You can have almost anything in the supermarket but the growing, farming and marketing involves forcing, picking early, travelling and storing in cooled air, loading, unloading and this often makes for looks over taste. Last week, half way back down the street going home, I passed a well established flower pitch, with four or five boxes, small amounts of various things, one containing some smaller orange fruit. So I asked what were they –
mandarins, tangerines, satuma, clementines – anything, said I , as long as they are not easy peelers (great name for a stripper) which taste of nothing. He said he thought they were clementines – “Here, take these and try ‘em”… he offered me four for £2 and then added extra – I wound up with 7. I offered him a fiver and we were both embarrassed, neither of us had change. “So you’ll bring it tomorrow” he said. “It’s £2.” In the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, lockdown, 2021.
When I went back, the stall was presided over by Artur who is a tall thin Russian (I bought six reduced price geraniums from him a couple of years ago, after an unforgettably bad haircut, and identified his accent). I bought a ripe avocado (“You choose,madam”), the most gorgeous pale yellow almost beige into grey parrot tulips plus the two pounds I owed. Artur asked my name, to tell the gaffer with my thanks, which turns out to be what her schoolfriends call his daughter who is really Anastasia.
Fay who runs the dry cleaners opposite with the work ethic that built the Burma Railway says they make her feel better, a combination of what’s possible and politeness along with the quality of everything. Heartlifting.
I am sure I was smiling which is what caused a woman some years my senior to observe grinning herself “You look pleased !” So I told her about the fruit and owing the money and going back, showed her the flowers. and she talked about the reduced Waitrose and how they’d moved the tables round in M&S, “just as long as they leave the shop there” she said. “It’s all change, I’m not keen.”
Change comes, whether you like it or not. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Wol who know more about money than I shall ever learn took up with Lidl out of curiosity. “Make up your mind to it, there are loads of things you’re never going to touch” he said “but what they do well, they do very well – fillet steak at half the price, lovely flowers, never had a bad piece of fruit or veg. and I don’t know how they do it, but I have never met a member of staff who was less than delightful.”
When not economising , Wol has discovered the delights of the local farmer’s market
which has stayed open (the two I use didn’t) throughout out this weary year. He pays over the odds for everything and has the time of his life with two Australian sisters whom he taught to roast beef, a Slavonic fish man, Sam the sweet but absentminded, and Paul and his son who flirt with him outrageously, to the consternation of the poor people who only went out for what my one and only family retainer Dot used to call “ a few bits”.
When I parted from Mrs. M&S, having teased her about doing commercials for them, I passed one of the larger stores, now vacated, There were so many horribly similar places and we wonder what will become of them. You want to draw to the attention of the housing secretary Robert Jenrick, to the amount of every kind of property standing unused before he starts building on green belt.
This is not America, space is limited and chopping down ancient trees or eroding every green corner of our busy cities is wilfully shortsighted. But he won’t get this building. It is already allocated, advertising, lots of small counters, all under one roof … good luck to them. We used to call it shopping.