John Cole

Twenty-two year old Alex Bartlett has been in the fish business on and off for more than eight years. Which is pretty amazing for someone who doesn’t particularly like the taste of fish. “As a kid, I couldn’t stand the smell and my sister and I hated eating it. I keep trying different kinds of fish, but I still don’t really like the taste. But when I was 14, I started in the trade by going up to London with dad in his fish van twice a week,” said Alex. “Which I could do because I was home schooled.”

“I bought a van off Tush Hamilton,” said Alex’s dad Stuart, “and we went to Walton on Thames and the Cranley market. At the same time we were working for PH Fish Wholesale here in Hastings, prepping and smoking fish. But I got tired of all the driving up and down,” continued Stuart, “And now we only work in Hastings.”

Young Alex also worked as a fish cook. “I was a chef at Webb’s in 2013 before I started working with dad,” said Alex. “I trained for over two years, started at the bottom and worked my way up. I don’t regret it at all, but working 10am to 10pm didn’t give me any social time and more importantly, no time for my kids. Now, I’m home by 11 in the morning, can play with the kids and then put the little one to bed at 7 – about the same time I go to bed!”

“When I first started preparing and smoking fish with dad about two years ago, I wasn’t sure it would work. But it did. And when I saw how hard he works, I respected him even more and that really gave me the incentive to want to do more.”

I asked Alex if he wanted to take over when Stuart, now aged 61, retires. He looked at me as if I asked him if the moon is made of cheese.

“Dad will go on forever, he’ll never retire,” said Alex.

And would he want his own kids to follow in his footsteps? “I’d encourage the girls to work with me,” said Alex. “But they have to do what they want.”

I wondered if he was happy working the hours he does?  “It took me about a week to get used to getting up at 1:30 so I could be in the shed by 2. The only time I want to leave is when it’s freezing cold first thing in the morning.”

Alex’s aversion to eating fish obviously doesn’t get in the way of doing a job he so enjoys. Just spending an hour with father and son highlights the huge rapport and respect they have for each other, which is evident in so many Hastings fishing families.

“I really enjoy it here, I’ve learned so much from my dad,” says Alex, as Stuart stands by with a glowing smile on his face.

pic: John Cole