Image via WikipediaThe migration season has begun. Wending southward across the English Channel, the weary travellers push on determinedly to their destination....the friends or relatives living in France. The routine is well known to all parties. The car arrives, its contents are disgorged, all the bathrooms are occupied and the party foregather on the terrace where bottles and glasses await them. I often think that for some of them an intravenous drip would be more appropriate, like a blood transfusion.....but in red, white and pink.
'Nurse, another wine box and adjust the feed...the patient is recovering consciousness.'
The first few days are the recovery period, catching up with how awful things are at their end and trying to persuade them that things are not too hot at this end either, but, inevitably, at this point they want to go to a market. I could understand it when the U.K. had nearly lost all its interesting ones, but now, I thought, they had Farmers' Markets and suchlike.
'Well, yes, if you want some stuck up trout trying to flog you meat at three times its normal price because the animal had the privilege of eating her grass while it was alive and looking down her nose at you because you don't wear an appropriately aged Barbour jacket when you go shopping.'
O.K. We'll go to the market. In our local town, it's in the week and is on the small side...a few vegetable stalls, a fish stall, someone selling honey and clothing stalls that make you open your eyes and wonder about the undergarments of your fellow man and woman. Great alarm has been caused recently by an English couple setting up a stall and selling what were described as 'exotic products'. Bearing in mind that when I was first in France Worcester sauce and picallili were to be found on the 'exotic products' shelf together with Vietnamese fish sauce and bean sprouts in tins I was not as impressed as my neighbour thought that I should have been by this news and asked what specifically they were selling.
'Well, I didn't get too close, but I didn't recognise anything.'
This left the field wide open, from live termite grubs - here, for various reasons, the area could develop an export trade - to Viagra, but actually turned out to be energy drinks and new age paraphenalia. I cannot hold out much hope for their enterprise in the land of the thirty five hour week...not much energy gets depleted in that time. Come to think of it, for a nation which eats snails I cannot imagine how a category for 'exotic products' can exist - I suppose it just means anything not produced in France.
There are actually three vegetable stalls on that market. One is run by a retired schoolteacher who regards himself as an expert on all things rural, one by a local supplier and the last by a satellite of a large fruit and veg wholesaler who knocks out their surpluses in the markets in the area. I have had a close look at all three, in terms of the quality and price of their goods and the approach of the stallholder and I go for the wholesaler every time. The retired teacher's produce comes from his smallholding and is nothing out of the ordinary, on a par with the local supplier. They both charge top dollar for the privilege of buying their goods. The wholesaler is much cheaper and the quality as good. If it is at all dubious, signs announce
and for apricots for jam, tomatoes to cook down for the winter it can't be beaten.
The clientele varies markedly. The would be intellectuals patronise the retired teacher - corner of high thinking high mindedness at high prices - the local supplier has the respectable ladies who have duly donned a suit and high heels to be seen in public...a great contrast to the bedroom slippers and dressing gowns in which they normally pass the morning. The wholesaler gathers the rest. Elderly gentleman are led through their wives' shopping lists, cafe owners pick up supplies and ordinary people on ordinary incomes do their ordinary shopping. The staff are raucous, occasionally outrageous and I wouldn't shop anywhere else.
The visitors are happy..someone has managed to buy twice the amount of aubergines anyone could want to eat..... fired by the presence of the travelling black pudding maker someone else has bought a pile dripping and hot from the cauldron and we are going home to lunch.
'Nurse! The wine box....'