My father, a greengrocer in the West End of London, started every working day in "the Garden" (as he called it). In my late teens I sometimes went with him. It was, long before the Edinburgh Festival, a perfect example of living "street theatre" peopled by tough working men (the porters) flower sellers, insomniac alcoholics using the pubs before dawn, theatre people of either (or uncertain) gender, part-time prostitutes and petty criminals or lairy chancers. Every type of trick might be practised - but between wholesalers and customers (the greengrocers) there was an established honour system of credit - rather like the City before the Americans took over. "My Word is my Bond" applied just as much there as on Threadneedle Street. Until you broke it - thereafter it would be cash on the barrel every time.
It was,of course, impossibly crowded, inefficient and with nowhere near the standards of perfection and freshness that refrigerated supermarket distribution brings.
But it had a vigour that jumped right out at you, a medieval town in the middle of London, where the population haggled face to face, eyeball to eyeball and struck bargains with a handshake with no need for lawyers. And, if a bargain was broken, it wasn't sorted out by the lawyers, either.
Look carefully at this wonderful photography. The men seem at least twenty years older than they really were - aged by tobacco, beer, hard physical work and fried food. Their faces are grimy, their clothes frayed, the communications(a dial phone nailed to the wall) are prehistoric.
But they were the men - and women - who had said "no" to Hitler, as their parents did to the Kaiser. You would not want to take them on. The book's wonderful Inigo Jones architecture is cracked, grimy and has incongruous tin shed additions. But it has a life that is entirely missing from the world of perfumes and silk blouses that the modern Covent Garden has become.
Buy this book if you are a Londoner. If you are not, buy it anyway - it shows what London was. And as the great London markets, the Garden, Billingsgate and Smithfield disappear and we deal only digitally, you will see how Shakespeare's Globe audience became the slack dull screen addicts of "Big Brother"