Cornershop Heroes #4: The Pest Control Man

AdrianEvery cornershop relies on a network of corner-shaped professionals. In this thrilling mini-series we meet some of the behind-the-scenes men and women that keep the indie retail world going.

Eurgh! Bugs! Pests! Mice…or worse! Yup – even if you are part of the 5% of the population that is fascinated by our cities’ low-life and vermin, you will have to agree that they are not good for business. Any retail business in London (and most big, old cities) that claims not to need a pest control contract is, frankly, living in denial.

And before you ask: Mr. & Mrs. S. have not (now, or ever) got (or had) bugs, or pests, or mice. But you know that old thing about you never being more than 6 feet away from a rat when you live in London? And you know that (wonderful wonderful) film Joe’s Apartment? These little things all resonate with Mrs.S. Prevention is most definitely better than panic in this case, and whilst Master Shopcat has his moments, they rarely coincide with the moments that he is actually required to do anything. And so, yes, they have a bug blasting agent, a jolly giant of a man called Adrian (that’s him in the picture – give him a cheery wave) from a very nice family company called Beaver House. It took a while before Mr.S. could convince Mrs.S. not to call Adrian every time she saw a spider, but they have now been working together happily for over ten years.

Adrian is one of the more heroic of our cornershop heroes, as he has to deal with stuff that would send most of us scrambling for the nearest chair or at the very least squealing in horror. Somewhat disturbingly, most pest controllers seem to be infeasibly happy in their job, and Adrian is no exception. He will regale you with tales of horrific infestations elsewhere using the same tone that most people use to tell bedtime tales. He is also, somewhat worryingly, a keen cook. Best not to dwell on this fact too long.

Anyway – give that man a roach-shaped medal and a bug-winged cape.

Shop Days #6: The Fishmonger

One of an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
A lot of people ask Mr. & Mrs. Shopkeeper where they buy their fish. And the answer is here, at K & A (although we can never remember if it is K & A or A & K). They are just beyond the railway bridge in Rye Lane.
Now there are lots of similar shops selling fish in Peckham. But we haven’t yet found one that knows their stuff like these chaps. They go to market themselves every morning, only sell stuff that is fresh and seasonal, and are not afraid to tell you what’s what in the fish world. They offer great advice, fillet stuff beautifully, and are unusually cheerful for men who spend their lives rummaging through ice and fish guts…
Anyway, we reckoned their work looks pretty hard, so we went along to ask Khayam, the governor, about his day…
Your day starts… at 5am on the days we go to Billingsgate. Otherwise, at 8am.
What do you eat? Quite often we make rice and qorma. Otherwise it’s one of the numerous takeaways on this stretch. There’s a great new Pakistani kebab place near the station.
Best bits of the job? Providing really good service and top quality fish for my customers. We’ve been operating for over 15 years now and we have a lovely, regular clientele.
Worst bits of the job? Some people think it’s the smell, but you get used to that. I’d have to say it’s the cold and the wet. The pain of a sharp wind as you shovel ice on a Winter morning is hard to describe. Ungrateful and rude customers are a source of distress too.
Would you want your children to follow you into the trade? My kids will do what they want to do, regardless of what I think. I doubt if it includes fish.
Your day ends? We shut at 7pm.
Back room secret? Our back room is mostly fridge I’m afraid. But we do have a robust heater and a kettle to help us get warm.
Tell us a trick of the trade… If you want good fish, always talk to your fishmonger. Ask his advice on what’s best that day, and on cooking it too.

Back in 5 Mins: Cornershopkeeper Lunches #6

Puree Burger
The sign is on the door, the key is in the lock, and you’ve got just five minutes to make yourself a relatively tasty, semi-healthy lunch before the punters start hammering to get in, tutting and looking at their watches. What do you make? In this series we share Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper’s favourite five minute recipes…
Egg Paste Sandwiches (Hint – they’re better than they sound)
Ah, now, you won’t have had this before. Mrs. Shopkeeper caught her sister-in-law making this as a snack for herself one day, and decided it looked revolting. And then she tried some…
splodge of oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 egg
pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
pinch of basil (optional)
1 fat wholemeal bap (unlike the one pictured above)
Pour a dribble of oil into a wee frying pan and dollop in the tomato paste. Fry and stir and stir and fry for around 30 seconds, and then crack in the egg, beating it so it kind of looks scrambled. Add any optional flavouring (it won’t need salt as most tom paste is far too salty anyway) and take off the heat. Slice your bap, and fill with the eggy gloop. This is best eaten straight away, but bizarrely actually works cold as well – good for those days when you can’t actually justify keeping the customers out any longer….

Music to Stack Shelves To #5: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Got to feel sorry for shops that aren’t allowed to crank up the volume when they’ve got a lot on. Or those that have to listen to lift music on endless loop. Anyway, this track by Daft Punk is pretty much in our top twenty for that funky retail work out that is otherwise known as stacking the shelves. Enjoy…

The Key-Cutter

Spotted in Kentish Town by eagle-eyed DJ Connell. Unfortunately we do not have the name of the shop (anybody?), but surely this is London’s quirkiest key-cutter… Any shopkeeper who writes little signs has our vote. And then, just look at that desk, that till…. This isn’t just cornershopkeeping: this shop is a labour of love. And humour.

Do let us know if there are any similarly eccentric cornershops near you. Or better still take pictures and join our Flickr pool.

Music to Stack Shelves To #4: Funky Town. Uh huh.

As shiny inane pop goes, this 1979 offering from Lipps Inc is about as good as it gets. Perfect, brainless tippety tappety stuff to enable you to get those shelves filled in no time. And the boxes broken up for recycling. And the kettle on. And draw a crowd of intrigued passers by staring through the shop window.

Of course, the outfit is all important, and for this to work you totally need to dress up in strange lycra pink outfits. And boots. If it’s any help the movement should be:

Arms down, body down, grasp, lift, stack. Back left, back right, arm shimmy, hip shimmy, forward left, forward right. Arms up, jazz hands, up, arms down, body down… DC al fin

NB: This also works quite well for dusting.

Cornershop Heroes #3: the Street Sweeper

Every cornershop relies on a network of corner-shaped professionals. In this thrilling new mini-series we meet some of the behind-the-scenes men and women that keep the indie retail world going.

Most shop-shaped stuff is within the shopkeeper’s control: how the shop looks, works, what it sells… But when it comes increasing footfall on the nation’s the high streets and bringing the punters to the area in the first place, he can at best hope for co-operation with his fellow traders and a decent, forward looking, financially flush council.
We are very lucky where we are, as our fellow traders are the biz. And the council…well, they get some stuff right. Occasionally. One thing we can’t fault them on is their street cleaning.

It doesn’t take long for unattended, unswept streets to attain a state of litter anarchy. Leave it a day, and there are fast food wrappers blowing along the gutters like urban tumble weed, and the pigeons have declared a public peck-fest. STREET SWEEPERS ARE VERY IMPORTANT. And our local ones are all ace. Cheerful, thorough, obliging (that means not leaving ugly piles of bin bags for collection right outside our shop) and thoughtful (that means sweeping in between the metal frames of our shutters).

The gentleman in the picture is Martin Millet. He works the afternoon shifts in our patch, and tells us that he really likes his job. He’s been at it for three years, and in all the time he’s been passing the shop he has unfailingly been a smiley-sweeper. The only bit he doesn’t like, unsurprisingly, is the cold. No amount of (dayglow) jackets and (council issue) gloves can entirely keep out the creeping cold for anyone who works the streets during a city Winter.

We asked him to regale us with tales of unusual roadkill or unexpected finds in pavement cracks and manhole covers: sadly he had none. But he did have a strange twinkle in his eye when he was speaking to us….

Back in 5 Mins: Cornershopkeeper Lunches #5

The sign is on the door, the key is in the lock, and you’ve got just five minutes to make yourself a relatively tasty, semi-healthy lunch before the punters start hammering to get in, tutting and looking at their watches. What do you make? In this series we share Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper’s favourite five minute recipes…
Cornershop Savoury Porridge Brunch
Ah, well, this was kind of like a dare. It’s a well known fact that in the winter the cornershop-o-verse is held together by porridge and soup: simple fare that can be heated/microwaved in an instant and is warming + nutritious too. Very few cornershops have anything resembling a viable system of heating, and so the Winter months see us huddled over mini-blowheaters or hugging radiators. When things get really cold we resort to hugging customers as well. Anyway, on with the recipe in hand…
Mrs.S. was making porridge late one morning, when Mr.S. offered to make her a bacon butty. Pointing out that he was three minutes too late in the offer thereof, and loath to waste the porridge, she smiled and patted him affectionately. At which point he suggested that she tried bacon porridge instead. This turned out astonishingly well…
You will need (to feed one shopkeeper really really well):

  • 3 tablespoons porridge oats
  • 7 tablespoons water
  • 2 fat bacon rashers, cut into 2cm pieces
  • 3 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • handful of fresh spinach
  • sprinkle of nutmeg (optional posh extra)
  • 30-50g cheese (any) crumbled or grated
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • brown sauce (optional not-very-posh extra)

Make the porridge your normal way/as directed on the packet (2 1/2 mins in the microwave should do). While it is cooking, fry the bacon (not forgetting to give a little bit to Master Shopcat), then add the tomatoes followed by the spinach and nutmeg. Stir the bacon mix into the porridge, and then add the cheese and black pepper. Dollop some brown sauce on top and purr…

Cornershop Heroes #2: The Window Cleaner

Every cornershop relies on a network of corner-shaped professionals. In this thrilling new mini-series we meet some of the behind-the-scenes men and women that keep the indie retail world going.

The window of a shop is its public face, and as such it is quite the most important part of an establishment’s structure. If a shop’s window is shit, then people simply won’t come in. Of course it’s up to the shopkeeper to fill it with enticing morsels and artistic displays, but the window itself also needs to be clean.

Now we have heard that some very hard working shopkeepers clean their own windows. We are full of admiration for this, as it is indeed a task fraught with complications: smears, water in the armpit, falling off the ladder, chaffed hands, wet everything…not to mention the irrational-but-persistent feeling that an awful lot of people are laughing at you as you jiggle up and down.

We tried to do it ourselves. The first time Mrs.Shopkeeper was up a ladder covered in suds someone came along and asked if they could buy the ladder (#youcouldn’tmakeitup). The second occasion, just a week after the shop opened, it was a blastingly cold December day and her knuckles were bleeding from the combination of wet and icy. Just when she was about to burst into tears and admit window-cleaning defeat, a little voice behind her said: “Looks like you need a window-cleaner…”

Mark Mason has been our window-cleaner ever since. We regard him as one of our sounder petty cash investments: a fiver a fortnight is hardly going to give the accountant palpitations. Mark is relentlessly cheerful, whatever the weather, and seems sublimely happy in his job. We asked him why, and he said he genuinely loves being out and about meeting people all day. He has been doing the job for over 20 years, and took over from his father: altogether they have had their Peckham round for around 60 years.

Seems the only thing that pains him about his work is the increasing homogenisation of the high streets. Corporate is as bad news for independent cornershop heroes as it is for the cornershops themsleves. Oh and yes: we did ask him if he had any, er, confessions (window cleaner? geddit? okay – you’re probably too young): sadly he didn’t.

We shouldn’t really share all our trade secrets with you, but if you live in or near SE15 and are fed up with wet armpits, give Mark a ring on 07932 085932 and he or one of his little helpers will zoom round with their super squeegees to help you out.