Last night I watched the BBC documentary Hidden Histories: Britain’s Oldest Family Businesses, about Balson Butchers, who have been trading in Bridport for 500 years. It’s quite a story of enterprise and survival – I recommend.
It reminded me of one story of a Labour of Love participant who told me about an early foray into an entrepreneurial business, taking advantage of an excess of meat in the freezer.
“My mum had a job cleaning in a butcher’s shop for an Irish guy called Jerry and he always treated mum really well. There were six kids at home but we ate Porterhouse steak. He’d always sort her out. We’d make burgers for him on a Friday and you could earn £3 on a Friday night, the same as you’d get all week for a paper round. My mum always said, ‘Don’t eat the burgers! They’re full of sawdust!’ I still make burgers – last Father’s Day I got a burger press. I make very good burgers. Good quality. Source my meat and mix it with marrow and all sorts of messing about.
When I was twelve in the summer holidays there were men on our estate building a fire escape, and my mum, working in the butcher’s shop, had sorted out the freezer with our lunches, and I started doing the full English for the workmen. But I wasn’t that enterprising because I didn’t work out that we had to restock and then my sister said to mum, ‘Robert’s selling the food.’ If I was my mum, I would have said, ‘Here’s some money and go and buy some more product.’ Do you remember Express Dairies? They were selling a bottle of lemonade for 11p and I could get six or seven glasses out of that at 5 or 10p a glass. So I did the full English for the builders until my sister grassed me up and my mum found out.”
Another chap who visited the shed told me about his first job.
“I was a butcher’s boy at the age of eleven. I used to make sausages and the pet mince – pet mince for the dogs and the cats. They wouldn’t eat it, if they knew what was in it – offal! It was awful!”