Tuesday, 8 January 2013

One Book, One Garden, Three Market Halls

At the moment, I’m reading ‘The Gift’ by Lewis Hyde. It’s a book that’s been published in the UK thanks to the intervention of Margaret Atwood, who describes it as ‘a masterpiece’.  Even a couple of chapters in, I can see why. Hyde explores the concept of giving, going back to the earliest of times and including, in some small part, the idea of giving back to one's homeland some of what it's given you.  ‘Do not exploit the essence,’ he warns in a side-swipe at excessive commercialism. ‘The returned gift is the fertilizer that assures the fertility of the source.’

So why am I quoting this tonight from Shrewsbury?  Well, a couple of days ago, out walking the dog, I got into conversation with the person responsible for maintaining the library garden, which as far as I’m concerned is the most interesting and attractive garden in town.  Here's somebody who’s giving back.  In the early hours of morning, often before the rest of us are up, he’s out there pruning, trimming and, in Lewis Hyde's words, 'assuring the fertility of the source'.  Even in winter, his garden’s shades of green and variety of textures are an asset to the town.  For a moment we shared mutual attitudes on the subject of begonias [more about this later in the year] then, before being dragged off by my plainly disinterested dog, I expressed  thanks for what I always think of as a cool, green haven in the busy heart of the town. 

Then again on Saturday, and again today, in the indoor market, I had cause to feel appreciative.  All these stalls run by quirky-minded, independent, enterprising, imaginative and creative individual traders who weren’t selling the way they do in Sainsbury’s, but doing it their own way - where would Shrewsbury be without them?  What they’re giving back, it seems to me, simply by plying their trades in their own way, is inestimable.

We have three market halls in town [well, three that I can think of, at any rate].  Unless you know what you’re looking for, though, they may be hard to find. The market I dropped in on today is on the first floor of a modern building whose other less welcome gift to Shrewsbury is a clock tower that only the sixties could have produced. Then there’s the Old Market Hall in the town’s main square, which houses possibly the only medieval cinema on stilts to be found in the UK.  Then there’s the Antiques Market, which is underground, round the back of Rackham’s Department Store, behind an innocent-looking glass door that gives little clue to the subterranean delights lying in wait beneath.

Hopefully I’ll write about all these different market places over the coming year.  I’m fascinated by the Shrewsbury that lies behind closed doors.  Even amongst town residents [let alone visitors] how many people have been into the leaning tower on Town Walls?  Or inside Old St Chad’s?  Or into the Unitarian Church on High Street? Or into all those seemingly-hidden rooms in our massive, gothic railway station?  Or into the Ditherington Flaxmill and Maltings?

I could go on, but there are private houses, too, that invite you to find out more.  Shrewsbury’s shutts and passages are dotted with interesting-looking front doors with glimpses of lives lived behind them, and so are the Georgian hills and streets behind the Old Music Hall. Only a couple of days ago I sat in Linda Edward’s kitchen, interviewing her for the first of my Open Studio pieces.  For years I’ve glimpsed baskets hanging from her kitchen ceiling and lace cloths decorating her windows in place of nets, and wondered about her house and what it was like inside.  And finally I knew.

But I’m running ahead of myself here.  The interview with Linda won’t come out until next week.  For now I thought I’d leave you with these photos, all from  Shrewsbury’s indoor market. I hope you like them. Goodnight.  


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