This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Where necessary paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
Samuel poses as the slightly detached observer who is also an innocent victim of sharp practice by traders. He will face his wife’s annoyance when he returns home. He claims to be in South Wales, although the language he hears around him seems in the main to belong to south Yorkshire. His frequent claim to theatrical experience is reinforced by a reference to the actor and musician, Charles Collette as ‘my good friend Charlie Collette’. — David Skilton
I like going marketing, sir, when I have any money to spend. But I'm a bad hand at the business. I will back myself for anything you like against any householder in South Wales for getting more bone than meat whenever I attempt to purchase a joint. And the butcher always ‘has’ me in the matter of the change. He plays off the old successful trick on me — you know, the time-honoured reckoning trick. There is a tolerable crush in his shop, say, and I have purchased a joint. Then rapidly gabbles the butcher, “Five pounds seven ounces at ninepence a pound; five nines is sixty-four, sixty-four pence five and tenpence, seven ounces thrown in, sevenpence half-penny — six and elevenpence half-penny, and thank you, sir." I am generally done by means of this device, and in addition I get so much suet that it by no means suets my wife. I may say that the quantity of bone I get is frequently the bone of contention. Every Saturday night, sir, do I take a stroll in the market and watch the British public ‘buying in.’ Say I begin near the flower stalls. There is food for contemplation and philosophising here, sir; nice young spinsters lure their young men here, and cause the latter to expend their hard-earned money in a nice ‘posy,’ to be worn on the morrow. It is, indeed, a fine study to watch the anxious expression on the face of the youth as he sees the girl of his heart wandering from the fourpenny lots to the eightpenny ones — especially if she has with her one of those objectionable female friends who expect to be treated also. To one who does not particularly love his species, it is a spectacle rich and rare to see the forced, sickly smile on the young man's face as he forks out a portion of his ‘spending brass.’ He seems, sir, to be ruefully saying to himself, ‘Another bob off my wages!’ In another year or two, sir, if he should marry the damsel who thus lets him in for floral adornments, the twain will be cheapening a bit of beef for Sunday dinner, and quite ignoring the flower stand. If you want to see ‘despisery,’ as it is called, written on the expressive face of your Samuel, you should see him surveying the ‘Nancy’ young man who comes to purchase a ‘button-hole,’ which he, no doubt, considers a necessary adjunct to a completely fascinating toilette. When he gets home, sir, with the flower, he will, in order that it may last him over Sunday, carefully place it in an egg cup, or a broken tumbler, or any handy vessel.
In this portion of the market, sir, you may see the musty men who poke about the bookstalls, and, after examining the whole stock of the second-hand dealer (I wonder whether a second-hand dealer could be called a ‘double’ dealer?), will purchase a worm-eaten volume for twopence. The old gentlemen who amuse themselves at the bookstalls are fine game for the pickpockets. They are so absorbed in literature that the light-fingered gentry have splendid opportunities of exercising their art upon them. It is quite a touching sight to see one of the be-spectacled bookworms feeling for his pocket-handkerchief after a raid has been made upon his ample back-coat pockets. I love to watch thrifty housewives who come out to make their purchases late on the Saturday night, imbued with the idea that they will get articles much cheaper than they would earlier in the day. Many are the ancient females then to be seen armed with baskets and basses — females intent on cheapening everything. ‘Grand vegetable marrow, mum, twopence,’ one of the vendors of vegetables will cry. ‘Well, if iver,’ the old lady to whom the offer is made will cry, ‘do you think I am made o' brass, lad ?’ There is a marked difference, sir, in the manner of the stall-holders. Some of them sit back in their shops with an air of dignity, whilst the active business is carried on by their assistants, who seem to be engaged chiefly for their power of lung, and for their capacity in the matter of shouting each other down. The only duty performed by such proprietors as I have named seems to be to take the money, which, after all, is the chief business when one comes to think about it.
Further down the market, sir, is where the fun really begins. Here you can see festive youths dissipating their resources in that pleasing dainty which bears the euphonious name of hokey-pokey. One of them tells me that for wild excruciating torture nothing can excel a portion of hokey applied to the region of a hollow double tooth. To counteract the chilling effect of the delicacy I have named, the boys in question usually stray away to one of the numerous hot pie stalls, where a most delicious pie, well smothered in steaming hot gravy, and composed of doubtful mysterious materials, can be purchased at the small charge of a penny. How the two courses — I mean the hokey and the pie — agree I have not yet taken the trouble to ascertain, but I mean one of these days to consult some medical authority on the subject. Sometimes pie is taken by way of the first course, and the hokey follows by way of dessert. Then in some markets you find innumerable ‘try-your-weight’ men. A fitting subject for them is such a lean and attenuated individual as you see in this picture, only the proprietors of the weighing machines have to conjure him not to sit down too suddenly lest be should bring what in classical phrase is termed ‘the whole bag of tricks’ down with a flop.
I admire a good salesman, sir — and I admire a good saleswoman — too, if she be a person of outward attractiveness. But for go and enterprise recommend me to a pot-hawker — I beg your pardon, a crockery merchant. There are numberless specimens of this class, and whenever other amusements pall, sir, I betake myself to the region of their stands and there listen to their impassioned eloquence. They proceed somewhat on these lines: ‘Now, then, here's a dish. I won't ax sixpence for it; I won't ax you fourpence, no, nor threepence — here, twopence for it, if there's a bidder.’ If this appeal provokes no response, the merchant with fine histrionic talents affects to fly into a violent rage and says, ‘Here, I'll see if any of yer's gettin' any brass; here, I'll give it away for a penny.’ Should the crowd of bystanders resist even this tempting offer, the pot merchant's wrath will literally boil over, and, with a cry of ‘Well, there never was such a lot,’ he will throw the dish down and smash it into fragments. The last-named act has a fine dramatic effect, and the next lot put up is sure to go off with a bang.
I must not omit to tell you of the men who stand behind wooden boxes mounted on tripods: the men who sell razor sharpeners, and medicines to cure all the diseases that flesh is heir to, and grease removers, and corn and bunion plaisters. The man who sells razor sharpeners generally has a piece of very soft wood — wood that cuts like soap — by him, and, after he has sharpened a very murderous-looking knife on this, and delivered himself thusly:— ‘You sharping your razors on the best of Charley stones,’ he begins to chip frantically at the soap-like wood, and the crowd gapes in tremendous admiration of the feat. The medicine man informs the crowd that he can cure ‘Indyjeshun,’ and other painful symptoms, and all the time he looks unutterably wise. One good thing I can certainly say of him, namely, that his wares, if they do no good, will certainly do no one any harm. The sufferers from ‘Indy-jeshun’ seem to be numerous, judging by the business he does. The grease-remover man usually seizes the cap of some dirty boy standing near, in order that he may operate on the said head-dress and demonstrate the marvellous effect of his preparation. Then, sir, do I listen to the man who sells oilcloth, and seems to nearly grow frantic in the process. This man emphasises his remarks by perpetually smacking with his right hand the ware which he holds in his left. He always reminds me, through this circumstance, of an irate mother dealing summarily with a refractory child laid across her knees. Near him is a man who sells locks — but who certainly has no lock in his whole collection capable of holding his own jaw. For volubility I will back him against any professional ‘patterer,’ either on the legitimately theatrical or the music-hall boards. My good friend Charlie Collette is simply not in the hunt with him for rapidity of utterance. Indeed, were a contest between the two to take place, I am afraid that ‘Cheerful Charlie’ would be left some miles off the winning post.
In the immediate vicinity of some markets there is a sort of improvised fair-ground. In a South Wales town the other Saturday night, sir, I went, ‘for the small charge of one penny,’ to see Professor Someone or other, the world-renowned ‘Thaumatologist,’ whatever that may be. The Professor is evidently a man of a defiant disposition, for outside his show appears an announcement to the effect that ‘liars and denunciators’ may ‘take a back seat.’ Possibly they wouldn't object even to a back seat or mere standing room, if only they got into the show for nothing. Sometimes when Mrs Samuel and I, sir, have had a little disagreement, I amuse myself by shying at one of the beautious [sic] though fluffy objects which are set up near the Professor's ‘Home of Magic’ (I am quoting the Professor himself) for the amusement of an enlightened public. Wonderfully true, sir, is my aim, and I may tell you that as I demolish the handsome lay figures one by one, I conceive each to be a bailiff, a persistent dun, or a rate-collector vanquished and done for. It is a worthy occupation, sir, and I can recommend it highly to all who suffer from fits of the spleen.
Last modified 4 December 2021