Monday, June 27, 2016

Shops and Shopping

Before internet shopping, 'click-and-collect' and out-of-town retail parks and supermarkets where you can buy everything in one weekly shop and they sell virtually everything from baked beans to toasters, tablet computers to baguettes, buy a pair of trousers, a shirt and pair of boxer shorts and you can get your eyes tested, order a repeat prescription at the pharmacy and when you leave, get your car filled up with petrol, you had to go to a variety of different shops around town to do your shopping. Where we lived, in Cardington, there was a small village shop in one of a row of houses on the village green, run by an elderly couple called the Misses Stonebridge. I would be sent by my mother for the odd packet of butter or bag of plain flour or some such item if she happened to be baking a cake and had run out. As a reward, I would be given 2d (old pre-decimal coinage.) and be allowed to spend it on sweets. There was a row of glass bottles on the shop shelf, well out of my reach, and you could make your choice from a huge variety of fruit chews, lollipops, chocolate bars or other delectables. It was amazing how much you could get for your 2d. Those old-fashioned favorites such as sherbert fountains, which came in a yellow tube with a licorice tube sticking out of the top and you sucked on the licorice to draw out the sherbert. Or gobstoppers. I don't think my mother approved of them. As you chewed them or avoided chewing, they would change colour and make your mouth turn bright green or red. You couldn't speak because they were so large, no doubt the reason they were called gobstoppers.

As I've already said, this was before the days when you drive to an out-of-town branch of Tesco or Sainsbury's and park in their own carpark and then push a trolley around the store, selecting each item as you walk round, probably taking a list of items you've made before you left. My mother used to shop at a variety of shops (I may have mentioned this in an earlier post on here.) some being at what was called The Boundary, on the road going into Bedford from Cardington. This was (and is. I'm sure the shops are still there, a good 50 years later, but whether they are the same selection of shops when we lived around there, I very much doubt.) As I probably said in that post there was a greengrocer, a chemist (Peter Meiklejohn) a baker's and I think a butcher, although we shopped at another butcher's, a little further along Harrowden Road, run by a friend of my father, Dick Wood. He was a large gentleman who often came to tea with us and was something of a hypochondriac, to say the least. If there was any sort of illness going around, he had it, but not just a little sniffle or bout of flu, he had it worse than anyone else. He ran an old-fashioned butcher's, none of this pre-packaged meat you get in supermarkets, all wrapped up in cling filmed polystyrene trays. You'd go in and ask for a couple of pounds of, say, stewing beef to make a hotpot or a couple of pounds of pork chops and he'd go into the back of the shop and return with a great big bit of beef or pork and chop it up in front of you with a huge cleaver on a wooden chopping block and it would be good quality meat. I think my mother would ring and order a week's worth of meat over the telephone and then it would be delivered by a van during the week.

Going back good many years and my mother shopped at grocers in St Cuthbert's Street called Fred West. A really old-fashioned business where they had real shop-keepers standing behind counters and they got everything for you rather than YOU having to get it all in a wire basket or trolley. She must have rung in a weekly shopping order or went in with a list and they made the order up. We must have gone to collect it in the car and park behind the shop and it was all packed in boxes. Those were the days when a customer was treated with respect. Companies go on endlessly about 'customer care' and so on, but those were the days when you'd be called 'Sir' and 'Madam' and there was a chair for you to sit on while they put your order together.

I think a good deal later my mother shopped for groceries at a company called P and A or something.  It was in Lovell Road, just off Cardington Road, or at least somewhere in the estate around that area. Considering this was before Tesco's opened their two stores in Bedford, one in Cardington Road on land which was used for the Bedfordforshire Agricultural Show and the other going out of Bedford towards Great Barford, at Goldington Road, this was quite a step forward as it was self-service, but all the produce was kept in it's original boxes of the shelves. Quite cheap for the time. I think she occasionally ventured into the centre of Bedford and shopped at the International Stores in the High Street. In those days you could park in the High Street, which seems amazing today. I think you could park virtually anywhere on the streets in those days (probably late 1950's early 1960's.)

Dudeney and Johnson had a grocers store in the High Street. It would be about where Lloyd's Bank is today. In fact, I think perhaps the bank took over their old building. You could buy virtually any sort of food in there. I think it had a sort of snobbish feel to it, rather like Waitrose today. Upstairs there was a large function room which was used for dances, wedding receptions, and parties. Affectionately know as The Dujon.' I remember going to birthday parties in there as a child. Further down the High Street was the Cadena Cafe which is now a Costa coffee or Starbucks. I haven't been to Bedford for  a good many years so I can't say for certain which now has that unit. You could get really nice cakes and bread there and there was always the smell of roasting coffee as you walked past. I think there was a restaurant upstairs.

Yet another shop which my mother used was Saxby's which I'm fairly certain was in Silver Street. I think the unit it was in is now a branch of Next. I'm not sure what became of Saxby's, whether the brand is still in existence of whether it just went out of business (probably taken over by a company such as Unilever.) This was where she bought such things as sausages and sausage meat for sausage rolls as well as buying pork pies. 
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