diamond geezer

 Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cloudburst over Merton

The morning sunshine has brought a crowd of eager shoppers to Merton Abbey Mills. That and the alluring combination of craft stalls, arty shops and mildly ethnic foodstuffs laid out across the historic setting of Liberty's former silk-printing works. But the sun is long gone, the clouds have opened and the courtyard is suddenly empty. Quick, move those second-hand books undercover and drape the homemade birthday cards in plastic. A tropical downpour beats down on drooping awnings, beneath which damp shoppers anxiously wait. They stare hesitantly at the wares spread across whichever stall they've taken refuge at, aware that the storm may continue for some time. There's only so long you can stare at embroidered boots, or ribbon-tied satin cushions, before stepping back out into the rainstorm starts to look appealing.

On the far side of the courtyard a solitary lady in a pink blouse sits patiently behind a trestle table laden with jams, pickles and curry sauces. Water bounces off the green canvas above her head as she stares resignedly forward, chin in hand. Each raindrop might as well be a laser beam given the impenetrable exclusion zone now established in front of her stall. Her weekend business plan is in tatters, at least temporarily. Somewhere up the road a bride's big day is being ruined.

Beneath the central clocktower a motley crew of local musicians attempts to entertain the crowd with a succession of tame guitar songs. The first distant rumble of thunder suddenly halts this free concert, leaving stranded shoppers alone with their thoughts. Time passes. After fifteen long minutes one guitarist risks electrocution by plugging himself back into the amplifier and treats his trapped audience to a cheery rendition of U2's One. Patrons of the Commonwealth Café, safely tucked away beneath orange striped awnings, look up from their Cottage Pie and Chips and show their appreciation with warm applause. Not so the fearsome manageress who strides out into the deluge in her bulging blue apron and demands that the volume be turned down. "That'll be our last song then, thanks for listening." Somehow the atmosphere is dampened further.

A grinning child runs out to stand in the torrent of water now pouring from the corner of the clocktower roof, drenching his already-soaked hair in this impromptu waterfall. A well-protected biker and his girlfriend pass the time by flicking through a rail of slightly-too-lively clothes. A bottle-blond mother dashes out across the courtyard towards the safety of the Wheelhouse pottery, just for a change of scene. Maybe the monsoon is easing just a little, enough to brave stepping out into the open again. Pink blouse lady at last has an audience, however tiny, to sell her chutney to. No heavy shower is going to stop these South Londoners from shopping, not for long anyway.

Merton Abbey Mills
location (Wimbledon-ish, beside the Wandle, nr Colliers Wood tube)
William Morris & Liberty woz ere


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