‘Just go a bit off the high street and the business stops,’ my cousin Alastair is explaining. He is speaking of Moreton-in-Marsh, the Cotswold town that is closest to his village, Todenham. We are here for market day. And I am reminded of Brecht’s famous stage direction from the opening of ‘Threepenny Opera:’ Market day in Soho. Thieves theaving. Whores whoring.
I needn’t worry. Nothing quite so colorful happening in the town square. But a lot is happening, all the same. The vans of many an itinerant British business are parked along the high street. And although it is a cold July day just verging on rain, there are substantial crowds in the square.
This town has a public market on Tuesdays and Fridays. And what I find refreshing is the amount of stuff on sale. I needed an extension cord for my wheelchair charger. No problem. Picked one up for £4.95. Bought some excellent raspberries…at a fraction of the California price. I stared in wonder at a stall full of olives and olive salads and olive blends. We picked up some flowers…well trained husbands that we are. Then I spent a delightful a few minutes in an actual shop, buying some English cheese.
It never quite rained. But the skies proved hugely entertaining, dark storm clouds blowing fast off the never-distant sea. On the way back to the van, I got a second look at my favorite market stall. A man was sprinkling powder on a piece of carpet and demonstrating, again and again, how easy his magic powder made it to clean up spills. While it pained me to actually watch him, I was pleased to know the man was there. There is something timeless in this sort of mercantile activity. As a boy, I had seen some sort of guy selling vegetable slicers at a county fair. There he was, demonstrating how to make quick work of cucumbers and tomatoes. And here he is, 60 years later, doing more or less the same thing in Gloucestershire. I don’t know. I found it reassuring.
And what is Alastair telling me about the business climate? Hard to say. But it’s more thin and fragile that appearances might suggest. As for the shoppers in the town market, they are also closer to general British reality. These are not the stockbrokers who live around my cousin’s house. These are not city folks dabbling in country life. These are poorer, older people looking for a cheap extension cord. They have come to the right place. And what is there to say about all this? Not much, except that whatever place you are you in…well, you might as well know it. And on this particular day, enjoy it.