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Eric Graham TYOK market manager
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you manage a London market

By Megan Carnegie

…according to Eric Graham, 71.

Market life is no good for home life

‘I work at Old Spitalfields Market six days a week; many stallholders work seven. I leave the house at 5.15am and stay out for 14 hours a day. It’s a great bone of contention between my wife and I that we never spend weekends together. There are plenty of market widows and widowers. It’s not just the hours either: you never know much you’ll earn. It’s a case of feast or famine, and being unable to pay the bills puts a strain on partners.’

Everyone loves Levi’s jeans

‘You can always make money selling Levi’s. The brand has changed so little over the years and whatever the condition of the jeans, you’ll make money with them on your stall. As the high street suffers, markets like ours will only survive by offering quality products.’

The job can involve animal-wrangling

‘We used to rent a hawk to scare off pigeons. He wasn’t supposed to eat them, but that didn’t always go to plan. One day, our hired hawk caught a pigeon, flew up to the rafters and ate every bit, then refused to move an inch while he was digesting. I had to get 25 feet off the ground in a cherry picker, eyeball-to-eyeball with the bird, and coax him down so we could return him.’

Commerce always trumps politics

‘Working as part of a market is like joining the United Nations. Old Spitalfields Market is lucky to be made up of so many different nationalities, languages and creeds, but I always tell people to leave their religion and politics outside – they can pick them up again when they clock off. We’re here to work together and make money. This market is a microcosm of London and we have to be able to get on.’

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