WORDS: Gareth E. Rees
When I was 12 I fell off my bike and lost all my maths.
Since then I’ve staggered through adult life with a childlike bewilderment about numbers. I haven’t a clue what they mean. If my English was as bad as my maths I wouldn’t even be able to read street signs. I’d be regarded as a simpleton.
So I can’t pretend I know how economies work. Inflationary, deflation, interest rates. The world is one big numbers machine. I don’t know who is in charge of it, or – despite the constant economic chaos – how it works as well as it does, all things considered.
I’m especially confused about how production keeps up with consumption in the Western world.
Take ham, for instance.
Almost every food-vending shop, supermarket, restaurant or café you’ll ever go into sells ham, or something with ham in it. In every village, town and city in Britain there’s ham, and lots of it, every day. There’s always ham. It never runs out. Then you have to start thinking about all the ham sold across the world every single second.
How can there be that much ham? How can it be always everywhere and in everything? Where are all the pigs? It seems like there should be pig farms spread across every inch of the countryside, just to keep the ham flowing.
To my imbecilic mind, it doesn’t make sense. Unless there are vast, secret death chambers beneath our cities, where pigs boil perpetually in cauldrons of honey and mustard, and subterranean windmills with whirring blades turn boulders of meat into wafer-thin slices.
Then again, people like ham.
They don’t care about the anuses, foreskins and nostrils inside the ham. Or the pig death chambers. They want to put it in their faces almost constantly. If you have ham, you can definitely sell it. There’s always someone in need of a bit of ham.
Ham makes money. The profits go into the construction of underground ham mills, and so the blades keep slicing.
But what about a shop that sells needles and thread?
There’s one on the street near our house. I find the economics baffling. How much thread do you need to sell to cover rent, tax, salaries and have enough left over to reinvest in stock?
How many people are sewing…. and sewing enough to need to keep going back to the sewing shop?
But the one that really baffles me is this – Top Flight Trophies. It’s a trophy shop. It sells trophies. The kind you win in sports tournaments. It’s chock full of them, in every shape and size, engraved to order.
To me, this is the most glorious shop front in our town.
The high street is a dog-eat-dog world. Supermarkets swallow corner shops and pubs. Businesses fail almost constantly. Yet the trophy shop stands proud. A heroic place. A joyous anomaly. A glitch in the machine. An oasis where time has stopped.
I have never seen anyone go in or out. I can’t imagine how many trophies are sold, and how many trophies you need to sell to keep a shop like that open. But the trophy shop doesn’t care. It refuses to play the numbers game. It steadfastly doesn’t make any sense. And that’s why I love it.
It tells me that I don’t have to worry about this ham thing any more. That it’s okay to be confused. That the world can remain a mystery. That while economies rise and fall, there’s always someone, somewhere, who wins a trophy for something, and they’re probably really happy about it.
Gareth E. Rees is author of Marshland: Dreams & Nightmares on the Edge of London. His work appears in Mount London: Ascents In the Vertical City, Acquired for Development By: A Hackney Anthology, and the album A Dream Life of Hackney Marshes. His essay ‘Wooden Stones’ is included in the forthcoming Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography.