Market Place: Stalham

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The Independent Culture
Come Tuesday, a crowd will congregate in a field off Stalham High St. Farmers and villagers dressed in green and brown (with an occasional piece of string holding up the trousers) will arrive for the social highlight of the north-east Norfolk week: Stalham Sale.

In summer up to 90 stalls are erected around the meadow. In January, the number is nearer 30. Household goods are to the fore in the tourist-free winter though a few stalwarts sell 'collectables'. Milk urns, rusty swords and a bed and douche pan all await an enthusiast.

But it is the auctions that attract the crowds: 'outside' at 10am, fruit and veg at 10.30am, and furniture at 11am. An extraordinary miscellany comes under the hammer at the outside auction: tangles of bicycles, rabbit hutches and 1970s' computers - all gently rusting. Most lots are sold for under a fiver.

The vegetable sale is the liveliest event, held in a dilapidated shelter near an abattoir. Old doors lie on top of corroded pig pens. Every week these makeshift tables are laden with produce: brussels sprouts, still on the stalk; swedes sold by the stone; and dirty great carrots, stuffed into plastic bags.

The ruddy-faced auctioneer has a motley band of helpers. One, with an unlit pipe growing out of his corrugated face, is a dab hand at manipulating a cash-collecting device: a pole with a plant-pot tied to its end (credit cards not accepted). Bidding is fast, and some of the prices are astonishingly low: 56lb sacks of small potatoes can go for 80p . . .

At the far end, cockerels pick at the vegetation. Such is the intensity of the auction, both their crowing and the screams of doomed pigs from the abattoir go unheeded. Phil Harriss

Stalham, Norfolk, 10am-12.30pm Tuesdays

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