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Interviewee/s: Ted Manning
Interview Date: 03 October 2019
Interviewer: Q1: Jamie Cho. Q2: Nikki Shaill
Location: Crown River Cruises office, Tower Pier, London
Q1: Okay, so, this is an oral history interview with Ted Manning on Thursday 3rd October 2019. Also present are Nikki Shaill from Thames Festival Trust and Jamie Cho. The interview is taking place at Tower Pier. Can we start by asking you to state your full name, Ted?
A: Oh, right, well, my full name is Robert John Manning [laughs]. That's confused you straight away, hasn’t it? [Laughs].
Q1: Then why people or – why is it called Ted Manning?
A: Well, Robert – the nickname for Robert is Bob, Rob or whatever. That's, well, I go back to my army days, is that when I was in training one day I was marching off the square and some of the boys said that I looked like I walked like a bear. So, I got called Bear, Rupert. Eventually he settled on Ted. And I must admit I hated the nickname Bob so I stuck with Ted and I've just been Ted ever since [laughs].
Q1: That's an interesting origin of your name. And what is your date of birth?
A: 28.01.1959. It makes me sixty.
Q1: Okay. And where were you born?
A: Loughborough in Leicestershire.
Q1: And what are your parents’ names?
A: My mother, who’s still alive, is Kathleen. And my father, who died some years ago, was Leonard Arthur Manning. And Kathleen Lamb was her original, maiden name.
Q1: What did your parents do for a living?
A: Well, my mother, in those days was a mother, so she stayed at home. My father worked – he was in the navy for about ten years and then when he came out he worked for GCHQ, which – as a radio operator. So, basically his daily job was listening in to all the Russian traffic in the Cold War years. So, yeah, it was quite an important job and we never knew anything about it cos of course he wasn’t allowed to say anything in those days.
Q1: And where did you grow up?
A: I was seven when we left Loughborough and then we moved, because my father’s place there, the organisation closed down and they opened another station near Taunton. So, I grew up in a small village just outside of Taunton, called Corfe.
Q1: And what do you recall about your childhood?
A: Oh, that's a good question. Goodness gracious. Well, I suppose it was good in the fact that when I was young, being in the country, the countryside, really, you just played around on the farm. I was driving tractors [laughs] at the age of thirteen. So, I started driving tractors and played around on the farm and built hay – little sort of, um, what would you call it? Uh, dens, in the hayricks and things like that. But mostly working on farms and occasionally I’d have to milk the cows and do things like that. So, that was great until of course you got to your teenage years then all your friends who were in town were doing all those – chasing after young ladies and all the things you do as a teenager. And of course I was stuck in the countryside, so, it was a – I then wanted to get into town. But no, I've got to say, it was pretty good. There weren’t many young people in the village, so, really, my only friends were the farmer’s son and his two sisters. No, I think one other chap, young boy, lived in the village. So, yeah, it was pretty, I wouldn't say isolated upbringing, but it was good fun.
Q1: As we know, you used to be a fish inspector. How did you get into the fish game in the first instance?
A: Oh, well, I left home at sixteen and then I joined the army. So, I was an apprentice for two years and I was apprenticed as a chef, so that was going to be my job in the army. And at that stage I was khaki through and through, so I was going to do the whole twenty-two years and all that. But after about eleven years I decided for various reasons to come out. And it just so happened that the company I worked for – and I’ll have to explain that a little bit cos it seems a bit – it will seem a bit strange to people because the company I worked for when I came out, which is called Fishmongers’ Company, is one of the very old livery companies of the City. And when I say, how do you describe a livery company, there are lots of guilds in the City that grew up – and we're talking hundreds of years ago. So, our first Chartered Fishmongers’ Company goes back 600 years. And we were in existence before that. And essentially, they used to control their trade, so you'll have like the Drapers’ Company, you've got the Merchants, the Merchant Taylors, the Mercers’ Company. There are 108 different livery companies. And not all are old. Some of them are fairly new. But basically, these controlled their trades in their time. So, they were very rich and powerful companies. And quite often the kings and queens wanted to go to war or wanted to build a new palace and they needed money, so they would come to these rich companies, take their money but they would get Charters which would confirm their position and their entitlement to do what you wanted to in your trade. And that's how it all evolved. So, the Fishmonger’s Company now is, if you look at the premises, it’s this grand palace almost. If you look online you will see what it looks like. It’s this beautiful place. So, when I came out of the army, to come back to your question [laughs], when I came out of the army this company was advertising on a sort of – they wanted someone from the military, whichever branch of it. And they were advertising on this particular circuit, which I was on. So, six months before you leave the army and six months after, they will send you relevant information of the kind of job you were looking for and the people who were looking for those people. So, this job advert came out for a fisheries inspector at Billingsgate Market. Now, at that stage I’d never lived in London and I didn't know much about London. I certainly knew nothing about livery companies. So, when I turned up at Fishmonger’s Hall for the interview, it was a bit strange that I’m going for a job as a fisheries inspector at Billingsgate Market. And here's this grand palace that I’m being interviewed in. And it’s like, what is the connection here? So, it was a bit strange. However, they gave me the job and that's when I started. I think it was 1986, ’87 that I started as a fisheries inspector at Billingsgate Market. And that of course then was the new market, cos the old market which had been in Lower Thames Street in the old Billingsgate Market building, which is still there. But the market in those days spread out, so it wasn’t just confined to that building. It was spread out into all the different streets around the area. So, it was a whole industry and of course Lower Thames Street was a main thoroughfare through the City and it was obvious that eventually it was going to have to move because it was just causing too much traffic congestion. And that's when they decided to move to the Isle of Dogs which at the time was a pretty deserted area and they wanted to regenerate that whole area. And so Billingsgate was one of the first businesses that relocated there.
Q1: And how long have you been working as a fish inspector, then?
A: I did eleven years as a fisheries inspector for the company and then they allowed me the opportunity to go back to Fishmongers’ Hall as the steward. So, some companies would call that position the beadle, which is basically looking after the Hall. And because of my catering background I was sort of manager of the Hall, I coordinated the events there, so I – internal events and also people used to come and hire the Hall, so you were dealing with the clients and the security side of things. So, basically, a sort of combined facilities manager, a catering manager kind of thing there. And I did that for another seventeen years. So, I did twenty-seven years altogether with the Fishmongers’ Company before retiring then.
Q1: What does a fish inspector do?
A: Look at fish all day [laughs]. That was – basically, this goes back in history. So, as I explained, these companies used to control the trades, okay. So, we had complete control of the sale of fish in London. So, nobody could sell fish except Fishmongers’ Company or, shall we say, a member of Fishmongers’ Company. So, you would start as an apprentice in the City which has the trade and then – have you heard of the City Freemen? Okay. Well, this was an important thing because of – in history, basically, everybody was serfs. And if you were a serf you didn't have much of a chance to make anything of yourself. So, then what you would do is you would do an apprenticeship, okay. And once you've done your apprenticeship you would be given then the Freedom of that company and with that went the Freedom of the City. And that was a very important thing in those days cos once you were a Freeman of the City it meant that you could then own property, you could start a business and you could start making your way in life and hopefully become wealthy and rich. So, that was a very important thing. You can still become a member of this – a Freeman of the City now but [laughs] it’s an entirely different thing. It’s more of a – just a special thing to be, to make you part of the City but it doesn't actually mean anything. But in those days, yes, it was a very, very important appointment to have. So, you would start off as a freeman and eventually become a liveryman and be part of perhaps one of these companies. But there was two – there were those companies who worked in the victualling side, so they would be providing the food and the sustenance for the apprentices of the other companies.
A: Well, the other companies wanted their food cheaper. So, there was a little bit of a battle that went on because they wanted to break the monopolies of the victualling companies. And eventually our monopoly was broken by James I in 14 – oh, hang on. I've got to remember. I think it’s here now. Is it 1402? I think it’s 1402. Who took away our right to sell this, okay. So, we no longer have the right. So, it was then free trade. Anyone could trade in fish in London. But instead he gave us the right to oversee the quality of fish. And then that's when the Fishmongers’ Company took over the inspection service of the market. And so that's where it goes back, this old term, as a fish meter, which you would just go round and look at fish. So, the modern term, really, when the market moved, they had to [laughs] strangely enough, get an Act of Parliament to move our powers from the City out to the Isle of Dogs because of course in the days we're talking about, when we had our Charters, it was many hundreds of years ago, so the City was a very small place. I mean you could probably just – the countryside out in the Isle of Dogs. So, they had an Act of Parliament and that transferred our powers so we could operate in the market, in the new market. And in the 1999 – no, 1990 Food Act, allowed local authorities to delegate certain responsibilities for inspection services to outside agents. So, Tower Hamlets gave us the inspection service for Billingsgate Market. And what that meant was that instead of just looking at the quality of fish, we could also deal with the hygiene aspects of the market as well. So, if someone wasn’t keeping their fridge – I mean we could always seize fish under our own Charter, this Charter of 1402, but we couldn't tell someone that they've got to clean their sink, because we didn't have that authority. So, this gave us a bit more power to oversee the whole hygiene service of the market, inspection of the market and inspection of the fish. Yeah.
Q1: Did you need any equipment or skills to look at the quality of the fish?
A: No. No, that's a very good question. And technically, the answer is no, except for certain species of fish. Because fish in itself isn’t that dangerous in terms of we – the fish don't share any bad pathogen bacteria that we have. So, a bad piece of fish is a bad piece of fish. It’s not going to taste very nice but it’s going to smell horrible but it’s not going to kill you. I mean there are certain species of fish species that would but in essence, most food fish wouldn't be any harm to anybody. So, really, the only inspection service is organic. And what I mean by that is your eyes, your nose, and that's it. And a skilled person – to come back, the other thing of course is that fish deteriorates very quickly. So, you can’t in all practicality take a piece of fish and say to someone, there's a box of fish, right, I’m going to take away one of those fillets and have it inspected or, you know, tested, but the test may take a week. But by the time the week comes back you could say, well, yeah, that box is okay but now it’s not because it has gone off. So, it has to be an instantaneous thing. And a good person who knows their trade, you can see. Like, I could walk up to a box of fish now and say, oh, that's about five days old. That's rubbish. Why? I could say, well, that's just come out of the sea yesterday. Because it’s the look of the fish. So, first of all you look at the gloss of it. So, there will be a slime over the fish. And that's a good indicator. If it’s really nice and bright and shiny and particularly if you pick it up and it’s stiff, what we call stiff alive, then it’s perfect. It’s probably hours if not maybe twenty-four hours old. It’s like it’s only come out of the sea the day before. But then if you see it’s all dull and the eyes are all misty and sunken inside and you pick it up and it just flops down then you know that that's, well, at least three or four days old, depending on the conditions it’s been held in of course. So, it’s fairly easy to see what is a good box of fish from what is not. The only thing you would test is shellfish because that is something that there was a major problem in the early 1900s with shellfish. And because bivalves which are shellfish such as oysters, mussels, those things, they filter, basically. But they can build up bacteria in their gut. So, unless that is purged out you can get food poisoning from it. There was a lot of work done in the early 1900s and we now have what is called, well, filtration plants. So, the oysters or mussels will be taken out and put into a tank and over a period of about forty-eight hours they would have recirculating water that goes under a UV light, so it gets sterilised and goes back into the tank. We monitor feeding on that. And as they're feeding, of course it’s purging all the bacteria out of their bodies, so after forty-eight hours they're perfectly edible then and there's no problem. Other than that, there are certain categories of waters as well. So, if you are growing shellfish in the category A waters it means you could harvest those straightaway and then go to market cos the waters there are so pure and so good. B category, you would have to purify them, as I've just said. And then I think C category is like, well, you don't want to take those anyway, or they'd have to be really, really heavily purified before they went to market. So, these days – that said, of course things do slip through, which is why we’ll always once a month perhaps go round the shellfish merchants and grab a bag of mussels off them and they would go off to a laboratory to be tested.
Q1: How’s the relationship between the fish inspector and other roles in the fish market?
A: You mean the merchants? [Laughs].
Q1: Yes. Or maybe those who transport the fish in the markets and –
A: Okay. Well, you've got the –
Q1: The porter, yeah. The porter.
A: So, you've got the porters...
Q1: The merchants.
A: The merchants. And then you have the City of London who – well, the superintendent, his office who ran the – because the market is run and owned by the Corporation of London. So, you have the superintendent in his office and within that office you've got some policemen on the market as well. Then you've got the merchants obviously, who run the trade. And then the porters. [Laughs] The merchants and porters, well, they're fairly unique in that – it’s like any market, you know. You've got some great characters. Some of them can be fairly difficult to deal with, some of them are okay. It just depends. But the porters, they actually, some of them did very well financially because they got paid in several different ways. They got, um, one thing was called shoring-in money, okay. And this would go back to the days when the boats would actually come up physically to the market and land their fish at the market. So, the shoring-in money was for porters taking the fish off the boats and shoring it in to the market. So, that would be a payment for them. And then you would get bobbin, okay. And bobbin was for them to take the fish once it’s been purchased. So, you come along, okay, and you say, “Right, I'll have ten boxes of that cod there.” Okay. So, the porter puts that on his head. And now on your bill gets added, bobbin. So, that goes to his wages. I mean before the days of the trollies they also used to do what is called nutting [laughs]. Now, nutting, if you see some of the old pictures of the porters, they would have this big leather hat on, okay. And it was big. And around the edge of it was this big – like a gulley. The idea being which, as they were transporting the fish, okay, any slime that was coming down would go into the gulley rather than down their neck. And then a flat piece of wood on top of that. So, they would put half a dozen big boxes on their head, so their nut, so we all call the head the nut, and they would go running through the market with all these boxes. And that was called nutting, okay. So – and that's how they used to transport the fish. So, that's how they used to get – so, they would have a basic pay, a basic wage. Then they would get all these other bits and pieces added. Since I've left the market that has all changed, as all these things do, so I’m not sure what happens now. But [laughs] the second thing is as you turn up at Billingsgate Market for work on a morning and there’ll be ranks of black cabs all outside. So, the porters would go in for a couple of hours, three or four hours, and make their money in the market then get cleaned up, get in their black cab and off they went. So, they could make a very, very good living, some of them. I knew someone who used to go round delivering fish as well, so a separate business. But quite often you could buy more than fish on the market, if I put it that way [laughs]. Do you understand what I mean by that?
Q1: Not really [laughs].
A: Well, let’s say if you wanted a washing machine, you could probably buy a washing machine through the market, or someone in the market who knew where they could get you a washing machine.
Q1: So, where do the fish and shellfish sold in Billingsgate mainly come from?
A: Can we just go back to one thing that we were talking about, the porters? About the other relationship we had of course, because you're now dealing with merchants, okay. And most of us, there were four fisheries insp – four inspectors. And there was the chief inspector, his deputy and then myself and Robert, who were both the fish inspectors, or fish meters. And you build up some good relationships with merchants. I mean some of them were fairly dodgy, so you'd have to keep a close eye on them. And most guys, to be honest with you, it was very rare that you will get into an argument with a merchant about the quality of his fish if it was bad, because you could look at it and you know it’s bad. He can look at it, he’ll know it’s bad. And it’s like, come on, you know. Oh, alright. And then would then write out the certificate for him, which still states on it today this Charter from James I, you know, 1402. I’ll have to check on that date [laughs] actually. But – and that's – well, you would issue it and that then would – you'd take that fish away and that gets destroyed. So, it goes off to make fishmeal. The only time you would get into sort of any real conflict with them is when they ask you to condemn the fish. Now, the reason for that is because although it’s food they're selling, these are merchants. These are market people. To them it’s nuts and bolts. It doesn't matter what's in the box. All they see is money in that box. So, the most they can sell it for, great. So, one day, let’s take an example, one day you get, I don't know, a merchant that's bought a hundred cases of cod, okay. It’s fairly mediocre. It’s not bad but it’s not good. That day though, all the other merchants have got cod which is better quality than his. So, he is going to come to me and say, “Oh, Ted, Ted. Look, look what they sent me, here. What a load of rubbish. I can’t do anything, you know. I just – come on. I need this condemned,” you know. And the reason he wants it condemned is cos once he gets that little certificate he’ll go back to the merchant at the [case 00:22:45] and say, “The fish inspector’s condemning it, so I’m not paying for it.” Now, next week, exactly the same scenario. He's got the same quality of fish but this time there's been bad weather all over the coast so no cod’s come in the market. So, anybody who wants to buy cod has got to come to him. And he knows he can get a brilliant price for it. So, that day he won’t want to see me [laughs]. So, their idea of his, what they can – their idea of quality is what they can sell it for. Our idea of quality is, no, no, let’s see how this – and we go back to the organoleptic testing thing we talked about, your eyes and it’s about – basically, you should only ever need to use your eyes, okay. Smell would be the last thing because if you – if, as a good inspector you wouldn't want to pick up a piece of fish and smell it because you'd be embarrassed in front of the merchant because they’ll think, you know, he don't know what he's talking about. But the only ones you would do would be things like skate and dogfish, or what people call huss or rock salmon. And that's because their skeleton is made of cartilage, so the way they get rid of urine in their body is not through urinary tract like other fish, it goes – it gets dispersed throughout the body, okay, till it eventually filters out. Now, when it’s fresh it’s absolutely fine. There's no problem at all. But as the fish starts beginning to decompose you get this really strong smell of ammonia. So, on occasions you would, if it was on the borderline, so you would – looking at a box of skate and you thought, I’m not quite sure about this, you would pick it up and maybe smell that, because that would – again, any whiff of ammonia and fishmongers, not merchants, but fishmongers, always used to tell people, “Oh, oh, no, you just have to wash it off. It disappears after a while.” Oh, no, it doesn't [laughs]. So, avoid that. So, yeah, that's part of the organoleptic testing. So, yeah, that was, you know, I had some fairly good relationships with the merchants. As I said, there was ones who you had to watch and you'd perhaps just pass him and then stick round the corner and have a look and that little box of fish which is just tucked under the thing will come back out again to the front [laughs], you know. So, yeah, you had to be wary. But you got to know all these people, anyway. So, now, sorry, back to your question you just asked.
Q1: Where do the fish and shellfish sold in Billingsgate mainly come from?
A: Well, when I first started it was obviously all around the coasts, so there would be certain shellfish areas, like Leigh-on-Sea cockles. We always had lots of Leigh-on-Sea cockles coming in. There'd be certain areas where – Colchester would be mussels and oysters. And basically, all the big ports, so Aberdeen, places like that. When I first started at the market there was one company that had just started bringing what we call the exotics, so there were – at first they came in frozen but eventually they started a trade in fresh, so they were bringing fish from all over the world. We had some really, you know, some exotic species. And over time that has built up more and more and more. One of the reasons, really, is because Billingsgate is not a closed market, so it is a public market and although obviously the idea is that it’s for wholesalers to go down but the public can go down there and buy as well. So, over time as more and more of the ethnic groups around the City got to know, oh, we can go and buy tilapia here or we can get, oh, you know, that fish, so that trade became more and more. So, if you go down the market nowadays there is a huge trade in the exotic species. I would say, regrettably, a lot of the trade coming through the market did decline and partly that was because the coasts began to deliver direct to restaurants. So, they were starting to bypass the market. So, I, as a restaurateur, I could phone up and get two boxes of cod from Aberdeen and it would be delivered, rather than having to get up myself in the morning and get to Billingsgate Market to go and buy it and bring it back. So, that started to decline the fresh side, cos I remember we used to have perhaps 250 tonnes a day going through the market. And by the time I left on a Tuesday, which was the third – cos Monday’s always closed cos the fleet don't go out fishing on Sunday. So, you get your fresh fish coming in, your first fresh fish coming in on Tuesday morning and that might have been about 150 tonnes. And then the rest of the week it sometimes was twenty tonnes or fifty tonnes. So, I saw a decline in fresh fish going out. But to balance that out there was a rise in all the frozen fish that used to come through the market, and all the value-added products, cos you can, anything you want – that's the value of the market. You can buy virtually any kind of species of fish under one roof if you go to the market, whereas obviously if you go to the coast you're only buying certain species. But under there you can get an awful lot of products.
Q1: Just now you mentioned that the fleet would go out fishing on Sunday. So, they would do that –
A: No, they wouldn't on Sunday, which is why you should never go and buy a fish on a Monday, cos it won’t be fresh. It’ll be from the week before. So, they take the fishing fleets – so the fishermen wouldn’t go out on a Sunday. They would take a rest on a Sunday, okay. So, Monday would be the day they've gone out, got their fish and that's transported overnight. So, the fish on Tuesday is the freshest catch that has just come in.
Q1: Okay. So, they catch the fish on Monday?
Q1: And then how about Tuesday, will they go out?
A: Oh, yeah, for the rest of the week, yeah. They're closed for –
Q1: Oh, so they just rest for Sunday.
A: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, so the rest – yeah. No, it’s not just once a week they go out. They would be out every day at that same – but you always – you wouldn't get a fresh fish, especially if you go to a restaurant. Well, I say, these days, they've got lots of frozen. But mostly if you went to a fishmonger you wouldn't go on a Monday because you know he's not – the freshest fish he's going to have is from the Friday probably. Yeah, that had been fished on Friday and came out on the Saturday.
Q1: How would you describe the experience of working in Billingsgate Fish Market?
A: It was great. It was a good experience. And the great experience about it was the interaction. So, there was a lot of diverse characters there, you know. There were people who'd, well, for example, I won’t name names but the people who have been very naughty boys in the past and they have spent time at the pleasure of Her Majesty but then they've come and – and they have become very good – they've run a very good business in the market, you know. You've then got another merchant next to him who has gone to public school, you know. So, you've got a mix of, you know, right across the board from very well educated people from public school that are, you know, running a business, from an oik in the backstreet sort of wherever, who’s managed to make good for himself. Now, and that was the pleasure of it. And there was always, you know, all these diverse characters. And some of them were [laughs] really, really funny [laughs]. And they [sighs] I always remember, oh, goodness, what was his name, out of that radio programme? The first presenter of Millionaire. Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Q2: Chris Tarrant?
A: Chris Tarrant. Chris Tarrant – I think it was Capital Radio he working for and he did this series of events where he would go round to different places and do a morning show from there. And he [laughs] came to Billingsgate one day, smiling at first. [Laughs] He didn't go away smiling [laughs] because these porters and everybody took him to pieces, you know. They just wouldn't let him get away with anything and they really had a go at him so [laughs] they can be quite brutal.
Q1: Were there any female workers in the fish market?
A: Oh. Hmm, one or two I can remember. There weren’t any female porters, I know that. There was one merchant whose wife worked on the stand with him. And I think there might have been one other. But apart from that, no. I mean if you're – it was a very misogynistic place to work, really. And yeah, I mean it was just one of those things. And you've got to remember, it was a very closed shop as well. So, as a porter I personally, okay, I got to be a fisheries inspector but the likelihood is I would never have been a porter because I wouldn’t have known the right people at that stage or I wouldn't have been related to somebody, because it was very difficult to get in. Someone would get you in, you know, at some stage. So, yeah, it was a very difficult place to get in to.
Q1: You mentioned the adjective ‘misogynistic’ place for the Billingsgate Market.
Q1: Why would you use that adjective to describe the place?
A: Well, because that's how it used to be in those days. I’m going back to the days of when [laughs] Oh, now, you've caught me, haven’t we? [Laughs] I suppose it just was. I mean I hadn’t really thought about it until you asked that question, how many ladies worked on the market? And suddenly I thought, well, actually, no, they weren’t many. And for various reasons, one of which I said is that kind of closed shop mentality. But even if it was open I think it would have been difficult for a lady to find a job there. I’m not saying that's right but that's just how it was. And you've got to say, it was a pretty harsh environment. If you're talking – you'd have to be pretty strong willed if you were going to work there cos you would take some stick, you know. So, yes, it was a bit of a difficult place for ladies to work if they wanted to.
Q1: Okay. So, how was the smell like in the fish market?
A: Fish. I think fish, out of all products, is one of the most – well, it is pungent and pervasive. I mean it gets everywhere. It gets absolutely everywhere. You can always smell the market, even when you're driving in to it. And well, here's a clear example. When I first started I would – you've got the two places. I’m talking about this magnificent palace that is the headquarters back in the City. And then you've got the smelly old fish market down here. Well, we had to work between the two. So, twice a week we would be expected to go back to report at the Hall. So, you would – that day you would come in your suit, so a brand new suit. If you wore a brand new suit and get out of your car, you walk in to the market, up the stairs, into your office, take your suit off, hang it up, put your work clothes on, run down, do your day’s work, come back, have a shower, put your suit on and get in the car. And by the time you've got – now, this is a new suit. By the time you got to the Hall and you're walking in to people’s offices there and they go [sniffs] you've been to the market today, haven’t you? Because – and it does. And it just – your suit was ruined. And that's how it would smell from then on. Once the market was cleaned up it wasn’t a bad smell. And the fish themselves, no. I mean it smells nice. I mean you can have nice seafood, especially when you're looking at lobsters and crabs and that, you know, that lovely sea – smell of the sea, it’s fantastic. And when the market was washed out and all the trading had been done and it was cleaned down, cos it was cleaned down every day, hosed down, all the merchants’ stands, it would still be there. But it wasn’t really strong a smell that it would be unpleasant but you knew you'd be smelling fish. But there was an area, so you had the market, and then as you walked through the market you went down to the cold rooms where the merchants had all their cold stores. Now, that area did smell, or could smell, pretty bad because obviously this was where they're storing all their fish, some of which is fresh, some of which is not. And on occasions you would get a merchant who had perhaps left something in there a little bit too long and it had to be cleaned out. And you would open the door up and you'd get this horrid brown slime over everything all where the bacteria has built up. So, all that nice, glossy, lovely-looking slime has now turned into this brown, sticky, awful mass of bacteria. And that would just be dribbling down the boxes and staining out and coming out on the floor. And as you took that out, that was horrendous. So, yeah, there was sometimes – and also all the fish we condemned. We had our little pound round the back of the market where that would all go in and once, I think it was twice a week, someone would come and collect that and that went off for processing. But obviously in the summer when all this, you're taking bad fish, sticking it into these barrels and it’s staying there another two or three days. So, you can imagine the kind of smell that was coming from that area, which was [laughs] extremely pungent at times.
Q1: Then how did you cope with those unpleasant smells? How did you adapt to them?
A: You just get used to it.
A: Sorry, what was your question again?
Q1: How did you cope with and adapt to those unpleasant smells when you first start working in the market?
A: Well, I suppose it’s just something you become used to. I mean you've taken on a job and over a period of time it’s like anything, it just becomes – it’s like here, you keep hearing all the boats here. And it sort of rocks slightly because we're actually floating on the river. I don't notice it because I work here. Now, usually I’d be sitting there thinking, oh, I’m getting a bit seasick cos it’s rocking but – and that's it. It’s the same as anything over a period of time. At first you think [sniffs] especially when you were going home to your girlfriend and she would go [sniffs loudly] “Cor, what the hell’s – put that suit away,” you know. “Stick it outside.” But yeah, you just get used to the smell and deal with it.
Q1: So, you can just use water to clean that all that smell away?
A: Yeah. Mmm, yeah.
A: And also I have a tip. You should never use – if you've got a chopping board, a wooden chopping board and you've been putting fish on there, you shouldn’t use hot water to clean it because it opens the wood up and the smell will get inside it. So, you always clean with cold water. The tips I’m giving you here, see?
Q1: [Both laugh] Thank you. So, earlier you mentioned that some fish, cos they disperse their urine from their body, so when they turn bad they will smell like ammonia. So, can you remember other species that they have different smells?
A: [Sighs] No, I – no, I wouldn't say there was a particular smell only in that respect of those two particular species, anything like that. So, we're talking about sharks, rays, wing of St Mawes, all those kind of species, yes. But in other species, no, you wouldn't smell – a piece of cod doesn't smell different from a piece of haddock or something like that. You might get different smells if the fish has been processed. So, for example, if you've got smoked haddock, that, if it were beginning to deteriorate, would smell different to a piece of fresh haddock because you've processed it so you've made – you've altered the state, altered the flesh of the product. So, that might smell slightly different. But overall, no. Fish is – it just smells of fish. In fact, any good fish you've got, firstly it’ll smell – I mean we're talking about the first few hours, twelve hours, maybe twenty-four, you will get a sea smell from it. Not as much as shellfish but you'll get that. Then afterwards there is no smell. There's no discernible smell that you will get from a piece of cod, for example. But, and again this is where it comes to the organoleptic testing, if you look at a piece of – a nice fillet, it should have a translucent look to it. Do you understand what I mean, when you're talking really fresh?
A: Once it starts kind of getting a positive colour, like it’s beginning to go white and like a creamy colour, well, that's when it’s beginning to go off, okay. So, what – but if you picked that piece of fish up when it was that nice, translucent colour and smelt it, you probably wouldn't get much of a discernible smell. Once it’s gone through that, it gets to the other colour and then you will start getting, well, first it goes like some sweetish kind of odours. And that's the first indication that it’s beginning to deteriorate. And then after that and then you will start getting all the nasty, off odours coming from it.
Q1: Was it more pungent during summertime?
A: Well, yes. Yeah, yeah. We will have a great – especially as you were walking to the back, when you went out to the – where the freezers and the storage area was and that condemned pound. Yeah, that certainly would make a difference, yes, and it did stink then.
Q1: Okay. So, do you miss the smell and fish market?
A: [Laughs] I've never really thought about that. I enjoyed my time down there. For me, personally, it was great because when I came out of the army I had to train, I had to learn about fish and that, so that took a while. But after that it was a fairly easy job. So, it wasn’t arduous. You weren’t really under that much pressure. But I did find over time that as there was less fish coming through, because I've mentioned in this Food Act earlier, when Tower Hamlets transferred their powers to us they also insisted they have another EHO (Environmental Health Officer), cos I’m not a qualified EHO. So, they wanted – so, that made this – we then had four people in the inspection service, which three used to do. So, the work kind of got a little bit lower and I got to the point where I really needed something to regenerate me and, you know, a challenge, which is why I applied and went back to the Hall. So, I, eventually I – I missed the market cos I missed the camaraderie and all the people there. I wouldn't say I missed the smell. I do occasionally go back there. And of course when you go back there, well, isn’t it funny how things – I’m going to go off-tangent here [laughs]. But how a smell will bring back a memory. And the reason I say that, I did a sailing project a few years ago and I was sailing down to the Canary Islands to go over to Antigua. And I stopped in a place in Portugal called Sines. It’s stupid, really, but – and I went into the washrooms and I was just washing my hands and I pumped this soap and I was like that [sniffs]. I've smelt this. And it took me back to my childhood because this smell of this soap on my hands smelt like Hubba Bubba, chewing gum, which we used to have as a kid. And suddenly I was like, [sniffs] oh, dear, you know. Phew, I’m now a seven year old in front of the – picking me sweets out and I'll have some Fruit Salad, a couple of Black Jacks, a couple of sherbet straws and – so a smell can just instantaneously transport you somewhere else. So, it’s nice sometimes when I do back to the market that it does bring those memories of working there and all the people I used to know, cos a lot have now – have passed away, you know. So, there's, uh, yeah, good friends that you used to know, now sadly, yeah, no longer there.
Q1: I've finished my questions. [both laugh].
Q2: Thank you. Can I just ask a couple more questions? Is that alright? It’s amazing hearing about the smells, good and bad, and things. As part of The Barking Stink Project we have actually got a smell that we're showing with people, called ‘fish market’.
A: Okay [laughs].
Q1: And I just wondered if you could have a little smell and just say if you think it’s anything like what you smelt or not? So, I’m just passing Ted the smell. He's having a sniff.
A: That's okay. But I'll tell you what that smells like. It smells like fresh mackerel. Because it’s got that metallic [sniffs] background to it. And that's what mackerel – I mean anything like mackerel, they've got that metallic-y taste, that metallic-y smell. So, I wouldn't say that's – that doesn't represent to me that's fish or that smell but there are notes of deterioration in there but the predominant note I get is the, yeah, the mackerel.
Q2: Thank you. That's good to know. And I was just wondering – so, you said about wearing – you were kind of moving between the suit and what you'd wear to the – what did you wear to the market? Did you have to put wellies on? Were you –
A: No, we had – you were given a uniform, so the white shirt. In the winter we had these fleecy things that we all put on. Then you would have a – you'd be provided with a pair of trousers. But we had this – silly things, really. These leggings which were just white legs. Instead of giving us a white pair of trousers you'd have to wear a pair of trousers and put these white leggings on which like have these brace – not braces but straps that come up to here and then you just pin to your trousers. So – but – and that was it. And a hat. Originally we used to have a proper cap like you would have in the army but eventually, we're going back to the hygiene thing again, when Tower Hamlets gave us this authority, we had to go with the white hats cos they were seen to be more hygienic than a cap but [laughs].
Q2: And you mentioned EHO. Is that European Health Officer? Or was that something –
A: No. No, Environmental Health Officer.
Q2: Environmental Health Officer.
A: And actually, that's what we used to do as well. We used to do the training for – cos the Environmental Health Officers have to go through various modules, like housing, whatever. And one of their modules is food and part of that is fish inspection. So, they would come to us for their training. So, I would lecture – I would do a series of lectures, about six lectures, at the Hall, on how to identify fish. And then they would come to the market and we would show them how to inspect the fish and what to look for.
Q2: Would you say you've got a particularly sort of sensitive sense of smell?
A: I've got a good sense of smell. But as I said, if that's the last thing you would need in your army, you know, everything else – if – it’s like we go to France a lot and you go around – like, I would be terrible because I would be – without my wife now, I'll buy that, well, phew, forget that, cos you immediately see what's good and bad. Mostly, I've got to say, over – abroad, their fish is stunning quality. Not always but nine times out of ten.
Q2: And do you still enjoy eating a lot of fish?
A: Oh, yeah.
Q2: What's your favourite? Do you have a favourite?
Q2: Or something you really like?
A: I suppose if I was to go for a – really, one of my favourite fish would be John Dory, yeah, which is a quite a meaty fish, a little bit on the lines of turbot. But yeah, a John Dory I’d like. Or the St Peter’s fish.
Q2: What's the St Peter’s fish?
A: No, well, there were three. John Dory, sea bream, and bass. And it’s where St Peter was supposed to have picked the fish up. And if you look at them they've all – both got – all three of them have got black spots on the side of – by their gills. So, that's a – oh, no, sorry, I’m talking about haddock, aren't I? Haddock. Haddock, sea bream and John Dory, yeah.
Q2: Amazing. And I just wondered about the smell of ice. We were looking at a project about whether ice that was used to pack and keep the fish fresh, whether or not you'd think that there's a particular smell to ice that you noticed?
A: That's an interesting question. The ice was designed always to melt, so it’s not the – preservative effect was to stick ice on top and of course the water would melt through, or it – only moisturising the fish but taking that cold water all the way through it. Sometimes – and then at the end of the day you – they wouldn't change the ice necessarily what was – that was in there but you would see them topping the boxes up, packing them with ice again. Going back to the days when perhaps they'd left them a bit too long in the freezer or fridge, you're bringing out – you could see the ice was also getting bacterial growth in it because you got that brown staining coming through the ice. So, then it would smell. But essentially the ice itself had no discernible smell to it, no.
Q2: Thank you. Yeah, I think that's all my questions. Thank you so much for your time.
Q1: Thank you.
Q2: Thank you.
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