‘One of them made me a bone in the shape of a penis; one of them showed me a video of his penis. One of them asked me if I’d like to go upstairs and have sex with him … would I like to have an affair?’
I have a new, unlikely kink, courtesy of the BBC. Smithfield market, trading meat in the centre of London since 1174. (Pretty much) all-male, misogynistic, racist, homophobic – the filth here is as much about the attitudes of the traders as it is about the blood that stains their white coats.
I’ve had a thing about butchers for years now, but this confirmed everything I’d ever suspected to be true, in a way that thrilled and horrified me in equal measure. It starts, as these things always do, with the fact that this is a twilight world. Open from 2 till 8 a.m., it operates to its own codes, its own rules. It is, to quote one trader ‘an oasis from the PC world outside.’
It’s a terrible place to be a woman.
As with all the best filth, it seems, at first, to hide its nastiness well. The traders are old, and jovial, for the most part – they have comedy names, like Biffo – and there’s a flashing plastic santa on one of the counters that opens its coat to flash its pants. Dee, the first woman ever to work as a meat cutter, rather than a cashier, seems to tolerate the ‘banter’ she attracts with a wry smile. Her friends, she says, are proud of her for being the first ever woman in the role – they say it’s ‘girl power.’ Girl power, as you may have guessed, isn’t really respected in this environment. The women who do work as cashiers are, to quote the narrator, ‘cocooned in portacabins,’ locked away from the threats the men present.
These men only respect women in traditional roles. One, asked if he likes Christmas, says no, he hasn’t liked it since his mum died in 1975. ‘Your mum’s your best mate, in’t she?’ he says, turning away from the camera. Another, whose wife has recently died, tears up when asked if he misses her, says ‘Oh, yeah,’ and excuses himself from the interview. Male weakness is a failing, clearly. And, asked about the design of the building, which was redeveloped at some stage, the response is ‘Don’t quote me on this, but I think the new market was designed by a woman, and it shows.’
New male staff don’t get an easy ride of it, either – before they pass their training, they undergo some kind of archaic ‘initiation ceremony,’ where they stand naked in the street aside from a ‘mankini’ while the other traders pelt them with ‘various rotten produce – eggs and blood and offal …’ This is filth in its most traditional, most visceral, most stomach-churning sense. ‘As long as he takes it like a man, we’ll respect him,’ says one of the older guys. Like a man. Of course.
It’s not the kind of thing that should make you horny. The men are old, and unattractive, but that’s not why you wouldn’t want to fuck them. You wouldn’t want to fuck them because they’d treat you worse than the animal carcasses they spend the whole programme chopping up. Take Dee. By the end of the programme, she’s left her job at the market.
‘I think it was the pressure of things happening at home, as well as market life,’ says her former boss.
Dee disagrees. Talking about the men she came into contact with, she says, ‘One of them made me a bone in the shape of a penis; one of them showed me a video of his penis. One of them asked me if I’d like to go upstairs and have sex with him … would I like to have an affair? After a while, it’s just a bit degrading, you know?’
‘That’s Smithfield market, unfortunately,’ says the boss. He doesn’t sound like he thinks it’s particularly unfortunate.
Unlike him, I do know, which is why I’m ashamed to say the whole thing left me vaguely turned on, and not only that – it left me wanting to write …