M A R I A  M O R U Z Z I

Proprietor of Maria's Market Café

My family's been in the area for 42 years.  It used to be my parents' business and as I got older I helped out, as Italian families do.  I started around the age of seven.  I'd pick up cups, do the washing up, pass toast to people and entertain the customers — brightening up their lives.  My family is from Emilia-Romana in Northern Italy.  I was born in Kent.  I keep telling everyone I'm a belle from the garden of England.

I wanted to do something glamorous.  Both of my parents were taken ill, so I ended up helping out for a couple of weeks and those weeks turned into years.

When I was a kid the market was thriving.  It was packed with grocery sellers.  It was vibrant.  They used to 'pull' from Bermondsey Street and when I say 'pull' I meant they used to load up wheelbarrows with produce and pull them all the way to the market.  It went on from one in the morning until four in the afternoon.  

They market has really cleaned up.  The architects have been really sympathetic and have kept the market atmosphere, which is a very hard thing to do.  They're very clever because they've actually moved in to the area, so they understand it.  I think they really hit it on the nail.

The stallholders love their produce.  They've got this passion about their food — that's what the market is really about: passion.  And it radiates.  Everyone who works here is happy.  It's hard work and they come from a very long way but they integrate with the history.  The market has become a bit touristy.  But tourists come and go.  When you get the regulars, they add to the community.  The customer and the stallholder become like an extended family.

Bubble is what I'm known for.  It's really weird, because bubble originates from the poor East End — it was the poor man's food.  If I'm busy my customers help me.  You'll find people washing up, serving each other, taking orders, making tea and cleaning tables.  It doesn't matter who they are.  I like talking.  I take time to know the people who come in to my café.  By the time they've left I know where they work, what they do, if they're married.  I'm not being nosy.  It's just that I take an interest.

They filmed Howard's End at the back of the café.  When they were finishing the last scene the cameraman packed up his camera and realised he didn't have any film in it.  So they had to reshoot the entire scene.  I've met some unusual people:  Guy Ritchie, Sean Connery — he came in to use our 'facilities', and Catherine Zeta Jones.  It's funny, I never go anywhere, and I have just a little back street café, yet I've met some of the biggest names in show business.

I'm only doing this four days a week:  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  The other days are 'my time'.  I study Japanese and the computer.  I like to show off.  I know everything and nothing, me.  I speak French and Italian, and regional Parmigiano.