Geezers and Goldfish Bowls

In the early 90s I worked London’s markets; the following is an account of true events (continued from: Songs T Taught Me and the Mystery of Charlie Chaplin):

Spaces always look smaller when empty; something in this case helped big time by the stage being hidden behind a curtain. The area once full of merry drinkers now occupied by a solitary pool table, five ‘chaps‘ drinking and smoking round it.

It’d become one of those pubs where unless you knew someone already there, everyone there would assume you undercover plod worthy of a good stabbingup. The fact one of us was a loud Aussie doing nothing to allay suspicions; on the contrary, what better way for a rozzer to hide than appearing to be from a different country.

Last thing to do: turn tail and leave.

Instead, have a drink like being there is the perfectly natural order of things; then, about three-quarters of the way through, start looking at watch like the regular you’re meeting is late; so late that by the end of the drink you can’t hang about waiting any longer.

I ordered at the bar while pool balls clinked loud in a stony silence down by the stage; the players suddenly on edge and wary about anything we might’ve been there to hear them say.

The Aussie looked at me, cheerily suggested putting money on the pool table to join the queue for a game.

To be fair to her total urban jungle ignorance of the situation (she was from some far flung corner of Oz) every backpacker I’ve met is like a happy puppy that wants to be friends with everyone.

The no she got in reply might’ve been quiet, but it left no doubt it’d be the worst idea in the world.

History shows the Lane has been through and bounced back from recessions before; but what’s often missed is that things don’t come back the same shape. It isn’t anywhere near the same today; a look at ‘street view’ and most of the pubs down there have gone.

Making the recession leading to the pubs’ demise bite even harder, me and T’s return to the Lane was soon followed by a bitterly cold winter. Then, one morning, it snowed.

In London, a rare thing; but what I woke up to that day was on a par with the Pyrenees.

We still loaded up and went: wasn’t a stall being set-up in sight; just market cleaners sweeping and shovelling snow into giant mountains as still more fell.

When T jumped out the motor, I didn’t go look for parking, just waited—hazards flashing—motor pulled across the entrance to the lane.

He was soon heading back, blowing on cupped hands, treading carefully though wanting to be quick cos of the cold.

Jumping back in, he said, “Peckham.”


“Club I know will be open”

“You want to go to a club in Peckham now? You’re having a fucking laugh. I ain’t going to one of those dives for love or money, mate!”

I knew all about ‘clubs’ in Peckham—a door at the end of an alley leading to a downstairs gambling den; an area at the back of a kebab house where drinking went on all night; the basement of a mini cab office used for raves at weekends—and truly life would’ve been better lived in complete ignorance of them.

Sleazy, desperate places full of ‘geezers’ trying to shift anything from dodgy MOTs to badly cut Class A drugs and ‘birds’ more than willing to lay down for a couple of toots of the latter.

“Nah, it ain’t like that,” T protested. “It’s a workingmen’s club”

“It’s still stupid o’clock in the fucking morning.”

“It won’t take long,” said T. “Just one drink.”

Christ, how desperate was he for a sherbet; no wonder he’d kept getting done behind the wheel!

“C’mon,” T literally pleaded. “I can hardly get up there on my own.”

It’d be easier to get it over and done than sit there arguing given I’d drop him home after unloading anyway. “Fine, let’s go drop the stock!”

“Nah,” T replied. “No need for that. Straight there.”

No need? . . .”

We argued about that instead.

My motor was a Ford Cortina estate. It had three sunroofs on account of the previous owner knowing someone who happened to have a load of really cheap nicked ones. It was like driving round in a goldfish bowl.

It couldn’t have been a better display cabinet if it tried (image not my actual motor though identical but for only having just the one sunroof).

I have to hold my hands up

No idea now how we got to the ‘compromise’ of drop some of the stuff off and take the rest into the club with us, but that’s where we ended up in the name of it.

Perhaps not the worst den of iniquity Peckham had to offer, but it was still a workingmen’s club we were heading to.

A Life of Crime vs. the Free Market:

Thanks for reading 🙂

N. P. Ryan

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Image courtesy Alex Sheldon

Pool balls courtesy Tima Miroshnichenko

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