A Tale of Gratis Woe

It was not without great trepidation and anxiety that I recently announced the giving away of three sets of three ebooks to mark the publication of The Bath Party – and not simply due to being an only child. Maybe I exaggerate, but I really don’t have a good track record when it comes to being on the giving end of free things; and once bitten.

My tale of gratis woe took place in the early 90s during a still-farting-very-loudly backside of an economic downturn, and in that vein is best told arse backwards.

It ended in an indoor-market in Croydon, just around the corner from the long-established and somewhat famous Surrey Street.


Surrey St Market, taken from the top end in what looks like circa late 60s/early 70s. I grew up frequently hearing my mum tut and grumble that fruit and veg sellers there had sneaked off-produce in with the good. Later, I made frequent visits to Beanos – ‘the best second-hand record shop the world has ever known’; it was located about halfway down on the left. The indoor-market was located behind the greyish-blue building facing the bottom of Surrey St.

I’d started working markets towards the end of the previous summer. Things hadn’t been great, but getting up at the crack of when things (by UK standards) were still relatively warm was fantastic when compared to struggling for sales during the gruesome snow-filled winter just spent down East Street (a place I lived just over the road from, so knew as East Lane).

Where I heard about a soon-to-be opening new indoor market, I don’t recall; nor do I remember its precise location/address. Looking at a map today, I’d say it was in one of the buildings in Priddy’s Yard (map below).

Amongst all the doom and gloom, something new gave credence to the few embers floating about suggesting things were on the verge of the up.

It was also in a (seemingly) great location – Croydon, with its reputation for top shopping thanks to the likes of Allders, the Whitgift Centre and in particular its close proximity to the already established market of Surrey Street.

Plus, a guaranteed pitch and indoors to boot would be a Godsend.


Priddy’s Yard indicated top centre. The photo above was taken from the ‘top’ of Surrey St, located on the map by the green P. The blue B shows the location of the grey-ish shopfront.

I haven’t been to Croydon for years; many of the landmarks on the map are new to me.

‘Cockneys of Croydon’?

Genuine Cockneys who’ve nipped down to make good before returning laden with booty and the hearts of others’ loved ones . . . or yet more ‘mockneys’ taking the piss; mere regular Croydon types without any of the special Cockney skills like wheeler-dealing or eel jellying trying to catch a free ride on the coattails of years of glorious Cockney history and achievement?

Misappropriated use of the word Cockney is an ever growing problem – one stabbingly dealt with in The Bath Party.

Where’s it all gonna end – the whole bleedin’ country thinking itself entitled to have a good ol’ Knees Up Mother Brown anytime it bleedin’ pleases? Not on my watch, guvnor!

That’s what all that Brexit was really about – the rest of the country getting its grubby hands all over Cockney treasures and jewels like Rolling out Barrels while Following the Van down the Lambeth Walk; though without all the style and panache possessed by real Cockneys, of course.

The E.U. had rules about that kinda thing, like how it looked out for Cheddar cheese, Parma ham and sparkling wine from Champagne.

Things started off brightly enough with nearly all pitches permanently let, but the cracks were already there to see for anyone willing to look. The market was spread between two huge rooms with an opening the size of a double doorway between them. It meant half the market couldn’t be seen from the side serving as main entrance.

But size wasn’t the issue.

It was the couple of large stairs between the two rooms. The majority of customers were mothers with buggies more often then not laden down with bags full of already purchased goods. They had little to no interest in hauling their entourage up the stairs and even less in trekking back outside to walk up the slope at the side of the building just to enter by the rear.

Even it being the location of the market’s ‘food court’ did little to encourage them.

That burger van deserves special mention – in honour, a tangent:

The people who ran it were probably the only people I ever met in my short time working markets who were honest. Waaay too honest.

I used to really enjoy their breakfast burgers; those runny-yolked fried eggs were something to behold. Literally – as far away from the body as possible until all risk of squirt was past and any potential errant juice had come to nestle safe and warm in the soft white bun there to capture it, lest one wanted a very literal, not to mention sticky, lesson in that whole once bitten thing.

I got to know the owners quite well; stuck out of the way as they were, they had little more to do beyond make small talk with the stall holders as we were pretty much their only trade.

A lovely married couple from ‘upt North’ (Sheffield, I think), who’d decided in desperation to sink all their money into the van in the vain hope of being able to make a living. In being mobile, part of the plan was to take it such places paved with gold as London.

The chance to get in on this just opening market was too good to miss and who could blame their preconception? – Pete Beale and the market on Eastenders carried on like the word recession had never had need to be invented; smiley-faced bastard with always enough money in his pocket for a couple of pints at lunch and most evenings spent boozing in the pub!


Smiley faced bastard Pete Beale: Lemon-coloured clothing King of Albert Sq;
Suckler at Queen Vic’s pumps.

The market was open Tues to Sat. There was no way they were doing the journey everyday. Not only was there the issue of time, more significantly they weren’t taking anywhere near enough money to afford the petrol (gas) to get halfway home, let alone back again the next day.

But if that was the case, then likewise how could they afford to pay for somewhere to stay nearby?

In a moment of absentminded noseybastardness, I one day asked while happily chomping on a post-squirt phase breakfast burger. It was, though, still firmly in my pre-understating the dangers of assumption stage, and I’d casually imagined the answer would be as innocent as staying somewhere nearby with relatives from London.

After all, I had some aye’up in Yorkshire – it made perfect sense the burger van owners would have a London equivalent of me and mine; much over-burger mileage could be had from what teams they supported and so on.

The more I learned, the more my chewing slowed; once easy swallows fast becoming slow knotted gulps.

They slept in the van, only going home on the two days off (and with right-now-writing-this hindsight, I only have their word for that last bit). This was way before the internet and the plethora of wireless access to entertainment that comes with it. There really wasn’t much for them to do in there for entertainment bar the obvious – right in that thin little gap between the serving counter and grill too.

My memory is hazy at this point. Did I follow-up in a daze or was the information freely offered up, possibly in revenge for the t-shirts I’d recently sold them that’d immediately shrunk? . . . Either way, at the news they both had a quick stand-up wash-down at the van’s sink before cracking on every morning, runny eggs fast became the last thing I was in the mood for.


The only picture I could find online showing the front of Beanos while in its Surrey St location, the only place I ever knew it in. Its sign can be seen top left; round with the word ‘Beanos’ running through. I spent a lot of time in that place circa 83/4 and still have cherished vinyl with the Beanos sticker on – an ‘A B C’ condition guide. It’s also the second time in a matter of months that I’ve only been able to find one pic of a ‘landmark’ from my past – the other being in About. I’m not that old already, surely?!

More in Songs Mr. T. Taught Me



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