Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Postscript

Here is the moustached man I mentioned yesterday, who has the greengrocers' round the corner (he's the one on the left, of course [or term├ęszetesen as the Hungarians would say]):
He doesn't look especially nice in the picture, but he has a delightful manner - gentle, almost courtly - as do the men who serve me in the market closest to my house (as opposed to the old ladies who have eyes only for the young man, my husband). He laughs at my jokes too, even when they're terrible (eg all the time: for instance, this morning he told me that something was called 'paszternak' [give or take one or two accents, the Hungarian word for parsnip, as it turns out], and I said I thought that was a Russian writer. Gales, simply gales of hilarity, my dear).

Actually, it's not so much the purchases that please me as that flimsy but regular connection you make with shopkeepers,  the meagre but frequent interchange that builds up somehow into a kind of indefinable relationship that isn't friendship but means you don't forget each other - or possibly it's a one-way street ie you don't forget them.

I remember, for example, Ted, who had a little vegetable shop - more of a cavern really - on the corner of our street in Chelsea when I was young - and so does Fiona McCarthy, who, in The Last Curtsey, wrote about him at surprising length, considering he was just a greengrocer and her book was supposed to be about the demise of the London season . Sadly, I don't suppose he remembers either of us at all. Worse still to contemplate is the probability that not only does he not remember us but he does not  remember anyone, because he's actually not here any more, but up in a spud-filled lair in some corner of heaven, charming the angels instead.

And even if Ted is still here, his shop certainly isn't - such places are all but gone in England, I fear. Maybe the place in Bishop's Waltham that my aunt used to take me to is still going  -there were labels stuck in all the different fruits and vegetables, showing their provenance and the resulting combination of 'Israel ', 'South Africa' and Spain' with 'Botley', struck me as gloriously bathetic - but  I suspect it has since been steamrollered by the kinds of ruthless operations that shattered poor Tom Good's dreams of surplus riches:


4 comments:

  1. There's a lot of pathos in that bit from the Good Life. You're right that it's satisfying to develop some kind of personal relationship with local shopkeepers, something supermarkets are never able to offer. And how gratifying it is to return after an absence of years to find that some locals still remember you, as we once experienced courtesy of the management of a Viennese Gasthaus around the corner from where we once lived. The fact that they were standard-issue gruff Viennese who had never seemingly been aware of our existence made the experience all the nicer.

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    1. 'Where have you been', said with the irritation of a parent who's been kept up late, waiting for a child to return home

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  2. The moment I read 'paszternak' I thought of Boris, but now that I have discovered that his surname seems to have this meaning, my perception of Dr Zhivago and the great Boris Parsnip will never be quite the same. Ever.

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    1. Poor Boris - given that he's not a Hungarian, it's quite unfair to lump him in with the root vegetables

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