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As Time Goes By: Wrapping It Up

Eileen Perrin tells of the day she "lost'' her Mum on a shoppping expidition.

To read more of Eileen's vivid memories please click on As Time Goes By in the menu on this page.

I was born in Islington in 1922 and as a child I always went shopping with Mum.

With a shilling held ready in her hand, she’d say “Eight-penny celery, please” and the stall-holder would slide one out from the tight stack of tasselled celery, their heads graded in size from fourpennny to shilling, all arranged against an almost upright board which leant against the cabbages and potatoes. A sheet of the Hackney and Kingsland Gazette torn from a meat hook above, and the celery was wrapped ready to go into her shopping basket with the cooked beetroot and watercress.

Ridley Road market was a busy noisy untidy street alongside the railway tracks. Stall-keepers shouted - “Two for a tanner” - “Apples -a-poun’ pears” as women with oilcloth shopping bags bought Jersey new potatoes and Yorkshire blue peas. There was sometimes the voice of a wizened creature rasping “Get your Old Moore’s Almanac” who also sold Rowland’s Paregoric Lozenges in white paper packets. We never bought any. I had Veno’s Cough Syrup from Boots.

In a crack between stalls, sat a little old woman on an upturned box, selling grated horseradish, a gent’s large handkerchief in her gnarled hands, constantly wiping her red runny eyes. She sold the horseradish in small paper bags from a wooden tray where a large grater rested on the creamy pile already made.

I can still see all of it.

The raggedy stalls along the pavement had scrawny chickens with heads and wings on hung up from metal bars. Behind them fat women sat plucking and disembowelling more birds. An old enamel bowl held raw eggs without shells ‘rescued’ from the hens’ insides. Eggs you could use in cakes.

Over near Woolworths a man with a tray round his neck sold tiger nuts. He also had twigs of liquorice root, the ends of which could be frayed out like a brush to clean your teeth.

Prince Monolulu would often be there, coloured ostrich plumes nodding on his headband and bead necklaces over his satin shirt, yelling “I’ve gotta horse...I’VE GOTTA HORSE !” I later discovered you could place bets with him, that is if the police weren’t looking. He sold envelopes containing racing tips. Several years later, in 1931, he tipped Spion Kop in the Derby at 100 to 8, which coming in first, won him £8,000.

There, at the very corner of the market, inside his tiny cats-meat stand which looked like an oblong box set on end, stood the proprietor, his face framed by sprays of millet and packets of cuttlefish, looking like an over-sized Punch or Judy. Stacked on his tiny counter were bunches of sliced, cooked horsemeat, spiked on wooden skewers, for cats.

When out shopping with Mum about 1926, as a small girl of three, I was adept at getting lost.
One day, when Mum was in a crowd of shoppers craning to see the special offer on a hardware stall, I eased myself backwards out of the squash, and went over to a gap between a vendor of boiled sweets next to a stall selling buttons, pins and knicker elastic.

As I looked down through the iron railings into the Goods yard behind Dalston Junction station all
was quiet, nothing was moving, so I went back to Mum, but found she had gone, also the crowd, who had moved away from the stall sellling sets of saucepans.

I couldn’t see her anywhere, and feeling so desolate, I began to cry. A well-meaning woman came and scooped me up and carried me back to the market entrance in Kingsland Road. I was keeping an eye open for Mum. But, she wasn’t at the watercress and celery stall, nor standing where the man sold tins of toffees and boxes of chocolates, - one of Mum’s favourite places to linger.

By the time they had turned into the main road by Woolworths, I had decided that I would never see my Mum again. Floods of tears and a runny nose added to my misery and I couldn’t see anything through the mist, but I could still smell it. Round the corner as we were passing the fish shop where we bought small whiting for our cat for threepence a pound, and where they sold off pairs of kippers and smoked haddock at the end of every day, shouting to the passers-by to take advantage of the bargains. “Come on girls”’ they’d implore, “I’m giving ‘em away”. They would roll up the fish in a double helping of the News, Star or Standard.

I knew where I was. I could hear the trams gliding to the stop opposite Prince’s, the offal shop. I used to go there with Mum to buy tongues and brains for a stew. I could picture the big bowls of brawn on the counter, the pigs’ trotters, bunches of ox tails hung above cow heel, next to sheeps’ heads, and black puddings next to blankets of tripe.

Reaching the end of the road, by the bank where the paper man was standing, the woman turned the corner, carrying me swiftly along Dalston Lane and up the steps into the Police Station.

At last I was given a handkerchief, and it seemed that it wasn’t too long before Mum came in and wrapped me in her arms then took me home.


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