Yesterday afternoon, I drove my car in a wide loop to pick up a couple of items and fill the hungry beast with petrol.
The weather was quite specifically cold. I felt it so keenly that I actually flicked the display on my dashboard to check the temperature and was astounded to find it was 15 degrees – practically a heatwave in some areas of England. The sun was out, but high in the sky and flickering weakly behind a bank of clouds. The most noticeable thing though, was the wind. It cut straight though the air, untouched by any warmth and wrapped itself around my hands like an icy muffler. I do not feel the cold normally, and almost never on my hands, but I found myself reaching for the in car heater and cranking it up as I drove.
My destination was a local hellhole, known as Coventry Markets, or specifically the hellhole carpark of Coventry Markets. The Markets themselves are fine – a bunch of sole traders all grouped in a huge warehouse of a building, but unlike the now defunct Subiaco Markets, which used to have stallholders selling all sorts of arts and crafts, this market is primarily concerned with food. There are countless takeaway shops and bakeries and food outlets. The place is really popular because it contains in amongst all the food, a discount chemist, a cleanskin wine shop with good, cheap booze and two massive vegetable supermarkets.
One of these, MCQ, is run by an Asian company and includes a Chinese supermarket and the other, called Spudshed is run by an Italian entrepreneur who prides himself on his refusal to bow to the mysterious group which calls itself The Potato Board, who seek to set a minimum price for potatoes – who would have thought? Spudshed’s other claim to fame is that it is open 24 hours every day of the year, even Christmas Day. Spudshed has pushed in a bit on MCQ’s trade and my own thoughts on this are that it is nothing to do with potatoes or 24/7 shopping, but more because MCQ has annoying trolleys that you have to feed with a gold coin to unlock, whereas Spudshed assumes you are more interested in its vegetables than its infrastructure and lets you use its trolleys freely.
For this reason, despite the fact that I used to buy coconut water for my mother at MCQ, I found myself undocking a free trolley at Spudshed and walking to where I had seen cartons stacked up on my last visit there. I wheeled my way around the floor and spotted them piled up for the carton price of $35.88. Twelve bottles of the good stuff at $3 a bottle was going to keep my mother so full of potassium she would be practically flammable, so I dropped the box in my trolley and headed to the checkout.
At the checkout a man was ahead of me. He was an older gentleman and his appearance suggested he might be of Greek or Italian descent. The sort of man that you often see sitting with another man or a group of men for hours on end with a coffee, watching the world go by, playing boules and putting the world to rights.
I was impressed with his shopping. Piles of fresh vegetables and a packet of Soup mix. That showed commitment. Soup mix is an unholy mash up of lentils and pearl barley all of which cooks at different speeds and which can turn a simple soup into a dish that takes 24 hours to finish. He stood patiently in his clean jeans and his jumper and I wondered if he was a widower and if he would be making his soup for one. He paid the cashier and left.
I was not long behind him as I only had one item and wandered out to the carpark. The man was there, shouting at a car.
‘Wake up!’ He yelled, apparently unaware that cars have not yet become fully sentient.
But then a squawk came back in reply, ‘I am awake!’
Lying in the driver’s seat of the car, which she had tilted so back as to be almost invisible, was a lady of similar age to the man, with an enormous football scarf wrapped around her neck. Her arms flew up in typical Italian fashion as she protested her innocence. Then they both laughed. It was clearly a running joke between them.
Despite the cold weather, I could not help but feel the cockles of my heart warming at this tiny domestic scene. The husband returning to the car with the shopping, the wife asleep in the driver’s seat. You would think they were too old for this kind of role reversal and certainly too old to be enjoying themselves quite so much, but there they were happy and comfortable in the routine and surety of their relationship and laughing like a pair of teenagers; enjoying a moment of happiness together in a carpark on a freezing day.