Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

Three miles up the road is a glass-fronted cupboard in a hedge that often contains free-range eggs for sale at £1.20 a half-dozen. It's a sales point relying on and trusting in other people's honesty. You slide back the glass, pleased to be living in a still-civilised part of the world, drop your coins in the tin and help yourself.

The eggs are flecked with dirt and crap and bits of straw, and one of these boiled for three minutes and eaten with a slice of bread and butter is what I'd ask for if I ever find myself on Death Row on the morning of my execution.

Recently I've discovered another honesty stall consisting of a rickety table outside a thatched cottage in an unfrequented lane. This one offers garden vegetables, and I've become a regular customer here, too. The egg cabinet I pass most days in the car. The vegetable table, however, is not on a route to anywhere, so I've incorporated it into a five-mile circular walk as a highlight, and I visit there once or twice a week. I'm leading a fairly quiet life at the moment (if you hadn't already guessed) and I can honestly say that the contents of this unattended table has lately become one of my chief sources of interest and entertainment.

The table is low, rickety, lopsided. The green oilcloth cover is faded by the sun. Invariably dotted about on it are little heaps of wilting garden produce. There might be four knobbly potatoes. Or three thin leeks held together with an elastic band. Or one tomato. Sometimes a small lettuce. Occasionally a posy of flowers. You put your coins in a marmalade jar.

The produce for sale here looks poor stuff compared with the prodigious decontaminated uniformities one sees in the supermarket vegetable aisle. I felt sorry for it at first, and sorry, too, for whoever was trying to sell it. Yet those first leeks I took home - limp, undersized things at three for 50 pence - were the most delicious and leekiest tasting leeks I'd tasted in years. As for the spuds, well, I'd almost forgotten what real ones tasted like until I carried four knobbly earth-encrusted ones home wrapped in newspaper and had them for tea.

The other remarkable thing about this honesty stall, apart from the disparity between the produce's lacklustre appearance and wonderful taste, is that there is always a thought for the day, handwritten on a page ripped from an old diary, and prevented by a smooth beach pebble from blowing away. …

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