then. Can’t have any acidic fruits, so no oranges or grapefruit. Not allowed fruit with seeds or skin, so bang goes your berries and your grapes. I’ve never had much time for the apple so I’m hardly going to bother peeling one. I’ll have a few bananas. Through the bobbing heads the cheese stall comes into view. I am a sucker for any kind of cheese. My pulse quickens and all I can see is stilton, all I can think is stilton, all I want in life is stilton. I want all my clothes to be made of stilton just so every night I can eat them off when I go to bed…a sharp mental slap brings me to my senses. Cheese is off limits, banished with all other dairy produce. Best keep moving. We pass a stall selling plastic bowls, plastic cups, plastic colanders, plastic cutlery, plastic toilet brushes, even plastic fruit. I wonder if I’m allowed plastic fruit? Yum. I ignore all the fabulous smelling wholemeal granary loaves and opt for a retro 1970’s style sliced white loaf. Mustn’t have any insoluble fibre or as it’s otherwise known, the tasty stuff. Oi-Oi! is the market traders’ call of choice in Walthamstow. The air is thick with Oi-Oi!’s battling it out for our attention. I’m nearly done though; shopping is no fun with ulcerative colitis. It’s a frustrating task, which requires monk-like levels of self-control. So if it’s all the same to you I’m going to leave you to look around yourself. There’s plenty more to see, just remember you’re not in Waitrose now.