Columbia Road Market 52
Dawn had not yet broken at six this morning when I rose in the dark to walk up the road to have a chat with Denis Madden, one of the most spirited traders in the Columbia Road Market. When I arrived at six thirty, he was already set up and bright with anticipation for the day’s trading.
“I’ve been here forty years, since I was seventeen,” he revealed to me with a droll grimace, rubbing his hand together in sentimental contemplation,”I met this girl, she was third generation, her family had been trading here since the nineteen thirties, they used to come down from Hoxton on a horse and cart. I was playing football on a semi-professional basis at the time, but her father (he became my father-in-law) put me on the stall and I was a natural. Previous to that, I was somebody who couldn’t take to anything, I’d had at least fifteen jobs – disaffected you might say. But it’s very easy for me to stand behind a stall and shout, and meet people. I just took took to it.”
Denis had been up since three-thirty this morning, driving from Hertfordshire. “I shall be tired come four thirty this afternoon,” he admitted with a shrug,” You’ll see it in my eyes.” And he gestured to his eyes enacted a cartoon version of sleepiness. I admire his stamina, because this pitch in Columbia Rd is just a third of his business. Yesterday, Denis was trading, as he does every Saturday, in Saffron Walden, and on Friday in Uppingham in Rutland – and he spends two days each week prepping back in Hertfordshire. Yet Denis is full of magnanimous humour and energy, steeling himself for another winter on Columbia Rd. “You learn to tolerate the cold, you accept the bad weather in Winter just as you accept the good weather in Summer. The only real problem comes with the flowers when the water freezes, some don’t like getting frozen and defrosted again.” he explained in characteristically practical terms. After forty years trading here, Denis takes all it in his stride now.
“I’ve already retired once, packed it up and moved to France but I found I kept coming back to sort things out…” Denis confessed to me, rolling his eyes with an absurd grin of self-parody and spreading his hands as if to say, “What can I do?” The market is his life and he is not going to give it up any day soon.
Photograph copyright © Jeremy Freedman