home again, home again, market is done." ~Mother Goose
It is market day in the town of Market Drayton, where the Wednesday market dates back over 750 years. We walk in from our mooring on the Shroppie (Shropshire Union canal), passing a large school and green playing fields. The road into town is a narrow ribbon of tarmac flowing downhill toward the market place on Cheshire Street which is surrounded by very old brick and wood frame buildings.
One can find almost anything at an open market. Stalls offer the usual items such farm fresh produce, fresh picked berries, and fruit imported from the continent.
There are fast food stalls with menus ranging from hot dogs to hot meat pies. These dogs will not be American style Franks but rather a long sausage on a bun. I never chance a hamburger since I ordered a burger over here once and it had a strong, gamy taste. It turns out it was cooked in what they call "drippings," which is another word for beef fat.Chips cooked in drippings are very popular here, so I've learned to ask ahead of time in chip shops if this is the case. I find the drippings too strong for my taste buds--as gamy as old mutton fat! Apparently drippings are a cultivated taste which my palate refuses to embrace.
Stalls sell packaged cakes almost out of their sell-by date for pence. There are vendors offering holiday, birthday and greeting cards, envelopes, books, magazines, clothing, shoes, electrical appliances and kitchen ware. Indeed one could even purchase a motorized wheel chair!
There is also a narrow alley in which birds of prey were set out on pedestals for viewing, to raise funds for a wildlife center. Moving past the crowds clustered around the Owls you will find a small indoor market hosting a fresh butcher who sells the best cracked black pepper sausage links, a cheese stall with the usual offerings of British cheeses, and a pastry booth with fresh Bakewell tarts, cream and fruit filled croissants, and lovely browned scones.And how you might inquire, do folks manage to cart all their market treasures home? Well I'm glad you asked! Trolleys. Hand held trolleys are ubiquitous here. They come with canvas or heavy plastic bags of assorted colors and patterns.
Brits also use a variety of reusable grocery bags with handles because the clerks in the grocery stores over here ask you when they ring your purchases if you need a bag and they guard them behind the counter like gold. This is an island nation with a limited amount of room for refuse, so it is assumed customers will bring their own bags and some stores will offer a point worth money on a card for bringing your own.I've had plenty of chance now, having lived here several years aboard a boat and without a car, to sit on benches in different villages and towns, observing the locals. Europeans walk! Whenever possible they take buses and trains, and use automobiles only when it is necessary, mainly due to the high cost of petrol and the lack of parking spaces.
The small, intimate nature of markets and tiny shoebox sized shops over here invite one to stroll around, unlike the vast malls and supermarkets strewn across the outskirts of American towns which require a car to get there and back.
Since traveling by shank's mare (on foot) is the usual mode of transportation across Europe, Brits take their footwear far more seriously than Americans. The shoes and boots I see on feet which cross my field of vision, from London in the south to small villages farther north, are usually made of good leather with sensible soles and heels, and in very good shape. Americans, by comparison buy cheap, synthetic shoes because they won't rely on them to walk far or long unless they are into serious sports. Due to all this walking, British women often favor knee length boots, and they have the legs for them.
There are also a fair number of older market goers who require a cane or some form of mobility assistance. They may move slower than many of the folks around them but nothing stops them from walking thorugh the market, bags in hand, picking up a few items.
For many elderly market day is an occasion to wear a good coat and trousers, and often for the women, hose, skirts, and nice shoes with sensible heels; trolley in hand and maybe a couple of canvas bags for good measure. Their hair is dressed and they have taken care with their appearance.Younger folks dress more casually in jeans or leggings, a sweater and a jacket, and many are pushing prams with babies buckled in. In the States we call them Umbrella strollers for the J shaped handles. The younger generation congregate in small knots greeting friends and socializing in the narrow cobbled lanes between the stalls.
One thing which always knocks me for six as they say over here, is how common cigarette smokers are--they are everywhere and they light up everywhere--except inside public buildings.
Unlike Washington State, there are no rules here requiring smokers to stand a minimum of twenty five feet from any buildings and doorways. I really struggle with waiting at bus stops, surrounded by people puffing away on their fag (another word for cigarettes), oblivious to others nearby who cannot or should not be breathing in second hand smoke.
At Market Drayton I chose an empty bench on which to sit and watch the world go by while I waited for Les to dip into Wilkinson's for a can of red oxide and some fire lighters. An elderly gent struggled to the bench with his trolley trailing alongside, gasping for breath--and then pulled a cigarette from a pack and lit up--right next to me. As a cancer survivor the last thing I need is cigarette smoke in my lungs, so I got up and moved off.
Those knots of young mothers pushing babies in prams, frequenlty with several youngsters in tow usually have a fag hanging off their lip or a lit cigarette streaming noxious smoke over their children.
I am reminded of my own youth when adults filled house and car with the stink of cigarettes, forgetting we kids had no choice but to breath it in along with them. (My father was a forty pack a day smoker and my mother added her share, along with cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and siblings.)
The other thing that strikes me about Brits in public is how many couples stroll along hand-in-hand. Americans do this very rarely; usually it is teenagers enthralled with one another in the first blush of attraction.
Over here I've seen many couples from twenty somethings to eighty plus years, holding hands like young lovers as they walk. Les always reaches for my hand or offers his arm for me to link mine through as we stroll along.
Market day allows me to bring home more than groceries and a few other needed bits and bobs. I bring back my impressions as my love affair with Britain slowly builds.