Thursday is produce day. After two disastrous attempts at one-stop shopping, I learned that most of the fruit and veggies stocked by the commissary are rubbish. The pre-chopped lettuce is already turning brown and slimy in the bag, and there’s no point bringing home the deceptively beautiful yellow bananas, because tomorrow their skins will be black and the insides will be mush. Decent produce must be purchased on the economy, and the nearest town to our village just happens to have a farmer’s market each Thursday.
Unfortunately, my schedule today was abnormally hectic for a Thursday, and didn’t put me in town until late afternoon. As I walked through light flurries down the winding brick lane toward the small plaza where the market is normally set up, I was dismayed not to hear the sing-song come-ons of the vendors echoing off the centuries-old storefronts: “Bananas, pound a bowl!” Sure enough, when I rounded the final bend, the only signs of the market were a table laden with discount sudoku books, a tent full of sweaters, the display rack of high-vis jackets, and a couple depressing stacks of empty banana boxes.
My next best choice for good produce is the nearby Tesco supermarket, so I retraced my steps to the car and joined the heavy stream of traffic headed in that direction. The parking lot didn’t seem noticeably fuller than usual for late afternoon—loads of locals stop on their way home to get last minute fixings for the evening’s meal. But as I approached the store entrance, I didn’t see the usual number of shopping trolleys in the cart corral; in fact, there were only about ten. Uh oh.
It appears that Americans are not the only ones who make a run on the supermarket when the weatherman says the S-word! Bread, milk, and toilet paper were flying off the shelves as if the Brits were preparing for Armageddon. Aisles were absolutely packed with shoppers trying to steer over-loaded carts (no easy feat, since there is no fixed rear axle and all four wheels move independently, rarely on the course you desire) around lolly-gaggers who’d run into friends and neighbors and had settled in for a good old chin-wag about the impending snow storm…and the horse-contaminated beef burgers…and the kids…and the price of milk…and last weekend’s Premier League final scores….
Unlike in the States, where displeasure would be voiced loudly and rudely, only faint and exceedingly polite rumblings of discontent could be heard in the checkout lines as queuing patrons noted that three tills were unmanned. The cashiers seated resignedly behind each of the open registers were unhurried as they scanned a month’s worth of provisions for each customer, and unperturbed by the fact that two more heaping carts joined the queue for each one that left. I felt bad for them, for I envisioned a manager ensconced safely in the office, far from the madding crowd, purposefully scratching out dinner breaks.
I’m not bothered. I got my week’s worth of fresh fruits and vegetables, and a carton of milk just in case, so let it snow!
(The photo today is a winter stockpile of peat in County Kerry, Ireland.)