The Barrow Boys

The Barrow Boys

They were twins, looked rock hard and wore Man Utd scarves over their black sweatshirts. They lugged and packed efficiently with an effortless economy of movement, water carriers in the style of Nobby Stiles or Didier Deschamps. The barrow boys had a great pitch outside the uber-trendy Cornerhouse, adjacent to the Hacienda nightclub but also near the busy Oxford Road train station. They weren’t like Pete Beale or other fruit n veg vending mockneys from Eastenders with all their hows-your-father bullshit banter. These two didn’t need to be flash. With their blazing eyes and ruddy cheeks this was business pure and simple. Without speaking, their body language extended an impassioned plea – leave stodge city while you can. As a young buck and guru of flat creamy mushrooms, truncheon-size courgettes, shining orange and red capsicums, sensuous spinach, green peppers, great for vitality – shallots, zesty lemons and limes plus blood red grapefruits, I knew instantly this was the future. The barrow boys didnt go a bundle on exotic fruits but a mean pineapple, ice-cold crunchy Cox’s red or new-on-the-scene kiwi was always on the menu. Living in a Warburton white, creamola fizz and Fray Bentos meat pie world at Moss Side HQ they laughed when I chopped up my courgettes, tomatoes, shallots and mushrooms, sliding them inside the already warmed-up envelope of pitta bread, pre-drizzled with prima olive oil and a gentle mayo mustard. The Cornerhouse had sumptuous blue velour seats and I watched Bertolucci, Almodovar and Jim Jarmusch art films at two quid a pop of a rainy afternoon, often staying free of charge for the second matinee. Sadly the fashionable cafe full of Manchester’s bright young media things was too expensive for me, and I only ventured in twice. Once I saw Russell Harty and had approached his table and used his catchphrase ‘Good evening is it not?’ I watched his nose turn red and his bucolic face grimace. The other time was far more serious. Buoyed by coverage in Creative Review, Design Week, plus a splash in the magnificent Today newspaper, I launched an international media offensive. The burgeoning Manchester music scene was our target and specifically former altar-boy, Mr Tony H Wilson, the boss of Factory Records. Word came through that he was lunching at The Cornerhouse. I got on my bike and rode fast into the city. Just outside the Mandela Building, the revelation struck. I scooted up to the barrow boys, u-locked the bike and pressed a moist one pound note into senior barrow boy’s eye, his Stretford End scarf fluttering next to the apple and pears section. With a glint in his eyes, in a jiffy he brown-bagged up the finest mix of fresh fruit this country has ever seen. We never gabbed – just a quick ‘Cheers mate’. Meaningless gabbing was for the media types. But I swear he knew what I was doing. Inside The Cornerhouse, I brazenly plonked the fruit on Mr Wilson’s table with the words ‘This is our time’. Before his agitated dining partner could stand up and remonstrate, I was gone. I had placed an iconic Spiffing Images business card inside the brown bag and two days later one of Tony’s minions called. We did some design work for Ikon, the video arm of Factory Records in Altrincham. The gruelling eight mile cycle there through Chorlton and Sale was powered by the barrow boy’s magnificent fruit and veg. ‘Oh barrow boys of barren land, picked at 3am, bring me fruit and solace lest we return to the flablands – oh barrow – barrow – barrow boys unite’.

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