28th February 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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31st January 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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24th January 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”.