… a bowl of cherries?
Something strange has been happening on the streets of South London. Something I very much doubt George Gershwin had in mind when he penned his ode to lightening up and slowing down. And yet, it is “too mysterious”. In the wake of the demise of the neighbourhood greengrocer – once a stalwart of every shopping parade and high street in the land – convenience stores of the “unlock your mobile here” variety have taken to displaying their fruit and veg in opaque plastic bowls. Why? Recently I’ve counted no less than five such emporia on Streatham High Road alone, and all of them dexterously decanting their wares into circular bowls that are then arranged pyramid style on trestle tables outside the shop. I’m not sure why, but this seemingly pointless practice really puts me off… I mean, what’s wrong with the box the fruit came in?
Is it perhaps a subliminal marketing trick based on the government’s “5 A Day” campaign? Look, here are one, two, three, four, five (bingo!) Granny Smiths… in a bowl… buy them… and put them in your fruit bowl. Logical? -ish. Organised? Yes. And yet, something about it just looks tacky and contrived. Whilst the bowls may be clean and tidy, the romance of seeing a crate with an authentic label indicating the provenance of the produce is sadly lost. No camel train laden with dates silhouetted against a starry sky as its drivers pause for refreshment at the oasis, no lush orange groves basking under the California sun, no shiny red apples ripe for the picking by a rosy-cheeked maid in a Kentish orchard.
I may be a hopeless romantic but those images are as much a part of the pleasure of buying the fruit as eating it, evoking far-flung places and giving one pause to consider the breathtaking variety of produce we take for granted in this city. As a child I use to peel the labels off satsumas and bananas and stick them on any suitable surface (much to my mother’s irritation). The Maroc diamond was a particular favourite. Years later whilst cutting my foodie chops in my brothers’ restaurant, I discovered a workmate with a similar predilection who’d absent-mindedly plastered the fridge and most of the underside of a shelf with them. A routine visit by the environmental health officer put paid to the ever-expanding yet no doubt microbe-harbouring collage. Maybe it’s akin to the appeal of a well-worn suitcase adorned with luggage labels or a passport full of stamps from exotic locations. A reminder of places we long to visit, a connection to a country we may never get to see first hand but whose bounty we can sample as surely as a quarter of kumquats.
My inner conspiracy theorist has been working overtime in the hope of finding an explanation behind the banished boxes. Maybe this is the result of some sinister EU directive which stipulates that, along with the consigning of Imperial measurements to the history books, wooden crates and cardboard boxes are unsightly, unhygienic and dangerous. They might easily topple and cause injury or worse, give someone a splinter. Yes, folks: fruit and veg crates are a health and safety time-bomb waiting to explode… or rather, slide onto the pavement with a low-key splat, noticed by no-one save a crafty Staffie as the lorries thunder by. If life came with incidental music, this would be accompanied by a downbeat trombone wah-wah-wahing. Yet in a burgeoning “trip or fall” compensation culture, who can blame the beleaguered shopkeeper for taking reasonable precautions? Perhaps the fewer banana skins – or indeed bananas – left lying about, the better. As the song goes, “life is just a bowl of … aw, nuts! Don’t take it serious…”