“Outside of steel door and glass window façade of Many Studios, Ross Street Market pops-up on the street with the permanence of a carnival.”
“The Barras” is written in iron that’s been rounded, pounded into a serif font I cannot name. Decorated with metal circles and semi-circles, sheets of metal bent and warped into a style I can’t think a name for; the words rest on top of a landmark like a giant, squared shoe horse. The posts supporting the structure and framing it on either side are covered with paper advertisement, some legible, some legitimate, much of it weathered to pulp and held to the post by fraying tape. The whole thing has a look that reminds me of a bowling alley from the end of the last century in the neighbourhood I grew up in; something that came out of the 60s, soon went into a coma, and woke up in the 90s and has forever been trapped there.
This is a place where bargain laminated flooring is found close to rare furniture from centuries past, oddities abound like needles on a porcupine. Inside a garage booth no bigger than a shed, a DJ blasts his own hip-hop remixes to entice people to buy his second-hand CDs across from a second-hand record shop. Yellowing books are sold under the auspice of hand-written signs oozing sexism that could get you done for and political commentary that wouldn’t be out of place written on the stones of Bishop Castle in central Colorado. The third-hand record sleeves have been chewed by mice. Walking the market’s central street, I heard “cunt” shouted in as friendly a way as possible – friend, that word said, or, at the very least, a close enough synonym for someone you’ve been
“something that came out of the 60s, soon went into a coma, and woke up in the 90s and has forever been trapped there”
This market is an uncut gem for studies of the social type. I imagine it, if not as a series of film vignettes exploring the human psyche, at least an ethnographic account of a geographical location that traces its origins to the community spirit and business savviness of Margaret and James McIver. A place that evolved due to external political and economic pressures, and has stayed, in one way or another, a community hub. Perhaps it is thematically (and not just economically) fitting, then, that a new style of community hub has made its home there. If that is by design, necessity or political will, you’ll have to ask the people involved.
As I remember it being told, Ross Street Market came about not just in the spirit of The Barras Market, but also as a natural evolution of Many Studios’ presence in the area. Or, perhaps, the idea came through by the natural juxtaposition of one space to the other in this general geography. The two markets are examples of how this part of the city is changing. If I were to describe them, I would say The Barras Market is an old wooden desk, once painted, now smoothed by hands and stains, dust caked to fresh varnish hiding rusted screws; wherein Ross Street Market would be a coffee table made from upcycled pallets and boiler parts with a retro logo pyrographed onto the side.
Outside of steel door and glass window façade of Many Studios, Ross Street Market pops-up on the street with the permanence of a carnival. No built stalls, no permanent markings; a temporary store with
Perhaps because, as I write this, a recent visit to a Monastery high on the Rila Mountains of Bulgaria colour my imagination but crossing the main landmark of The Barras Market feels like walking into a shrine of some description. Here I feel like I am in dialogue, not with the people and objects therein, but with the millions of people that have come before me who have gathered in the square to trade, talk, and exchange. What lies here, in the gathering square, is a place of worship to what was, and what is. Relationships between woman and object, community to itself, man and customer, all enshrined in tiny nooks in warehouse galleries. A museum of both people and objects that have, like organic matter lying still at the bottom of a lake for millennia, preserved the consumer culture of the last seventy years under layers of dust.
“Pornography sold amongst 70s popular novels didn’t surprise me; after all, they are all literature.”
Curiosity took me to the most promising of the warehouses, a dark place where bustle whispered of commercial interest within. There I found dust floating in the air inside a cavernous arch that seemed to be supported entirely from a towering pile of chairs, tables and all manners of broadstroke “antiques”. There was no respect for their history: no plaques displaying their origin, no sign proclaiming the designer; just more old shit to be peddled. Perhaps. Maybe. Who cares, it is just ugly furniture surrounding ugly-looking people. If someone buys something, that’s great, and if they don’t, who’s to care? That’s the attitude the configuration of the place, like a telegraphed trap room in a treasure hunt game, gave me. I was too afraid to touch anything, not for fear the ensuing avalanche might break anything, but because the stall-holder, who I assume to be the Tetris master of stacked chairs, looked like the sort of man who brags about the many scars left on his back from knife-fights.
Farther in was a man, or stall, or both, for he filled the thing disproportionally, selling comics from forty years ago. His look was of someone who’s survived on super-hot curry for thirty years and is trying to keep it all in.
Do these people even want to sell anything? I kept asking myself.
But I wasn’t in the position to buy so maybe I wasn’t the type of fish this tackle was for.
“Viagra and cigarettes”, shouted a man with a blanket on the floor. I’d like to think he was aware of the diametric effects those two commodities have on the body. There is an irony of some type permeating the atmosphere of this place where objects that still have some use (vases, furniture, clothes, books) find their way into a warehouse to rot just because they’ve fallen out of fashion. A little like the people who have been abandoned by politics and
A book shop was crafted in sexism. A shrine of some type, a “safe male space”, if the sort of man who thinks like that already hasn’t got enough of them; and one that seemed to exist at the expense of dignity to others. Pornography sold amongst 70s popular novels didn’t surprise me; after all, they are all literature. Besides, the displayed magazines were tame and mixed: bisexualism, very common fetishism, gay and lesbian, and very little of what could, at a glance, be considered exploitative and sexist. Then, again, it is mainstream porn. They go hand in hand. They are one and the same in perception and manufacture. Yet… they are just books. There is no damage, except when there is damage. The complexity of the issue cannot be easily explored in one book stall, can it?
The most telling sign here was the one hung over romance novels. I see the joke, I do: demographics and numbers speak of a reality about romance novels, but doesn’t that speak more about what kind of reading we tell kids is “gender appropriate”? “Weemen’s literature”, the sign proclaimed, relegating an entire genre to a joke, ignoring that, perhaps, many people find comfort and understanding therein. While now I realise they were going for a colloquialism and how the word is pronounced, now that I type it I see the double insult. Wee-men. Little men. Women are not women, they’re something else. And the signs then went on to describe what happened in the books in a very succinct, harsh way: “finds love, loses love, finds love again”.
Pop down the Barras, come for the gentrification crowd, stay for the grime that’s always been here.
Final Part in a Psychogeographic exploration of Glasgow