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Reading Aloud

The Greengrocer

I have come to know him quite well over the years just by seeing him once a week.

I found out that he is musically inclined, playing the accordion – by ear only, it is true. His wife has a nice singing voice, I heard. I invited them both to the first village concert. Unfortunately they had to attend a twenty-first birthday party on the same night and were therefore prevented.

Next year when another concert was coming round, I mentioned it to the Greengrocer’s wife. She said: “Oh dear, it’s balancing night (a Friday); we won’t be able to make it. The next thing I knew was that Aldous’ wife had sold them two tickets. How had she managed, I wondered. She had entered the shop, she said, having heard that I considered them potential customers – this was before I had spoken to his wife – and chance would have it there was only him present. She brandished the programmes saying: “Here are your tickets, dear.” He hardly knew what they were for, asked how much he owed and paid her on the spot. Aldous’ wife was pleased with herself. On the night of the concert I was looking for them, but didn’t see them until the end. He called out to me as I was passing: “Hallo, my dear, didn’t you see us?” And we shook hands. It’s nice bumping into friends.

He told me he was a coach driver at one time, doing tours to the Continent, driving up and down the Austrian Alps. Grossglockner particularly memorable because of the inadequate brakes his vehicle was equipped with. Vacuum brakes. He gave me a long talk on how they worked. The gist of it was that the rarefied air at an altitude of 12,000 feet or so had a negative impact on their efficiency. Quite risky up on top and especially coming down. Of course the situation improved as one lost altitude. He was young then and had good nerves. I paid him compliments on his knowledge of technical processes and his ability to explain them. He pointed out with modest pride that he had been a car mechanics and maintenance teacher at a college of adult education at one time.
He has pleasant memories of a breakdown he had with a coach in Southern Germany. He pronounced the name of the place he had to stop at well enough for me to recognize it – quite a complicated name. How nice to hear I knew the place, in fact I had lived not too far from it. He praised the hospitality of the locals and their efforts to help.

He is one of these marvellous English all-round-men who can do any job indoors and outdoors. In addition he runs a shop and looks after people’s pension books. Like Mr and Mrs Orms’. He keeps them for them, because the Orms are in hospital.

The other day the Orms sent me to collect money from him. Mrs Orms had given me a letter of authorization which she had forgotten to sign. She had also not thought about signing the pension book. “I’ll let you have the money, of course,” the Greengrocer said to me, “but it’s not the way it should be”, and he made me sign on the back where it says “agent’s signature”. He had to do without Mrs Orms’. When I collect Mrs Rivers’ pension, I always sign on the front for her. This goes back to the time when there were no books because of a strike. Everybody had to sign on a large sheet in the post-office. When the books came back, I kept on signing for her, on the front. My friend remarked after a while it wasn’t quite the right way, but agreed to accept it as long as nobody else objected to it. This saves me the trouble of running after Mrs Rivers’ signature every week – he quite sees that.

Our little chats cover a wide range of subjects. When Valentine’s Day was coming I asked him had he ever received a card. He said “no” and I thought to myself I would have to do something about it. I wonder whether he could read my mind…I went back after a few days to look at their Valentine cards. I had bought some elsewhere and needed one more. Not for the Greengrocer, his was already done. I didn’t like their cards in the end, but didn’t want to tell them. I said instead: “He doesn’t deserve one after all!” and left the shop without buying one. I never heard anything about the Valentine card I had sent him. One day much later he pushed a stamp through to me, underneath his security glass, by means of a paper. I didn’t recognise the vehicular function of the paper immediately and asked jokingly: “What is that? A love letter?” His wife said from the background, also jokingly: “I beg your pardon!” The Greengrocer beamed out of his friendly eyes and I couldn’t help asking had he ever received a Valentine card. He said he had. He never thought it was from me, because having heard me say “He doesn’t deserve one”, he had assumed I wouldn’t send him one after all. I was amazed to be quoted so long after the event and remembered I had put three XXX on the card. Only on paper, I’m pleased to say. I wouldn’t like to cause ill feelings for nothing.

He and his wife went for an outing once with a group of people. In a mini-bus which broke down. The Vicar and his wife were there, too, and very good, the Greengrocer said, because they managed to keep everybody in good spirits.

They’re not church-goers really. They don’t have the time. It would be nice, though, to go to church. It makes a nice Sunday: get up leisurely, enjoy breakfast, do what one fancies, go to church, come back and have lunch…a pleasant day. The trouble is, it takes time. It takes a big chunk out of the morning getting ready for it, going there, coming back, changing into old clothes again…This business of changing clothes! You have to look right when you go there! The Greengrocer’s wife was very critical of this: “How important is it really?” She made more scathing comment: “Most of the people going there are…”I don’t like to repeat the word. She told me it was our every day life that counts, and certainly non-church-goers could be very good Christians, couldn’t they? I hastened to agree. She told me when her father had died she was very upset and asked a clergyman, had he gone to heaven? The clergyman apparently asked back, was he a church-goer in his life-time? Hearing that, no, that wasn’t the case, he said: he won’t have gone to heaven then. The Greengrocer’s wife thought that was very naughty. It had put her right off. Fancy coming for comfort, and that’s what you get!

The Greengrocer didn’t seem unduly impressed. He smiled as I said bye-bye and remarked that we’d have to find another subject of conversation next time I came.