I grew up in a country where the market was the place where we did our regular shopping. As a child accompanying my parents in this endeavour, I found this experience anxiety inducing. I could not understand the basis of where the negotiation of prices for goods started. To me it seemed that a random point was chosen – unbiased towards any shared history of transaction – and then argued until agreement was reached. It was confounding partly because I didn’t usually witness my parents argue much, or in such an animated way, in our day-to-day interactions. When we returned to Australia to live, my parents chose Melbourne as the place to locate us. As I was only eight years old at the time it became my place too and in the spirit of getting to know a new location we went along to the Queen Victoria Market to check it out. In the mid-eighties this ritual of visiting the market for bulk fresh produce at a good price became a part of our family ritual, especially around celebratory times like Christmas when lots of food was to be made and consumed.
To my child mind, the surety that had been established by the discovery of the supermarket, marked prices, regulated sizes and goods made the reciprocal return of the random system of exchange – as mediated by the market – worryingly absurd. The rapidness of how prices were decided upon through an alchemical addition of weight approximation and multiple goods just left me with a blank void of comprehension.
This is still my first reaction when I return to the market as an adult. This muscle memory reaction to the transaction is why I buy one good at a time, why I walk up and down rows of goods until I have gained enough psychological gumption to leap in and place something in a bag and ask for the price. It is the same feeling I get when I jump into water from a position of being completely dry. I understand the desire behind the action of jumping in. I want to jump in butthe mental effort that is required from me to do so results in about a 70/30 split of me carrying this action through.
Once, when I was in Grade Seven, my school was having swimming trials. It was late February but the day was not hot. It wasn’t cold but it wasn’t Summer hot. It was more like a ‘yes, autumn is coming’ type of day. We lined up along the edge of the pool to dive in and swim the 50 meters to the other end. The first three to reach the end were to be selected to continue as representatives of the rest of us. The starters whistle blew and I dived. I was good at diving and I thought this would be the strength of my race. As we hit the water the shock of the its coldness overwhelmed me physically. I stopped my dive short, broke the surface and thrashed straight to the nearest edge. I climbed out of the water in tears with snot mingling with the water on my face. In my mind, the effect of the shock was so obvious that at first I could not understand the embarrassed response I received from the students who where assembled nearest the point of my exit.
The part of my mind that was still a child and not quite comprehending the nuanced behaviour of the stage of life I had moved into took over and I started yelling, “it’s cold, it’s cold”. The assembled students standing in the coming autumn sun stared at me.