I am not a fan of shopping.
I guess I am not alone in that, as I know many men and quite a few women who also view the retail experience as a chore. Shoe shopping is the worst, cannot abide shoe shops, they make me feel like a small child having to wait on a low padded bench for the bored shop assistant to find my size. Then comes the ritual of lacing, trying them on and doing some sort of complicated dance to pretend you know how the new shoes are going to feel outside in the real world (before parting with a ridiculous amount of money) for the par that fit the least worst.
That said, there are some shops that I can enjoy – bookshops for instance – but considering my reading pile is so large at the moment it has to have a flashing red light on top to warn low flying aircraft bookshops are not a place I can really feel I can go into for the moment. That leaves me one type of shop that I actually enjoy entering.
I confess, I like a good butcher’s shop.
Now, apologies to the vegetarians but I do like my meat, and I also like to know where it comes from. I should also say I now as I go down this carnivorous train of thought that I am being unfaithful to family history; part of my family was heavily involved in the greengrocers trade back in the day (I recall particularly the horror stories from my great aunt of the many and varied creatures that used to crawl out of the boxes of bananas in the shop in Gateshead).
But I find a butcher’s shop a fascinating place, and butchers themselves interesting people. For a start, most of the butchers I have patronised have been worryingly cheerful people. As they stand there, traces of blood on their apron, meat cleaver in hand and surrounded by death and the results of subsequent dismemberment wearing a wide smile you have to be a little disturbed.
I wonder if it is being surrounded by death that generates that kind of attitude. It is possible I suppose. I think it is also because it is often a family business – in the butchers in Tewkesbury I was in at the weekend the owner’s teenage son was serving with great pride – so they care about the business and repeat visits. It is also a trade that give you an opportunity to show off. Want to know exactly how much mince you need for that Bolognese? A good butcher will know. Need a joint cut in a particular way? Leave it to the man with the big knife who should know both how to cut it properly and with a reduced risk of removing their own limbs in the process.
I suppose as someone who likes playing in the possibilities offered by an interesting piece of raw meat seeing it all laid out may engage me more than the average. With my education background firmly established in the dissection of the animal kingdom – half of my zoology course it was – maybe there is also an element of playing the anatomy game of working out which piece of the animal a particular cut comes from (without cheating and looking at those big exploded diagrams that seem to be prevalent on butchers walls, trying to convince you that indeed your nice piece of fillet was indeed once part of a cow).
I’ve nothing against buying meat in (at least some) supermarkets. But I do love a good butcher’s shop, including the decor with those encaustic tiles with unrealistic pictures of happy sheep (and shepherdesses – come to think of it did they really ever exist?) in some rustic rural ideal.
On a serious note too, a local butcher is responsible for the quality and sourcing of his meat and a lot easier to make accountable by making it clear as you look across the counter you are interested by the level of welfare the animal had, and, if you are into such things, an idea of food miles.
I was particularly amused while on holiday earlier this year in the Durham Dales to see a board in the butcher section of a farm shop off the A66 indicating how far the meat had all travelled. For most they clocked in at a journey of a few miles – but all were topped by the local lamb – 500m away from the field next door. It had me mentally reaching for the mint sauce there and then.
I am not a fan of shopping.