From One Market to Another
I had come home from shopping in San Jose…and was glad to offload the two heavy canvas bags whose contents had survived the hour’s run in a hot bus.
I enjoy poking about in the two main markets, the Central and the Borbon and go to my favourite shops where by now, like the other customers, I am included in the jokes and the teasing that dart across the stalls and today, just after the election results, the discussions.

Here, Jorge, shouts the butcher in the Borbon, here’s a gringa that likes our new president!
Can’t be a gringa, then, replies Luis who sells hot peppers.
She’s not a proper gringa, bellows Jorge on the greenstuff stall. She’s from England!
Scotland, shouts Henry from the petfood stand, making what I now know to be his imitation of bagpipe music….which, curtailed as his eldritch shrieks might be, inevitably brings to mind the title of the pibroch ‘Too long in this condition’…

Things are quieter over in the Central where I buy my coffee at the Moka stand just inside the backstreet entrance.
There are better known coffee brands…particularly one which controls the airport shopping lounges and has the tourist tours pretty well sewn up…but for me the best coffee on general sale is to be found on this little stand at the quiet end of the market.
I know the men serving there by now; we enquire as to each others families…and, of course, today, we discuss the election results as with other customers I drink a coffee while waiting for my order to be to be ground and bagged.
For ‘normal’ coffee,made in the chorreador (sock) I buy Poas suave…grown on the slopes around volcano Poas north of San Jose….but as I have just been presented with a new gadget – an expresso and cappuccino maker – and have learnt how to use it without either blowing it up or scalding myself I asked for advice on the best coffee to use and returned home with a bag of Caracolillo, or Peaberry, coffee…beans which, instead of splitting into two as do normal coffee beans, remain unitary and are supposed to roast more evenly.
We shall see.

Recounting my morning over lunch, my husband said it reminded him of his days on the floor of the London Stock Exchange…when it still had a floor, and a wooden one at that.
The atmosphere was, he said, that of a real market….people you saw every day in the same place, jokes that built up, nicknames, daft pranks…before, as he gloomily added, they let women in and ruined it all.

stockexchangeHe had had no wish whatsoever to work on the Stock Exchange…or anywhere else for that matter.
He was, at that time, a student in Madrid having been sent there so as not to be under the feet of his father’s mistress and was having a whale of a time: the days in the Prado, the nights touring the bars in the company of the son of Franco’s chief of police.

But the mistress produced a baby whose imitations of the pipes put an end to the romantic idyll and, mistress and child gone, the father called his son back to the roost….he had to have someone to collect the rents on his property….thus ending the Madrid idyll as well.

Father then saw an advertisement seeking to recruit a trainee stockbroker: whoopee, with a son on the market he could gamble on shares without paying commission…and the die was cast.
Leo went to the Stock Exchange, where his employers promptly decided that ‘Leopold’ was too foreign a name and called him Paul.

It was a world to itself….no mobile ‘phones in those days. If you were on the floor and your office wanted to contact you they ‘phoned the waiter – a proper waiter – who worked on the entrance which your office used and he would flash up your number in lights on a board to alert you.

You fulfilled your clients’ orders by walking the floor and talking to the jobber who ran the book in the shares in which you were interested, playing a game of guess as to whether you were buying or selling, trying to get the best deal….you learned how to trade shares in a dead market…you learned who the dodgy dealers were and how they got away with it…you learned the nicknames – the Weasel, Mr. Round and Round…

He became very good at his job, enjoyed the challenges…but he says that what he enjoyed most was the sidelines of work…
Exploring the City in his lunch break, finding little tucked away caffs in the roof of Leadenhall Market, walking through double doors to find himself in a street between two office blocks that led to another street….and another…a complete maze.
And he enjoyed the people…not, on the whole, the Eastenders nor those who spent their time in the pub until summoned by their juniors to do a bit of work, but those who treated the place as somewhere to pass the time from more important matters, as exemplified by a friend of his who ran the smallest brokerage firm in the business but whose passion was frogs.
Word had it that if you were married to a wife like his you could understand his preferences, but be that as it may, this gentleman would collect frogspawn in his garden in Harrow and, in the season, solemnly bring in jars of the same for his colleagues to distribute around their bijou Surrey residences.

Then there were the pranksters, who would set fire to your Financial Times as you had it spread out in front of you…who would fill up their water pistols in the loos and let rip on the floor…even at the top hatted brokers in gilt edged stocks…and the elderly gentlemen who would while away quiet moments by fashioning aircraft from sheets of paper and attempting to launch them into the dome with the aid of rubber bands.
Successful attempts would see the fragile craft circling for weeks on the air currents.

Those were the days when your word was expected to be your bond…and when brokerage firms had to assume their own liabilities. Go bust and the firm was ‘hammered’.
Everyone was called to the floor and a waiter would tap with his gavel and announce that the firm of So and So was no longer trading.
It was a solemn moment, and one to give rise to second thoughts in those contemplating risky dealings.
No banks trading then on on their own behalf…no tax payers’ bailouts when they got it spectacularly wrong…no one was too big to fail.

He wasn’t around to see the Big Bang which swept away the working world he had known…he had had a final row with his father, obtained a mortgage on a wreck of a house which he restored and sold and decided that, as he could never afford to be a partner, there was no future in working all his life for others.
A series of events unrelated to work decided him…he packed it all in and set up his own business….but when he talks about that, his eyes don’t shine as they do when he talks about his days on the floor of the London Stock Exchange.

Which may explain why he always comes back laden with bargains when he does the shopping in the Borbon and the Central….


44 thoughts on “From One Market to Another”

  1. I especially liked the connection you made between the good humor and camaraderie of small business owners and their clients to the same feeling in the old work force, where we were friends and family. Not literally, but in fact as actual as a real family.
    Back then, when I worked in a frog spawn company, before it was acquired several times, we had something called “plant shutdown.” The equipment was maintained, the factory floor cleaned top to bottom. In the office some staff took vacation, others did essential work like manning the phones and taking orders. The last Friday before real work commenced I came in with a bag of squirt guns and left them on an empty desk to be discovered. My God, what a mess by noon. The afternoon was spent mopping up, spreading papers to dry, being sure computers still worked. Washing windows. The screaming and laughter from morning until we went home was priceless.,

    1. That’s just the spirit there used to be in small and family run businesses…humour, pranks, jokes were part of working life.

      I can just imagine the pigs breakfast one of todays humourless safety reps would make of playing with water pistols…let alone setting fire to newspapers… while they’d probably regard the paper aeroplanes as a terrorist threat…

  2. Reading this, over my heart-start coffee(Columbian), listening to soft rain….a perfect way to start a day.
    No, the hard and ruthless way of today has no room for fun….

  3. I like the man more each day!
    I recall Maggies colourful blazered essex boys wandering through the city looking for champagne and lobsters. They did not sound like Harrow was ever going to be home.
    Glad the market accepts you, it always helps.

    1. No blazers and braces in his day…suits were obligatory!
      I do like the market chaps…when Leo was very ill they always asked after him and one had his church praying for him.

  4. Don’t we become our parents though, nostalgic for that idyllic past? We erase the bad and remember the high points and look at today’s life with perplexity?

    When I was at university one of the better restaurants in Liverpool always had – I think it was tickertape at the time – a continual update of stocks and shares. We found it fascinating. A world not ours, but still fascinating. My father’s share dabblings included not buying in Viyella which he regretted, and buying in London Indemnity which went bust. He got his money back but no interest. Once bitten …

    So who won then? Or have I missed that post?

    1. The Neighbour? Still waiting for a date in the penal court….

      I don’t erase the bad things of the past…..but I don’t always choose to blog about them. However, a lot of what goes on now does perplex me! You have no idea how difficult I found it to master the coffee machine!

      Leo had been following the stock market since his father opened a bank account for him when he was twelve and showed him the financial pages in the newspaper….he was used to the regular halving and doubling of the shares in rubber plantations and the twists and turns of the gold market long before he ever worked on the Stock Exchange…..and luckily continued to deal after his illness made working impossible or we would have been up a financial gum tree!
      He doesn’t deal any more though…too many rigged markets.

  5. Sounds fabulous.

    It’s a shame but true that the arrival of women can destroy the boyish fun in many an undertaking. I wonder why?

    I did work in an office with women where we had a great time, lots of rude banter, pranks and jokes, but only once.

    1. Women, especially the first in their field, had a reputation for being earnest…
      When I was working in an all male environment there were two options…froth and simper or join the culture.

  6. Very enjoyable Helen. The reference to Peaberry coffee took me back to the days when my dad would buy his coffee beans loose and grind them at home, and he always bought Peaberry. That’s a long long time ago now!

    Loved the story of the LSE. Those days seem so incredibly different from the ruthless computer-controlled existence we’re all expected to lead today. The past is indeed a foreign country.

    1. I hadn’t come across Peaberry before coming to Costa Rica…always something new to discover only to also discover it’s been around for aeons!

      Leo’s nephew works for some bank or other probably doing something disgusting with derivatives….they want him to move to their Hong Kong office and propose giving him a one hundred thousand dollar living allowance! A far cry from Leo’s starting pay of a fiver a week and luncheon vouchers with a struggle to the death with the partners for the annual bonus!

  7. Your husband’s memories of working on the London Stock Exchange are fascinating, Helen. It sounds like lots of material just waiting to make its way into a book! And I love how the locals have now included you in their banter as you make your way through the market. Does that mean you now have honorary local status?

    1. I wish he would write it all down…he’s had a fascinating life, both on the ups and the downs…but his hands are semi paralysed and he finds even the keyboard difficult on bad days.
      I might try recording him, but I’m not sure if he would like it. We’ll see.

      Only a few foreigners go shopping in the Borbon…it’s on the edge of an area that is dangerous at night and all the expat and guide book stuff I’ve seen makes it sound as if they barbecue babies in there, whereas it’s just a market!
      So, as a foreigner, you stand out. Costa Rican humour is, to say the least, robust, so you expect people to take the p… but it’s a ‘laugh with you not at you’ attitude which is fine by me, and I’m always touched by their real concern for my husband’s health.

  8. All I know about the Stock Exchange is that rich people use it to get even richer without doing five minutes of honest toil. And they get rich by taking huge financial risks with other people’s money. All very scary.

  9. Ah, it was all so much better in our day . . . . . .
    Since time immemorial, since Adam and Eve’s children were expelled from paradise and remembered how it was, that phrase has been around.

    The old days feel good now, but they didn’t at the time. We spent a lot of time drinking tea and gossiping, the boss included. Typewriters clacking, political debates raging, languages being switched from one phone call to another and producing reams of polemics and lots of hot air, none of it leading very far, except in hindsight. We did change something important, at least temporarily.

    Btw. stockbrokers were enemies.

    I must go to Ludlow Market again soon, we have stalls just like the ones you describe, cheese and fish and game and fruit and veg. It’s a pleasure to shop there.

    1. Like you, I much prefer that style of shopping to doing a supermarket run….

      Stockbrokers! Every right thinking man’s hand against them….who could then have guessed at the banking monsters who would succeed them!

      Better back then? Different, certainly….and a society still living on the post war ideals of being able to give your children a better life than you had had…the chance to make something of their lives…not the master and slave society we have now.
      So, yes…better then.

  10. Fascinating post of Leo’s working life and his interest in his surroundings, and as usual written so well that you can’t stop reading till you finish.

    I would love to live in a country where coffee is grown…it would be like heaven to me. I love good coffee, my one luxury, and have to rely on trips to the UK to stock up and kind friends and family who sometimes send me some. I also managed to get a little, pretty basic, espresso/cappuccino machine recently, reduced because it was the only one left and had no box or instructions. It’s wonderful.

    1. My machine is pretty basic too…but it took me quite a time to sort out how to use it, all the same…fun now that I have, though!

      Leo’s always had the knack of putting 100% into whatever he was doing…he was the same when running his own show, but, by its very nature, that was more solitary – and no one set fire to his newspaper!

  11. Beautiful post Helen. And not just because of the way you tell it.
    You reveal so much love, pride and tenderness. For everyone – not just Leo. That’s a precious gift. Not to be sentimental – but to love the reality of it all.

  12. …before, as he gloomily added, they let women in and ruined it all.

    There’s much truth to this.

    (…runs and hides from the wrath sure to come…just kidding)

  13. A glimpse or two into other worlds, Helen, and so vividly conjured up for us. I love a little phrase you left in a comment box above about fun being a form of freedom – how very true.
    I share your pleasure at being part of the chat and gossip that goes on in the market or the local shops. I have more casual acquaintances here than I ever did in my old home town…sometimes, it’s hard to get down the street for greeting people and stopping to share a few words.

  14. Hello Helen:

    How wonderful to have caught up with you again and, hopefully, to have followed correctly so as not to miss out on future posts.

    Your time in the local, or not so local, market sound very familiar. Here, after a number years, we too are integrated into the life of the market, both indoor and outdoor, and very much enjoy being ‘on terms’ with the stall holders and being part of their everyday banter.

    Leo’s, or Paul’s, life at the Stock Exchange is the stuff of novels. We have so enjoyed reading this amusing and engaging account of times which, very largely, are no more.

    1. I am glad to see you here….and have had such (somewhat envious) pleasure in reading about your time in Uruguay.

      i wish I could persuade Leo to write all this down….even the change of name to Paul has a tale or two attached to it concerning financial skulduggery on the part of his father and aunt…

  15. And who is the new president? 🙂

    I really enjoyed this glimpse of your everyday life in the banter of your local market and also of Leo’s very different everyday life on the floor of the Stock Exchange as it once was. Both are completely foreign to me and yet your vivid descriptions made them alive and somehow familiar. Wonderful writing.

    1. Luis Guillermo Solis, who takes up office on 8th May promising honesty and transparency and has expressed a wish that no files should be disposed of in the interim….the establishment knives are out for him already.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the tale of two markets…I wish I could get Leo to write at least a memoir…

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