Friday, February 13, 2015

Nostalgia of Shopping- Part 2

The main shop for our family was done in Bedford. Before supermarkets grocery shops were run on old-fashioned lines, whereby there would be a shopkeeper standing behind a counter and you would select your shopping with him taking items off a shelf. Items such as cheese were weighed, having been sliced off large blocks. I remember being able to taste before you buy, although some supermarkets will allow you to do this now, but cheese and other items of food weren't wrapped as they are today in vacuum packs, nor was meat in those polystyrene trays you see on supermarket shelves with cling film over them. Even bacon would be sliced on a machine and then wrapped separately, as would chops and even chicken portions. You could select the meat straight from the refrigerator. Dick Wood (who I mentioned in the earlier post) made the most delicious sausages. He would often bring us a packet when he came for tea. A good deal tastier than the packets of sausages you get today, and no doubt containing a good deal more meat, too. 

My mother did the grocery shopping, from what I remember, in a shop called Fred West (please, not to be confused with the murderer!) which was in St Cuthbert's Street, just off St Peter's Street in Bedford. I think she would take a list of what she required and the shop would make the order up and put it all in cardboard boxes, and then we would go in and collect the order in the car. I presume they had a carpark at the rear, but to be honest I don't remember. West's was one of those old fashioned grocers where they had tins of such things as broken biscuits along the front of the counter as well as chairs on for the customers to sit. Why, I used to think, would people want to buy broken biscuits, particularly? Why not buy whole biscuits? This was a time when you could buy your food in measured quantities, as I've already mentioned about cheese. I imagine you could buy biscuits in packets, but there must have been something great about being able to select those biscuits and have them measured out by the shop keeper. 

Living on a farm we were never short of vegetables. My father grew potatoes and Brussel sprouts on the farm. Once they were picked, they were bagged up and a lorry came and took them off to London, to Covent Garden. The company was called Bennet and Hawes. They still exist. I have just Googled them. They are based in Spitalfield's in London. In return for taking our produce we got fruit in exchange, such things as boxes of oranges and grapefruit as well as melons, so we could have orange or grapefruit for breakfast. I don't think I particularly liked them as a child but I grew to quite enjoy them as I got older, but having had a heart attack I'm not supposed to eat them or drink the juice as it's supposed to interfere with the medication I'm taking, but that's another matter. My father always seemed to eat a grapefruit for breakfast himself.

The garden at Malting Farm produced a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. We had asparagus and the bed in the garden always produced a fine crop. Also, we had strawberries and raspberries and there was an orchard which produced both apples and pears, although the last time I visited when my brother Robert lived there, the garden had been dug up, the apple trees cut down and replaced by pens for sheep and cattle. Sad in a way, but probably more sensible when you're running a farm on profitable lines. Also, salad vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes (grown in a greenhouse.) as well as carrots and other root vegetables. So, you see, we really had no need to buy most of our vegetables. Our milk was produced on the farm. It used to come straight from the cow, a couple kept specially for that purpose. I don't expect you'd be allowed to drink 'raw', un pasteurised milk now, if I know anything about E.U. agricultural policy.  It never did any of any harm, and to be honest, it definitely tastes far better than what we have to drink today. Although the cows were tested for whatever diseases they might have (which they didn't, naturally enough.) As a result of this milk we always had a supply of cream which was occasionally made into butter.

My grandmother had lived at Mill Farm in Cardington. When my grandfather died my uncle Michael took over the management of the farm and my grandmother moved to a house which at the time, (which would have been the early 1960's.) just happened to be the first house going into Bedford along Cardington Road. She used to shop at a grocer's along London Road, called Bass's, another old fashioned grocers which sold all the usual products. Almost directly opposite was a newsagents, Desmond's. The daughter of the family was a keen rider and my brother Sandy and Robert used to bump into them at gymkhanas and horse shows at various venues in and around Bedfordshire and the neighbouring countys. Further along London Road, towards Bedford town centre, there was another shop, Elsie Currah's, which stocked knitting wool, cotton for sewing and all the haberdashery requirements necessary for sewing, knitting, crochet etc etc. My mother was a very keen knitter and owned an electric sewing machine as well as a knitting machine (both Singer machines I remember.) She made a lot of her own clothes as well as knitting us the most amazing sweaters. My father detested the knitting machine, particularly as the thing was set up in the dining room at Malting Farm, which was where we sat to watch television, and he hated the sound it made. I suppose it was noisy, but as I say, she managed to create some really amazing knitwear of the machine. Elsie Currah's was where she bought most of her knitting wool.

Another grocer's was in the centre of Bedford, in the High Street. This was Dudeney and Johnston's.  (Now Lloyd's Bank.) They had several smaller shops dotted around the outer suburbs of Bedford, one being opposite where I went to school in Kimbolton Road, opposite Walmsley House, at one time a Co-Op but I think it's now a Budgen's. Dudley and Johnston's was quite an 'up-market' grocers, perhaps in the same mould as Waitrose today. They stocked quite a good range of products. Upstairs there was a restaurant and a large dance hall/function room where wedding receptions and dances were held. As a child we seemed to go to a lot of birthday parties for school friends and I went to several birthday parties in there. The shop also had a bakery although I can't remember my mother buying anything in there. I have a suspicion that Dudeney and Johnson was perhaps the first self-service supermarket to open in Bedford, but it may well have been Safeway in Greyfriars which I imagine was opened when that area was redeveloped along with the bus station in the late 1950's or early 1960's. It used to intrigue me as a child because they had one of the first automatic doors, something that we take for granted today. You stood on the mat or something which made the doors open, but today no doubt done with the aid of motion sensors or something similar.
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