Recently I visited London’s Famous Borough Market for the first time. I’ve lived in London now for nearly two years and it was only ever a brief Tube journey away (as brief as things can be on the Tube, that is), but then I’m someone who lived in Canterbury for five years and still only visted the Cathedral during my final month, so the jaunt to Borough Market is still pretty rushed by my standards.
For those of you fortunate enough to not live in London, Borough Market is open three days a week in the London Bridge area, and it’s where you go to get your Gran Padano, your molecule-thin slices of Prosciutto, your Monmouth coffee beans, your pickled peppers and your pocket picked. Also, Jude Law was apparently there once, though I imagine he neither picked any pockets nor had his own pocket picked in turn (probably because, you know, well, would you want to put your hand in Jude Law’s pocket?)
I got a pretty good haul, though it effectively bankrupted me until payday. Clementines with their Christmassy leaves still attached, some chilis and garlic, some bread, hen’s eggs, bacon, a miniature black pudding so small that the butcher sneered at me for buying it, a slice of blue goat’s cheese and something called Nduja, which is an explosive, spreadable salami that’s 60% salami and 40% red hot chili pepper. Anyway, in other words, I went to Borough Market and bought several breakfasts worth of breakfast.
Perhaps of more interest than my breakfast were the fellow shoppers; being in the centre of London they can be easily broken down into groups. To start with, you have the local office workers, rushing in for a sausage in a bun on their 37 minute lunch hour, their clothes as grey as their faces, pushing people carelessly aside in the way that only Southwark Londoners can master. Like sharks, they are there only to feed, and if they stop moving for a second, they’ll die.
Then you have two distinct kinds of grocery shopper: one carries some form of tote bag made from, I don’t know, hemp, or recycled nappies, or Ethiopian tyres or somesuch, and breezily nips through the gaps in the crowd like a pro, knows exactly how to pronounce the names of all the meats and cheeses and probably has a cat called Mr. Tumbles and two children named Casper and Sasha who, in a reaction to the stultifying organic lifestyle enforced upon them by their parents, will grow up to have incestous sex and kill people.
The other kind wanders around looking bewildered as it’s most likely their first time there, and all they’re able to do is to buy a cup of milky coffee and spend £27 on a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano the size of a puppy before staggering away, wondering where all their money went and what the hell are they going to do with all this cheese they don’t even like cheese for Christ’s sake and besides they just bought some medium cheddar from Sainsbury’s on Wednesday.
Finally, there are tourists, roaming in brightly-coloured packs and buying up all the Burnt Sugar-brand fudge to eat on the coach home. Mostly they just seem excited to be there, and even enjoy being pushed around by the grey office worker staring forlornly into his triple-serving of scallops and bacon and wondering where it all went wrong in his life, and why there are so many fucking tourists around all the time.