Shopping for food
Milk was delivered daily by the milkman – glass pint bottles with foil tops – we had red top with thick yellow cream at the neck of the bottle. My mother always had the cream in her tea. Silver top milk was slightly cheaper but without the cream.
Other related memories are of NHS concentrated orange juice in small square bottles; NHS powdered milk in round tins with blue and white printing; Galloways’ Cough Syrup delightful and containing opium albeit in very low concentration (as printed on the detailed label). Thick delicious Cod Liver Oil and Malt in wide necked dark brown glass jars.
Bread was delivered by a small bakers van from the South Surburban Co-operative Society (SSCS). The ‘breadman’ would arrive at the door (I only remember him appearing in the late winter afternoons when it was already dark) with a large wicker basket containing bread and usually some cakes with which to tempt customers. Quite a lot of the day-to-day food-stuff was ordered from the Bellingham branch of the SSCS and delivered on a weekly basis in a cardboard box the contents of which would be carefully checked on arrival by my mother and woe betide the shop which was in Randlesdown Road if there were any errors. The delivery system was important because any food bought would have to be carried across the estate a distance of a mile or more. Even allowing for the fact that women went shopping most days you would not want to be carrying too many cans of baked beans or processed peas that sort of distance. As a member of the Co-op we had a share number (155607) and every time we bought something the money spent would be noted down on a small yellow slip which the customer retained with a carbon copy underneath for the Co-op accounting department to calculate the dividend due at the end of each year. My mother always checked this, never quite trusting others to get this right.
Meat like many foodstuffs was still on ration up until the 1950s and we bought ours from the Co-Op butchers, which was next door to the main shop, which sold dry groceries and some other products such as butter and bacon – sliced while you waited on an enormous red slicing machine to the thickness the customer wanted. This was the first shop in the neighbourhood to become self-service with wire hand baskets (no trolleys because nearly all shoppers were housewives on foot and they had to carry anything they bought home in shopping bags). Our greengrocery was bought from an open fronted shop just over the Railway Bridge on Randlesdown Road. Fruit and vegetables being displayed in boxes and racks spilling out onto the pavement – King Edward potatoes at 2 or 3d per pound,
(note: d not p in the days when many hours were expended teaching small children to divide and multiply in pounds shillings and pence for goods bought in ounces, pounds and stones avoirpoidus of course – not to mention pecks and bushels. What fond remembrances that brings back of the backs of exercise books of the era printed with tables of all the imperial measures),
cabbages cauliflowers onions and brussel sprouts. British apples and pears and soft fruit – cherries, strawberries, blackberries and red currants but only in season and mostly from the Garden of England, Kent. I do remember mum buying us pomegranates as well as the occasional peach. But no really exotic fruit in those days – I was 17 before I tasted my first melon in 1961 – although hardly an exotic fruit by modern standards.
Living in a small maisonette meant that there was little privacy and I think that both of my parents were under a lot of stress not only in their relationship but also financially in those early years despite my father taking on a lot of overtime to make ends meet. The consequence of all the stresses was that the child grew up to be a painfully shy and nervous adult. Although I did develop strategies for coping with my shyness in professional situations I have never enjoyed social situations where I have to meet large numbers of people.
The extreme nervousness also persists: Loud noises or being surprised by someone from behind still makes me jump.
And another legacy? Growing up and in adulthood a hatred of injustice towards other people in whatever guise – whether institutional or personal – which may be the reason for my political allegiance as a lifelong socialist.
During my early years my mother didn’t work outside the home as was normal for married women with small children at that time, but she was an out-worker for Fergusons a knitwear company in Newcastle on Tyne, specialising in baby clothes. They sent her parcels with wool and instructions and she sent back finished knitwear. She was a very good and very fast knitter and so she was given the more complicated items to make. As a consequence I retain the knowledge and skill to make wool pompoms around two cupboard discs with which task I helped mum in completing babies hats.
It wasn’t until I was ten years old that my mother started to work outside of the home. First as a part-time electoral canvasser and then as an accounts clerk for James Robertson’s Jam manufacturers who had their London Factory and Offices in a grand rather art deco building on the Bromley Road just beyond Bellingham traffic lights. In the summer if the wind was in the right direction the delicious smell of strawberry jam would fill the air on the Bellingham estate, a smell that 60 years later takes me back to childhood – a madeleine moment?