From time to time I have told a few stories from my past. Harmless tales, not the spilling of beans that might embarrass or endanger anyone. And over the past few days, Z, who blogs here, and Tim, here, have been reminiscing about old-fashioned shops and shopping.
Their shops are in England and my childhood shops were far away on the other side of the world. But mostly, things were much the same.Except where I lived…
It was a dormitory town, built from scratch for construction workers, employed after the war on the hydro schemes along the Waikato River. For the first 2 (I think) years all commodities, ie foodstuffs, were brought in by truck and sold from the main dining room at the single men’s camp.
When the shops were built (1948? ) “shopping” was a little easier. There were 2 grocers, 2 butchers,2 greengrocers, 2 shoe shops (though only one did repairs), 2 drapers/haberdashers, 2 “milk bars” as New Zealanders called (and still do!) ice cream parlours/sweet shops. One bakery, one hardware store which sold everything from tin tacks to table lamps and could order bigger furniture items from the city. One “fancy” ladies dress shop, one fishmonger, one news agent/toys/stationery store, one Post Office and, eventually, one dentist. And one Bank agency which only opened one day a week. And one bus depot. Oh, I almost forgot the pharmacy.The woman who ran that was one of my early heroes and I’ll write about her another time.
About that time a maternity hospital with outpatients clinic was also built; surgical cases were transported to the main provincial hospital 80 miles away.
My family, like most others, had an Auckland newspaper delivered (by local school boys) 6 days a week. Sunday papers didn’t appear until the 70s.Or maybe the 60s. And we saved all the newspapers; those we didn’t use to wrap rubbish, fold around tender seedlings and other things were lugged up to the butchers and greengrocers. Good pocket money!
There was a chap who came in a truck every few months, tooting his horn and crying; “Bottle-o!” I forget what the return on an empty bottle was, but it was certainly worthwhile. We could return soft drink bottles to the shop that sold them and I seem to remember the refund being tuppence on a one shilling bottle of lemonade. Now, this didn’t mean you could buy the lemonade for 10 pence; trading standards forbade that. The shopkeeper had to sell at the designated price and “buy back” the empty bottle. Recycling far ahead of today’s trendies. You don’t need me to tell you these were glass bottles, do you!
And I remember old Mr. Warner, who came once a month, selling vegetables and fruit from a big truck. This was market garden produce and often items the local shops did not have. Mr. Warner always had morning tea at our house.
Once a week I’d take my mother’s grocery list up to the shop, hand it to the grocer or his assistant and say; “Could you deliver this on Friday, please?” He always could. And did. (In another post I’ll tell you about his delivery man.) The account would be settled at the end of the month. We had an account with the butcher, too, though sometimes I’d buy threepence worth of cat meat and pay cash.
Fish. Friday was the busiest day for the fish shop. This was when Roman Catholics eschewed meat on Fridays and the queue was always long! And because the fish came in early our family, though not adherents to Rome, often had Friday Fish, too. We also had a friend who was a mad-keen trout fisher. His daughter and I used to tie flies for him and we loved going fishing with him.
This same friend was also a hunter. He’s the chap who showed me how to skin a rabbit so that it could be stuffed.Handy tip: don’t stuff it with sand unless you want a thuggish heavy door-stop!
I’ve just remembered the biscuit tin! Most grocers would sell you a bag of broken biscuits, by weight. Things like Rich Tea and Sweet Digestive. Otherwise, all cakes and cookies were home baked.
Coffee. Scarce as hens’ teeth until well after the war ended and certainly not available in our town. But sometimes, Les, who drove the ambulance, would bring some fresh-ground coffee back from the city when he’d had to take someone to hospital. Otherwise, we had bottled coffee essence.
Milk was delivered daily by a contractor who ladled it from cans on his truck into milk billies at the gate. In the early days, people would put their coins in the billy. Like all honesty systems it suffered from dishonest people. Eventually, a token system replaced the cash.Tokens were not redeemable anywhere else. And before all milk was pasteurised we had the most wonderful top o’ the milk. Sometimes my mother would set some in a pan to clot on the back of the stove. We ate that with soda bread and jam and an admonishment not to tell everyone.Why? Because that’s what poor people ate!
Bread. In the very early days if you ran out of bread you made soda bread (like scones) or went without until the stores came in. But then, in the early 50s, 2 enterprising chaps who had won big money in a lottery set up their own bakery in a small town about 40 miles distant. One was the baker, the other (and his wife) drove the bread van. They delivered to our street Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This was the first time we’d seen pre-sliced loaves! Still no plastic, these loves were wrapped in waxed paper.
And I’ve just remembered something else about the pre-plastic days – we all saved our butter wrappers for lining baking tins.
Mother bought fresh eggs from a woman on our street; I used to take a little hand-made basket which was a good size for 6 big brown eggs.
And we grew a lot of our own vegetables, but it took a few years for most things to become established. Eventually, Dad turned over most of the back garden to lawn and fruit trees, all self-sown from pips spat out by me and ringed with twigs til they grew.
And for “Big Shopping” like city clothes we made the 80 mile trip by bus….
For previous reminiscences,go here or here