I am in London.
This morning I was chatting with a Brit selling fruit in a traditional East London lane market near where we are staying. He had picked out three mangos for us that were neither too hard nor too soft. I said that it was because of friendly people like him, London was such a great place. He said London was ‘finished’. ‘A woman could fall over at a bus stop and the line of people would just walk over her where she lay.’ There was a despondency, an inner bitterness, a profound sadness and a dispirited sense of resignation welling out to me as a ready listener. He was 76, though I thought you’d never know it; in his mind, too old to make a new go of it; passing time in a world of passing faces from other worlds, each moment reminding him that his golden age was gone forever. I was happy to celebrate it with him.
The lady selling eggs was equally as friendly. Having decided on our dozen, she was happy to chat away with us about things we could do and places we could go – like the fruiterer, passing the time – every day at the same spot, setting up early, cheerfully engaging with customers, closing up, restocking – a relentless life routine, day after day.
I admire these folk. They provide still points for those of us passing through. They do us such a cultural service. Without them life would be like a standardised shopping mall – all gloss but no soul, all show but no intimacy. They are beacons that remind me of no ‘progress’ without hospitality, of no greatness without goodness, of no Life without love of life and love for each other.