When I told people during my enforced year off between school and university that I worked in “a market in The City”, it raised more than a few eyebrows. “Derivatives or futures?” they’d ask, pretending not to be impressed. “Confectionary,” I’d reply with a wink, the more enterprising immediately getting onto their brokers to make sure of they got their piece of the next rights issue from Bassets the Jelly Baby manufacturers.
Nothing that I stated was false. Leadenhall Market is indeed in the City of London and is purported to be the place where Dick Whittington arrived in London (the real one, not Linda Lusardi, unfortunately). I did indeed work there in confectionary, selling chocolate from behind a tatty wooden stall in the company of a perpetually morose but likeable lad from Ewell. He had his own curious dialect, starting every sentence with “Fackin’...”, and appending the entirely unnecessary preposition “up” onto the end of almost all verbs. Apparently, his friend got engaged up, later married up, and even, after a drunken misunderstanding in an East End night spot involving the misguided compliment, “That tie’s a bit John Merrick”, stabbed up.
This was back in the days when I considered it more important to act bohemian than do anything as tedious as find a career with some kind of prospects, and I felt the experience of living and working in this oasis of working class grit assembled in the shadow of the imposing blot on the landscape that is the Lloyds building was more likely to give me material for my first (still unwritten) play than staying on the family pig farm in rural Dorset. I saw it as a personal Paddington Green, long before the BBC thought of it.
There were a number of characters, it has to be said, most of them homeless and/or alcoholic. “Jock” was, inevitably, a Scot who carried boxes around in a greengrocer’s in the morning and verbally abused everybody who’d listen after noon, by which time he’d spent his meagre wages in a nearby tavern. Bill was an old tramp who, if he’d got his act together, and had a bath, could have cleaned up as Father Christmas during the festive season, but instead passed the time urinating in the gutters and ranting about Winston Churchill, mainly to Jock. Rumour had it that Bill had once worked for Lloyds of London, but had caused a car accident that had killed his entire family, thus causing him to lose his marbles and develop an obsession with ex-Prime Ministers, but I have a feeling this was apocryphal.
Apart from them, there were few really interesting characters to register – this was the eighties, let’s not forget. The newspaper stand was run by a young lad who looked like one of the Goss twins of Bros fame, and he seemed to do very nicely with the bored, Readers' Wives section banking ladies, much to my simmering chagrin.
I was intrigued to find out on a trip back a few years later that a lad who worked in the fruit shop opposite our stall was not only still employed there, but also that he’d spent the whole time I was working there barely suppressing an overpowering urge to fight me. As a “fackin’ sjoodunt”, the fruit selling fraternity apparently disapproved of my habit of turning up to work with my nose in a Penguin Classic and longed to give me a vigorous caning to learn me a good lesson.
And I sometimes wonder if it mightn’t have knocked some sense into me.