Our local magazine is advertising for volunteers to help show inner city kids about the countryside. I was moved by the wording: Some of the children arrive not knowing where bread, milk or meat comes from. Others have never seen the sea or the stars at night. All learn a great deal from what is sometimes the most fun day they have ever experienced.
Makes me realise just how much I take for granted. I grew up in a market town, quite old-fashioned perhaps in that it had a 'real' market, for selling livestock, just off the main road not far from home. Mum used to take me there as a small child - a weekly treat. There were cows, sheep and pigs every Thursday, in a large enclosed plot on the corner, with rows of pens and corrugated roofs. It was opposite a big garage which followed the curve of the road (and which has somehow now turned into one of those Fisher Price toy ones in my mind's eye). Next to it was the old primary school which later became the youth club where I experienced my first kiss.
It might have been on a different day, I can't remember, but up the road a few hundred yards there was a poultry market too. It was near to the dentist's, where scary Mr Clark pulled out a loose tooth in spite of my pleas for him not to do so. (It bled and I cried all the way home, I missed playing with it suspended in my top jaw, flicking it with my tongue and feeling the oddly pleasant pull of its thread.) You had to walk past the poultry market on the way to the dentist. You could look through the barred windows between black-painted wooden slats - it was like a barn - to see brightly coloured red-eyed chickens, sometimes geese too. I didn't like it as much as the cattle market but I can still recall the smell from there - and the noise. The smell at the cattle market was different: more shitty, more earthy, less suffocating. I could feel the warm breath of the cows as I was held up to pat them and stroke their coarse carpet-pile hair. I didn't like the ear tags, some were encrusted with dry blood, especially on the pigs. There were always puddles, and buckets, hosepipes, piles of thick shiny straw, curly-haired men with faces like tomatoes, wellies. Occasionally there were goats, bulls in pens of their own, and soft-eyed, gangly-limbed calves.
I'm glad mum took me there, I loved seeing the animals close-up, learning about them, thinking about them. I'm glad I didn't know or understand at the time what lay ahead for most of them.
The cattle market closed in the 1980s and is now a car park, and the poultry market was pulled down. Last time I was there, there was a shop selling fancy mirrors in its place.
Took me about half an hour to put these pieces together just now...