After 18 months of claustrophobia and Covid-19, working from home this seemed like a never ending eternity.


My wake up call has come and the gloves are off. I'm heading to what will be a number of encounters working at Borough Market, in the outdoors and away from the typing glass of the Mac. My screen time is apparently over 2hrs a day so needs to be reduced.

I call up Turnips, a super reputable Fruit and Vegetable stall started by Fred Forrester and renowned for its immaculately presented fruit and vegetable displays and of course his book which never took off.

There are two good credentials here which are worth mentioning: ones ability to create such amazing displays through colour and lines and; the seasonality of the fruit and vegetables.

The lines are a visual merchandisers paradise, a free rein to do what you want with no commercial acumen or reasoning, but it works. The till is one that my daughter would have rinsed at 4 years old (that said at least they have one) and the back office is none existent. As such no VAT gets paid on take away items such as wild mushroom risotto and chocolate strawberries. The accounts team have been sponsored by one of the founders to bring their wife's to the UK and they are tied in. 

It's Thursday morning and I'm on the till. There are no fewer than 340 items on the retail list alone with prices changing daily, they are printed on A4 paper and dropped in front of the till for staff members to immediately recite and explain the rationale for the radical price changes. 

I'm a fairly commercial operator and highlight to the owner that our competitor is selling watermelons for £1.80 each and ours our £1.00 each. My thinking is perhaps we can increase our margin but still be competitive on price, say at £1.50 each. His thinking ….reduce all our melons on 60p each

Market operators have no wish or inclination to conform with normality or make decisions based on data. After all some of them have been trading for 35 years and they know best so why would they look at factual data?

Let's remember seasonality comes at a price. Ceps (Porcini) cherries and lychees can triple in price overnight but people want them and duly pay for them. However it's all about the delicious Sicilian oranges and lemons and the blood orange nectarine. Not to mention the wild garlic in mid March and April.

Anyway, after a short break I'm moving around the corner to Shellseekers….

This is Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction all wrapped up. We have the leader, nicknamed Dave, due to his predecessor for his time in the office and smoking fags. This is a different animal however. He looks after his team in a military manner but this pays off. RESPECT! Down to the number two who is super articulate; supportive and communicates beyond detail. This is a special quality and the bond between the two compliments each other and is a huge attribute to this businesses success and the morale around the team.

Shucking oysters is something else - there is care and attention required, a loving element for each shuck from cracking it open to the divine attention it needs when rolling it over. This needs to be done at speed and is a combination I've not yet mastered at home. But this is only the first part. The high energy, the customer conversation, the faces, the commitment to the course is second to none, fuelled in part by the odd bit of booze through the day. The customers love it - these guys run the joint, they are the wise guys. Just like the movie.

One thing we need to remember is that this is a market. The qualities and foundations are based on special service, one to one integration, regulars and a slight note going here or there for cigarettes or booze. This is what makes this place so special and keeps everyone together and engaged. So to the point we should keep this as a market operation with all its traditional values and not turn it into a commercial beast.

My early memory of the market 20 years ago was being treated to Padron peppers by Farmer Sharp then gifted with a rack of Mutton? What? Delicious! I wonder as I walk around what has happened to the presence of Neals Yard Dairy, Northfield Farm and the rest, all now superseded by hot food counters filling the bellies of tourists at inflated prices, all willing to wait and pay….

Some contradictory in terms, but this is a MARKET….