Slow is more

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What do you think of shopping?’ ‘Did you just ask me what do I think about shopping? Yeah, I did.’ ‘Oh, right. Not a lot, really. I suppose it is a necessary evil.’ ‘Are you exaggerating?’ ‘I could be, yes…’

Or it used to be. You see, I moved out of my flat a few months ago and it has altered my whole outlook on doing the Saturday shop. It has now become one of the highlights of my week. It used to be something I wanted to get done and get home as quick as I could. So, what’s happening? Let me come back to that.

I want to mention a workshop I was at recently. It was on the theme of ‘what makes for a good life’ and it was organised by the local Friends of the Earth (FoE) group. We came up with changes we would hope to make where we lived, if we could, first individually and then discussed them in small groups. The facilitator invited us to group our post-it notes onto five emerging themes – governance, environment, food, transport, green spaces – oh, and a sixth sprung up, by accident, on communications.

As we shared stuff, it was good to find out who was doing what in the local area. There were local groups from FoE, Transition Towns Liverpool, some social enterprise businesses, one or two voluntary organisations and an array of individuals, simply curious. We all agreed that there is a lot to do. And there are a lot of people already working on something. One of the reasons for creating a forum like this is to bring everyone together on a more regular basis to pool our resources, efforts and impact.

One of the topics that didn’t come up during the workshop was the availability of affordable finance for individuals and families as well as for keeping new ventures afloat, till they find their legs. Might credit unions play a greater role, if more of us turned to them? Personally, I would have liked to have seen an audit of what is already happening locally. There seemed to be an assumption that we were starting from scratch when clearly that’s not the case. It only feels like it sometimes, which brings me back to shopping.

I used to live a few minutes’ walk inbetween a very large Tesco’s and a Tesco Metro. For a while, I did try to buy my fruit and veg in the local shops up the road. We still have a green grocer’s. But over time, I fell into the habit of doing my shop as quickly as possible on a Friday night or Saturday lunchtime. Tesco and other big supermarkets offer you that – in and out quickly with everything you need – but while I did and do enjoy the food, I never enjoyed the experience. It was like Black Friday every week!

Then, I moved a couple of miles away towards the city centre. Still living in the same area, but turning, like on the spokes of a wheel, I’ve just shifted across to live on a different spoke. And I still end up in the main Tesco’s…eventually. My walk there takes me anything from forty minutes to an hour and a half and has filled my life with fairness and laughter.

Along the way, I can, if I wish, treat myself to fantastic cake and biscuits in Dafna’s. Further up the road, before the bridge, there is a bike repair shop, Bernard’s, where you can talk about art. He paints, you see, and displays his paintings above the bikes for sale. Carrying on under the bridge, there is the most brilliant discovery of all, The Purple Carrot. The Purple Carrot is a vegan, wholefood store, which has been open for about a year. They are trying to save and change the world. And, by tarrying there, I am too.

They serve food on Saturday lunchtimes, so there’s always a delicious smell and a lively crowd. There’s talk of an election coming. They stock lots of the things I thought I’d not see again in my local area. The organic veg delivery two days before Christmas was brilliant. The staff are friendly and helpful. I asked for Jumbo Oats and it was on the shelf the next week. We have a laugh…and they sell delicious cakes too. It’s so good, I’ve even liked their Facebook page.

Passing some interesting clothing, bric-a-brac and tea shops, passing garages and Hatton’s, the Model Railway emporium, I’m heading towards the ‘Triumvirate’, so called of fishmonger’s, butcher’s and greengrocer’s. I heard it came top of a survey of local high streets because of these three shops. The veg and fruit in the greengrocer’s is not organic but it is local and fresh. And I feel my pound is going back into local people’s pockets and their businesses. The banter I’ve had in the greengrocer’s, especially over pomegranates, is priceless. So much fun! And I keep bumping into people. I met an old friend there a couple of weeks ago I’d not seen for a very long time.

I may cross the road if I need cheese and visit the Deli. 100-125 grams, guessing the size of the block, is my mental maths gym. I’m getting pretty good at it and enjoy a laugh and a smile with the owner too.

I walk past the post office and the chandler’s. Someone I met at a party – he used to work in the local community libraries section – asked me what was my New Year resolution… Well, I didn’t have one but it very quickly became to use my local library more, I said, abashedly. And I am… another conversation…the simple pleasures of reserving a book with a real person filling in a form with a pen for me, service with a smile.

I still haven’t got to Tesco’s. I have an elderly friend who lives on the way. There are other friends too en route. I will often call in to see Mrs Harris for a pleasant chat. This is what takes the extra time in getting to Tesco’s. I have made time for this journey and I know not what to expect when I set out. Each one is different. And I love it. And I remember my mum, dragging me out with her to go to the shops when we were kids; each trip up the road taking hours, as she stopped to talk to everyone, including people she hardly knew. I understand why now.

‘Of course,’ says Mrs Harris, ‘sitting in front of the fire on a blustery, cold afternoon, ‘Allerton Road is nothing like it used to be. There used to be a shop for everything then…a baker, shops for shoes, shops for hats. And a library.’ ‘In a shop..?’ ‘Yes, before they built the local library, it used to be in one of the shops by the greengrocer’s…it had an upstairs and downstairs part. The children used to go there after school. We all used to.’ I had no idea.

After Tesco’s, I’ll most likely catch the bus home, if my bags are heavy. My receipts tell me I’m spending less in the supermarket, spreading my money along the high street. I feel good about this.

Where people come to exchange goods and services is called a market, isn’t it? An actual place or online. Markets in themselves aren’t damaging, I don’t think. At least, they don’t have to be. I pictured a scene of a medieval market – market days – these were great social occasions as well as being good for business. Some of them still go on in annual fairs today. Maybe, we need more of this?

I thought about when I’d be able to take my poor bicycle for repair. It has stood for a good few years against a wall in the garage waiting. I love walking and thinking but being able to cycle again adds another dimension to my life. If my bags are feeling light, I could call in to the new bakery on Penny Lane for delicious pitta breads and pastries. The smell is wonderful.

So, I’ve moved flat and the move has made me look afresh at where and how I live. These choices have always been there for me. I chose not to take them before for convenience sake. It feels like I’ve moved into a community, I thought. What did I mean by this? An African word came back to me, ‘Ubuntu’. It’s Zulu, I think, ‘Ubuntu’. It’s hard to translate exactly because it represents more a way of living than an idea…‘I am because you are’.

I was ok where I was but the walk along the high street on a Saturday afternoon for an hour or so has brought me into contact with so many good people. I have wheels again. I can divert my way back through the park, if I wish, to see the daffodils out and the heron at peace. My life feels enriched because of it. In a word,

Ubuntu!

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Friends of the Earth (FOE) Wellbeing page with link to their workshops:

http://www.foe.co.uk/page/wellbeing-it-s-about-people-planet

For Merseyside FoE, email Steph Rooney at steph@liverpoolfoe.org.uk

Scroll down to view a lovely video of Daphna’s Cheese Cake Factory on https://www.facebook.com/smithdownroad?fref=ts

You may also like reading Ronnie Hughes’ blog about shopping on Lodge Lane at  https://asenseofplaceblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/shopping-on-lodge-lane/