It was before the children, before the mortgage, before the mornings he’d wake up with the niggling feeling that he’d missed out on something important.
They ate a French restaurant on Upper Street, two – sometimes three – times a month, because babysitting wasn’t a word they used then; because money was something to spend, then.
She always ordered the courgette flowers, and they always laughed at the surprise of summer-yellow petals curled inside the grease-slicked batter.
There was a time – only six months or so – when they slept in separate countries. He ate there alone, but only the once.
Gradually, the restaurant disappeared. The waitress who sang under her breath was replaced by a man with a missing front tooth. The silent, grey-haired owner sold out to a young couple. The rickety wooden tables were replaced with even more rickety metal ones. And eventually, inevitably, courgette flowers were dropped from the menu.
They live in a three-bedroom house now, with a narrow stretch of garden at the back – three courgette plants amongst a tumble of beans and tomatoes. Every year they talk about dunking the courgette flowers into batter and frying them in olive oil. It would never be as good though, would it, he says and she always nods and smiles, ands says no, she supposes it wouldn’t.
Inspired by conversations at Frances Thorburn’s Mobile Picnic Pavillion outside Islington Town Hall on Thursday 29th July 2010.
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Our vegetables turn heads, you see. Shopkeepers sneak a break from their rows of chocolate and crisps and cigarettes. Couples look up from their lunches and hurry outside, clutching half-eaten sandwiches. Fluorescent-jacketed workmen rest on their spades and rub dusty fingers across their eyes.
There is envy, of course:
‘My artichoke took two years to flower, and just look at that one.’
‘How come they get to sit in the dry and we’re all out here in the rain?’
The driver raises his fist amongst the spring onions and pea plants, and whoops. Two women rest their backs against a metal bar and walk wooden circles across tarmac; past lines of static gardens – poppies the size of dinner plates, cropped lavender borders. Mobile phone conversations degenerate: ‘I’m just on Wharf Road and there’s like a giant vegetable patch with a wheel on the back and these guys wearing long-johns….’
There is love and laughter too:
‘You’ve made my day.’
‘That’s brilliant, that is, brilliant.’
There’s enough chard for a salad. There’s enough rain for a flood. Whistles and hooters, cymbals and shouts. There are ways of getting through tight spaces, and the cars are happy enough to wait. Green shoots on grey streets. Picnics in the rain. Our vegetables turn heads, you see, leave magic in your mind.
Inspired by the launch of Frances Thorburn’s Mobile Picnic Pavilion, 29th May 2010
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