February 28, 2013 Billingsgate Fish Market

Billingsgate fish market is London’s oldest wholesale market. It officially opens at four o’clock in the morning when a bell signals the start of trade and it closes at half past nine. But the day’s work starts well before trade begins and continues through the morning on and off the market floor. The architecture of Billingsgate offers a particular opportunity for seeing the ‘temporal unfolding’ (Simpson, 2012: 431) of the market space and the work which happens there at different times. There is a gallery at either end of the first floor overlooking the market hall where the sound is muted and the view interrupted by fire glass. On 11 December 2012, just after midnight, together with film-maker Kevin Reynolds, of veryMovingPictures, we set up cameras in this first floor gallery location looking down the length of the market hall above the beginning of the central isle. We took a photograph every 10 seconds from one o’clock in the morning until midday. Every hour or so, I walked around the market floor making short sound recordings of whatever was happening at the time. The film we made is a combination of the sequence of images speeded up (so one hour is presented in 30 seconds) with snippets of sound corresponding to the same time period in which the photographs were taken. It shows physical activity, movement, interactions, patterns, rhythms and flows which can’t be perceived in real time. And it shows how the market comes to life through work.

This film was made as part of my British Academy-funded project, ‘Working with Fish from Sea to Table’ (ref: SG100889).

Simpson, Paul (2012) ‘Apprehending everyday rhythms: rhythmanalysis, time-lapse photography, and the space-time of everyday street performance’ cultural geographies 19(4): 423-445.



  1. This is a well cool visual vignette of London life, a working fish market ‘in action’ and shows how space is used and filled by a working hub/set of work activities. It is strikingly male and looks cold if it is possible for a visual image to appear cold. Great!

  2. This was an innovative way of showing how events inside the market unfold. After watching this film, I feel a normal video might not have portrayed the sequence of events with similar effect. It was really interesting to see the market completely empty and then see the cargo being brought in, trade taking place, what’s left being taken away, cleaning time and finally empty again! As some one who goes to the market about 7 times in a year, I had overlooked the fact that the market actually gets empty. I had also overlooked the fact that for the market to be open at 4am, the fish mongers have to start their work much earlier. Simply incredible


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January 31, 2013 Cleaning Notices

Two previous posts by Lynne Pettinger – Moments of Domesticity and Handwritten– got me thinking more about my obsession with those notes that pop up in various workplaces that remind people to clean up after themselves. I wonder who produced them, how often they update them, and what drove them to it. How bad had the toilet or kitchen been! Was someone ‘tasked’ with the job, or did they take it on themselves to produce the notice and maintain it over time?

Ann Oakley’s ‘Housewife’ (1974) was the first Sociology book that I read, and I am still hooked on the study of who does what domestic work within the home, for whom and why. Is this work paid or unpaid? Is it ‘recognised’ (Elson 2008) and welcomed by other grateful household members? Or is it just taken for granted, perhaps unseen even? But these little ‘moments of domesticity’ in the paid workplace are fascinating me.

In Moments of Domesticity, there are great images of the office where taxi drivers came for their breaks. In one image, there is a note above the sink that reminds the drivers to ‘Please’ wash the cups. Here are 3 images from notices that I have seen around various workplaces. None are hand-written. Two were found in women’s toilets (do men do this too?), and one was in a shared kitchen/communal space. The ‘Toilet Etiquette’ notice is focused on hygiene. It is neatly word-processed, centrally aligned. Lynne Pettinger reminded me here of sociologist Norbert Elias on etiquette. In The Civilizing Process, Elias cites a 15th century guide to etiquette and table manners that states: ‘It is unseemly to blow your nose into the tablecloth’ (Elias 1995: 108).

Toilet etiquette2

The next note, the passive-aggressive ‘Polite Notice’, is amazing. It is more detailed, and moves us beyond hygiene. We are also asked to ‘Refrain’ from using mobile phones. Who would want to use a mobile while someone else was ‘using the facilities’? Someone has gone to some trouble over it. It must have taken a little thought to produce, and it had been placed on the wall quite recently. It uses different colours, types and sizes of fonts; is printed using a good printer; employs bullet-points.

Polite notice

The last notice, ‘Cleaning Fairy’, was stuck neatly to a fridge door, and protected by a plastic cover. Again, some care has been taken over its production, including adding in the image of a pink-faced, blonde fairy. Its meaning is to the point: if you make a mess, clean it up. But it is also inaccurate. Any quick internet search will reveal fairies (of the cleaning type) DO exist*. Fairyland must be quiet these days because fairies are being employed in their thousands by companies to come and clean your home or office for you. The ‘Fairy Dust’ cleaning company is local to me.

Cleaning fairy 2

*You can buy stickers, mouse mats etc that proclaim ‘the dust bunnies killed my cleaning fairy’.


  1. Elias, N. (1995) The Civilizing Process, Oxford: Blackwell (first published in 1939).
  2. Elson, D. (2008) Recognition, Redistribution and Reduction, Presentation at launch of UNDP Expert Group on Unpaid Work, Gender and the Care Economy, November, New York: UNDP.
  3. Oakley, A. (1974) Housewife, London: Lane.
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January 24, 2013 A Labour of Love

My Dad loved his job. Even when he was terminally ill with cancer and on sick leave he would get my mother to drive him around to see the progress of construction sites that he felt he should have been working on. He started in the building trade as an apprentice carpenter and joiner in 1961 at the age of 16. He remained committed to his trade for almost half a century, that is to say, all his working life. He worked his way up through ranks of foreman carpenter and general foreman, and moved into site and project management long before he died in 2008. Despite his relatively quick transition into management, “coming off the tools” as he put it, he was always particularly proud that he had served a four year indentured apprenticeship where he, his father, the firm who took him on, and the industry body designed to oversee apprenticeship training entered into an agreement.

The legal document binding them all together bears testimony to the nature of the compact they had made. Phrases such as ‘the Apprentice should learn the craft of carpenter and joiner in the service of the Master’ and the apprentice will ‘faithfully and honestly serve the Master….be diligent to learn….willingly obey and perform lawful and reasonable commands… and keep the secrets of his trade’ conjure notions of fidelity, loyalty and service rather absent in 21st century employee/employer relations. Furthermore, in order to become a skilled worker the Apprentice must apply themselves to their training in prescribed ways. Diligence, obedience and honesty are all seen as integral to mastering the specific competencies associated with craftsmanship. That is to say, skill acquisition requires a disciplined mind and body. What the pictures here do not adequately convey is the physical feel of the thick legal parchment; it virtually oozes gravitas and substance. One could argue that this document is rather anachronistic and a hangover from the medieval origins of trade apprenticeships, but for Dad, this rooted him in a long tradition of well-respected craftsmen.  Indeed he could be rather dismissive of those in the trade who hadn’t spent years in training; honing and refining their skills. He could saw a piece of wood in two perfectly straight and true without any guidance markings. I once asked him how on earth he could do that. He laughingly replied, “Because I spent a whole year’s college course doing nothing but sawing lumps of 4” x 2” apart, freehand, until I could do it properly! Not everybody has done that and that’s why I can and they can’t”.