To get to the covered market you need to take a long walk down a shallow concrete ramp. It’s about 4.15PM on a Saturday, the only time to pay a visit, under a heavily overcast sky, lowering clouds forever threatening a downpour that never quite arrives. Atmospherically oppressed from above, overcoated folk hurry about to get their ‘last minute bits and bobs’ before the various joys of Saturday evening are upon us. If the atmosphere above deck is one of gathering storms, unsupped pints and unclaimed dividends, at the bottom end of the ramp it’s altogether more intense. I’m getting concrete, I’m getting sawdust, I’m getting freshly gutted mackerel. I’m getting… yes, all right, piss. But the olfactory overload is nothing compared with the headache engendered by the criss-cross network of strip-lighting that illuminates the scene. Council officials have diligently ensured that a mandatory thirty percent of the overhead lighting is set to a permanent wild flicker, giving certain corners a definite ‘epileptics keep out’ air. God knows how the old dears manage to keep body and soul together as they browse the haberdashery stalls in ambient conditions that would have been deemed ‘a bit much’ at Studio 54. The concrete cavern may be solid enough, despite being only twenty years old (FACT: all covered markets were opened by either Prince Michael of Kent or Vince Hill), but the stalls themselves are permanently on the verge of collapse. The favoured building material is pegboard. All the better to hang loads of packets of wool and Rawlplugs off, certainly, but it doesn’t half give the impression of a Mexican shanty town, eking out a meagre existence under the feet of the mighty ‘proper’ shops. Where the market really excels is in the novelty department. The kind of practical joking tat eschewed by the more respectable emporia is here in abundance, making the little joke cubicle the nearest you could get to those mythical ‘joke shops’ the folk of the Beano were ever dashing into. Only without the abundance of on-premises chuckles. Novelty vending is a serious business, and customers implicitly understand that any pleasure is only to be had when said goods are well out of the frowny sight of Alan the proprietor. All this surly transaction is good practice for the progress from black soap to Black Sabbath, and a trip to the second hand record stall. The intimidating atmosphere of second hand record shops is legendary, but the stall’s an even bigger ordeal. After all, in the shop the tubby know-all with the PiL t-shirt and the thousand well-argued reasons why compilation albums are for the mentally deficient is up to six feet away. At the stall it’s more like six inches. And he knows the contents of those punnets back to front – every hesitation you make in the lengthy flicking process is read, deciphered and facially disapproved of while you sweat. Bomb disposal operatives have a more placid time of it. Inevitably you leave with nothing. In fact, best to get out of the covered market altogether. The stalls are battening down their unwieldy plywood hatches and that miserable bloke is disconsolately pushing a hinged double broom arrangement in your direction – a final ‘clear off out of it’ gesture if ever there was one. Time to get back to the surface people. The Pink Panther’s on in a minute.