Outside this window #36
Outside this window is our high street. It’s Saturday. On the other side of our heaving main road in South London between the Playhouse and the french bistro, is the organic market. Tables groan from the assortment of ingredients for sale and smart take away food. Freshly made noodles, pork rolls and jiggly custard tarts compete with each other in a way they never would at a dining table. Row upon row of bready delights are watched over across the narrow aisle by the bulging glassy stares of plump dead fish. The hordes are welcomed at the entrance to the market by a rainbow of perfectly groomed flowers. And a couple of tables along on the left hand side is my stall. I am unable to enter this market without spending a small fortune at this table. My addiction to biltong is what it is.
I glance at the Saturday celebrations outside this large window and swing my empty basket higher. I’m foraging at our local supermarket. Wide aisles bathed in perfectly chilled air from the refridgerated section swarm with summer revellers popping in on their way to the common. A young woman in a floral minidress and high heels is looking for Pimms. Her two friends follow at a respectful distance; they look disorientated and miserable. Maybe it’s the fridgey air. I am collecting ingredients for homemade pizza. I need ham. But what kind? Foraging demands two things: time and curiosity. There is no other reason to linger over ham. When her shout rang out everyone in our aisle jumped. FOUND IT. I’VE FOUND THE PIMMS. There was a lot of squealing from her duo. The noise attracted more and more similarly clad women trailing casually suited and booted young men. Where did they come from? I stopped counting at nine. Their leader held a thin icy cold metallic red can above her blonde head. Her people clamoured. SEE? I FOUND PIMMS. IT’S WITH THE HAM. I DON’T KNOW WHY IT’S WITH THE HAM. WHY IS IT WITH THE HAM? Her question appeared rhetorical. I had no answer anyway. Neither did the half dozen other shoppers trapped alongside me behind the wall of high heels and chinos. A migration began; anyone not wearing heels and chinos fled any aisle occupied by Pimms People. We smiled at each other from the safety and warmth of tinned vegetables and dried pasta. Honestly…. our eye rolls tutted. Some people…. our pursed lips whispered. Our smiles told a different story. A private story. We smile not because we are better. We smile because we have all, at one mad moment or another in our lives, been a Pimms Person. The first time the biltong stall appeared at the market I nearly cried. The polite young man keen to share his knowledge about biltong had to distract himself as I spoke to him through mouthfuls of taster slices of biltong, my eyes refusing to do him the small courtesy of looking his way, fixed as they were on the dried meat display before me. I filled up a bag to take home for B and I to share. I smiled at everyone as I walked home. Strangers smiled back. I spoke to them until I decided they were appropriately enthused. Then I directed them to the biltong stand. YOU WON’T BE SORRY.
I returned to collect the ham and wondered why indeed the Pimms was “with the ham”. Perhaps supermarket wizards believe Pimms People like a cold can of Pimms with their ham and pork pies and scotch eggs. I don’t know why I am unable to walk through the Saturday market without scarfing most of the taster slices. Perhaps biltong people know no self control when they discover a Saturday stall not 5 minutes walk from their front door; perhaps we are forevermore torn between scoffing and sharing. Outside this window is Saturday in South London. And we surprise, offend, confuse, help and delight each other as we forage through our day together in the sunshine.