On Thursday I went round the Christmas market in the centre of York, looking for interesting words, phrases and, especially, references to time. Earlier in the week I caught the first of Tom Dyckhof’s series on Radio 4 about how we are affected and manipulated by built spaces. Discussing shopping environments, particularly department stores and “malls without walls” (which is what the Coppergate Centre, where Stevie has been based, is), Dyckhof noted how shop and street designs deliberately subvert our sense of time, as well as of space. Shop interiors are designed to keep the visitor in the shop as long as possible by causing them to loose track of time (you never see clocks in large shop interiors). Streets in private malls are often designed to keep you moving (into the shops), on the other hand. When Stevie and I were in the Coppergate Centre, this seemed to be born-out by how much in a rush people were.
With this in mind, it was interesting to look at what references to time there might be around the Christmas market. Not surprisingly, most of the references were to an indeterminate nostalgic past (a past with no precise date): “The Good Old Days”; “Old English…”, “Historic York”. Even: “The Nostalgia Shop”. The only references to specific times I found were Auntie Annie’s fudge shop, which was established in 1966 (why does this matter?), and a bag bearing the legend, “Do not open till December 25th”.
There weren’t many time references, however. What surprised me was that references to places (specific, named places) greatly outnumbered references to time. This was epitomised by the Hot Sausage Co. stall, which was proudly emblazoned all around, in faux-Victorian style, with the names of all of the places where that company operates: Cambridge, Taunton, Exeter, Bath, Colchester, Bromley, Ipswich, York. Other examples include: “Yorkshire Blankets”; “Made in Yorkshire”; “Yorkshire Ales”; “Bottled beers from God’s own county [i.e. Yorkshire]”; “Bells of York”; “Fangfoss Pottery”; “Johnson’s of Wakefield”.
What these very specific place names signify, it seems, are not places at all, but (in a disguised form) the same indeterminate time as, “The Good Old Days”. It’s also linked to the word ‘the’, which prefixes a lot of the business names: The Hot Sausage Co. Like there’s only one. What I think it harks back to is a putatively simpler age of stable enterprises, stable reputations and stable lives, where everybody knew everybody and there might, in fact, only be one sausage stall in Taunton, which everybody knows. Say “Johnsons of Wakefield”, and everybody knows what you mean: Johnson’s of Wakefield, like Tellson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities might have been the resort of choice of those with discernment for blankets, or fudge (or whatever the heck) for generations going back into the mists of prehistory. Your grandmother’s lace tablecloth (the same one you still use) might have come from Johnson’s of Wakefield, and exactly the same item might be for sale on their mahogany shelves this very day. Why it matters that a sausage stall the same as this one also operates in Taunton, and a list of other places, is that, in this nostalgia-world, spatial travel is relatively difficult, even rare, and imparts kudos to those who can transcend place. At the same time, time travel is easy, or unnecessary, as nothing ever actually changes.
All of this seemed to be summed up by: “Warrington & Sons Present for your Pleasure His Old English Galloping Horses Suitable for Young & Old” – emblazoned round the Victorian carousel in St. Sampson’s Square. Warrington (a place!) had painted a series of light-hearted mottoes around his carousel as well: “What goes around comes around”; “100 years of fun”; “Memories are made of this”; “Galloping all over the world”; “Warrington rides again”. Time is rendered cyclical; not really time at all, but stasis: what goes around comes around. Time stopped in the Victorian era and no shopper has ever left the market.