National Geographic : 1947 Dec
Keeping House in London Acme Fresh, Unrationed Fruit Tempts a Slim Purse into a Rare Extravagance In midwinter this Oxford Street vender sold hothouse grapes at 80 cents a pound, plums at 60 cents a pound, small pineapples at a dollar each. Uncontrolled fruit prices cause wide resentment. Costs, however, vary greatly between rich and poor sections of London, sometimes by as much as a shilling a pound. By tradition, a "gentleman" is expected to pay more. businessmen waiting for their evening papers, or of working Londoners queuing up for buses during the rush hours, or, recently, of the thousands of women (and their men folk) hoping to buy nylons. I find myself still queuing for food once or twice a week, but only for very scarce or very popular items, well worth it, such as citrus fruit and marked-down tomatoes. And there's always a line at the bakeshop on Saturday morning. Since fruit is frequently sold on the streets by barrowmen, queues sometimes tangle with the law. When a banana costermonger was marched off to police court with his cart for causing a traffic obstruction, his queue-6 ranks and 30 files-marched right along with him and the bobby, hoping he would be bailed out and start selling bananas again before they would have to go home to fix lunch! Within such queues one's place is sacred; and woe unto the ambitious queue jumper, who is regarded as un-British. One morning I watched a shy young English girl, a dark skinned "duration visitor," and a militant little Cockney line up at a food counter. The clerk inadvertently started with the second comer, to the great indignation of the Cockney. "Ay, mister, you can't do that," she scolded. "This 'ere young lidy was first." The clerk apologized to the entire store. Standing in Line a National Habit As the queues diminish with the return of additional help to the stores, the housewives feel a bit nostalgic. The queues had kept them from being lonesome and had helped them share their hardships. I now chuckle with my husband at the "peculiar British" when I see two women queuing up in front of one clerk in an otherwise customerless store; but I think I understand.