Moving house is one of the more stressful of lifetime events; for many it even matches divorce or the death of someone close. Perhaps a major component of the stress is the insecurity that follows being uprooted. However, although many roots are severed some remain, and for me at least, these remnants have helped. The fact that our last big move was only a few stops down the District Line also made it less of an upheaval. Twenty five years after moving from Hammersmith to Richmond, some key links remain. We still go to the same dentist, support the same local football team and have many of the friends we met then. If ever we want some quality meat or French cuts, we go back to the same butcher.
It happens that Macken Brothers is no ordinary butcher. Behind the narrow shop front, there is a long display counter and further on down a corridor with its sawdust-covered floor, one can just make out several butcher’s blocks, some hanging carcasses and various doors. The shop itself is bustling as staff prepare orders, serve customers and, usually, chat. Outside, in the early morning a fleet of vans is loaded up with meat for delivery; orders destined for classy Michelin-starred restaurants. The shout I heard one morning, “Did today’s order get delivered to the French Embassy?” gives a strong hint as to their reputation.
As with all artisans, where skill rather than looks matter, the butchers at Macken’s come in all shapes, sizes and styles, and none is more eye-catching than the butcher with tattoos on his cheeks, neck and forehead, assorted piercings, and a complete upper set of gold teeth. In some circles he would have gained celebrity status. More importantly, in this particular story, it is his unusual facial features that are critical.
I was buying meat at Macken’s just before Christmas, and my celebrity butcher, with whom I often chat, sidled up to tell me how much he liked my brown tweed hat. He had apparently been looking for such a peaked, button-top cap for years and asked me where I had bought it. Luckily, it was new and had come from a shop only a bus ride away.
On my way home I went into the hat shop and the same caps were still on display although the choice was now limited. I phoned Macken’s to let Mr Celebrity know the position. When the person answering the phone asked to who I wished to speak to it was easy – the butcher with the golden teeth, tattoos, etc. Immediately, I heard the shout, “Nick, it’s for you.” He came to the phone and I explained what I had found and how to get to the shop.
Last week, almost two months later, I returned to the butchers to be greeted by the infamous golden smile. Nick thanked me profusely. He had gone down to the store that lunch time and bought the cap; he was delighted. Pleasantries over, I asked for two of his best beef steaks; that evening my wife and I had a reason to celebrate. As I was in a hurry I asked if I could come back in an hour to collect the steaks and to settle up.
It was more like two hours before I got back and Nick had finished for the day. It seemed that nobody knew about my steaks – nothing had been said, nothing put aside. Then, from the back of the shop another butcher read out a message on his mobile: “There are two wrapped sirloin steaks for Joe on the back counter. Please look after him.”
I offered to pay but the offer was declined. The steaks, which were delicious, were by way of a thank-you present and with it, there came flooding back warm memories of our years in Hammersmith.