(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2021)
Every Friday evening between 5 and 6 pm for the last year a small truck emblazoned with the name of one of Australia’s fresh food duopolies trundles past our door to neighbours Simon and Kylie a quarter of a mile down to the cul-de-sac. Presumably that’s the weekly shop ordered on some phone app as they are a young busy couple with a toddler. As well as a time saver it means they are also not in contact with others in these times of pandemic.
I hear after a year of lock down, the UK is going to slowly lift it’s restrictions and hopefully get back to some degree of normality, i.e. shopping.
In the late 60s and early 70s, shopping was the domain of my mother and I.
On Saturday mornings my father would thanklessly take the family car to Hilton Park Golf Club to spend the best part of the day begrudgingly traipsing over 18 holes in pursuit of an elusive small white ball, then forced to down two large gin and tonics with fellow weekend warriors in a warm club house. His afternoon would be spent snoozing to the soporific TV murmurings of Grandstand’s Frank Bough. We never really thanked him enough for his sacrifice.
This meant a bus trip into the big smoke for Mama et moi. My brothers, being teenagers, had outgrown their roles as bag carriers and sounding posts so that honour was bestowed on the third born.
When I say shopping, it wasn’t like a leisurely stroll around a vast and impersonal shopping centre, it was proper walking up and down streets dodging traffic and other pedestrians and proletariat.
There were good shiny tiled butchers with chatty, plump red faced men. One didn’t flinch at the sight of carcasses of dead cow, sheep or pig hanging in full view or poultry and game still with heads and feathers. It wasn’t a good butcher if it didn’t have such a macabre display.
“A pound of best mince ? No trouble love.”
A hand like a scarred bunch of bananas would scoop up the required amount and slam it down on a piece of greaseproof paper on the scales. Hands would be wiped on the front of the blooded apron. Mother would receive the perfectly folded paper parcel with elastic band snapped in position and I would then be given the coin change along with a small globule of gristle. This might have been some sort of test of my approaching manhood which I probably failed as I flicked my finger trying to remove the foreign object like a soggy nose pick.
On to the ironmongers – does the word ‘monger’ even exist these days? And don’t get me started on haberdashery ! The ironmongers or hardware store always had a creaky wooden floor usually with duct tape holding down various electrical cables to make your route that little bit more perilous. It was staffed by obsequious people with neatly buttoned up brown coats. Human sat navs who could pinpoint half a dozen ‘1 Inch Hot Dipped Galvanised Cup Head Bolt And Nuts’ without even scratching their chin and looking skyward. Then expertly wrap said article in brown paper and string and fashioning a macrame carrying handle.
On some days the shops came to us. I have vague memories of a fruit and veg van but I certainly can remember the fish van probably for it’s Zen minimalism decor. Sloping shelves of trays of white filleted fish nestled on astro turf, a plastic lemon and a box of Ruskoline. Not a mollusc, crustacean or cephalopod to be seen. Not even a fish head or obvious bones just anaemic strips of fish flesh.
Then there were the ‘Onion Johnnies’, supposedly French men on bikes festooned with plaids of onions draped across their handlebars. They might have had berets and striped shirts, been smoking Gauloise and singing ‘Thank Heaven For Little Girls’ but the memory is a bit hazy on that.
To get that ‘Ye Olde Shoppe’ experience you have to visit theme parks or living museums these days – or do you. In a certain heritage listed West Australian rural town (see main image of Bridgetown, W.A.) the high street boasts many a shop from yesteryear. It is rumoured in one boutique, ladies come from miles around to be accosted by a certain assistant (my dear wife) who in her best Kelvinside accent tells customers.
“Yes, you’re arse does look big in that !”
You just can’t get customer service like that these days.