Every few weeks I meet a friend in Parkway, Camden for a quick lunch and a catch up. Parkway holds tons of memories for me as I worked at the pet shop which was called ‘Regent Pet Stores’ there in the seventies. I’d left school at 15 and went straight there to work full time as animals and reptiles were my thing.
It was the most amazing year of my life and an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world. It was owned by John Palmer who was a sort of David Jason like character, firm but fair with a wicked sense of humour. He opened it before the second world war and some of the staff had been there almost since the beginning. It was like a dynasty and the customers came from far and wide. I served Alex Harvey, Jonathan Miller, Beryl Bainbridge, and Sir Ralph Richardson as well as a whole host of interesting people a lot of whom were quite eccentric.
We sold monkeys, giant snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, tree frogs, iguanas, rats, parrots, as well as all the more usual types of animals. I remember so many things from my year there, I could write a book and it gave me more than I could ever have hoped.
I loved Parkway and all the interesting shops there where I’d go at lunchtimes. I was sometimes wary of the drunks and the shenanigans between them, especially on the station platform, but it wasn’t sinister and then like now you needed your wits about you.
On my Saturday lunch hour I’d go to Camden Market which was at that time a lovely antique market with second hand clothes stalls and I’d buy grand dad shirts for 50 p each. I loved working there, it was hard work, dirty, smelly and fantastic. A man called Guy Stocker was my boss, he was only about 24 but he exuded fun and enthusiasm and knowledge. I heard a couple of years ago that Pam who was literally larger than life and ran the whole place for most of her life had died. I felt so sad when I heard. She used to sit at the counter eating boxes of chocolates and ruled with a rod of iron but was lovely too. I could go on and on, the memories are so strong and I sometimes dream about the shop too.
I remember that we got 20 hamsters delivered every Tuesday morning at 11am. (It was a busy shop) We lost a lot though because every night they’d pick on one and kill it and we’d find the skin in the morning. Horrific. I never liked hamsters after that. The rats on the other hand were lovely and would sit on our shoulders while we were working.
It was sad when the shop closed though in latter years it wasn’t the same. We had a macaw called Jimmy who stood on a perch and guarded the reptile area. There was no ‘health and safety’ then ! He was stolen one night during a break in and we all hoped the blood on the floor was due to him attacking the robbers.
Palmers thankfully now seems to be listed and has turned into a huge light and airy cafe. The raised floor in the window is where all the finches and canaries used to be. I walk past there on the way to my friend and remember how I used to wash that tiled floor every day. I’m so glad it’s still there.
When I went in to take these photos the other week, I noticed that on one wall there was this wall paper with monkeys on it. I think these are either squirrel monkeys or capuchin monkeys, both of which we sold. It must surely be a coincidence.
I’m feeling quite emotional and have been sitting on these pics for a while as I haven’t felt like sharing them I suppose. That place meant so much to me, more than I ever realised. It was a time gone, another world, another life, with the kind of people you don’t much get to meet these days, and I’m so very lucky to have experienced a small part of it. It was easy for teenagers to get jobs in interesting shops in those days. I only wish my children could have the same grounding that being there gave me.
This blog is supposed to be for my vintage fabrics business but I don’t seem to be able to just stick to that. It’s too tempting to veer into other areas and subjects. Like the diary I never did.