I get into the Ginger Pig Borough Market at 7.45am, surprised I’m early because my way in was hindered by countless delivery vans off loading the stalls produce for the day. It’s getting cold now; winter at the market are almost unbearable, and we’ve all learnt over the years that just one layer of thermals isn’t enough. Right now, I’m wearing three pairs of tights underneath my trousers. Yes, three. The team at Borough started at 6.30 or 7am, so, naturally I’m greeted with cries of “What time do you call this?” and “Hello, stranger!”. But before long I’ve pulled on my work boots, a fresh overall and apron, and am ready for action. The work boots aren’t exactly flattering – in fact they’re clumsy, big and heavy, but what they lack in style-savviness they make up for in safety. The steel-toe caps will, after all, prevent a knife from taking off a toe if any accidents occur.
We spend 8-8.30am preparing for opening: joints are rolled and tied, trim is minced, and fore ribs placed on display to tempt those looking for something to roast. Everything is stacked high in the counter – it’s November, and for the past few weeks the weather has taken a Great British slump, so we all know exactly how Saturday will play out. The market will be heaving – tourists looking for something tasty and typically British, and under-prepared hosts who promised a winter casserole to their guests, both travelling home with as much meat as they can possibly carry.
Our 8.30-9.30am customers are usually the regulars – those familiar faces who make the journey in for their weekly quota of meat. One elderly gentleman comes at 9 o’clock without fail for six pork and pepper sausages, while a younger couple for a sirloin of beef to feed their family on a Sunday. They mostly order the same thing, and it’s nice that sometimes we can just automatically bag up what they need without a word leaving their lips. After 9.30am come the hungover; hitting Monmouth Coffee Company for a strong black filter before traipsing to us for all the ingredients for a full English.
However, it is around midday that the rush commences and all eight or nine of us are suddenly busy taking orders big and small from customers as willing as us to brave the cold. One gentleman comes in with two huge canvas bags ready to be filled; he orders a nice, aged T-bone steak and one of our Ginger Pig 100-day chickens for his family’s get together the following day. As we serve, the team manages to traverse around each other behind the counters, following our customers as their eyes peruse the meat on display. I’ve worked in butchers shops ever since I was sixteen, but I’ve never had customers so genuinely interested in the product that we sell, how it’s sourced and prepared for sale. It’s a great feeling to stand and chat about our produce with people who really care and take an interest; it makes me feel proud to work for The Ginger Pig.
The rush carries on like this for two or three hours – every so often, one of us will run out for a bite to eat, though the afternoon treats of tarts and brownies brought to us by the lovely guys at Artisan Foods keep us fuelled. Two o’clock is when the sugar low hits, which is good timing as the rush has subsided and we can work on re-stocking the almost bare counters.
But, this is the Ginger Pig, and no two days are ever the same. Today, I’m confronted by a young boy, maybe eleven years old, who comes running towards me behind the counter, crying. As I try to decipher what’s wrong I realise that he doesn’t speak any English. After five minutes of various sketches and diagrams on the back of a paper bag, we can just about understand that he’s lost from his school trip from Czechoslovakia. It’s now 3pm. My manager, Tom, calls around the shops for a Czech-speaking butcher, who then calls the boy’s mother who in turn calls his teacher.
We’re assured that someone is coming to get him, but by 4.30pm, and a number of perplexed looking customers later, there is still no sign. Someone makes an executive decision to ring the police, and as the poor kid sits there, munching on a leftover brownie, we continue to serve our customers with stewing meat and Sunday dinners. By now, it’s 4.45pm, almost time to shut up the shop, and as we wait for the police, we prepare the skips to put the meat back into the fridge for Sunday storage. As the last few customers leave the shop, the police wander to the counter, but the little boy has already rushed out of the shop towards a man in a red t-shirt – his teacher. It’s all we can do to apologise to the coppers and start to shut down.
Finally quiet, we go into overdrive – bleached water is thrown down onto the floor for scrubbing, a few of us are basically climbing inside the cabinet to reach the front to clean, while the washing of the saws and knives commences by the sink. With the doors locked, we all retire across the road to the Market Porter for hot mulled wine (it’s never too early). The market is closed on Sunday. One day off then back to the grind on Monday. In one day, I’ve supplied half of London with their winter Sunday roasts and rescued a lost boy, and I head home feeling pretty pleased with myself.