Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 27 October 2012

Something fishy

7.30 am on the coldest morning of the autumn (so far) isn't normally the ideal time to be up and about sightseeing, but if you want to see Billingsgate fish market, that's getting a bit late. And it is only a short bus ride away from me, so there's no excuse for not having visited before.

It's a prosaic shed (quite unlike its former building (now an upmarket conference centre) in the City), and it's tucked into a nondescript plot of land handy for the main road (but no doubt now eyed covetously by no end of property developers).

Once you're inside, the display of fish is as far from the average supermarket display as you could imagine, with whole huge fish and wholesale-size packages of processed products on every side. There are, of course, familiar products of our own waters, like dressed crab for £2.50, and those vacuum-packed kipper fillets with a lump of butter in; uneasy memories were stirred by the sight of a sign for coley (my mother would occasionally boil "six-pennorth of coley for the cat", which would drive the rest of us out of the house) - I had no idea they were such a big fish. But what caught my eye were the exotics, like parrot-fish, needle-fish with alarming green teeth, baby sharks, and the like. That, and the pile of salmon heads (4 for £1) that presumably someone might want for stock.

Eventually, the traders' banter was sounding a little forced, some of the stands were closing, and the pressure-washing of stands, trolleys and floor was moving rather pointedly towards people who were gawping and photographing rather than buying. So it was time for a scallop and bacon roll in one of the onsite cafés (sorry - caffs), and on with the rest of the day's business.

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