Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Bliss for a Penny.

It was all so different then.   Now, when almost everyone has a car or can shop on line, Supermarkets reign and competition is fierce.   But back then the unimaginatively named Main Street was our Shopping Mecca.   No TV advertising to tempt us to buy what my mother would have called 'rubbish food'.

Mr Knott, the butcher, was at one end.   Round, fat and rosy-cheeked - the epitome of what a butcher should look like - he stood behind the scrubbed wooden counter in his blue and white striped apron,  the tools of his trade set out in front of him.   A row of very sharp knives, a wooden mallet, a meat cleaver - all looked lethal to me.   I hated having to go there and see the carcases of dead animals hanging on hooks; and worse still, at Christmas, rows of naked geese hanging, their beaks pointing floorwards, and their brothers and sisters outside, still alive in their wooden crates, awaiting their fate.

Further along was Applewhite's Post Office.   Here Mrs. Applewhite would stand behind her wire screen, doling out penny stamps and postal orders, and ready to take my sixpence each week for my Post Office Savings Bank Book.   I had a Post Office Set at home and on long Winter evenings my friend and I would play Post offices, so I was always on the look-out for things that Mrs. Applewhite did that I could add to my stock of ideas.

Houghton's shop was tiny and crammed with 'stuff'.   Mr Houghton was a Potato Merchant so there was always an open sack of potatoes taking up a large part of the floor area.   Then there were the shelves packed with tins of Bisto, Burdall's Gravy Salt, Colman's Mustard - these three were always put together as the tins were the same shape and they took up less room on the shelf.   But,
'horror of horrors' Houghton's sold 'bought cake', a phrase coined by my mother and said in scathing terms.   'Bought cake' never crossed our threshold and I used to look longingly at the Lyon's Raspberry Jam Swiss Rolls in the window of the shop and try to imagine what they tasted like.

The Co-op was our shop.   Mr Clipsham, the manager, would stand behind the counter in his khaki smock and take your order.   I used to have to write our order out for my mother as she checked cupboard and shelves to see what we needed.   It was always more or less the same and we only bought the staples - sugar, butter, margarine, lard, tea, coffee, cheese, bacon -  the rest came from our own garden.  My father grew vegetables and fruit, we had hens, we kept a pig, and when the hens stopped laying we were still alright for eggs because when they were laying well my mother would store any surplus in waterglass under the pantry shelf.   They tasted absolutely awful and could never be fried with the Sunday morning bacon (cut from the flitch hanging from the larder ceiling) because they were given to exploding.   Our bread and cakes were always home baked and you could smell the tempting smell long before you reached the kitchen door.

Mr Jackson lived on Main Street and he brought the milk round every morning in his pony and trap, 'wheeling' the churn down the drive to the back door and filling our jugs and basins with his pint and half pint measures.   Any that went sour would be strained through muslin and made into cottage cheese.

But last of all on Main Street was old Mrs Reason, who made the most wonderful ice cream on hot days.   How did she keep it cool?
Did she have what would then have been a very new fangled fridge?   Was what she called ice cream merely just very cold custard?   I don't know.   But I do know that on hot sunny days she would suddenly put a table across her front door step, spread it with a white cloth, put a box of cornets on it and a handbell and retire to her kitchen.   You had to ring the bell and wait for her to push her way through what Thomas Hardy called the 'penetralia' - a heavily beaded curtain to keep the flies out- with a box of golden-yellow ice cream in her hand.   She would dip the spoon in it and fill your cone with the luscious stuff.   Bliss in your hand and all for a penny.

But then everything was bliss, and a penny went a long way - at least it seemed to be so when you were seven.   But now, seventy odd years later, memory serves to make it even more so.

** The photograph shows my parents with their friends Alf and Edna and also with Mr and Mrs Applewhite from the Post Office.  They were all six on holiday together at the YMCA Holiday Camp at Skegness in Lincolnshire.  I think the date would be 1946.  Left to right:   Mr Applewhite, my mother,
my father, Mrs Applewhite (in a hat!) Alf and Edna.



mrsnesbitt said...

I heard my mother the other day...£2 for a loaf of bread? But it wasn't mum - it was me! Memories Pat - I have a few I must share!

shadypinesqltr said...

Our father and grandfathers were coalminers and we lived in Council housing. I remember a neighbour would make toffee apples and sell them on Friday nights. Another lady would make cakes and biscuits for sale the same night. All kinds of treats available with the profits going into a fund to take us all to the beach one summer Saturday.

The smell of fresh garden grown tomatoes immediately takes me back to my grandfather's greenhouse.

angryparsnip said...

What a lovely post today brings back many memories for me.

cheers, parsnip

Em Parkinson said...

Fantastic photo Pat. You've made me think about all our local shopkeepers in the North London suburb I grew up in. Mr Sinnot the electrical shop keeper was my favourite.

Heather said...

I too am transported back 70 years to my grandfather's greenhouse when I smell fresh tomatoes. Lovely post Pat full of memories for all us. I liked the smell of the seedmerchant's shop which also sold pet foods and all manner of things for gardeners. I can't remember the name of the shop, but Blundells was the book shop and stationers. I loved looking at all the pens, pencils, duplicate books, cash books etc. I also remember the overhead cash holders in our Co-op which whizzed the customer's money to a clerk who would then provide the correct change and a receipt and whiz it back to the counter after a purchase was made. They fascinated me.

Gwil W said...

Mr Edwards the Family Butcher reckoned it all up in no time at all with a pencil stub on the corner of the paper wrapping containing the week's meat: the shillings, halfpennies, tanners, pennies, joeys, florins, halfcrowns, flew into and out of the cash drawer and you got the right change from your ten bob. No barcode scanner he.

Mary said...

Brought tears to my eyes - so much like the village shops where I grew up in Devon - how on earth do you recall the names of the shopkeepers?

Lovely memoirs - when will you write the book dear?

Hugs - Mary

Hildred said...

Things were much the same here, even when I was first married and we shopped in the village at Cawston. I can remember when I was quite young my sister going to the store for 'Daisy White Bread' at five cents a loaf, but what does stir my memory Pat, is waterglass eggs, and having to go to the basement to retrieve them for my mother when she was baking, and then having to come up the dark stairs after having had my hands in that dreadful slimy waterglass - I guess I was an imaginative child!

12Paws said...

Super post! My upbringing was in a small farming village in Michigan, USA. That was in the 1940's and I recall similar scenes. Did you have a blacksmith? I did, although it was fading away & becoming a machine repair shop. My mum would give me a quarter (25 cents) to buy bread & milk & there would be change. So bittersweet!

Pondside said...

Beautiful memories! I think we all have some similar memories - we never had 'store bought' bread or cake when I was growing up.

lil red hen said...

Splendid memories!

Virginia said...

You have really made me think... Thank you, Em!

I'm a child of the early 1950s, and definitely remember getting bread fresh from the baker, meat from the butcher, and fruit and vegetables from the chinese Green Grocer along the Main Road of our suburb.
In New Zealand many (to my memory all) of the Wellington Fruit and Veg shops were run by multi-generational Chinese families. They seemed 'very different' and I remember being quite nervous of the older chinese who spoke little English.

I recall that the corner dairy would let me buy a packet of cigarettes for my aunt, but only with a note from her authorising that ... given that I was 5, I can't imagine that they thought I was going to smoke them myself!

Further along the street there was a drapery shop run by two elderly spinsters who were very kind to me. They saved the very solid cardboard boxes that the cotton reels came in, They made excellent beds and general furniture for dolls' houses! I recall burying critters the cat had dispatched ... with elaborate funeral rituals!

What a long time ago that was.... Thank you for sparking my memories.

Terry and Linda said...

I so agree with you. I can remember buying penny candy and if I were so very lucky a nickle ice cream bar.

I love your header, by the way!

Excellent post!


The Weaver of Grass said...

Gwil brought back memories for me with that wooden pot that 'oinged' across the shop on a wire to the casher's office and was then returned with the correct change in it. My sister's first job was as Cashier at the big Co-op store in our city of Lincoln.
Thanks for joining in and adding your memories.