Thursday, 9 July 2009
Shortly after I first moved to Norfolk I went for a run along the lanes around our house. I was amazed at the number of honesty tables dotted along my route, had I chosen to I could have returned home with a carrier bag full of apples, freshly laid free range eggs, a pot of home made jam and an 8" sponge cake. As an urbanite I'd never come across this idea before, you stick a table outside your house and arrange any spare produce you have to hand on it, cobble together a sign with the price on (and sometimes a heartfelt plea like "Do not steal eggs!") and provide a dish for the coinage which will soon be rolling in.
My first reaction was incredulous disbelief that there weren't urchins lurking around every corner waiting to make off with the cash and/or goods. Although that clearly does happen occasionally, hence pleas like the one above, it doesn't seem to happen often enough to discourage people from having honesty tables in the first place.
The sheer range of goods available to buy in this way never ceases to bring a smile to face as I trundle the highways and byways of south Norfolk. Today for example, on my way to Lidl in Attleborough there were 3 opportunities to buy eggs plus courgettes, firewood, manure, tomato plants, potatoes, numerous herbs, a baby goods stall, toddler garden toys, an assortment of hand turned brooms and a two foot high scale model of a traditional Norfolk windmill. I also know that at other times of year goose eggs, apples, pears, walnuts and pumpkins are available. The majority of these are obviously overflow from allotments or windfalls but some are fully fledged businesses in their own right.
My favourite honestly table is one I spotted on that first run. It's a fairly tumbledown affair, largely hidden in an overgrown hedge. It cheerfully advertises "Eggs for sale!" a smaller, handwritten sign has been tacked up over it saying "No eggs today". In the nine years I've lived in Norfolk there have never been eggs today. Adam has suggested we start a rival enterprise selling Unicorn horns (no horns today).
I'd love to have an honestly table of our own but our little garden and hard working hens don't produce a surplus so I'd be looking at making cakes/jam/chutney etc which is actually quite hard work, plus I'm not sure where we stand with food hygiene regulations so my lazy streak wins out again.
I'm becoming quite obsessed with these little things. I love buying produce from them (when I've got the correct change, it's infuriating if I pass one and haven't got any small change) it's about as fresh, local and seasonal as you can get. Their individuality and and eccentricity is something to be cherished in this world of homogeneous retail chains, I adore their stubborn optimism and belief that ultimately people will do the decent thing, pay the correct amount of money and take the right amount of produce. Most of all, I love the fact that people generally do do the decent thing.