Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Childhood Reminiscences No2 - Shops and Shopping

For this second reminiscence I describe shops and shopping around our house. The third part of this series will deal with the rise of self-service and supermarkets and shopping in areas away from residential areas.

Although my memories aren't as clear this week there is no doubt that massive changes did occur and have continued.

When I was young there were no supermarkets nor even a self-service shop . Food shopping was done either at corner shops or at the Co-op [the Cooperative Society]. Our local Co-op - and only the Co-op - we called "The Store".

The picture below shows the rough layout of corner shops around where I stayed - not to scale.

B Butcher
C Corner shop
F Chip shop
P Paper shop
PO Post Office

The two corner shops at
the top of the picture we didn't use: the rest we did to varying degrees.

Today the paper shop is still there or it was the last time I visited and one of the corner shops is now a chemist, all the other shops closed years ago.

Most of our food shopping was done at the Co-op - the store - where there was a butcher and grocer - although occasionally we used the butcher at the other end of the street. The corner shop on the same side of the street as our house we used for the odd item: in very much the same way we use corner shops now. Only very occasionally would any food shopping be done further afield. These were our shops.

Before we had a fridge my mother would buy the food for that day's dinner - normally from the store butcher. Butchers are one type of shop which have remained relatively unchanged in terms of dealing with customers but then all shops operated this way.

I should have mentioned that the Co-op paid a dividend in much the same way as loyalty cards do now. For every purchase we gave our "divvy" number - ours was 23402 - and the receipt was a small piece of paper about the size of 3 postage stamps. At the end of the year we queued at the main office and the divvy was paid.

What do I remember about these shops? Many of the corner shops were dull and dingy; biscuits were sold loose i.e the shopkeeper had large tins of biscuits and we would ask for a 1lb of biscuits or whatever and we were dependent on the shopkeeper to pick the biscuits; tea was loose - tea was THE drink; butter was taken from a block and "patted" into shape and cheese was cut with a cheese wire.

The chip shop: I remember my father commenting on how expensive fish and chips were compared to his youth. I remember bags of chips being 3d and 6d ( i.e 1.5 p and 2.5p).

The paper shop - and it was always a paper shop (still is), never a newsagent - always had the papers delivered on time. Every paper shop would have lots of paper rounds because deliveries were much more common.

If I was buying anything for myself I went to the corner shop on our side of the street. Common purchases were:
- Penny Dainty: a large toffee sweetie made by McCowans of Stenhousemuir. This was so large that if you put the whole toffee in your mouth both sides of your cheeks bulged. Therefore, we had to half the Dainty: the technique was to hold it as you would a domino, find a sharp corner on a wall and bash the toffee until it broke. Then it was safe to eat.
- Mivvi: an ice lolly with ice-cream inside. These were still available a few years ago. The shopkeeper called me the "Mivvi king": a name my mother was not happy with.
- lemonade of various flavours: Vimto, Dandelion & Burdock, American Cream Soda. No Coke anywhere.

I have a few relatively random memories which I dump now:

There were a lot of sweets which are not available now such as Fry's Chocolate Cream, Tiffin bar and Spangles.

There was no such thing as flavoured crisps, All crisps came with a small blue bag of salt but the bag was not sealed: the top was twisted.

Lemonade bottles were glass - in fact all bottles were glass - with a black screw cap with a reddish washer and there was a 3d commission for each bottle returned.

Many boxes were wooden and not cardboard and bags were of paper - not a plastic bag around

I have one more memory to share. My local butcher showed me and my best pal our first example of porn - and it was hard core. A black and white photo shown us surreptitously and never shown nor mentioned again.

Shopping was so simple 50 years ago: no big lists, no cars needed, just walk, buy and walk home.

Part 1 can be read here.


  1. Another good post Calum about the "good old days". Everything loose would horrify everyone today. So unhygenic which no doubt it was in many instances then, but we survived.

    We had no fridge in the flat when I lived in London in 1960/1 and it was very difficult for meat over the weekend in the summer. We never bought eggs nor milk.

    My mother always sent my brother or I for the "messages" so I rather resented going every day, especially getting scolded by her if the fruit or whatever was not first quality. Naturally you didn't get to choose but were "served" so I suspect stuff was pawned off onto the kids.

    I didn't get an allowance so no sweets for me. Things were pretty tight at our house.

  2. Great memories Mr Carr, and a very entertaining post. I might do this, though I feel I am younger than - when I went to cubs, chips were already a shilling ( 5 pence) a bag. I think the Frys Chocolate Mint cream is still available... I may be wrong.

  3. Our Divi # was 4301.

    We had two butchers, a regular one and a Pork Butcher that also sold divine Pease Pudding.

  4. These reminiscences - you're not planning to go somewhere, are you, Calum?

  5. James,

    Go somewhere? No!

    I've been aware that my childhood coincided with massive changes and I'd thought about writing my childhood memories for my children.

    Also I was looking for subjects which could become series and thus remove some of the pressure I felt to post regularly.

    The two ideas came together to reminiscences (and use as base for my kids). The Blog Reprise also fits the bill.