Wendy's recollections of the 1940s shopping scene in Banstead.

My High Street

The open doorway of the hardware shop looks inviting. Once inside, I peer round at all the goods, many filling the floor space leaving just a narrow passage into the depths of the store. The well-filled shelves reach to the ceiling and then I see the shop-owner himself, a middle-aged man with receding hair and a benign expression, dressed in a light-brown coat-like overall, one hand on his hip, the other, red-knuckled, resting on the counter-top in the dim recesses of his shop.
With the amount of items on display, you would think that you could find whatever you need here, but any request is more often than not greeted with a sad shake of the head and "Mr. No" once again regrets that whatever it is, it is out of stock. It is an era of shortages.
A few doors along the High Street, I stop to look in the window of the shoe-shop. It seems to be well-filled with shoes for all comers - men, ladies and children. It is the only such shop in the village, there is no choice but to be taken inside by my mother to fit me out.

But there is a war on, the year is 1944 and clothing coupons are necessary, and that seems to be the vital question here rather than if there is anything in the shop to suit my feet or my mother's purse. We sit side by side on the padded chairs, while I hold out one foot and place it on a small stool for the female assistant to measure with her wooden implement.She obligingly trips back and forth between my small foot on the stool and the boxes of sandals and shoes lining the walls. I am difficult to please, I am aware that my mother is becoming impatient. It is getting dark outside, I feel it is even darker inside with the austerity lighting and the hopelessness of our task. We give up, my old sandals will have to last a bit longer.
Passing the bakery, we call in for a fresh loaf for tea. There are also cakes on display, but our cake tins at home are always filled with home-made rock-cakes, Victoria sponge and jam tarts.
My mother seldom buys cakes but I recall the occasion when she ordered a large Christmas cake covered with almonds. That particular bakery was also selling raffle tickets for a Christmas cake during the run up to the holiday season. The day we went to fetch our order, we heard that we had also won first prize in the raffle and came home with two large almond-decorated cakes.

Shopping in the High Street regularly includes a visit to the Co-op. It is quite a tongue twister, also a challenge for a child to learn to say "South-Suburban Co-operative Society".
But what does it mean? I do not need to know the answer any more than I need to say all those long words, but at least I can ask, without any inhibitions.
Quite a different matter about the funeral parlour across the road; the large sign "Cremations" has puzzled me for a long time since I learnt to read, but do not dare ask. My elders do not seem to wish to enlighten me on that subject.

But back to the Co-op - it is fun to go there and watch the little round objects that whizz across the shop above our heads. The assistant places the customer's payment in one of these little round containers, screws it on to the lines and pulls a funny black rubber handle, and off it runs to the cashier who sits in her own cage at the far end of the shop floor. She unscrews the container, takes out the money and puts in the change before sending it back to the counter. This little ritual takes time, but the streaky bacon we buy for my father's breakfast has a savoury smell which escapes its paper wrapper as it is placed in our shopping basket.
A few steps further along the street is Boots the chemist's. As you enter, the left-hand side of the shop is the medical side, the right-hand for other merchandise, such as rubber hot-water bottles - when you can get them. The staff behind the counters in their white overalls appear very important and knowledgable, and can instil respect in a customer in the same way as a doctor or dentist might.
They briskly dispense cough mixtures and headache tablets. One can also hand in films to be developed there; I was still quite young when my father let me borrow his Kodak bellows camera to take photos of my schoolfriends or my pet rabbit. I would then cycle the mile or so to this branch of Boots, hand in my black and white film, then about a week later, go for another ride to collect the results. Sixty years on, I am happy when I look through my album and remember my furry friend, "Tiny" the rabbit but it went missing after its hutch door was found wide open one morning.

Before turning to go home, we might call at one more place and that is the wool shop. My mother is a great knitter and makes countless calls at "Miss Pearce's" to see if the wool she is waiting for has arrived. Quite often, it has not, and this grey, tired shop-lady shakes her head as her counterpart in the hardware shop at the other end of the village is wont to do. However, perhaps it is something of a social call for my mother, they chat a little about present hardships, they are allies for the duration.
She catches sight of another friend of hers as we leave the wool shop. A slight wisp of a woman, with thick glasses for her short-sightedness and a chastened look about her. She is on her way to the bus-stop; we keep her company until it comes, she just has time to whisper to my mother about the latest ill-treatment received from her husband before the red double-decker rolls up and whisks her off to our nearest town, where there are at least three shoe-shops.

It is a way of learning about life, listening to the conversations over the counter and
studying the contents of shop windows and displays. The cosy feeling of being known personally as a customer is something we treasure in my High Street.