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A view of stands at the 'Grande Braderie de Lille'.

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With some apprehension I took off for Lille, the victims of the August attack in Barcelona still in my mind. After last year’s cancellation following terrorism in Nice, I certainly expected higher security.

I regularly attend this yearly event to hunt for antiques to sell, which is always a challenging experience, as the market was so vast and sprawled all over the streets of Lille. Antique dealers mingled with commercial kitsch, music and street-food.

The smell of mussel shell mountains, barbecues and roasted nuts, and occasionally blocked drains, used to waft through the streets, with bagpipes, brass bands and African drumming providing the musical backdrop. One could get a rest from the noise and the frantic dealing in the quiet church halls that sold coffees, cakes and soupe a l’oignon.

Heightened security

This time, on arrival, a surprising amount of free parking spaces were available. It turned out to be too good to be true, as I ended up having to flee just before midnight the precinct that is normally buzzing with the atmosphere of anticipation.

By 11pm on Friday the area had taken on an eerie, sinister feel. I managed to squeeze past one of the many concrete roadblocks that surrounded the inner city, grateful that I was not forced to stay for a three-day lock-down and that my car had not been towed away.

When I got a lucky space just outside the fortified town I thought the gods were with me… but it was a far cry from the usual, cheerful atmosphere.

The security zone became in effect a ghetto, which no one could enter or leave for three days. I got up at six the next morning to be greeted by police and tow-trucks dragging cars off the streets to clear the area. Even Lille residents were not aware that they could not park at home.

Police, security personnel, fire engines and soldiers patrolled the streets, machine guns ready, outnumbering brocanteurs and other vendors. As people trying to make a living out of antiques stalled out, a helicopter kept the small market under surveillance.

Small pickings

The day might have been profitable for those few who managed to secure a pitch on the one boulevard left of this once lively market, as unsuspecting crowds of visitors – who had come un-forewarned and booked in for the weekend at overpriced hotels – had to fight over the small pickings, desperate to buy at least something.

I did wonder why so many of the usual stalls, that had once allowed me to earn a bit of a living, were empty, until I learnt that the mayor had decided to charge £250 to non-residents, where it was free before.

I am not sure whether the locals were happy with their takings, but I was certainly not prepared to buy second-hand Tupperware and old socks.

I left Lille early the next day to the sound of hovering helicopters, sirens and surrounded by fully armed military patrolling the outskirts of the ghetto.

I felt lucky to escape, reflecting on what life trapped in the town for any longer would have been like. Financially the trip was a disaster – but I have my freedom back!

Are there any other ATG readers who had a similar experience, encouraged to attend this year because of the good reputation of this event?

In the meantime I shall carry the free cloth bag with the slogan Lille déserte, handed out to us early risers, with a certain pride.

Roy Price

Via email

ATG has asked the organisers of the braderie for a response to Roy Price’s comments.