Our office overlooks the Dunstable Market. From the casual observer, not much seems to be happening at this market, but for the reflective observer, this old market has a lot going in it. At the side in front of the Wilkinsons shop, are a collection of antique sellers. Money quietly changes hands in this part of the market. Dealers come from the three counties (Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire) and even further afield to purchase bits and pieces, which they get cheap, then recreate, to make vintage.
When you look at the collection of the antique sellers, you wonder why they bother to come to the market, but they know they have value because they are there every Saturday and possibly on Wednesdays and Fridays. Plus, they have people who buy from them. They sell from the back of their cars, from the floor, in stalls. With this group, there is no hard and fast rule, they come and sell.
There is a variety on offer, children’s toys, old and new clothes, furniture, household decoration items, record sellers, gamers, used book sellers, arts and crafts, old books, DVDs, CDs, vinyl records and so on. The beauty of the Dunstable Market is that it services the pensioners and baby boomers.
The other side of the market coming from the Methodist Church are the grocers and of course, the little old man who shouts – at the top of his voice out – to passersby to come and buy his fruits (strawberries, blue and black berries) and vegetables. At the moment, a bowl of strawberries is going for £2.75, but in another hour or so when he is about to close, that same bowl will be sold for £1. His bananas, oranges, kiwis, tomatoes will all reduce in price. Having bought from the little old man before, I find his produce fresh, but they wear out quickly. The bananas from experience have a shelf life of a day or at the most two days. I still haven’t been able to work out why.
If you can get away from the croaks of the man, right behind him is the plants seller. The fella alternates between him and his son apparently. But between them, they seem to know how to work the crowd or at least the plants call out to the nature lovers. The father appears quite popular with the older women. There is always a little queue at the flower seller. Things are moving nicely at the moment, but once I get there to buy a plant, a small queue develops again and the seller gets flattered and attends to each customer like he is giving us a medal. It is interesting actually to note that most times, people buy a plant or two and they come back the next week to buy more. The most it seems people spend at the flower stall is £5.
But at this market, people are not greedy, they sell what they sell and they get what they get. Life carries on at snail’s pace, that is the way it’s always been. It is Dunstable after all; there is no drama here. There is also Johnie who sells phone accessories, he has recently increased two stalls. Growth wouldn’t you say? Johnie or is it Sonnie is the only Asian who sells at this market. Dunstable is very good for diversity like that. With his British accent, the market is just as much as his as it is for the English sellers. Obviously, you cannot compare diversity in Dunstable with Newcastle where blacks are a minority. I will tell you that story in another write up. Promise.
Most Nigerians won’t find Dunstable least appealling as the ‘best shop’ in this area is budget Peacocks. We have Asda, but Nigerians don’t come all the way on Arik, Air Morocco or Iberia Airlines to shop at Asda. Or do they? Not much at this ancient market for Nigerian upmarket shoppers. When Nigerians come to town to shop, in the first instance, they shop in malls and designer villages and they don’t spend fivers and tenners. The first sign of Nigerians is that they spend 50s. I may be wrong, these days, they have also been coming cashless. It is all in their Visa cards. Secondly, Nigerians don’t buy small. When they can, they buy everything. I remember shopping at an H & M store one time when this lady came and literally cleared the rack of clothes. It was disgusting.
The most insightful place to observe the way Nigerians spend is to go to the Hewes and Curtis, H&C, shirt shop in Milton Keynes. At an average price of £25 per shirt, Nigerians have a reputation. When you enter to humbly buy a shirt or two, a shop attendant immediately warms to you and asks if you are a Nigerian. If you answer in the affirmative, she stands close to you helping you choose what you want. By this time, the manager of the shop is also on alert, as they must have learnt from experience that the Nigerians don’t waste time, they spend on shirts. Unfortunately, I never seem to make them happy, I buy little and before you know it the same attendant has left me to warm towards other Nigerians just coming through the door. Money is the language that works everywhere.
Nigerians with suitcases are the ones to watch out for. They spend hundreds of pounds. Peanuts. The writer saw a woman buy up to 20 shirts at one time at the H&C shop. The woman bought different colours of the same design and then she did the same for several designs.
Nigerian men are just as bad, they target the Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and other exclusive outlets. They don’t only spend all day shopping, as they want you to believe they are seriously busy, but they spend stupendously as well. Russell and Bromley is the one shop the writer witnessed a Nigerian buy up to seven pairs of shoes at £150 a pair.
In England, we shop in bits and pieces, for the moment, at the most, for the week. Nigerians buy for the future, they buy for their unborn children, for the coming years, for the lean and fat years. Nigerians buy simply because they know they have the cash or the Visa to shop. Prayer point: I want to be a Nigerian too!
Unlike in Nigeria where you have people who carry your goods on their heads and walk with you to your car where you give them a token, at the Dunstable Market, like in all England, you carry your own shopping with your own hands into your own car. Or you wait patiently for your taxi with your goods.
The sun is high up in the sky, it is one sunny May afternoon. The restaurants are also popular, the one on the same side as the church is one that must be avoided for its filth. They are ever so nice: the owner and his wife, but a breakfast or meal from them would keep you in the toilet for the whole day. A new polish café has opened under our office, it looks great and the great news is that it gives the designer coffee shop two doors down a good run for their money.
The sun is still strong but the market is gradually unwinding. What a market day it has been. The little old man is nearly all sold out. He still has some pears, oranges and strawberries left, but I will pass.
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