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Mick looks back on a life in the Market

Mick looks back on a life in the Market

1 Mar, 2024

Mick looks back on a life in the Market

When Mick Reid made the short journey from Kennington Cross to start work in New Covent Garden Flower Market in late 1974, he was embarking on what is, to date, a 49-year relationship with what was then a brand-new market.

"Kennington Cross used to be railway sidings and they were my stomping ground as a kid. I had been doing an apprenticeship to become an electrician and earning £9 a week (and giving my mum £7!), while all my mates on the building sites were taking home £100 plus. So, I worked in a bar to earn money, was missing college and getting behind and the next thing you know the job came up here.

I started working for Covent Garden Market Authority, on the pitching gang, bringing the product into the market for the wholesalers. There were 14 of us and I had to do two months of training on the low-loading trucks, so officially I started in February, 1975. I did my forklift training too and there were only two of us who could drive them, so we were in demand. It wasn’t easy as there was a bank outside the market and in bad weather if you hit a bit of foliage you could be sliding down it!

It was important to get in and get to know people as, like lots of places, if your nose don’t fit...

I was on there for 13 years and became the longest serving member and foreman. But the pitching gang was dwindling in numbers as other people started to do its work. I was on a low basic wage – you earnt money by collecting boxes or water for people. I couldn’t earn enough money to get a mortgage, so I became a fully-fledged porter and first I was night man, working for a lovely guy, Gordon at Pratley’s.

I thought I’d step in and find it easy, but I found the transition really hard, as there were so many porters and all the good 'turns' had gone to the regulars. So you had to run your nuts off to get new people and build your turns up that way. Gordon always wanted me to make more money from my turns as he knew that would encourage me to work harder for him, which it did. I was always happy to put myself out for others as it got you more work. Some of the younger kids even then didn’t want to do it and the older boys found it hard to adapt to a new market and new systems, but that worked for me as people kept coming back.

I moved around a bit in the early days as a porter - with a young family, you’d chase the money and it wasn’t too big a deal for the firms in those days. There were 76 porters getting a right good living; now there’s maybe three or four.

I did settle down though and was with SR Allan for 22 years. When they made me redundant, my world came to an end. It was all I knew and even though I started doing deliveries, I wanted to be here. I’d known Dave, the guvnor at DG Flowers, since he was working in the office at 14. I was lost and missed the friendship and camaraderie. DG had got really big so I asked Dave if he could use me for anything and he said ‘yeah, that’s fine’.

That was a few years ago. I get in at 10pm and put together the orders for customers in the West End – you’ve got to deck it, put it on the floor and into the annex so when the guys come in, they know that it’s all sorted for them. We trust each other. Dave knows everything will be spot on when he picks up an invoice and he has a head start over other companies, who come in later and look through stuff.

Sometimes I’ll finish work at 3, but still be here at 5 – there’s always something to be done and I won’t go home until I’m finished. It all helps the firm tick. The time for a cup of tea and a chat is at the end of the day. Young kids coming in now find it strange, they don’t want to get up in the morning and they want a social life. Work in the market and you don’t really have a social life, you basically have one day off and that’s to recover!

I haven’t been too well lately and the market has been very supportive. I had 28 years without a day off and I was ever so proud of that. When I didn’t come in one day, they couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t get out of bed!

I suppose it’s like Marmite – you love it or you don’t. To me it is a way of life. I loved the atmosphere from day one, it was a buzz. When it was busy, it was still friendly and everyone helped each other out. It was different gravy. I’m 69 now and I can’t imagine not being here."

Tommy Leighton
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