Me & My Shop by Joe Collier

At the age of 14, I would catch the train to The Aberdeen Angus shop in Russell Square after school, cleaning poultry (all the nice jobs of that era), cycling around the West End no brakes delivering to Tommy Cooper's magic shop. Sometimes he would be there with an arrow or tomahawk through his head ("Just like that"). One day a dustman called me through and I hit a very smart car with the bike frame. He said: "You'd better go, son" although those weren't his actual words.

I worked in Soho for some of my training; most of it was done on the block. In 1989, I had the opportunity to start my first shop, Eastwoods of Berkhamsted. It has been a very interesting experience, with some real high points and many low ones too. For the first 17 years, things were good, but the last two to three years have been difficult.

Going back to my early 'Q Guild' days, I received a call from David Lidgate welcoming me to the Guild. He said: "I understand you are interested in organic and free-range meat," then added, "Would you like stock from Highgrove?" I thought I had heard that name before somewhere, then the light came on and, before I knew what was happening, I was mentioned on the front page of The Independent on Sunday and found myself standing in Prince Charles' back garden. I remember thinking, 'This is not bad for a council house kid.'

Trade has been difficult for the past three years. I am 65 in January and the future is uncertain. Yet I have some amazing, loyal customers, some of whom I've been serving since 1982, and I'm very proud of what I have achieved and am still very passionate about my trade. Christmas in now on top of us, a busy time for us all. I hope all my fellow butchers enjoyed a happy and prosperous season.