It was mid-afternoon on Saturday. After exploring the city I was tired and glad to sit for a while on the circular wooden seat under a tree on the edge of the market.
After a busy day there were many exhausted shoppers like myself, glad to have a rest before going home. The scene was lively; local people were rushing by in great swathes, all seemingly with a clearly determined route, yet acting like an aimless mass when viewed as a whole, as is the way with crowds.
The traders were near the end of their day and the fruit sellers started to set up additional stalls nearer the crowd to sell some ripe fruit at reduced prices. Their shouts English Victorias now 50p a pound, 8 nectarines £1, joined the general hubbub.
Then the flower and plant seller decided to sort out his stall. He threw great armfuls of carnations and pinks with some chrysanthemums, down on the ground in front of his stall. He told people to help themselves.
There was a lull. The English get very suspicious when offered something for nothing. But one couple, who seemed to have been waiting around, came up and began to select from the cellophane-wrapped bunches. Once they were there others joined in. A couple of women, dressed in dull black, and eating hotdogs, noticed. They quickly finished their hotdogs and started to inspect the pile. The traders came out with some particularly good bundles of carnations and threw them down. There was almost a fight. The woman from the first couple had hold of one end of a bunch of white carnations and one of the women in black had hold of the other. After some tugs and an exchange of words, the lady in black lost and drifted away disconsolate. The other couple carefully packed their gatherings away in plastic bags and a trolley and walked off in triumph.
Meanwhile a little old lady had come up and with difficulty bent down to pick up a bunch of pinks. A young girl from one of the stalls helped her to gather some prize bunches to lay over her trolley and trundle away. Some young men came by and selected a few bunches carefully matching colours. Their wives and girl friends would be pleased. Many other people walked quickly past, averting their eyes.
The stallholder stopped adding to the pile, no one was taking any more. I left also. I wonder if the rest of the flowers were just left for the rubbish collection later. Some people were certainly pleased with their trophies even I with the experience of English behaviour in Norwich.
Jane Grenfell August 2000
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