Sunday, August 07, 2011

On the peacock-feather sellers of London

I wanted to flood the peacock-feather sellers (4 for £2) in Trafalgar Square and Brick Lane with questions. Where have they come from (peacocks and sellers)? Do they sell enough feathers on the streets of London to make a living? Are they ethical feathers, gathered from behind peacocks with acres to roam, or plucked from within a cramped farm?

You could never sell four peacock-feathers for £2 in Stoke-on-Trent. Only the other day I got five peacock-feathers for free from my friend Helen, who rehomed a peacock from the Bucknall City Farm. We would all know a source of cheaper peacock-feathers and would use this information to mercilessly drive the peacock-feather seller away from profit. That is, unless peacock-feathers became part of some advertising and word-of-mouth boom, or if they became part of a social custom. In those cases, we would flock to join moody queues and battle old ladies for the last bunch of feathers, which would mysteriously have increased in price to £1.50 each, or 4 for £4.

The amateur economist can draw several lessons from the fact that peacock-feathers are sold to the tourists of Brick Lane and Trafalgar Square.

Packed Brick Lane market seemed to be teasing recession-hit Stoke with its tables of mismatched Wedgwood being picked up and turned over by enthusiastic hunters. But then you'd think of their overheads. And of how hard it probably was to get a spot in this teeming market. It is bad form to begrudge anyone a living, but as soon as I stepped off the train back in Stoke, I felt the familiar rising feeling of anger at missed opportunities, silence and passive barriers; envy for Burslem and its quiet streets. At the same time knowing gloom, blame and helplessness is a bad habit, preventing us from just getting on and working towards the city we want to see.

The many successful traders of Stoke are like the peacock-feather sellers. They find or make something simple and beautiful and take it to where the crowds are. The global pottery industry developed in a way that was untainted - relatively if not completely - by slavery and exploitation. We can learn much inside and outside of the Potteries.

Maybe next time I'm in London I should ask those questions.