Monday 25 October 2021

The view from the hill, a 70s childhood. Shopping.

We didn't do a lot of this. In previous posts I mentioned the shops of Colney Hatch Lane and the marvellous emporium of Martyns in Muswell Hill. In my early childhood, supermarkets were just beginning to sprout - tentative forays into consumer's mind . . . get everything in one place, no need to visit a butcher, greengrocer and bakers . . . Thus, an early Sainsbury's planted itself onto Muswell Hill, opposite the Odeon cinema and strikingly visible as one arrived up the hill on the 134 bus. My mother, fairly loyal to the local shops did make an occasional visit, the chief purchases I recall being Eden Vale yogurt (three flavours of strawberry, lemon and toffee) from the very small and no choice chilled section; pretend bacon strips, and the battered tin basket. This was my favourite bit of the Sainsbury's tour, a wire cage containing dented tins, often without labels meaning one might open one to find cat food, pineapple or beans depending on how lucky or unlucky one was.

                                                Muswell Hill Sainsbury's under construction

Clothes shopping was fairly non-existent; an occasional angst-ridden trip to the West End shop, Swan and Edgar where I would lie about on the carpet and draw while Mum perused clothing rails. As it was a rather exclusive department store I can't imagine what she would have been trying to buy, her budget being minuscule. Marks and Spencers was occasionally visited for her standard teaching outfits. I can still recall the zany swirls of turquoise and purple of the nylon shirts, the fabric sparking with static as I pulled them from the launderette's tumble dryer on wash day. I was forced to wear the depressing school uniform of pink and brown (ugh) crimplene at Junior school, and blue patterned cotton for secondary school so shopping for my clothes was fairly trouble free. Every few months I would however make a bus trip up to Oxford Street with a friend where we would gawp at fashions in Chelsea Girl and if enough pocket money/ paper round money had been saved, a small garment might be purchased.

Most shopping other than food meant jumble sales; events both Mum and I adored. A scan of the local paper would reveal what church hall or leisure centre was holding a sale, and we would turn up in the Hillman Minx to be first in line. We (me, Mark and Ezra) very much continue this practice, although the local paper announcements have been largely replaced by a nerdish online French site for nearby 'Vide Greniers' a close proximity to the boot sale. Jumble sales provided clothing, books, sometimes plants and always bricabrac. Mum's teapot collection had to be regularly culled . . . I'm just looking up at the shelf above our sink now, and, yes, I've obviously inherited that trait . . .

Strange to think of the shopping process back then. No internet browsing, no credit cards, no shop loyalty cards or buy now-pay later; nothing even like Argos. Mum would save up to buy a bigger item, or possibly buy something like a fridge on higher purchase instalments from John Lewis. But we just didn't buy very much, and shopping didn't figure as a leisure activity. Mend and make do. Buy what you needed and mainly in the locality. Reckon we'll be heading back that way in the not too distant future. 


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