Many times we’d catch people stealing down the market – we called them rollers. Not long before I retired I caught a young lad stealing and I ran the full length of the market, chasing after him. Everybody shouted, “Come on, come on!” I was a bit out of puff, but I caught him up just as he got into his car. I opened the door, grabbed hold of him and dragged him out. He wasn’t English. “Why, why, what for?” he said. “Come on you, back!” I said. He went and paid, but we never saw him again.
Some of the barrow lads were rollers – let’s say they bought ten cases of oranges, there would be another two go on the order and the recipient would get an extra two. Then he might give the lads half the money as a treat – plenty of retailers was willing to do it. But it was a sackable offence – a lot of them did get sacked for it – it wasn’t worth doing.
Not long after I started on the market I remember the boss saying, “Right, the next step, Pete, if you want to progress is to work on the barrows and the lorries.” I said, “Oh, why’s that then Bill, have I done something wrong?” and he said, “Ooh no, no, no – I just want you to know every aspect of the business.” He wanted me to keep and eye on the rollers, which I did for a month or so. When I went back I thought, “Hmm, this is a bit awkward. Am I supposed to bubble my friends?” But it paid me to be honest – my boss looked after me very well.
There was one or two people got turned over – their trucks were broken into and money was stolen. I can always remember one Friday morning we were packing away and I heard this scream come across from Geest. I thought, “The shutters are down, the lads are messing about, they’ve upset the girls.” Anyway, it turned out there was a bloody armed robbery taking progress. Nobody knew about it!
Across from the market, where the Nat West bank is, there was one or two people who used to park there on a regular basis. If they bought anything and you was on the barrows you took your life in your hands going across Parliament Street. Anyway, a couple of trucks got broken into there. There was a guy called Trev who used to come down, a body builder who worked the doors a lot. He was Mr Nottingham and he even competed in Mr Universe. He weren’t particularly big but he could handle himself – he just enjoyed inflicting pain on people. He found out who was stealing, got the guy and gave him a right pasting. God rest Trev’s soul, he died a few years back – Pete and I went to his funeral. I’m 6ft 2½ and I just felt like a midget in there, surrounded by all these ex-doormen with their big black coats on.
I can remember Pete having a bit of a to-do with one guy who wound him up. Pete was quite fit – well, he still is for seventy – and he gave him a little right jab. The guy rolled down his samples, shook himself off and Trevor was there, like, “Pete, can I hit him now, can I hit him now?” Pete said, “Trevor, stop it, leave him alone!” and this guy went off. It was just a short sharp jab from Pete, but it did the job.
In the mid seventies, this man brought some potatoes down to the market and hawked them round to other firms who sold them on to you. They were two-thirds of the price you’d expect to pay for such high-grade Scotch potatoes. A few weeks later, two burly men came down from Scotland and sent a fright around the market. It turned out that the man hadn’t paid his bill. The heavies had been sent down to sort him out, but he’d already made his profit and scarpered!
There was stolen stuff on the market, but you never knew what was stolen and what wasn’t! They used to go round doing what they called tatting, exchanging goldfish for eggs and clothing – that was a big thing in them days.
You’d get spivs who’d say, “Do you want to buy this?” All their stuff was in a suitcase, got illegally one way or another – scent or soap. They used to run off if a copper come.
A fella came in my café one day and he kept saying, “Can I go to the toilet?” I thought: bloody funny, he keeps needing to go. I said to one of the girls, “Go and see what he’s doing!” She said, “I’m not, I daren’t.” I said, “Come out of the way, I will!” Turns out he’d got a carrier bag. I snatched the bag off him and it was full of packs of bacon and sausages he’d nicked out of the freezer in the passageway. I gave him the biggest pasting with the frozen stuff – I clouted him! He said, “Oh, you’re hurting me!” He was lucky, because at the side of the till I always kept the sauce bottles to use. If there had been any there that day, he’d have got it! I said, “I’m ringing the police!” He said, “Go on then.” I said to the police, “I hit him, he’s a thief, put him away.” They said, “You mustn’t tell us that because you can get into trouble!”