The Pirate Columnist

‘Aha’ said the newspaper man, ‘your name sounds like that of a pirate!’

I liked that. I guess he was thinking of Captain Kidd, the Scottish sailor who was executed for piracy. Well I do have something in common with him as my ancestry originates from Elgin but I’ve never done anything naughty on the high seas, well not yet…

My author name does go back to my roots as it is a derivative of my grandfather’s original surname Kiddy, while Petra is the feminine version of Peter, my father’s name.

I said in my previous blog that I live in a county that goes by the motto of ‘do different’ and there came a time in my life where I decided to do very different, well very different for me anyway. To go from an office job to the challenges of a market stall was, I have to confess, a fairly impulsive and in many ways crazy decision. So far my career had gone from retail, to academic publishing, to commercial advertising to being a PA in a small business. Upon my return to Norfolk from a year living in London I found myself somewhat adrift doing a variety of temping jobs. The last of my temping jobs landed me in social services which of course was an eye opener but sitting typing up notes and answering the phone to distressed families wasn’t something I could see myself doing longterm. I felt restless.

That was the end of my time in offices. I went home to my then partner and told him my crazy idea. To my amazement he thought it a great idea and with a mere £100 I set up a jewellery stall. In my red Volvo estate I arrived at a country town market and began trying to piece my stall together. I’d put colored dots on the bars to make sure they joined correctly. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the fruit and vegetable guys rolling their eyes and muttering ‘here comes another one who’s going to last five minutes.’ How wrong they were, I lasted 12 years.

How I lasted I have no idea. It became a battle of wills: me and the elements, me being accepted by the seasoned traders, me persuading the customers, me determined to make this new life work come hell or high water. Both hell and high water did indeed come: I stood in horrific storms, high winds, snow and ice, and blistering heat. I bought a van which was reliable but had its fair share of dramatic breakdowns, once on a roundabout. My daily attire went from suits to ski wear. Everyday was a bad hair day. 5am starts, fifteen hour days, some days with no money taken. Four hours to set up the stall, a couple to break it down. The end of weekend leisure time. Some friends thought me bonkers, others would sneer, my mum begged me not to do it…did I listen? No!

I loved it.

I loved the traders who were all great characters, I loved their humour and ability to endure the toughest of times. I loved the customers (well most of them), each with their own stories and peculiarities. I loved being outdoors and the friendships I made. It was indeed different and it felt right for me. It wasn’t just a job, it became a way of life.

The storyteller in me came out to play and I started to write about market life. Then it occurred to me it would be good to write a newspaper column which might help promote the markets which were struggling somewhat because at the time they were no longer a fashionable place to shop. I contacted the editor of the EDP (Eastern Daily Press) and he agreed. So for the next eighteen months I wrote a weekly column and I actually got paid for it. For obvious reasons I decided to be anonymous and came up with the name Petra Kidd.

No one knew it was me but one day one of the traders came to see me and asked if I’d seen the column. Innocently I shook my head. He showed me my latest column and I went through the pretense of reading it. ‘Must’ve been done by a bloke, too intelligent for a woman,’ he said. This of course was a trap and I had to be careful not to react. ‘Yeah you are probably right.’ I made sure I sounded disinterested.

Another time the same trader made me read my column out to him claiming he’d forgotten his glasses. I wasn’t quite sure if I’d been rumbled or not.

Some years later I confessed to one of the market managers that I was Petra Kidd, the columnist. He laughed out loud and told me he had the columns pinned to his office wall. Bizarrely he’d had a friend called Petra Kidd who’d died and he told me it made him wonder if she’d faked her own death to write the columns.

The stereotypical view of market traders was that we weren’t bright enough to do anything else in life but that is far from the truth. The traders come from many walks of life and usually have many an interesting story to tell. And no, it is nothing like EastEnders, most of the dramas were caused by the weather.

It’s interesting that thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, markets have become fashionable again. People are returning to the most traditional way to shop because it is now the safest. It makes me feel good to see this, despite it taking a horrible event in our history to make it so. Markets have always been important to communities, not just for the elderly but for everyone so hopefully people will continue to shop in this way even when this terrible virus eventually is controlled.

As for my market columns, I may publish a few on my blog so you can read them.

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Please feel free to comment, ask questions and tell me what you are up to, wherever you are in the world, it’s a great time to connect.

Author: Petra Kidd

Norfolk UK is my home, I live in Norwich by the River Wensum where everyday there is something different to see and learn. I feel a big affinity with the river as I grew up in Cambridge, another great river city. My childhood and teens involved many walks along the Cam where we would watch 'The Bumps,' raft races and as we grew older we enjoyed adventures on our punting pub crawls. Growing up in a multi cultural university city definitely influenced my reading choices, I am a big fan of Japanese fiction, love French literature and enjoy Shakespeare. As a young teen I entertained myself with Jilly Cooper and Dick Francis and then became quite obsessed with Henri Charriere's Papillon. At school all I cared about was English, Art and French, in that exact order. When I finished with school I went to live and work in Greece for a wonderful year before returning to study English Literature and Sociology. At this point I read more classics like the Wyf of Bath, Wuthering Heights and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man plus poets such as Wilfred Owen. My first UK full time job was with Heffer's Paperbacks where I devoured several books at a time, excited by the fact I could borrow what I liked. Bizarrely for me I remember reading The Zurich Axioms, I have no interest in the stock markets but it had me gripped. I can't remember why I picked it up but I have never forgotten it. Heffers introduced me to so many authors, via their books and sometimes in person. It was here I learned about all the genres, it fascinated me that science fiction and horror were so popular, I tried reading it all. Aside from writing letters, it didn't really ever occur to me to write anything myself for many years as I worked my way through a variety of interesting and varied jobs. Then on a visit to the London Aquarium I became struck by an idea so powerful I sat down and wrote my first novel. It went nowhere as really I wrote it because I wanted to. I wrote another novel and again, didn't have the persistance or determination to take it further, I simply enjoyed the process of writing and my characters. Then years later another idea struck me and during a severe bout of Pleurisy where I couldn't do anything physical for months, I wrote the Eight of Swords and The Putsi. This time I published them as ebooks and they became pretty popular. When I fully recovered, I had to concentrate on my business and looking after my mother who has various health issues and the writing went adrift again for many years until 2020 when the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world. March 2020 I moved to my apartment alongside the Wensum to live alone for the first time ever. During the first lockdown I began to write a diary and then the idea for a new set of short stories came to me and in February 2021 they will be published. The Covid-19 Pandemic is not simply a scary virus, it is a historical time and here we are trying to live through it. To many it will feel like a punishment but to me as a writer, in some ways, it came as a gift. Please stay as safe and as well as you can. I hope to entertain you with my stories as we all try to get through this together, even though we are apart. Petra

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