Shop Days #1: The Butcher

The first in an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
Today we meet Gary (that’s him on the left: his real name is so long he’s given up spelling it out to people), of United Meats in Peckham. He’s been in the trade for over 20 years.

The Butcher


Your day starts: Most days at 6am, but two days a week I go to Smithfields, and so we’re talking 3am. The shop opens at around 8am.
What do you eat? Some days it is just too busy to eat properly. Then we exist on lots of tea, and maybe some fried chicken. But on a good day we get to prepare a communal staff meal and eat it in shifts.
Best bits of the job: I genuinely like meat. I like buying it, preparing it, and eating it. I love it when I can share my enthusiasm and meat-knowledge with my customers, and when they come back to me full of gratitude. Most of my business comes to me by word of mouth.
I am lucky with my staff as well: there is great camaraderie here, and we have a laugh.
Worst bits of the job: Grappling with council inspectors, rubbish collectors and red-tape. Running a food business in this country is getting harder every day. And the high street is not as busy as it used to be.
Also: the shop is open to the street, and on a frosty winter morning I have seen grown butchers weep with the cold.
Would you let your children follow in your footsteps? Butchery is a profession. It requires training, experience and skill, and I would love to think that my children would be dedicated enough. My son already helps out at the shop. But no: I wouldn’t wish it on them.
Your day ends: We shut at 8pm most days. It doesn’t leave me with much of an evening. Makes me glad I have my brothers to fall back on: I take a few weeks off every year whilst one of them covers me.
Back room secret? We’re all men here, and so we don’t have need for comfort. And we don’t have room: the back of the shop is all stores and fridges.
Tell us a trick of the trade… That thing about meat that’s been hanged? It’s all true.

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