Monday, 31 May 2010

The Geordie Fish Van

Every week, a load of Geordie blokes fill a van full of fresh fish from Tynemouth quayside and drive down to Ealing first thing in the morning, sell it and drive all the way back again in a day. Finally, after years of them telling me, "I can't believe ye've not gorra freeza!" I got one, a free one from my friend Mark. So I bought a freezer pack of fish from the lads, enough to last three months at two meals a week.

We got to talking about growing veg as Alan stacked the shelves for me. I told him that I wanted the rest of the space for freezing raspberries from the garden to last me through winter. He could see the size of my garden (small) and he couldn't believe why I'd bother when I could get down the Asda and buy frozen ones.
"A lot of people in London grow their own vegetables, don't they!" said Alan the fish man incredulously. His question was, "Why make work when you don't have to?"

So I thought about it. It's the theory that time saving devices make your life better. Paving over your garden makes it easier to maintain. Driving to the shops is faster than walking. Using a food processor to mix your cupcakes makes it simpler. Buying cupcakes makes it even better. It's why Aunt Bessie's frozen mashed potato sells by the tonne from the freezer cabinets of British supermarkets. Why bother to grow your own potatoes, dig them up, wash them, boil them and mash them?

It's all very well for me, with no kids to feed, clothe, wash and supervise. There are probably millions of people who must bless Aunt Bessie, whoever she is or which ever corporation invented her brand identity, for charging several thousand percent on top of the price of a potato, in exchange for taking half an hour off the preparation time.

What's with the Londoners, some of the busiest people on the planet, the ones who've been measued walking 10% faster than anywhere else in the UK, trying to give themselves more work by cultivating vegetables in our own tiny plots? Well, it's a question of what we're saving the time and the labour for. So we can sit on the sofa and watch more television? So we can spend more time working? It's the myth that digging gardens, mowing lawns, peeling potatoes and making our own cupcakes is unfulfilling work. When really it's a lovely way to pass the time, and it keeps us a little bit fitter than we would otherwise be.

A raspeberry from my garden will always taste better than a frozen one from Asda, a plot of moss filled, clumpy grass will always look better than a paved back yard, and mashing your own home grown potatoes is better exercise than lifting weights at an overpriced, sweaty gym. Efficiency is not the way to a happy life.

This week, resist the ready meal. If you haven't grown your own, buy potatoes that still have mud on them (they are loads cheaper too), give them a scrub, boil them and mash them. (I like some salt, pepper, skimmed milk and benecol spread squashed into mine.) See how much better they taste. They go brilliantly with haddock driven all the way down from Tynemouth.

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