Every Saturday we go to the farmer's market. No, that's not true. Every Saturday I go to the farmer's market. We used to go together, but I think he got annoyed with the conversations we would have when we got there. "Do you want a chicken?" he would say, as we waited in the queue to buy eggs. "I don't know," I would say. "Do you want a chicken?" "It's up to you!" he would say, trying either to be accommodating or infuriating, I'm not sure which. "It's up to you!" I would say back, because I am incapable of intelligent conversation pre-breakfast (and indeed sometimes post-breakfast, too). "I don't mind," he would say, so I would not buy the chicken because it seemed to make sense to mask ambivalence with frugality - we don't need meat to survive, we've already got bacon at home, etc etc etc.
But then, later, milling around near the vegetable stand, he would be at it again. "Do you want some celeriac?" he would say. "I don't really know what to do with celeriac," I would say. "There are lots of things you can do with celeriac." "Yes, but I don't really know what to do with celeriac."
I would think maybe that was it, the end of the conversation about what vegetables we did or didn't want in our house, the end of the string of humiliating admittances I would have to make about the gaps in my culinary knowledge ("You bought rhubarb?" "I thought it was celery!", etc). But a few minutes later, he'd say something like, "Is there anything else we need?" "I don't know," I would say, because I really didn't know: it's impossible to know precisely what kind of fruits or vegetables are necessary for the week ahead, especially when weeks are so unpredictable, and you can't even say for certain on which nights you'll be dining in and on which nights you'll be scoffing a quick sandwich from Sainsbury's (BLT, reduced to clear, 49p) before a gig you'd forgotten you were going to. "Well, is there anything else you want?" "I don't know. Is there anything else you want?" "It's up to you. Do you want some kale?" "I don't know. Do you want some kale? Obviously you do want some kale, since you brought it up. So just buy some fucking kale and stop asking me about the fucking kale."
At which point we'd not only not buy the kale but also forget to buy bread, and later I would regret that we hadn't bought a chicken but be annoyed at my impulsive decision to buy all of the broccoli in Oxford, now yellow and wilted and sitting in a tote bag on the kitchen table.
So anyway, as you can probably understand, I mostly go on my own nowadays.
I enjoy this. I like the ritual of it, and I like the bargaining power it gives me when I've come home with eggs and bacon and mushrooms and I get to say, "I brought home the bacon, you cook it!" And our local farmer's market is held in a primary school behind the Tesco Metro on the Cowley Road, so I like cutting through the Tesco on my way to the market, using it as a public footpath, buying nothing in a mute display of smugness. I like listening to music on the walk. I even like that I'm always, without fail, quite late, so I often miss out on all the desirable goods (asparagus during asparagus season, cream from the local dairy, bagels from the bagel lady), because when I do get my hands on one of these items, it feels like a real victory for laziness. Look, I slept till noon and I have asparagus pee!
But there are some times when the experience is trying. It all depends on my mood. Some Saturdays, it's like walking into a big warm fuzzy hug full of sunshine and cheese and dreadlocks. There are delightful youngsters smiling up at everyone, beautiful families pushing discreet prams, students stocking up on muddy potatoes, old eccentric women buying strawberries and garlic. Other days, though. Other days there are a bunch of kids screaming, and smug people who have successfully procreated pushing their prams over my unprotected toes, and students who still smell of last night's cheap booze, and old women who snarl like hyenas if they sense you might be eyeing up the same pumpkin.
In particular, I resent the queueing system, or lack thereof. For a society so preoccupied with queueing, Britain really can get it wrong sometimes. For example: people tend to queue for the bread in such a way that they block the queue for the eggs and cheese. Why? They could easily queue in such a way that they did not block the queue for the eggs and cheese, but the one or two times I've tried to impose some order, I've been skipped over and eventually reprimanded for not standing in the right place. At the vegetable stand, standard practice is to select a number. This is ostensibly to make queueing easier (there's much less stress if you know that, eventually, your number will be called, at which point it is your right to be served), but people don't seem to understand that there's no need to jostle or compete, and rather than stepping back to allow others to peruse the peppers, they hover near the tills, as if their constant presence can somehow change the order of numerals.
But the really annoying thing, the most annoying thing, is that it's impossible to stay annoyed. Just as soon as I've decided to be grumpy for the rest of the day because I've missed out on the last of the milk and I don't know where to stand so that I am actually in a queue for anything, let alone for what I actually want, the woman next to me, equally perplexed, laughs and asks if this is the queue for the eggs. Or the vegetable man smiles as he weighs my vegetables and helps me fill my bags. Or the guy at the bakery says, "see you next week", indicating that I've been taken for a local, that my regular presence has been noted. And I can't be grumpy anymore. I just can't. No matter how grumpy I was. No matter how many prams have trampled my toes. No matter how many people are holding the exact same Guardian Hay Festival tote bag (including me).
Is this a rant or an ode? I don't know anymore. Dear farmer's market: give me my grump back. Or don't. Whatever.