June 7, 2011 Welcome to the Misery Line

Travelling in the last carriage on a southbound Northern Line train between East Finchley and Camden Town before the year 2000, the observant passenger might have noticed the Guard sipping tea from an enamel cup. Nowadays the guard is all but forgotten and those of you who have travelled on the Docklands Light Railway can…

January 3, 2011 Working in the Family Tradition

‘When I first came to the caffè as a child, I thought it was a fantastic place!’ Davide recounts. ‘There were sweet jars on the bar, like those ones in the cupboard now, and ice-cream just over there where that counter is…’ Forty years on, Davide is running the place. He’s the third generation of…

September 21, 2010 A Librarian’s View

Working Life

December 22, 2009 A Day’s Work at Billingsgate Fish Market

Earlier this year, I started hanging around Billingsgate, London’s wholesale fish market. I tell the fish merchants there that I’m trying to understand the whole process, of where the fish comes from and goes to, how it gets distributed, who’s selling what, and more generally what goes on at the market. It’s part of an…

November 12, 2009 The Piano Tuner

What to wear? This is a fundamental question of piano-tuning. As a piano tuner you will be in other people’s beautiful homes, walking across their white carpets, working in their immaculate living rooms or studies. They expect you to be smart, but, on occasion, you need to rummage about in the filthiest of instruments to…

November 2, 2009 Being a Navvy

It is 1973 and I am standing in Ilford Station on a Sunday afternoon where the track used to be. I’m working as a navvy and according to my payslip I am a plate-layer. We’ve been here nearly twelve hours already and the job is nowhere near finished – we need to get the new…

October 27, 2009 Toads, by Philip Larkin