The Mr T I worked markets with bore no resemblance to the mother-loving one in the video below. Mr T did a bit of this and a bit of that; a real-life ‘Del Boy’ if ever there was one. If you’re getting any ideas of me being the Rodney of the equation, you can piss off with them right now, even though they’re probably a lot closer to the truth than I’d ever admit.
The mother-loving Mr T mine bore no resemblance to, who according to this video thought it just fine to go round calling people things like fat, so long as no one’s mother was brought into anything:
Mr T had been working markets on and off for a while; when he wasn’t, he was known to turn up down London’s famous Oxford Street with a suitcase full of stuff to sell until plod got wind and a fast runner was done.
For a combination of reasons—a big one being the latter part of the Oxford Street equation often not being done fast enough—Mr T had started erring towards markets on a more permanent basis (until plod stopped going out of their way to look for him on Oxford Street, at least).
Mr T liked doing things alone – a lone Mr T Wolf, as it were. The Oxford St deal was a three person job.
- Fake excited buyer
Mr T was so good at the first he didn’t need the second, so concluded why bother with the third. While this policy had increased his productivity 66%, it decreased the head-start of the fast runners by 99%, so had contributed significantly to how regular he was reached by the Long Arm of the Law.
Mr T would’ve happily worked markets alone but for having just lost his driving licence (again); rather than the slap, caution and fine for getting nabbed up Oxford St (again), he was looking at serious time if caught behind a wheel.
That’s where I came in:
Initially we tried selling at as many different markets as possible, including as far-a-field as Kempton Park Racecourse. But thanks to the still-farting-very-loudly backside of an economic downturn even Mr T’s gift of the gab did little good.
Eventually we settled on sticking to the nearby East Street if for no other reason than it costing least to get to. Mr T lived in Dulwich; even with getting him first, only to drive back to just over the road from where I’d started, it was still only a twenty minute drive at most (at least back then at that ungodly hour of the morning).
Permanent pitches on the market surpassed mere gold dust to be like whopping big nuggets. Those with them tended to only work the prime days, like weekends, as that’s all they needed to. It left many pitches open to ‘temporary traders’ the rest of the week.
The market manager was obliged to give permanent pitch holders a certain time to turn up by; after that it was first come, first served with a twist – the manager had to ensure stalls selling the same things weren’t all clustered close together.
It meant being second could really mean anything.
It was a hectic start to the day: on one hand finding nearby parking; on the other locating the manager—who could be anywhere on the market despite having an office—ASAP to let him know we were there and wanting a place.
When all that was done and a pitch allotted, a market barrow had to be found, taken back to the car, loaded up with all the stock, then pulled/pushed to the pitch.
Still, sounds a damn sight easier than pre 1927. Then no one had a permanent pitch – who got what was decided by a rozzer blowing his whistle at 8 a.m., so signalling traders start the race to grab the best spot they could.
Given everyday in the run-up to Christmas was considered a ‘prime day’, pitch pickings were likewise cut to the wick. Post-Yule was more a case of what was left of the Holiday prime rib after it’d been mercilessly picked clean by families of vultures.
If only turkeys were known for their tasty ribs that might’ve been a good analogy . . .
Adding insult to injury, it snowed.
Anyone who’s experienced snow in the UK will know it’s a nationwide phenomenon on a par with the shirts-off-at-the-slightest-sign-of-the-rarely-seen-golden-globe-in-the-sky ritual.
One morning that year it was particularly heavy (and I stand by that despite living in Canada now).
We arrived at the market to find it pretty much deserted apart from an abundance of white mountains where market/street cleaners had tried shovelling it out the way. Mr T jumped out to briskly navigate ice in search of the manager.
Returning chilled to the bone despite the sheepskin, Mr T confirmed the obvious; the market had been cancelled. Not a decision made lightly – it impacted incomes, livelihoods.
I was all for running Mr T back to Dulwich so as to then get back to what was a possibly still warm bed pronto.
Mr T, however, wanted to go for breakfast. But not because he was hungry, no; instead as apparently eating a Full English would kill just about the right amount of time before the Workingmen’s Clubs opened.
No wonder he kept losing his licence!
Back then—and very possibly now (though hopefully not)—Workingmen’s Clubs were funny little places (that were normally actually quite big) serving cheap booze. Run by weird ‘committees’, they refused to let women stand near the bar (let alone get served at it) except for maybe one day a week.
There’d even be tape on the floor so the women knew how close they could get before expecting a serious reprimanding.
My grandfather, a communist, was a big fan.
Even further back in the mid-seventies, an aunt freshly separated from her husband with two kids (it was the seventies) started seeing a Rocker.
When going to his future father-in-law’s (my grandad’s) club for the first time, he refused to use the main doors as women were only allowed to enter by one at the building’s side, insisting he enter the same way as the person he’d come with instead.
Quite ‘the statement’ to fling in the face of a society clinging to regressive notions of gender etiquette, even if the precise person he flung it at would’ve considered himself equally at odds with that same society – just not when it came to women apparently.
Despite it being ‘forward-thinking’, it could easily be dismissed as exactly the kinda outrageous behaviour expected from leather-clad motorcycle-riding yobs. Personally, I put it down to that Spirit of 59 they’re always singing the praises of right here.
Suffice to say, grandad and uncle Rocker never saw eye-to-eye on much from that point forward . . .
Reasons to not want breakfast and beer (bizarre as that with hindsight may seem):
- The above mentioned bed
- Not liking Workingmen’s Clubs much (again, see above)
- I’d only be able to have one pint
- Generally speaking, not a big fan of morning drinking, unless at Christmas when it becomes mandatory; though only as it’s my birthday, not any of that ‘religious mumbo-jumbo’ (grandad’s communist ways having positive influence in some areas at least)
I don’t recall breakfast.
We argued about leaving stock in the car. It was a Ford Cortina Mk V Estate (think station wagon if in N. America) with three sunroofs—two over the front and back seats, the third over the ‘estate’ rear area—installed after an associate of the previous owner (a minicab driver) came into possession of a ‘job lot’.
While Estates are great for getting loads in, cars in general aren’t ideal places to leave anything; when they’ve been modified to have as many ways of seeing into them as possible, even less so.
Was Mr T really so eager to get on the juice that half an hour carrying everything back up to my flat was too much?
We ended up at the compromise of taking half the stock home, while leaving the rest in the car while we ate, to then take it into the club for safety when we got there. It made no sense to me. Mr T, however, conducted the entire exchange with amused smile fixed firmly on face.
Breakfast, therefore, was spent in an agitated state of anxiety; not that I would’ve recognised it as that then, hence why it isn’t included it in the list – then, while a long way from ‘pleasant’, it would’ve felt a perfectly reasonable reaction to the complete and utter irrationality of Mr T’s ‘logic’.
Unexpected change can be bad enough to an anxiety suffer; the market being closed might have caused some if it hadn’t been freezing, snowing and much warmer at home. All the crazy ideas not bed-ward bound, though, were starting to send me over the edge.
Where and what I had would’ve paled into insignificance against slightly short of breath thoughts for returning to the car and finding all the windows put in, a bunch of thieving little bastards having nabbed the remaining stock.
Mr T wanted to visit a particular Workingmen’s Club in Peckham.
Despite my denials, they just keep coming: things were similar with differences in age and height; while ‘Only Fools…’ was set in Peckham (where we were headed) it’s East Street market used in the opening credits even though Peckham has a market all of its own.
Despite the relatively short distance between Walworth and Peckham, there were plenty between the two. Mr T had reason for wanting to go there.
Would he tell me?
I compensated by imaging it as the regular meeting place of a Fagin-esque gang Mr T was the Fagin of (something that could make for a very entertaining reworking if the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is anything to go by).
On arrival we grabbed as much as we could carry and headed to the club.
What happened inside was nothing like I expected.
More soon Part V