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The Departure Of Tom Disson

April 30, 2018
by the gentle author

Only yesterday, I learnt of the retirement of Tom Disson of George’s Plaice in the Roman Rd, one of the East End’s longest-established and best loved fishmongers. I know you will want to join me in wishing Tom well for his retirement years.

Tom shows Jesus’ thumbprint on a Haddock

For the last thirty-five years Tom Disson has viewed the world through the narrow frame of the shopfront at George’s Plaice in the Roman Rd where he knows all his customers by name. When I joined him behind the fishermonger’s slab with its gleaming array of the harvest of the deep laid out before us, our conversation was regularly punctuated as Tom turned his head to utter a greeting to each person that appeared in the field of his peripheral vision, flitting past the shop window – “Hello Mary Love!”- “Hello Ted!” – “Hello Ginger!”

There has been a fishmonger on this site since 1898 and today George’s Plaice is the centre of the world in the Roman Rd, where customers come to introduce their daughters to cockles and to order jellied eels for family funerals, while Tom keeps everything buoyant with constant flow of banter, both lewd and lugubrious by turns. “Are you looking for service? I’m feeling chesty today,” proposed Tom with a provocative comedy smirk as his customers scrutinised the kippers, heroically suppressing the heavy cold that was getting him down.

“My dog had a wart on its ear and do you know what it cost me? – £387 to have it removed!” protested Tom, sharing his affront at the iniquity of our times with Rene, who matched it with an account of her greyhound’s leg that cost £475 to set. This statement was countered by Tom’s revelation that his dog required cream for its foot, to stop it scratching, that cost £85. A resultant empathetic silence of mutual outrage prevailed while Tom wrapped up Rene’s fish, before an exchange of genial smiles accompanied the close of the transaction.

“I was a banana salesman at Fyffes Bananas for fifteen years, until I met my lovely wife at an eel stall in Club Row and that’s how I came to be here,” Tom confided proudly, “She’s an East End girl, born in Poplar from a family of twelve. I’m from West London, but I never had cause to regret moving here because I’ve met some lovely, lovely people over the years. My brother-in-law George was a fishmonger, he used to go down to the country, buying crabs and whelks in Norfolk and Suffolk. He ran this shop for seven years before I took over from him in 1982, and the fellow before him, he was a porter from Billingsgate Fish Market.”

Tom has decorated his walls over the last thirty-five years with an appealing gallery of pictures, some of the old East End, others of himself in former days – with two stuffed oystercatchers in a glass box as the centrepiece of the shop. And the view from the pavement, looking across the expanse of coloured fish to where Tom stands in his white apron and flat cap with the backdrop of framed pictures, is a memorable spectacle.

Week in, week out,  through all weathers, Tom has been sitting keeping his fish company with his good pal Geoffrey (“East End born and bred”) a former publican. “There used to be thirty-two pubs between here and Shoreditch, but if there’s eight now it’s a lot,” posited Geoffrey regretfully to me in a quiet moment. “We’ve definitely seen the best days,” agreed Tom, nodding with a sardonic grimace, playing Vladimir to Geoffrey’s Estragon in this fish shop re-enactment of Waiting for Godot. ”Years ago, you had so much banter with the people, we used to have queues both ways on a Saturday morning!” continued Tom, crossing his arms, gazing across the sea of gleaming fish for consolation and smiling fondly in a reverie of the glory days of fishmongery in the Roman Rd.

Yet the moment a customer appeared, Tom and Geoffrey both sprang into animated life, eager to please, because they appreciated the esteem with which the local people hold this shop – as an unchanging landmark and reminder of the time when people always greeted each other in this neighbourhood. For Tom Disson, it was no duty, it was his joy, because this was his community. His customers may be aging but the affection with which George’s Plaice is held by the populace of the Roman Rd ensures that this bravura performance is destined to be remembered for many years to come

Choosing the haddock

Choosing the cod roe

Tom waits while customers deliberate over the skate

A satisfied customer, delighted with her cod roe

Tom’s vigil at George’s Plaice

A thoughtful moment

1985

1985

Tom’s magnificent display of freshly boiled cod roe

Tom Disson, 1985

Tom Disson, thirty-five years behind the counter in the Roman Rd

You may also like to read about

At The Fish Plaice

Eleanor Crow’s East End Fish Shops

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Colin Barber permalink
    April 30, 2018

    Great story and shots. Poignant though that another classic London trader’s story is ending.
    BTW we used to know a Ffyes salesman, ‘banana Tom’ to us – end 70′s early 80s. One and the same I wonder?

  2. April 30, 2018

    I sincerely wish Tom a long, golden retirement.

  3. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    April 30, 2018

    Your shop looks great, hope you have a happy retirement :)

  4. Janice permalink
    April 30, 2018

    A big thank you to Tom. Will the stall continue? It’s so difficult to find these places any more. I suddenly have a craving for some cockles!

  5. April 30, 2018

    Congratulations on your retirement, Tom! I have always wanted to visit a real fishmonger like that- I live in central Pennsylvania, and the closest I’ve ever been was the lake near my house!

  6. pauline taylor permalink
    April 30, 2018

    This reminds me how much I used to enjoy shrimps and conger eel, haven’t had either for years.
    Happy retirement Tom.

  7. Gary Arber permalink
    April 30, 2018

    Have a good retirement Tom, you will be missed. I cannot get smoked mackerel now in my retirement home like I used to get from you.
    Gary

  8. April 30, 2018

    Oh, dear. Goodbye.

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