We work long and hard hours, but even during quiet spells we’ve never felt the need to do social media. Our window on the world is the serving hatch – life and conversation comes to us. However, being in this trailer day in, day out, can leave us feeling somewhat isolated from the wider picture of what’s going on in Harlow. But, by the same token, it’s a comfortable place – our square-edged bubble that’s safe and away from most of life’s problems.  

Maybe we’ve got stuck in a rut, but catering is all we know … plus it’s kept us out of trouble for the past thirty years. It may sound like we’re putting ourselves down, especially when we say that we wouldn’t want our children to follow the same career path as us. Yet in reality that’s not such an unusual statement or desire. I’m sure our mother harboured similar feelings and felt some guilt that we followed in her ‘catering’ footsteps. She needn’t, we don’t have any regrets – let’s face it, we wouldn’t still be doing the job if we didn’t enjoy it. But nowadays, despite there being more opportunities, it’s tough for kids and, like most parents, you want the best for your offspring.

We must have been in our early teens when our mother, with help from our stepdad, set up her food van in Hoddesdon. Our stepdad was a good man who, despite having children from a previous marriage, loved us as his own. In truth he became more of a role model than our biological father – a man who, when not content with daughters, cleared off with the babysitter, who eventually gave him the son he longed for. From that day forward he wasn’t around much – which was no great loss. In fact he was more of a distant acquaintance that we’d refer to by first name if ever encountered or spoken of. 

Our mother, prior to meeting our stepdad, had little choice but to work long hours doing all kinds of jobs just to make ends meet. It goes without saying that it must have been tough, but with no viable alternative she just dealt with it. Therefore, with her working hours somewhat erratic we became very independent kids – well, as independent as identical twins can be. But it didn’t have any adverse effect on us; to be honest, our problems weren’t so different from what many others had to contend with. On the whole our childhood and teenage years were pretty average; the town and everything it had on offer kept us busy. 

At school we didn’t do too badly – however, we left without any real idea of what we wanted to do with our lives. The only certainty was, as with several temporary jobs we’d had, it was likely to be something we’d do as a duo. Since we’d already proved our worth helping our mother run her catering business, she assisted us in setting up our own. Several years down the line this enabled us to purchase an established food trailer on South Road, Harlow – not too far from where we’re trading now.   

We may only be a small fish in a big pond, but there’s a real need to keep places such as ours going. Yes, we’re earning an income – but the bigger picture is that we’re providing a service in the community, one that for many of our customers has become an important part of their day. They’ll think nothing of taking a detour in order to pay us a visit. It’s a trip out where, aside from good food, they can have a chat and a laugh.   

Over the years, with little more than daily snippets of their lives, we’ve got to know many of our customers rather well. However, it works both ways, we’re not just a sounding board for our customers – when we’ve had our own traumas to contend with they’ve been there for us too. 

Many of the big businesses upon which Harlow was founded have long since disappeared along with those they employed. Once-familiar faces have been replaced by Harlow’s new generation, many of whom are not just new to the town, but the country itself. Personally we don’t see it as a problem; arguably if the work’s there and they’re willing to do it then they’re an important part of the town’s future. 

It sounds like a cop-out, but we’ve never got round to naming our business – let alone promoting it. Instead many of our customers just refer to us as ‘the twins’ – I guess if we’re able to survive on reputation alone we must be doing something right.

The town and people may have changed, but one thing that hasn’t – and won’t in the foreseeable future – is that we’re still working our backsides off come rain or shine. But, to be honest, we’d miss the routine, not to mention the good-humoured banter – although it can get a bit fierce, we always give as good as we get!

© 2018 CHRIS HADDON

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