26 February 2011

Going Backwards?

Whilst I was doing my Saturday morning shopping in Colares this morning, I started to wonder about why I enjoyed village shopping more than supermarkets or towns.  I have come to the conclusion that it must stem back to childhood. When I was very little I can remember going with my mother to a row of local shops in Hampton Wick (just outside Kingston upon Thames) where you could get everything you needed from amazing meringues in vivid colours, to my free orange juice and best of all, small articulated dolls in the dry cleaners which were gifts from American soldiers based in Bushey Park.  In Kettleshulme, when I was deemed wise enough (about 7) I was sent with a handwritten list to the village Post Office for writing paper - Basildon Bond Azure (hard word to pronounce at that age), stamps and not forgetting the National Savings Stamps with either Prince Charles or Princess Anne on the front. 

The Old Post Office - now a private house

Savings stamps

After that it would round into Paddock Lane to the village shop for bits and pieces and to hand over my precious sixpence so it could be put towards the big box of chocolates for my mother for Christmas.  At that time the boxes featured puppies or kittens or baskets of fruit and flowers and were a great draw for children.  It was also a stopping off point on the way to and from school for sherbet dip dabs, liquorice chews, gobstoppers, Victory V (remember how they burnt your mouth in winter but did keep you warm), Imps, Black Jacks and flying saucers.  Penny Trays were a great favourite and down in Whaley Bridge I can even remember Half Penny Trays.


Sometimes I would be sent to a house nearly opposite the village shop to take shoes for repairs or pick up some bedding plants - I remember being slightly scared of this procedure but cannot remember why.  I also remember taking my doll's pram with me - probably to carry the shopping.  I also remember (blushing) that I dressed up my beautiful tom cat and stuck him in it a few times!  In Whaley Bridge, my mother and I would go to the fishmongers where I would watch in fascination as the man filleted plaice for us and then we would go to the library where I was enrolled and take out my four books - very frustrating as you were only allowed four which was never enough for me - then it would be to the sweet shop next door and up some steps for a bar of Kit Kat (or KiteKat as my mother would insist on calling it to my embarassment) and if there was time, we would go for a milk lolly for me and a coffee or cup of tea for her, round the corner in a tiny cafe near a bridge before we caught the bus home.

The library was down the left hand side and underneath The Mechanics Insitute and the sweet shop to the right hand side.

When I lived just outside Macclesfield after leaving Kettleshulme, it was a revelation to have drinking water from a tap (we had a well and it all had to be boiled), and to have large shops to hand, but Macclesfield was a market town and still had a cattle market in those days and had lots of individual shops where again you were able to have a chat and become a 'regular'.  I can even remember shops with a chair for the elderly to have a seat whilst waiting to be served.  Last year Macclesfield was on national television showing how the streets of our towns have been destroyed by out of town shopping - shop after shop with 'For Sale' on them.  So very sad. 

After Macclesfield, I moved a few miles away to another village, Kerridge, which is above Bollington and again had great pleasure in using all the local shops, from butchers, to bakers, to garage to greengrocer.  Again, I got to know everyone and enjoyed the actual shopping experience.  After here it was Edinburgh which was a beautiful city and with that came the lack of local shopping pleasure.  Out of town supermarkets catered for everything, the city itself had wonderful shops but individual shops were in the suburbs and hard to find which meant it was easier to do the 'one stop shop' and slowly I became used to it, but I missed 'something'.

Returning to England to beautiful Malmesbury, I rediscovered the joys of local shopping.  When I moved there we had three butchers, two bakeries, florists, library, greengrocers, cafes, bike shops, men's outfitters, general stores, a main post office and a sub post office and everything was within walking distance of home.  Bliss. I thoroughly enjoyed my Saturday mornings shopping and having a coffee and visiting the library. 

Michael Thomas - my Malmesbury butcher who did amazing sausages

Thinking back on these days, I realise that going from shop to shop, getting to know the people in them who had time to have a quick chat with you, left a lasting impression on me.  Shopping in shopping centres where no-one knows you or can be bothered to speak to you other than to take your money, is not a joyous experience but depressing, especially if you are single, lonely or elderly and your only contact with people is this form of shopping.  Observing the elderly here in the villages, I notice how much contact there is with them as they go out and about during the day.  The shopkeepers have time to chat as they serve and old fashioned manners come into play which have long gone in the UK.  It is quite common to see shopping being carried for an elderly person or a shopkeeper helping the person across the street -leaving their shop unattended to do so.

For those of you, like me, who savour this way of shopping, we should remember how lucky we are, as the majority of people are unable to enjoy it due to the constraints of family, money and time.  However, if you have never thought of trying your local baker or butcher, give it a try and see how nice it is to be greeted with a smile and personal service.

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