Tuesday, 22 April 2008
The Smell Of Money
My Dad was a Fishmonger and this is him on the right posing in front of his wet fish shop in a South London market street in the 1970s. This was before plastic bags and after fishmongers could no longer wrap the fresh fish in newspaper as it was a health hazard. Customers would bring their old newspapers into the shop in bundles and one of my Saturday jobs as a schoolgirl in the 60s was to tear the old newspaper sheets in half and pile them up for wrapping the fish sold from the slab.
My hands would be black from the print-ink and when I got on the bus to go home after work I whiffed of fish, my hands were black but I had a ten bob note in my pocket and I'd earned it. I didn't mind what I smelt like or what I looked like.
Once Dad had to pay for clean white paper to wrap the fish in he started to charge for carrier bags. On the original photo the sign hanging between the heads of the the two young blokes says Carrier Bags 3p Each. The other market traders in the street pulled his leg and called him Mean but over thirty years later he wasn't far wrong was he?
I love this photo because Dad's white overall is smeared with fish guts and blood but he would drive home, after his long day beginning in Billingsgate Fish Market at dawn and ending when he put the shutters down at six in the evening, in his ancient Rolls Bentley still wearing this overall and his Fishy Rubber Boots. He often got stopped by the police on his way to Billingsgate at four in the morning as he looked like a very suspicious character dressed like that but he enjoyed telling everyone that he'd paid less for this aged motor than he would have for a brand new Ford.
Sometimes he'd let my brother and I count the day's takings on the kitchen table. Or at least put the notes and cash into appropriate heaps because it was a screwed up mess in a heavy cotton money bag. The money was covered in fish scales and smelt of fish. One evening I flounced telling him I didn't want to touch it as it smelled nasty.
"You should ever have this much money and complain about how it smells!"
Thanks Dad. For teaching me the work ethic.