Quiet and restrained

Had I not been there I might not have believed it, but I was there so I do. Maljie, sounding entirely sensible, commented that now some of the better grocers and provisions merchants were delivering into her part of the city, it no longer made sense to go into the market to do one’s own shopping. It must be mentioned, if only in passing, that she never in point of fact intimated that it was because she was growing old or any nonsense like that. It was just so much more sensible and convenient. Especially when we were at that time of year when there is often so much illness about.

So every week she or Margarita would send a mendicant with their order, and every week the cart would pull up outside their house and deliver. It was all most civilised and the system is becoming more popular generally, especially amongst those of a certain age.
Obviously I have many patrons who will do something similar. They will have their maid do the shopping. Cook will give the maid the order and the young woman will go out and purchase the appropriate items. If the order is large, they may send a footman or gardener with her. If it is very large, the assumption is that the emporium will deliver. Other household items are dealt with in much the same manner. The housekeeper will send a maid out to purchase black lead, spare collars, soap, buttons and a couple more dickeys for the lady’s husband. Indeed the only thing Madam will purchase in person are her own clothes.

The advantage of the system my patrons use is that the maids who do this job are both experienced and motivated. Those who do the deliveries for various emporia often lack both qualities.

A friend of mine called Cragan has in the past been employed to do the job delivering. In all honesty he didn’t enjoy it. Firstly there are the lists provided by the customer. The shopkeeper will give the list to the most junior member of staff. This person will go round the shop and the warehouse at the back to put the order together. If the list is clearly written, and the junior employee confident in their literacy, this system can work well.

Even ignoring misspellings and hand writing, (caster sugar and castor oil should not be easily confused) there are the times when one runs headlong into the sink of ignorance which is the natural state of being of some of the juniors Cragan was forced to work with. It was he who was forced to explain to a customer why the individual who had packed the boxes had substituted female sanitary products for the crème brûlée she had ordered.

But even if the junior employee is assiduous, efficient, and well-motivated, (an apparently rare combination) the best you can hope for is that they will send you what you have put on the list.

One of the best juniors Cragan has ever worked with pulled him to one side and commented that the customer had wanted one sack of porridge oats. The sacks they sold were so heavy that Cragan could just about lift them, with care. On the other hand the shop did have smaller bags such as you could hold in one hand. Did Cragan have any idea which his customer might prefer? Cragan remembered that she was a widow woman, living alone. He took the small bag, only to be sent away with a flea in her ear as she had been buying the porridge oats for her son, who was responsible for providing breakfast for a score of workmen engaged in clearing away the fire damaged ruins of a house nearby.

But perhaps the biggest disadvantage of this system is that you never spot the real bargains. For example, Maggin’s will regularly get in some Colbig wheels. Made in Colbig, a town far to the east across the mountains, deep in barbaricum. These are cheeses a yard across and a two hand spans deep, but they are initially made in thinner plates. With the ‘Traditional,’ the bottom plate will be smeared with honey berries, then the middle plate placed in top, again smeared with honey berries, and then the top plate put on, the whole garnished with roasted and salted nuts, bound tightly in linen and left to mature for a year or so. You can also purchase the “Black Seal”, which is made in exactly the same manner but is matured for three years. The ‘White Seal’ is made without rind and is matured under nut oil for a full five years.

Finally there is the “Demon’s Breath”, made with Devil’s Pomatum in place of honey berries and fire nuts in place of the usual selection, then matured for six months. Apparently attempts to get it mature for longer have resulted in cases of spontaneous combustion.

I confess I rarely shop in Maggin’s. This is not because of any doubts as to the quality. Maggins purchase only the best. Produce can travel considerable distances to get there. But there is the matter of cost. To buy a Colbig Wheel would cost me perhaps two or three month’s earnings. Yet I was walking past as they were unloading a dray. Two young fools, racing their Commendable Monocycles, went too close to the horses, spooking them. The horses set off, showering cheeses the length of the street. I helped sort out the mess and sweep up. Indeed I recognised the two injudicious monocyclists as a pair who had caused chaos as they plunged through the dancers of the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity as the girls processed along Ropewalk in a terpsichorean fashion. It took my cousin Thela nearly an hour to sort the girls out, disentangle costumes, and generally restore hair and make-up. Thus I had no inhibitions about mentioning their names to the manager. On the strength of that old Maggin himself gave me a full Black Seal. A fair number of the other wheels were put on sale at a substantial discount because the layers had split apart due to the impact. There was a queue of buyers all that day.

But back to the point. One has to consider the carters who do the deliveries. Cragan commented to me that in his father’s day it was a most genteel trade. One would take out a cart load and would take all day delivering. During this time you could find yourself drinking tea, putting up shelves, or helping the maid move furniture into the spare room. Now, the service has become fashionable and you are always rushing. You set off with a full cart and have barely an hour to make the deliveries before they want you back at the emporium for the next cart load. He commented that if ever they organise chariot racing at the race course, the first generation of charioteers will all have learned their trade driving the grocery delivery carts.

Still, Maljie stuck with her sensible decision. In winter I could see how the disadvantages were outweighed by the advantages. Indeed she behaved with absolute decorum for several months, venturing out rarely and even then acted in a sober and reserved manner as befits a lady of her maturity.

It was only recently that I chanced to meet Maljie and a number of her friends in the street. I was alerted to the fact that something was happening by the music I could hear. As I waited there was a procession of fiddlers, bladder pipe players, and dancers. Leading the dancing was a kimono clad Maljie. She and her collaborators had tankards filled with raw spirit flavoured with juniper berries. As they danced down the street towards me, Maljie waved her tankard in my direction. “Hello Tallis, it’s spring.”



The blog tour continues and we’re with Pete.

His is one of the most civilised blogs I’ve come across, his stories about his time in the ambulance service, and tales about moving from London and discovering country life in Norfolk. Pop along and have a look round 🙂

Me, I’m just trying to promote a book,

Now with not one but two reviews. Have a look and see what you think

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