I rewarded myself with some free time away from a computer on Friday when I went to the Exeter Food and Wine Festival. It provided some opportunities to watch people in a different environment from cafes and bars. In the large marquee’s the emphasis was all about the food. The behavior of individuals as they approached the various stalls varied; some were diffident and declined to look at whoever was manning the stall, others talked confidently about what they liked and why they were interested in a particular product. Among the crowds were the professionals looking for new products for their shops or restaurants, They listened carefully to the stall holders and also to customers who came up to buy. But the most fun was watching the professional chefs show off their skills in the cookery demonstrations. The top chefs are showmen, wielding knives as a stage prop and talking incessantly. They seemed to find it easy to build a rapport with their audience despite spending most of their time behind the scenes in their own restaurants. The one we watched Peter Gorton was a great raconteur and as he worked told tales about doing private dinners and on one occasion he had set the kitchen alight. The hostess was disappointed he hadn’t done more damage as she was trying to persuade her husband to buy a new one.
On the train home I watched a young man writing a letter -yes a real letter on real paper. When I sat opposite him, he was reading a letter written on pale cream paper with a decorated border. I assumed it was written by a young woman on notepaper given to her as a Christmas present. My imagination decided the contents were a plea to resume their relationship, a plea that from the firmness of the man’s jaw and the lack of any sparkle in his eyes I assume he was about to reject. He took from his brief case a folder containing notepaper and began to write. He was left handed and I noticed how his left hand curved round the top of the notepaper as he wrote, quite quickly from left to right. He held the pen between his thumb and forefinger with the hand above the pen. The position gave the appearance of hiding the contents of the letter as I remember children trying to protect their schoolwork from prying eyes. I recall that the word sinister comes from left handedness, and it did indeed seem a strange and secretive way of writing.
So my day out provided characters for my writing. Do other writers give themselves time just to observe?
Oh the popcorn. Well my favorite stall at the Festival was the Portlebury Popcorn Company.