The shopping parade of my youth: butcher's, baker's, mini-supermarket, newsagent, greengrocer's, hairdresser's, off-licence, fish and chip shop, launderette and hardware store. The pavement outside would always have been fouled and there would be a dog chained up to the railings outside, snarling and leaping at passers-by Nervous cats could be seen peering through the gaps between shrunken yellowed net curtains at the windows of the flats above but then taking your eye off the pavement below was always a mistake.
This morning, I revisit the most curious of those shops: the greengrocer's.
The heavy glass door with a thick diagonal handle was always propped wide open with squashed cardboard boxes, regardless of the weather. The air was warm with business, thick with the smell of bruised green cabbage leaves, earthy beetroot and damp newsprint. They rolled around the dusty floor with odd cooking apples as if being coated for batter. Thick brown paper bags hung on hooks by a loop of string next to the oversized scales, waiting to be punched into life in order to receive their cargo; produce deftly tossed in by dirty, lined hands belonging to weathered ladies with an intimidating patter. Greengrocer speak. Not the coarseness of a market trader but loud enough that their voices never faded even when they had their backs to you, shuffling and grabbing crab-like from the crates lining the shop walls.
Then we all got a taste for packaging. The ladies must have retired from the shop. They'd all looked like they were ready for it anyway. The earth and the smells gone, we ate varieties of fruit and vegetables only distinguishable from one another on the basis of shape and colour. Taste was as uniform as the supermarkets themselves. They were so pretty and we could buy them at any time of the year and we proudly stacked them up neatly in our trolleys. We would buy one and get one for free, the one which ended up in the bin because it not longer looked perfect. We congratulated ourselves on our wealth. Improved travel and international markets allowed us to interpret the availability of beans and tomatoes of exotic origins as proof that we'd conquered the seasons as well as our body clocks.
So how come it feels so good to eat runner beans for days on end, to give courgettes away to your friends after a rainy spell in summer? That they are so abundantly delicious that you search recipe books for new things to do with .... with whatever this week's crop is? Because we're celebrating the natural alliance between man and nature, trusting that harmony between them is more valuable than aesthetic perfection or material wealth which only ends up in the kitchen bin with the packaging. Oh, and it is real and can be right there in your garden. That's real fast food.
I'm sad that summer is ending but the pumpkins are swelling, tanned and promising another delve into the recipe books as well as excited children anticipating October 31st.