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.
Tommy Steele! Barbara Streisand! And the reason for this jolly little clip? No, it isn’t gratuitous entertainment just to get you to read this blog some more. Well, there may be a bit of that in our reasoning. But really it is to prove that traders can dance. And that some of them can sing as well (even if it is just to celebrate a day off). And to remind you of just how jolly good a good musical can be. Go on, admit it: that had you tapping your toes like a good ‘un, and misting over with nostalgia for an age that you don’t actually remember.
You see, the average high street is full of talent. Well, okay, this corner shopkeeper sings like a frog and dances like Pinocchio – but that’s irrelevant. If every shop has a story to tell, it certainly has a song to sing and a dance to dance as well. A high street has a real vibe and rhythm to it. Admittedly we are spoiled in Peckham as our shops are mostly independent and full of character. And somewhere like Southall would find it an absolute cinch. But even your average parade of shops has something worth singing about. Rumi gets it about right in his poem (even if he wasn’t talking specifically about shops):
There is a community of the spirit.
Join it and feel the delight
Of walking in the noisy street,
And being the noise.
So we got to thinking that we want to see more shop dances. (You’ll find shopkeepers think some very strange thoughts during the course of a day: it’s ‘cos they live in a microcosm.) There’s always the flash mob, but unfortunately they are usually choreographed by marketing teams rather than real dance pros. No: we want a proper modern ballet, about fifteen minutes worth, produced to celebrate our nation of shopkeepers. With a special soundtrack ‘n’ all – something fast and jolly and uplifting (we are thinking Karl Jenkins meets Sander van Doorn with a bit of the Afro-Celts thrown in). It would have feature slots for the butchers with their flashing knives, and the fishmongers in their wellies, and the chefs. It would have green grocers, and jewellers, and chemists. It would have colourful and appropriate costumes. And plenty of different nationalities, to represent, er, multiculturalism (which in spite of some current thinking is alive and well and living on a high street near you).
So if any of you know a good choreographer/composer….