Picture by elbisreverri: Canning Town
In Canning Town, people say, you can buy anything, as long as you want it canned: canned artichokes, canned peas, canned bluebells and daffodils, canned paintings and rainstorms, summer, hot baths, hope, vocabulary, youth, despair.
What “people say” is not, of course, reliable in this instance. Canning Town is barbed wire and clanking industry, warning signs, high fences. The doors are the sort you can roll down and padlock. In the shops (and there aren’t many of them) you can buy cigarettes, biscuits and Coca Cola; hand-adjusted signs read Buy Any
Two for 1.60. Inside the factories, it’s warm, and it’s very noisy.
The journalist pushes back her hair; the photographer squats down, focusing on the paddle packer.
“If you want a tin of peaches in Canning Town,” Dorothy says over the machinery, “the minimum order is a truckfull.”
The journalist says something inaudible.
“What?” Dorothy yells, leaning towards her.
“I said, could we maybe go somewhere a bit quieter?”
Dorothy sighs, and calls Mark over to take care of the photographer. “Up here,” she says to the journalist, and points to the meeting rooms.
There’s something about the name Pertwinkle & Lyme that appeals to journalists; plus their website has a functioning “contact” form, which puts them two steps ahead of most of the other factories in the area. What this means in practice is that P&L takes the fall whenever someone turns up to write an article on the canning industry, which happens on an approximately monthly basis. Dorothy is getting a little sick of it. “But will we ever,” they ask her every time, “find out how to preserve love?”
And every time, she says that they already know how, that it’s easy. That there’s a cupboard full of love in the storage room if they want a sample. Emotions preserve extremely well; much better than asparagus or weather, which always go wilty. “The trouble is,” Dorothy says, “that emotions are very… personalised.”
“How do you mean?” the journalist asks.
“Look at sadness,” Dorothy says. “If you got a phonecall now saying that your best friend’s just died, you’d be sad. It would be trivial for our canners to skim off some of that sadness and preserve it. But let’s say a customer has a sister who’s ill, and he thinks he ought to feel bad, but he doesn’t. He could take your can of sadness, and open it — but it would be your sadness, about things that happened to you. It wouldn’t be applicable to his situation.”
The journalist nods.
“The reason you can’t buy a can of love at your local Asda,” Dorothy says, “isn’t that it’s too, oh, too magic and ephemeral and full of rainbow mystery sparkle glitter. It’s because love is very, very specific; it’s focused on an individual person. It’s not,” and she pauses for a moment, “like sex.” This is, she knows from experience, the only way to get a journalist off the How Do We Can Love obsession: dangle genitals in front of them enticingly.
It works, this time as always. “So you’re saying sex isn’t personal?”
“Not in the same way, no, of course it’s not. Lust, certainly. Sex, no.”
The journalist looks doubtful; again, they always do.
“There are,” Dorothy says, “two things that are easy to can well. First: food that’s supposed to be tender and juicy and soft. Tomatoes. Peaches. And second: simple fleeting sensations. Sunlight on your skin, waves in the sea that push you upward from behind.”
“And sex.” She tilts her head towards a chart on the wall. “Thirty percent our sales come from baked beans and orgasms alone, so we pay quite a lot of attention to sex.”
“And what sort of people,” the journalist asks, ignoring the baked beans, “tend to buy your canned orgasms?”
Dorothy raises her eyebrows. “The ones who have a penis or a clitoris, mostly,” she says. “Plus a few who don’t. We’re the market leader, you know. People are quite willing to pay thirty pence extra for a Pertwinkle & Lyme orgasm over something artificial from ValuCan.”
“No, I mean— wait, artificial?”
How is it possible, Dorothy thinks, that people have so little understanding of the provenance of their consumer pleasures? “Our orgasms,” she says, “are genuine, rather than robot simulations. This explains their superior quality.”
The journalist frowns. “You mean, you get… people are…”
Dorothy has a can of patience, but she left it in her desk. “No, of course not,” she says. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
The journalist looks relieved.
“Usually,” Dorothy says, “we use pigs.”