Barry the Haddock: the 'van lad' who's no fish out of water on Chesterfield flea market with the 'freshest fish in town'

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“Keep smiling. And look after everyone. Don’t let anything drag you down because it’s not worth it.”

Barry the Haddock is that guy you see on the corner of the Chesterfield flea market every Thursday, stood by his van, selling fish. His wisdom of “Keep smiling” is shared with his constant queue of customers, his warm chat served with fresh fish from a bed of ice in the back of his van.

“There’s a little lad round our way, and he’s got half a heart. And for what he goes through, I look at him for an inspiration. My problems are tiny, and then you see this little lad who’s just smiling… he just smiles at everything. He’s got half a heart and he’s six years old.”

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Barry the Haddock aka Paul Barry Smith, travels all the way from Grimsby to Chesterfield to do what he does. “I get up at half three. On the docks about half four. Home between five and six at night.”

Barry the Haddock in ChesterfieldBarry the Haddock in Chesterfield
Barry the Haddock in Chesterfield

When a customer is asked why he thinks Barry is so popular, the answer is “Because he has the freshest fish in town. My wife always pops here when she’s at the hairdressers to see this young man. Goodness knows what time he gets up in a morning.”

Barry laughs. When the customer is told what time Barry gets up, the response is a wide-eyed “Bloody hell!”.

“I get up. Go to the docks. Ice the van up. Go to the wholesalers. Pick all your fish out. Put it on the display. Then it’s out on the road.”

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And where else does Barry go round here? “Tuesdays I go to Dobbies at Barlborough from nine til half one. Wednesdays I go to another garden centre called Langlands at York. Then Thursdays, Chesterfield flea market, nine til half twelve.”

Barry the Haddock on the corner of the Chesterfield flea marketBarry the Haddock on the corner of the Chesterfield flea market
Barry the Haddock on the corner of the Chesterfield flea market

More customers approach the van, and Barry already knows what they want. When asked ‘Why Barry?’ The lady smiles. “He’s friendly. We come from Derby. We come especially for the fish. And have a look around the market.”

“His fish is absolutely beautiful,” adds another customer. “And he’s so helpful.”

Helpful for sure. After the market, Barry does “Door-to-door. So for instance, if you can’t make it to the market, you just ring me up the day before and say ‘Can you put this aside for me, drop it off at my house?’… Yeah. So when I’ve done here, that’s what I do.”

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“I’m going down as far as Matlock today. Kelstedge, Holmewood, Staveley. Then it’s back home to Grimsby.”

Barry the Haddock and customersBarry the Haddock and customers
Barry the Haddock and customers

And back home at Grimsby, Barry has fish swimming through his veins. “It runs through my family. My mum worked in fish houses. My dad’s been to sea as a trawler-man. My dad’s brothers… My mum’s brother skippers a boat, so… yeah.”

As a kid at home, Barry remembers talking to his dad via a CB radio while he was out at sea. “Some of the stories he’d tell you of the storms they’d been in, where the waves were twice as high as houses. Very risky job.”

We talk about the travel of the fish to your plate. From sea to boat, boat to dock. From dock to wholesaler. The filleting. Then to shop, chippy, restaurant, or “van lad” like Barry.

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“I’ll always have on board, cod, cod loin, salmon, haddock, sea bass, plaice fillets, lemon sole, scollops, hake, monkfish, mackerel, smoked haddock, dressed crabs, peppered mackerels, smoked sea bass, jellied eels, pates, cockles, whelks…”

Barry the Haddock and more customersBarry the Haddock and more customers
Barry the Haddock and more customers

Another customer arrives, an elderly lady. When asked if she comes here often, Barry grins, says “Nice chat up line”. The lady laughs, play-swipes his arm, says “Oh, stop it… I come and see Barry because he’s got the best fish.”

And does Barry the Haddock have a favourite fish? “I was brought up on haddock. Sea bass is lovely. Fresh mackerel. I enjoy it all.”

Awkward question, but is Barry immune to the smell of fish? He laughs again, shrugs. “You know what, I can’t smell it. But fresh fish, you won’t have a smell to it. It’s more of a sea kind of smell. But if the fish is old, it smells.”

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More customers come to the van. Barry’s right. There is no fishy smell. Weirdly, just something akin to a sea breeze. While Barry serves his customers, a busker sings a reggae song by McDonalds. Against the hubbub of the flea market, I take a photo of Barry serving his regulars. The busker changes the chorus lyric to “Smile… smile”.

Barry holds out a tub of strange looking green stuff. Like spindly cacti without the pricks. “Samphire. They call it the asparagus of the sea. You can eat it raw. Try a bit.” If sea breeze had a taste, it’d be this. Crisp, mildly salty, and the most used word of the day: fresh.

The flea market is busy. Town is a buzz of voices and music. It’s taken nearly three hours to chat to Barry between his constant flow of regulars. People that have come into town for fresh fish and a mooch round the market, a market made of traders that travel here because of what it is.

Barry and his vanBarry and his van
Barry and his van

Last question: a time machine. Anywhere, anytime. Barry grins. Looks around. “Chesterfield Market?” He pauses, smiles. “When I retire, I want to get a boat and live in the south of France”.

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But first, Barry the Haddock is off delivering fish. “If anyone wants anything delivering, anywhere around the vicinity of Chesterfield, my number is 07511 039371, just give us a call.”

All the way from Grimsby, Barry the Haddock is clearly no fish out of water round here.