Renowned for its creative and rebellious attitude, Bristol is constantly pushing the boundaries in the artistic, political, and domestic worlds. Award winning St Nicolas’ Market embodies a huge part of what Bristol is about. Home to an eclectic mix of eateries and shops including Pieminister, haberdasheries, record shops, alternative fashions, and even Doctor Burnorium’s Hot Sauce Emporium. Though some of the stalls don’t stick to the more conventional bargain prices of market stalls, the quality is high and you can still enjoy a delicious mountain of Moroccan food at Al Bab Mansour for only a fiver. On Sunday’s, Wednesday’s and Saturday’s the market spills out onto Corn Street, at the top of which is Bristol’s registrar office where wedding’s often take place, contributing to the cheery atmosphere. Aside from a few endearing grumps, the traders are happy to chat with you about what-ever you fancy and are keen to tell you about their produce. Whilst browsing the bags, dream catchers, and hot sauce, you may notice the guys in green vests. These are the people who make sure things run smoothly, who set up and take down the market, who keep the place clean, and the traders happy. They are an integral part of the market. I speak to one of these people; twenty-nine year old Medo, a tall, Egyptian-Johnny Bravo, who shows me around the market and shares with me some of his views on Bristol, the world, and life.
Medo grew up in Cairo, and comes from a respectable family of doctors and soldiers. He trained in the Egyptian capital as a physiotherapist, but his qualifications are not applicable in the UK so he spent the last eight years working for security and in other service areas. In Cairo, Medo studied physiotherapy and practiced as a qualified masseur. He talks about the importance placed on getting an education, and the disapproval placed on people who do not achieve. His work ethic is strong and so he remains level headed about being unable to use his qualifications. ‘I cannot afford to get a degree here; I would be saving for years to go. But if I saved then I would deserve it. You shouldn’t have what you don’t deserve. I want to enjoy the luxuries of life, which means I need money, so I work.’ He has enjoyed working in the market for over a year. ‘Everybody expects a lot from everyone; especially with the traders’. To Medo, people on benefits have the minimum. They are unable to spend money on more luxurious past times and items. It’s more difficult to enjoy their lives in a fulfilling manner. He thinks Bristol is a beautiful city, and compares it to the faster pace of London, which he prefers just to visit. ‘I love to visit London but to live with the hassle and the traffic and the busy and the noisy shit it’s too fast. It’s enough for me to be a guest there. But every time I go there I’m excited like a child.’
Our greeting and casual formalities are interrupted by a slightly distressed woman’s voice coming out of Medo’s walkie-talkie. The power supply isn’t working on Corn Street for some stalls and Medo’s colleagues can’t find the keys for the electric box, one of the wires needs to be changed, and ‘in that caravan on Corn Street, the ice creams starting to melt.’ Medo responds; ‘I think that the problem comes from the supply itself, which you can switch on and off; like restart it, and the key for that is in the old mess room, if market five is willing to do it, over.’ Medo comes off his break early to find the keys where he’d said many times to his colleagues they would be. He maintains his cool demeanour despite how irritating some may have found the situation. ‘The Egyptian sense of humour is not to take anything too seriously’.
The work here starts at half past six and finishes at about half past 7. Traders get here at nine thirty. All of them, they’re got to leave by. The gazebos belong to them but we have three market days a week. Wednesday is a farmers Market. He tells me the traders are generally friendly but when things go wrong they can get angry pretty quickly. As we wander around, he engages in friendly banter with the traders.
He tells me his favourite place to eat in the market is the Al Bab Mansour, the Moroccan place. He says he wants to show me a Zumba class that happens in the middle of the market’s glass covered section. Surprisingly, dancing is one of his favourite activities. ‘Walkabout, Lloyds Bar, I used to like Oceana but sometimes now it is ridiculous with kids running around. Vodka Revs, and Syndicate. Blue Mountain I love as well.’ So we head to the glass and watch the Zumba class, where the very friendly teacher lets us join in.
One Sunday a month the market goes all the way down Corn Street, rather than just the usual pedestrianised section. A marching band dressed in pink and decorated with flowers comes down the middle of the street, exalting the cheery atmosphere with their tunes. We talk about the different ways people deal with things, and how personalities develop. ‘You have the brain you think with that, we think with [our hearts]. We are emotions. I don’t like to talk of you and us as if we are different, because people are all the same. but the culture that you grow up in affects how you behave- even down to the individual level; so it is not useful to talk of us and them.’ Medo explains how every individual grows up in, and experiences their own personal culture. It’s when those personal cultures are similar that people can really know you. ‘You’ll never please everybody – some people like you, some people don’t’. He stresses the importance of family support and connections in Egypt. He doesn’t believe it’s right what the government are doing to the NHS, and talks of Egypt’s own free health care system with pride, while pointing out the corruption within the government there; which means a lot of the public don’t get to see much of the wealth provided by their countries natural resources. ‘No control. Nobody watching you, here everybody watching everybody and everybody declaring things. The honesty in this country. In Britain people are religious with-out the religion. In Egypt they have the religion but they are not religious’. He believes the Western ability to cut off from emotions is what makes Britain so successful economically, instead of following emotions and passions, those who influence Britain’s position in the world, are led predominantly by their minds. ‘Egyptian eyes talk. Pharaoh’s eye. I have to know you first to know what your eyes are saying. You don’t have to know me. The Egyptian people we think with our emotions not our heads. This is why you cannot understand the Egyptian revolution through he British media. It is distorted.’
He is very coy when talking about his romantic lifeand despite all his bravado seems to be an old romantic at heart. ‘After my first love I did not love any one for eight years. There is nothing like your first love. If I love her then I am her slave. I am like a dog. ‘It’s not nice to love somebody who doesn’t love you that much. Sometimes you can please yourself, but sometimes there is that thumping in your heart, and you can feel it getting stuck in your throat. The strongest feelings make you weak’. It seems he is a lot more modest and humble than appearances suggest. Although he enjoys going to the gym as a hobby, he doesn’t really enjoy the attention he gets from it. ‘Everybody looks at my arm and touch and stuff, make me feel embarrassed. I don’t like people to show off; I like to be proud of my body but not to show off. People don’t understand, they want pictures with you’.
At 29, Medo seems happy with his lot, and willing to work hard if he wants something different. I can understand why when he spends such a lot of his time in the market. There’s something contenting about its atmosphere and day to day dramas.