Shopping Days to Dream About
I hate shopping, especially in supermarkets. It’s so boring, all that endless struggling up and down the aisles in a desperate search for items the assistants have hidden, and those awful trolleys with a mind of their over which way to go. Then there’s a long wait in a queue, only to be served by someone you’ve never seen before and are unlikely to see again. It’s cold, impersonal and totally soulless – but shopping hasn’t always been like that.
Come for a trip down memory lane and meet some real people. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it so much that in your mind’s eye you’ll want to carry on walking to the shops you used to know.
Miss Nellie Harmer had a sweet shop in the same road as my infants’ school. Built on to the front of the house where the front garden had once been, it was so small and Miss Harmer so large that it seemed it had been built around her. The tiny shop window was crammed full of jars of sweets – humbugs, toffees and my favourites, pear drops.
As you went in, a bell gave a gentle tinkle, Miss Harmer would come rushing in from the house, and with a beaming smile was ready to serve you. There was just a long counter running the length of the shop behind which Nellie stood. There was a tempting array of halfpenny and penny chews, liquorice ropes, sherbet dabs and sugar mice. On the shelf behind Nellie stood the jars of more expensive sweets – chocolate eclairs, buttered ginger and the like. Endlessly patient, Miss Harmer would wait while you made up your mind. Was it to be pear drops or maybe chews and lemonade powder? If lemonade powder was your choice you held out your hand. Nellie would slap a piece of paper on your palm and then pour on a penn’orth of powder. You walked along licking it all off.
I can still remember the day sweet rationing came to an end. No more coupons – and to celebrate mother gave me double sweet money so I had the heady delight of choosing two sixpenn’orths.
If Miss Harmer’s had mother’s seal of approval, Kane’s did not. A scruffy general store on the bus route home, this was forbidden territory, however, I discovered that by walking just one bus stop along I could save a penny – treasure to spend at Kane’s. I pushed the peeling door open, walked down a step and into the murky gloom. Mr. Kane stood behind the dingy wooden counter at one end of the shop, looking a bit like Ron Moody’s portrayal of Fagin in the film Oliver Twist.
Beady eyes peered at you from behind round spectacles, and summer or winter Mr. Kane always wore those gloves that come up as far as your knuckles. I’d slap my penny down in front of him: “A penny drink please” He’d reach under the counter and fish out a cloudy glass. Then came the difficulty of choosing between raspberry, strawberry or blackcurrant. The choice made, Mr. Kane would fetch out a bottle and fill up the glass.
You stood at the counter and quaffed this nectar. I remember a thick, sticky liquid with enough sugar in it to make a dentist cry. It must have been an evil substance, but forbidden fruits always taste best.
In complete contrast was Pennicott’s the grocer’s, here everything was light and bright. Mr. Pennicott presided over his several assistants clad in the traditional striped aprons and straw boaters. We’d go in and mother would be invited to take a seat. Then she’d give her order reading out from her list. She’d often end by saying: “…and a nice piece of bacon to boil, Mr. Pennicott, please” He’d disappear to the back of the shop and then re-appear bearing a bacon joint which he’d place before Mother with a ritualistic pride. Mother would give her customary nod and the joint would be whisked away to join all the other things that had been asked for. Mr Pennicott would deliver next day.
Sometimes my mother would phone in her weekly order, and often she’d forget. This was when Mr. Pennicott came into his own. He’d take a box, fill it with all the things mother regularly ordered and deliver it anyway. He’d stride up our path with the order on the Friday morning, complete with a bone for the dog.
Sometimes I went shopping with Grandma. Then I was able to sample the giddy delights of a market town. There was a market in those days, too, not so many stalls selling clothes, fruit and veg or plants, but sheep pens, cattle, pigs and poultry. We’d wander round trying to make out what the auctioneer was gabbling or make our way to the show ring to see the cattle being paraded.
Penny’s, the local haberdashery and material shop, always fascinated me. It wasn’t just the amazing range of buttons, ribbons and silks that attracted me, for I also loved it when Grandma paid the bill. She would fish around in her purse and hand over the money. I always hoped she would need change, for then the assistant would take a metal tube, stuff the bill and money into it and hook it on to a huge hook. Away above our heads it whirled. I would trace its path as it rattled and whirled its way over to the cashier. More rattling and dattcring would alert me to its return – a far cry from plastic!
At one time Chichester had one of the oldest grocer’s in the country. Sadly it was demolished to make way for a shopping arcade. There was a delicious spicy smell as you went through the door. A long, highly polished wooden counter went across the shop, and behind it were rows of mahogany drawers with shining brass handles. Dotted around the floor were sacks of corn, cereal and spices, each one open for you to see and with a serving scoop popped inside.
In front of the counter several chairs were set along its length. Grandma always sat down. Two brothers, each clad in striped aprons, did all the serving with a young lad to assist. Grandma knew both of them well, and before getting down to mundane business of giving her order she would always ask after the assistants’ families and give the young lad a friendly smile. Then, after an account of our welfare, shopping could begin.
Soon there would be a pile of goods on the counter which the young lad would pile into boxes while Grandma and her server discussed the finer points of the latest tea or coffee.
Most of these treasures would be delivered later in the day, but I usually carried one or two small parcels, perhaps some marzipan or other such treat.
Memory lane is a lovely place to wander down, but eventually one has to return to the present day. I don’t want to come back, though, to the crowds, the endless searching and the lack of assistants to answer my questions.
Perhaps I’ll take up catalogue shopping instead!
Mrs. K. Margaret Henke