“We must get those ginger shortbread things,” I was heard yelling, as partner did a handbrake turn into the village hall car park, where the weekly WI market is held. Two thoughts had collided a moment previously: it’s Wednesday and I have no food for tea.
Years ago, I lived in the village and was a regular at the Wednesday morning WI. It was a bit like a trip to IKEA: you leave having spent ten times the amount that was planned. I never left that hall with change from a tenner. My ex used to think that the women mugged me of my money, by forcing me to buy their lemon curd. The truth was that in one fell swoop all my needs for that day were fulfilled: tea – including veg and a pud, a jar of marmalade, fresh bread and a bunch of flowers and as we all know, luxuries never come cheap. And by god, the WI isn’t cheap. These markets are not catering for the poor. No, this is pure middle class heaven (oh and by the way – if your only experience of the WI is the film: Calendar Girls, they honestly aren’t selling their produce whilst naked.)
Partner liked the look of a lasagne, but I fancied the fish pie. The joy of the WI is that they do portions for one. I guess this isn’t primarily for couples who can’t agree, but more likely meant for widowers and widows. I checked out who had cooked my fish pie before I allowed partner to hand over the cash. I used to know the name of every cook who sold at this venue and there was one whose shepherd’s pie was a little below par. What a brilliant idea to put the cook’s name on the packaging. The shop chain: ‘Cook’ brazenly stole this idea from the WI ladies. The lady behind the trellis table took our money and scribbled down the purchase in her notebook. A long way from Apple pay, but at least it actually works, unlike my phone or contactless credit card in a shop this morning.
We sprinted over to my favourite table: the bakery section. I’ve honestly been elbowed out the way by an octogenarian here before. We both had our eyes on the Millionaires shortbread and sadly she won. I wanted to shout: ‘bitch’ at her, but I respected the elderly and gave her some credit for her agressive techniques – probably honed during the war. Today, no-one was going to get in my way of the ginger shortbread. Except there wasn’t any…until partner spotted some on a table to one side. “They are reserved” the lady in her pinny said curtly, as she saw us gesticulating towards them. I always wondered why they needed to wear pinnys. It’s as if they still need a legacy on show of their beloved kitchen, where all these treats were produced. I looked around for other old favourites and spied the flapjack. “Ah yes, Mrs Ellis,” I nodded knowledgeably to partner as I read the name on the packaging. “Is she a good one?” he asked, getting into the swing of things here. I pointed over to a lady sitting behind a table: “she’s a legend,” I replied.
I left, ten pounds poorer and feeling quite nostalgic. I worked out that I had first started going to that market when my eldest was about 3. That’s 15 years ago. Mrs Ellis didn’t look a day older sitting behind that same table, selling the same recipe fish pie. She’s saved my bacon on many occasions when I couldn’t be arsed to cook and yesterday was no exception. To Mrs Ellis and all the members of the WI: I salute you and I wonder when you will ever change.