Off to Market

(more from David's adventures in London ...)

This week and next, we'll have another couple of episodes continuing the thread of the story of my year in London after dropping out of university.


As mentioned in a previous story, the London hostel in which I was staying was quite an interesting place, with any number of fascinating characters coming and going every day. The large dormitory rooms were full each evening with a mix of newcomers and 'the regulars', of whom I was one. It wasn't a full 'residential' hostel though, but only provided a place to sleep, so nobody was allowed to remain during the day. Some months before this, when I had been living in a rented room, I actually spent most of my days out-and-around exploring London, but to be forced outdoors every morning is a different feeling completely, and when I met up one day with the Canadian french horn player who had introduced me to the orchestra solo job the previous autumn, and he mentioned that there was an open room in the 'shared house' in which he was living, I readily agreed to take it.

The house was being rented by a pair of university students, and because it was far too large for their own needs (and of course to help them pay the rent), they let out all the spare rooms to lodgers. There was no rental contract of any kind, simply a gentleman's agreement on how to behave. Each of us was expected to be sensible with keeping the place clean and organized, although when I now look back on it, I wonder just how closely my concept of 'clean' matched theirs ...

In any case, the routines of the house were well established, and I was soon accepted as a 'housemate' by the others. I had a simple bed in a plain room, and free run of the common areas of the house: the living room, bathroom and kitchen. And mentioning the kitchen brings me to meals ... We each kept our own foodstuffs in the refrigerator (labelled), but as it would be complete chaos in such a small kitchen for each person to be cooking on their own, all at the same time, the dinners were organized. A schedule was pinned to the wall, with our names in rotation. Taking it in turn, each of us had to prepare a dinner for everybody.

Now for me, this was completely impossible. I was at this time just turned 21, and had never once in my life ever done such a thing as prepare a proper meal. During my years at home as a child, of course my mother had done all the cooking; while attending university I had always eaten in the residence, and since coming to London, I had had no option other than eating in cafés and restaurants. My housemates had a solution to this problem: as much in their own defense as to assist me, they agreed that instead of having my own 'menu day' on the schedule, I could act as assistant to somebody else on two occasions in exchange. I of course went along with this eagerly, as although I had no idea how to create and prepare a meal on my own, I could certainly follow instructions.

So I settled into that routine quite comfortably. Whenever my turn came around, I went across the street into Brixton market together with that day's cook to select supplies. This part of London had been settled largely by immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, and the market reflected their culinary interests. I didn't recognize most of the foods on the stalls at all, but my housemates had been making the most of this opportunity to expand their 'food horizons'. Back in the kitchen, I simply did what I was told, learning as I went along.

It was a very good setup, and I started to learn a lot about different styles of food, and how to prepare them. If I had stayed there longer, who knows but that I might have turned into a passable cook!

Or more likely ... a good 'washer up', because you can believe that I did plenty of that!


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