My mother hated shopping. We’re talking about a long time ago.
The supermarket was yet to take hold, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker had different premises, as did the greengrocer, the haberdasher and the chemist.
Very early on in my life, I was provided with a list and a basket and sent in the right direction. I proved to be an enthusiastic shopper. Ma thanked heaven rejoicing and let me get on with it.
I remember Miss Camish who had a tiny space like a cellar but above ground which smelt of earth and all the fruit and vegetables she offered, straight out of the ground – no citrus , it was imported – and the best cooking apples. Just as well. There was always a bowl of stewed apple in my family home and there is in mine except mine is made with the peels as well (better tasting) and I no longer use sugar . I love marmalade and lollop in a couple of spoonfuls.
We had an account at Pybus opposite Hintons, which we only visited in dire necessity and for mother’s chocolate. I never knew why.
And Pybus had a great big wooden counter with a whole cheese which you expected to taste before you bought. Coffee and sugar was sold to you in strong blue paper bags, sugar prepacked, coffee ground to request (coarse).
Paper products ? Izal toilet paper which was shiny and skidded. Horrible. Never saw paper kitchen towel till I went to the US.
Cleaners ? Vim (abrasive powder ) and Domestos: I still buy that.
When I lived in South Kensington, in a room I called the comfortable coffin because it was the same shape, a bit bigger but not much, Ma came to spend a weekend with me and exclaimed with admiration over the local grocery shops – by then a small supermarket and a rather specialised deli. “I can see why you all want to live in London” she said admiringly. “The shops are wonderful.” And that was way before looking at hats in Harrods.
Obviously this experience shaped my life because I love to shop and still prefer small shops for everything. At various points in my life, I have happily gone round department stores, even buying from them, but it’s not the same. Show me a large space full of hundreds of the same coat and my mind glazes over.
A recent trip to an enormous supermarket locally produced the same blank and I noticed (with sarcastic pleasure) that unless I bought “offers”, it wasn’t cheaper, they were just selling multiples.
When last year (December) I found a candleholder I liked, that worked, that I could afford, in a small shop, I was thrilled. I have in my life done a great deal of mindless buying, not being pleased and passing on or even throwing away. Somebody once called me a consumer queen which I foolishly thought was a compliment. I was just a bad but hopeful buyer. This item worked for me on every level so in January 2014 I went back and asked if I could order another couple.
I am still waiting. Morbidly fascinated but waiting.
If this is how they work, then this is why small shops are dying – this isn’t a general criticism because I know this isn’t how they work. They work on customer communication and small specialised service. So why hasn’t one of the two men who have seen me at intervals and spoken to me, and been offered my telephone number, to prepay (more fool me) bitten the bullet and either: apologised, said they can’t do it, too small an order, their suppliers wouldn’t comply( I would have been disappointed but if it’s the polite truth …)
or accepted the order, hit the telephone, nailed the supplier down and got the items in.
As it is we passed six months where I think both of them expected me to go away.
They took my details several times but were never in touch till I turned ( verbally anyway) into a rather grand dowager and spoke as if to fools. Then I got a call back.
It is alleged (don’t count your chickens) that these items will be available next week.
I am not holding my breath.