Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Life on the market

I spent the last two Thursdays standing up for ten hours remembering what it used to be like being a market trader.
My first job when in London was working on Borough Market. It was cold (or hot, but mostly you remember the cold), early mornings, hard graft, and huge amounts of fun. I stopped because I wanted to focus on studying and needed my weekends back for play, but I have a huge fondness for it, and have been told that when I talk about those days I light up.

So when I was offered a guest pitch on the Covent Garden Real Food market for two weeks this summer I jumped at the chance, just as I did two years ago. I couldn't believe that someone would be kind enough to offer me my very own little pitch, and trust me to fill it with my preserves.
It was hard. Schlepping everything on the train took two of us, a bit of help from bemused businessmen ("what an earth is in this?" "jam" "..."), some apologetic looks at the commuters who wondered why on earth their train was suddenly full of suitcases, a trolley and bags, and the use of some muscles I didn't even think I had. But we got it all there, and after an emergency coffee and pastries run, set up the stall. Week one was really wet to start out, and involved some quick thinking as to how to lay out the stall. I fortunately had my wonderful Mum on had to help out. Week two I was on my own to set up and it was warm but windy. Fortunately I had the Jacob's Ladder people on the stall behind me to help me with coffee and moral support and Lady J arriving to give my afternoon a well needed boost.

Once I was fuelled up with coffee and had the stall set up it was just a case of waiting to see what the day would bring. No matter what, a day on the market will always feel long. You stand the whole time and must somehow keep up your morale and smile and try not to punch people who make stupid comments about your produce (these people are rare, but somehow always manage to appear at the point that for some reason - rain, cold feet, hunger etc - you are at your lowest ebb). 

It made me realise just how much I love markets. I left each evening tired, achey, thoroughly confused about the Great British Public and yet very satisfied. For all you have to be thick-skinned, and prepared to stand in the cold, and lift heavy things, it's also some of the most rewarding work I've ever done. There is nothing like that moment when a passerby becomes a customer after tasting something you've spent days, weeks, months, even years working on. Two examples of this really stand out. The first was when a girl paused and before she bent to try my strawberry cocktail jam said "I don't really like jam, but Mum's a fan, maybe she's like this" at this point she tasted the jam and made a whole barrage of "oooh, ahhh, mmmm...." noises, dashed off and returned with her whole family and promptly bought three jars! The second was a bloke who said, "yeah, well, Dad makes his own chutney" then prompted by his girlfriend tried the taster "oh wow, that's amazing, maybe we should buy some and take it to Dad and tell him that's how it's done" Harsh to his Dad, but lovely for me!
It's rare that you get that genuine and spontaneous a response to something you've done. Of course you have to take the good with the bad, and accept that not everyone will like what you produce, but for those moments when someone does and chooses to buy something you have produced it is worth all the hard work, cold feet, and midnight labelling sessions.

I love the markets, long may I get the opportunity to sell on them. Thank you so much to Covent Garden Real Food, I hope I did you proud and that one day you might invite me again.


  1. I really think that post epitomized the "do what you love" motto! It's also wonderful having a product that you believe in, and sharing it with others who love it too.

  2. Ah doing what you love - it's the hardest, most unreliable work in the world, but I wouldn't have it any other way! So happy for you!

  3. Lovely post. I was wondering how your market days went... sounds like exhilarating and exhausting are the two big ones here. I agree with Rachel above; there's nothing like doing what you love.

    The farmers' market in our town is full of lovely people who are happy to talk with you and about their produce if you just stop and give them a chance. I've eaten some of the best food simply because someone's brightly colored offerings made me stop, ask a question, make conversation, and then decide on a spontaneous purchase. Now, when I see the preserve stands (where I live, they'll be next to the homemade BBQ sauce!), I'll think of you :)

    Hope you are enjoying some deserved relaxation after this adventure! (and, thanks for the congratulations on my blog :) I know I'm driving my friends nuts with wedding talk, but hopefully blog readers won't get sick of hearing about it!)