I recently reconnected – through facebook – with another old chum of my childhood, Jamie Thrussell. Now running a business in America, the connection got me thinking about some of the things we got up to. Not least in my mind’s eye was a wonderful overnight trip to Covent Garden. Mr Thrussell was one of many people locally involved in the whole market gardening industry. The Lea Valley was after all the glasshouse of England. He regularly ran product from the nurseries of Goffs Oak to Covent Garden and on this occasion Jamie and I were allowed to go with him. I was only about 11 so I have no idea what my mum had taken. I am surprised now that she let me go up to London in a lorry, overnight. OK, I was with a responsible adult but just the same.
I know this was 1974 because Covent Garden had just relocated to Nine Elms. Wiki tells me that New Covent Garden Market opened 11 November 1974 and we visited soon after I’m sure. Perhaps in the Christmas holidays.
Well we travelled up in the cab of the lorry. I think Jamie’s older brother John was with us too so it would have been a bit of a squeeze but I don’t think I would have cared. We left Goffs Oak around 10-ish and drove up the A10 to London. Traffic would have been relatively light back in those days and certainly by the time we had wound our way into central London – I think in the restaurant area around old Covent Garden/Soho – it was past midnight and the streets were surprisingly quiet. I remember depositing boxes of cues and lettuce and heaven knows what else at the back doors of some of these restaurants. It was eerie and creepy stuff. Street-light glow, cats and rats, and rubbish everywhere. It would be a couple of hours yet before the rubbish collectors swept through and cleared the place.
And then we headed south of the river to somewhere called Nine Elms. It was near Battersea which I had heard of but we never ventured south of the river much, it gave us nosebleeds. Now I had been to markets before – at Waltham Abbey and Romford to name but two – but Covent Garden Market was something else. I think we stopped at the Flower Market first. A huge warehouse, must have been the size of 3 or 4 football pitches (Bear in mind I was 11 and size is relative) stuffed to the gills with flowers. I don’t recall a heady perfume but the colours, oh boy!
After dropping some stuff off there we headed (over the railway?) to the main market where the Thrussells had a stall. Here was a vast concrete site where electric vehicles like milk floats buzzed around. Over there was a pub – the originally named Market Tavern if I recall correctly – open at 3am in the morning. The atmosphere at that time of day is so special.
Well we helped unload the lorry and set up the wares and hung around for a short time. Then we got bored and went off exploring. The main thing I remember is finding the multi-storey car park and climbing to the very top then coming down by jumping between floors. It was probably safer than it sounds but it stuck in my memory.
And then about 8am it was time to go home. This time Jamie and I travelled in the back of the lorry, almost empty bar a few unsold boxes of cucumbers and some assorted tat. We spent the journey being tossed about like corks in a stormy sea and being shouted at to sit down from the cab. We lifted the rear roller door as high as we could before the chain tightened and made rude gestures at the cars behind us. We generally arsed around as 11 year olds did. It was a night I shall never forget.
So what else did Jamie and I get up to? I remember building a decent camp in their back garden. It was a good site as the alley between The Drive and the shops (Previously mentioned in this blog) ran alongside its entire length. Thus from behind the safety of a hedge and within our camp, we could assail passers-by verbally or with the occasional lobbed crab apple.
We sunk pallets into the ground to give us a sturdy floor and drove posts in hold up the walls. My word, the camp-building experience I had gained with Russ and Steph was coming into play now all right.
However Jamie and my next adventure was almost grown up by comparison. We were in the Sea cadets together and had some grand adventures, some of which I have already touched on though doubtless more will come to light. Those were such great days and now Russ is gone, Steph lives miles away in another part of the UK, and Jamie is in another country. Thankfully I have the memories (supplemented by photos). That’s me third from right in the back row and Jamie, second from right in the front row at RNAS Culdrose in 1978.