I thought of another land army story last night, but I can’t think of it right now, so I’ll write it up when I do. A story from way back today, with a connection to the present.
We are so lucky to have local small, independent shops selling fresh food. That’s what one wants, most of the time, after all. Though, at the rate the expensive low energy lightbulbs stop working, we’ll be in the dark soon – the most recent one to blow lasted five weeks and cost £2.69 – because the shops that sell the ones we need are shut in Yagnub. But everything else is fine.
I emailed an order to the deli yesterday. They will deliver on Tuesdays and Thursdays or you can pick up your order at a pre-arranged time so that there’s no contact with anyone else. Similarly, the greengrocer has had to shut to everyday customers, but he’ll deliver or you can pick up. A slightly different system because he phones when the order is ready, you give your card details or use the non-contact machine when you go in, and send a text as you arrive for someone to pop out and put the veggies in the boot of your car. The fishmonger and the wholefood are also open for business as long as you wait outside the door, one at a time, or they’ll give your order to the deli or greengrocer to combine delivery. There are several other businesses, including at least three farm shops, a winery and two breweries that you can visit to pick up an order or have them deliver for the time being. We really are lucky. I find it astonishing that people locally are still telling of going all round the supermarkets and finding bare shelves, when local shops have stock, even though they’re much busier than usual.
It takes me back to my childhood when all the tradespeople delivered. The milkman came every day, of course. The business was owned by Mr Jones. His father’s horse was Tommy, who we took over to save from the knacker’s yard, when the business went over to electric milk floats. Mr Jones delivered milk and cream – no question of yoghurt or anything in those days – every day. We drank gold-top Jersey milk and used silver-top, less creamy milk, in cooking. Now, the milkman delivers three times a week and has lots of other produce too. We just have one pint of milk a week and, to make it worth his while, have some butter, croissants and orange juice too, which sorts out Friday breakfast nicely. At present, we’re serving the croissants with raspberry jam and home-made fig jam.
Once a week, the baker’s van delivered. The bread and cakes were all on shelves around the sides of the van and you could look and choose what you wanted. I can’t remember the baker’s name, if I ever knew it. My father favoured Coburg loaves and we also had big tin loaves, with a cut along the top. Everyone liked the crust, especially my father, and the soft inside got left, to be grated up for breadcrumbs or fed to the birds.
Mr Leggett the fishmonger used to phone every Friday for his order, which he delivered the same day. My mother would phone Mr Marjoram the butcher, though. Of course, she might go into the shop, but she didn’t need to. Along came the van later. Then there was Mr Waller, the grocer. Mr Fenn was his assistant – again, we might phone or drop in an order to be delivered, or wait for it to be packed up for us. A lot of dry goods were sold loose, packeted up by the pound. Butter came ready-wrapped, though. Anchor butter from New Zealand for cooking and Rose of Torridge from Devon for the table. We never had margarine.
Johnny the dry cleaner man from Lavender Laundry came every week. He was a friend and always came in for coffee and a chat. In later years, my mother and I used to reminisce bemusedly that we found the packing of the laundry basket such a chore. It was, by then, our idea of heaven! Remove all the towels and sheets, shirts, tablecloths and napkins – anything white, really – from their appropriate place, number them on a checklist, pack them in the hamper and carry it down ready for Johnny, who would swap it for a similar hamper full of last week’s starched and ironed laundry, to be checked off the list and put away. Other clothes, underwear, hankies and so on were washed by hand by my mother.
The department store we most used was Tuttles, though Hailey’s and Chadd’s were also good. Tuttles had pretty well everything. If my mother went in for some clothes, she didn’t need to try them on in the shop, she would take them home on approval and return anything she didn’t want. I remember her phoning once and saying that her daughter needed a new dress. Would they please send a few in the appropriate size for me to try on and we’d choose the one we wanted. The chemist also and the wine merchant – we did go in there, but we never paid. Please put it on our account, we took it without question or asked for it to be sent. I could go in too, shopping for my mother, and just walk out with what I wanted. I never presumed and bought stuff for myself without authorisation, though I suppose I could have got away with it. But I asked, of course, if I needed something. My father was punctilious about paying his bills every month, he considered it shameful to keep a tradesman waiting for payment.
I’ll pick up my order from Simon Greengrocer tomorrow. I asked if the local asparagus is in yet? It is!! Heaven. Life has not crumbled if there is still asparagus in its season. It may be fraying at the edges, but we will patch it up and hold it together. Life, that is. Not asparagus.