Not being an early riser, this was tough. Up at 4am, to be at Billingsgate for a tour around the market at 6am prompt. I was there to learn about fish, and the experience was worth every nocturnal minute.
Believe it or not, it was starting to wind down when I arrived and took this picture from the offices that overlook the market. The fishmongers, chefs, and restaurateurs buying stock for their London businesses had been and gone, and those left scanning the traders' wares were about to clear off before the Canary Wharf commuter traffic took hold. We had an hour before the traders would start to pack up and head home, so hurried down.
The London traders I'm used to are those just minutes from our front door, on Walthamstow Market. The calls of 'pound a bowl!' ring in our ears as we pick bowls of apples, peppers, aubergines... that we never use up. I would agree it's a false economy, but the 50p-worth we manage to eat is still good value, and the rest goes on the compost. I digress, back to fish. The traders at Billingsgate have their banter alright, and are very friendly chaps, but the atmosphere's a bit more shifty. Competition is fierce, I suspect, and the fish business is a tricky and sensitive matter. Quotas, margins, and price fluctuations make life difficult for the fishermen who sell to them, as the traders know all too well.
Here are some pictures, which I hope will set the scene.
Assorted shellfish, including hand-dived scallops.
Beautiful mackerel, so fresh the fish were still in a state of rigor mortis.
Edible brown crabs.
Canadian lobster. You can see hundreds of eggs sitting under its tail. This was a sad sight: lobster shouldn't be caught and sold if it's still reproductive.
This, I was not ready for. Enormous live eels writhing around in chests of metal drawers (reason for this: they require a constant flow of running water. The water cascades through the drawers, keeping them fresh and happy).
After catching the sunrise as the porters packed up the unsold fish in freezer rooms to be sold cheap the next day, I and my soggy fish-stinking jeans squeezed onto the tube - and back to life as I knew it - for the journey to work.