There was some amazing characters down the market like Lol, who was what you’d call somebody with learning difficulties now. He would have his own little barrow and take things out for people and they’d give him a couple of bob. One of his favourite sayings was, “No ’tatoes, no din-dins.”
Then there was John Carrington, who was often punch drunk. He was a fair bit shorter than me and I didn’t know who he was, so one day when he came over to me I told him to go away. Somebody explained that it was Johnny Carro – it turned out he was a really good boxer, so I was quite lucky there!
There was an elderly lady, Edna Sole and she’d come down with her little poodle Sooty and get him to have a wee on the potatoes. Then she’d go to the salesman and say, “How much are those potatoes? They’re looking a bit wet.” And it was her dog that had done it!
Sylvia Pegg who used to stand on the Top Market was a real strong woman. If she bid you, you started shaking. Then there was the egg man – “Coo-coo-ca-choo!”
There’s one or two people down the market that will have labels attached to them forever, like poor old Ginge – there were potholes in the road and if he had a pallet of strawberries or mushrooms on the end of his forklift he was always the one to go through the pothole and he’d be down.
Ginge worked with me at Fyffes. He was a lovely guy, but he was behind with his learning. One day we handed out safety knifes which stopped you cutting yourself. The next thing I knew, Ginge had taken his apart and slit his finger open!
I was the first aid man at the time, so I wrapped his finger up, took him down to Queens and got him sorted. When I got him home, his wife was at the door, saying, “What the so-and-so has he done now?”
Clive Streets’ dad Ray was such a gentleman. He’d come down and he was immaculately dressed with a dickie bow and you’d think, “Going to the market, like that?” Mind you, thinking back, we all had to be smart – we wore a collar and tie. I think I had about seven suits. I can remember Colin Gordon, who was always smart too – one Monday he came out of the cash office with a spring in his step, slipped on a cabbage leaf and went straight under a lorry. Big cheers went up and he made out he’d done it on purpose. There was always a laugh, every day.
There were so many characters on the market, such as Albert Brown, who was gay – in them days there was a lot of prejudices against him. As kids, we didn’t really understand it all, but if we saw him around the market or walking up Carlton Road we used to shout across the road at him.
“Albert Brown went uptown to buy a pair of knickers,
The knickers fell down and that was the end of Albert Brown.”
It was quite bad really! There was also a woman we used to call Sally Slickslack – I bet a few people would remember her. She used to walk around the market with an old pram, picking up any bits that she found on the floor – wood, material, bundles of wool. She had long hair and a full-length black dress – she looked like a witch! There was this poem we used to shout at her. When you look back now, it’s disgusting.
“Sally Slickslack sells fish,
Three ha’pence a dish.
Don’t buy it, don’t buy it,
It stinks when you fry it.”
And she used to go, “Shurrrup!” at us across the road.
There was Louie, who had got this fantastic watch worth about two and six. “I haven’t got many of those!” He was a fantastic spieler – he was wonderful. I loved to listen to him. He’d sell these Mystery Boxes. “I haven’t got many of these!” he’d say, even though he’d got loads! “Who’s going to be the first – you lucky man!” They were just junk but he was a wonderful entertainer.
I remember the lino lady, Maude Wilson – she came from a travelling family like myself. When she packed in work she went to live in Hinckley in a caravan. I went to see her and her little dog – travellers liked them little Chihuahuas. Maude died in that caravan in the end. In those days, if a traveller lost his wife he’d burn their caravan with all their possessions in it and start again – the only thing he’d keep was the Crown Derby.
You had what you’d call pitchers on the market – men who would attempt to attract an audience and sell to them. They’d do what was called “plundering up” – they’d get something of minimal value like sweets and throw them into the audience so everyone would jump in the air. When he’d got them smiling and laughing he would do his pitch. He was usually on an elevated platform, or on a truck. He knew exactly what he wanted to sell. He would offer it at a high price, then say, “I’ll cut it down, I’ll cut it down. If I was to let you have it for four pounds, who’d say yes?” All the hands would go up. “One, two, three, you’re number four!” So you’ve got ten at four pounds, then, “If I was to make it cheaper, would you mind?” and they all say, “No, no!” “Go on, £3.99!” Then the floor workers would go round and collect all the £3.99s and hand out the goods.
I remember a bloke down the market and I thought, “He’s had a bit to drink.” He had one of them big cameras and I thought, “What’s he doing?” Well – he was pointing them up women’s skirts! I just couldn’t believe it! I don’t like missing owt, so I was following him, pretending I weren’t and I thought, “I’m glad I’ve got trousers on!” Not long after that the copper come and got him, someone must have reported him.