by Sarah Murphy
When I was a student, I would sit in coffee shops for hours. I turned up with a laptop and books but never really did any work, just sat and listened, and snacked, hoping that I looked vaguely mysterious rather than what I actually was: catastrophically lonely. I’d normally bring snacks so that I didn’t have to spend money on extortionate café food. These were normally crisps or biscuits – I’ve never had a ghost of regard for healthy eating – but one day, for whatever silly reason, I ended up in Café Nero with a packet of blueberries and a box of dates. Now let me say, once and for all, that I have never been one for spontaneity. Not really. I love spontaneity in theory, but in reality I am a try-hard, a planner, a nervous rabbit, really, self-consciously moulding myself by the second, wondering if this jumper makes me look like someone who reads Maggie Nelson. But on this occasion, with actions that felt entirely pure and extemporary, I began improvising stuffed dates with the pile of blueberries, taking out the stones and collecting them in a Tupperware box, gently prising the seams of the dates until they opened up just a quarter of themselves. I stopped watching myself and concentrated intensely on fruit instead.
In the film Amélie, the original manic pixie dream girl before manic pixie dream girls became annoying Kirsten Dunst replicas with secret trust funds, the title character famously eats raspberries off her fingertips. (Oh, the French filmmaker’s talent for giving any experience a sensual slant.) Now, let’s acknowledge a few key problems with this casual consumption of raspberries. One: none of us have the time to make a habit of eating raspberries off our fingers, no matter how endearing it looks. Like, not on a day to day basis. We have meetings to attend, for heaven’s sake, and trains to catch. And besides, raspberries are a luxury, often priced at over £2 for a pack of tiny, ephemeral fruitlets. But sometimes, most likely on a Sunday, I’ll buy a box of raspberries and allow myself the affectation of choosing a dark pink crown for every finger, kissing them off one by one, sweet-sour bursts passed from fingertip to the tip of the tongue. Raspberries are designed so ergonomically, aren’t they? There are some fruits which are commonplace and uncomplicated but the raspberry is not one of them. There’s something Elizabethan about a raspberry, that fat crochet of pink pearls, that hollowed cluster, a finger-sized groove without a stone or pip inside it.
At the end of a restless week in London in late spring, spent sleeping on a stranger’s couch for reasons I won’t describe, I used my last pound coins to get the overground train to Hampstead Heath. The minute I alighted to the platform, I was suddenly aware of the collective sense of calm and satisfaction, deep and hushed as settled snow. The clue was in the filmy white plastic bags that I saw every other person carrying, semi-transparent so that if you got close enough you could make out the outline of a watermelon slice or guava. The presence of a fresh fruit market draws people out of themselves, like if the stone fauns on a fountain suddenly came to life. It was nearly the start of summer. What other time do people in England feel free enough to buy single slices of fruit? It seems to me that fruit for the hell of it, for reasons of desperate joy, is very important, even if this realisation comes in an affluent leafy suburb of London the morning after a night of heavy rain.
As for summer in Croatia, it’s hot enough there for wild figs to grow freely on trees. So naturally, when we went to Croatia, all we ate was figs. We couldn’t afford proper accommodation so we were sleeping in a borrowed tent in a campsite that cost £1.50 a day. The nights were far too hot to actually use the tent, so after hours of tossing and turning and slapping at mosquito scratches on our skin, we’d drag our sleep-deprived selves out to the open and sleep on sun loungers. When we awakened, our bodies sticky from day-old sun cream lotion, we’d go in search of breakfast: those tender purple baubles. Fig juice running down our arms, fig thorns caught in the hair on our shins. This post has gone on for too long now, just like this winter. It’s been an impossible January in a climate that’s never going to be warm enough to grow figs, and I am world-wrecked, and dreaming of fresh fruit, cheeks wet with morning dew. But for now I will be content with baking their tinned counterparts into a pie, but not actually, just in my head and for the purposes of a more poetic ending, because really I have no idea how to roll shortcrust pastry and have long suspected my oven to be broken.