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
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
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
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
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
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.