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(Northern Echo, May 2016)

Having spent the day amongst the traders and the customers, I’m more convinced than ever that the market building must be cherished as a jewel in Darlington’s crown. It gives the town something different to offer shoppers and let’s hope someone seizes the potential. I heartily recommend the “day in the life” experience, especially to politicians who make the decisions which affect our communities. Do what I did – spend a day immersed in the issue. I promise it will give you a better understanding of what’s at stake.

IT’S amazing the impact one day as a market trader can have...

Within hours of the account of my shift at Darlington covered market going online, I received the following email:

“Dear Mr Barron. We learn that you are a leading exporter in your country. We are, at present,very much interested in buying large quantities of potatoes. We would be obliged if you would give us a favourable quotation – CIF Shanghai, China.”

I sent the following reply: “Dear CIF. It is true that I handled a sack or two of King Edwards during my day on Darlington market, and I confess to being particularly fond of chips. However, I don’t think I yet qualify as a potato magnate. Thank you for your enquiry but you’ll need to get your spuds elsewhere – Peter Barron, Darlington, England.”

THE stakes continue to be raised following my recent visit to the Daisy Chain project – wooden stakes, in fact.

Daisy Chain does a remarkable job in supporting North-East families affected by autism and, to recap, I publicised an appeal for help in erecting a safety fence between an outside play area and the car park. The almost immediate result was that the Finlay Cooper Fund – launched in 2006 by former Middlesbroough footballer Colin Cooper and his wife Julie following the death of their little boy Finlay – agreed to cover the £4,000 cost of the wood. And, now, there is further good news to report because Gordon Hodgson, of Darlington Timber Supplies, also read the article and wants to help.

Gordon was born in Calf Fallow Lane, opposite Shepherdson’s Farm, which is now the site of Daisy Chain. He has fond memories of playing in the fields and sledging down the hill. It is a milestone year for Gordon, who is celebrating his 70th birthday, 30 years in business and 50 years married to wife Carol.

“When I read about the appeal, I just wanted to do something to help,” he said.

The result is that Darlington Timber Supplies will be making a large delivery of wood on May 23 as the beginning of a fruitful new relationship with Daisy Chain. The support of both the Finlay Cooper Fund and Darlington Timber Supplies means that extra projects can now be carried out to help in the care of those with autism.

IT was a pleasure to be guest speaker at the recent Butterwick Hospice Partners’ Lunch and, as usual, my speech highlighted a few famous newspaper misprints. Afterwards, Brian Swales, volunteer photographer at the event – in the lovely setting of Judges, near Yarm – remembered a favourite printing cock-up from his own days in the publishing trade.

Brian was working for the North Riding Publishing Company at Skippers Lane, South Bank, Middlesbrough, many moons ago. Publications printed by the company included the Billingham Post, the Wilton News and the Fibres Post – all for ICI. In the classified section of the Wilton News, someone had meant to advertise a “Toy fort for sale”. It was a bit of a blow when “Toy fart” made it into print.

MY favourite headline of last week came in the Daily Mirror:

“Frog with ‘giant penis’ more likely to have third leg, say scientists.”

Let that be a warning to males everywhere. If you go around boasting, there’s always a danger that you’ll be exposed by the tabloids.


THERE’S a lot to be said for first-hand experience. If you want to understand something better, try it out – get stuck in. That’s why I spent from 5am until 6pm one day last week, tasting life as a stallholder on Darlington’s Victorian covered market. It was a fascinating day.

From the moment I climbed in fruit and veg legend Robin Blair’s van to drive to Teesside to pick up fresh produce, to the last light going out in the 152-year-old market building, I loved every minute.

I even managed to sell a bunch of bananas and a punnet of strawberries without making too much of a fool of myself. This is an important slice of Darlington’s heritage which has been under threat lately because of public sector cuts.

The controversy has led to a sizeable public protest and the borough council has now pledged £200,000 of improvements in the hope of attracting a private investor to give the market a new lease of life.