Mohammed Iqbal, Spar, Crosspool, Sheffield

Mohammed loves cooking, a passion that started when his mum taught him how to make chickpeas and rice

Image: Exposure Photo Agency

Mohammed Iqbal, 57

 I am 57 and I have sold the magazine for the past 24 years of my life – 14 years in Crosspool, four years in Scunthorpe, four years in Barnsley and two years in Sheffield. I have a good relationship with the staff at the Spar by my pitch. Once, a man tried to shoplift and I intervened. He threatened me with a knife, but I was not scared. I have seen much worse. The staff caught him and gave me a reward.

When I lived in London, a long time ago, when I was very young, I worked as a chef. I earned £400, £600 a month. I wish I could do that kind of job again. I love cooking food. I was born in Bradford, but when my father died I went back to Pakistan, where my family are from, and lived in Karachi. When I was a small child, my mum taught me to cook chickpeas and rice. We would make it together and sell it outside the school to make money. I look up to my parents, I look up to my brother, and I look up to my big sister.

I came to England when I was 14. I never went to school. I always had responsibilities. London is very different to the north – the rent is very expensive – so I came to Sheffield. Because I can’t read or write, somebody said to me, “Why don’t you sell the magazine?” I said, “OK!” Back then, we bought magazines for 50p and sold them for £1! I could sell 300 magazines in one day. Everything is so expensive now, so
customers don’t have as much money. People are struggling a lot, and I’ve been really struggling for the last few years now. It’s harder to make money.

I sell magazines every day from Monday to Saturday. I used to work up to 14 hours per day, but I injured my leg last year. It’s no good. I have to keep going back to the hospital. I can’t stand for very long, so selling the magazine is difficult, but I’m glad I have a job. I’ve been looking for another job for a long, long time, but I can’t find anything. I don’t want to stop working. I’d like to sell the magazine for three, four years more at least.

I live with my oldest son, who’s 17. My wife and youngest son, who’s seven, live in Pakistan. I haven’t seen them since my son was born. I can’t afford to fly to Pakistan. I provide for my family there and here. It’s very hard. I have been married for a long time, since my early twenties. I want my family to come and live with me. I need help to get them here. Because I do not have a full-time job, it is very hard to get them a visa. My relationship with my older son is difficult. He doesn’t listen to me, and he smokes. Sometimes, he doesn’t come home for three or four weeks. My mum and dad taught me to behave differently. I do all the housework even though I work a lot and my leg is painful. It’s very difficult for me.

I have nothing but good things to say about Crosspool. I’m really, really glad to work here, and I really appreciate everything people do for me here. The people are very, very nice; very, very kind. They’re like a family to me, because 14 years is a long, long time, isn’t it? They’re my second family. Crosspool is a very special place – it’s really, really close to my heart. I’d like to say thank you and God bless to everyone here – they support me a lot.

Interview: Brontë Schiltz

SPAR Crosspool, Sandygate Road, Crosspool, Sheffield, UK