T – O – A – S – T !!!!
On the signboard here at Inver Park,which is full of useful information and telephone numbers, there was one for a local garage repairs and it turns out they are just up the road from here about a quarter of a mile away. I phoned about the dicky switch on the scooter, and also the bashes I had given the back board on the scooter rack, and they suggested I popped up to see them.
Popping anywhere with Thebus is problematic, but I got everything organised and turned round ready to go, but the turn at the park entrance towards the workshops was just too tight for us, so I decided go back to Dunbeath post office which was where Strict Lady had taken us to on our first night, as opposite it was a bus turning circle. Plus if I went back that way as well as having somewhere easy to turn I could pop into the post office for some eggs, having just used up the last of the lovely big, brown, organic free-range Welsummer eggs I had bought at Croft Ends.
The feeling I had when I entered the Post Office was, for me, like a trip back into the past. Although they probably didn't bother to stock the range of items they might have years ago, as folk nowadays find it just too easy to step into the car and drive to the nearest supermarket, they had done of good job of keeping most of the things you might need.
It was a large, substantially built Victorian stone house with steeply pitched and gabled rooves (spell check informs me that my spelling is incorrect, and I know most people say roofs but I expect you are beginning to realise that in some things I prefer the old ways) It must have kept its same purpose since the day it was built, as neatly carved in stone above the shop windows it proudly proclaimed POST OFFICE. And it had that indefinable smell of a general stores and post office that I remember from my childhood which is what took me straight back.
In those days shops specialized, so there would be a 'Family Butcher's'. This would sell beef and lamb, with clean sawdust on the floors to catch any drips of blood, nicely tiled walls and various sections of the differing animals hung on hooks - whatever you required being freshly cut for you. When I was about eleven I was given a Good Housekeeping Basic Cookbook, and a budget for Sunday lunch for the five of us, from memory I think it was £1, though it could well have been 10/-. I was allowed to choose what we would eat, shop for it and cook it. I must admit I enjoyed the responsibility of this. Going to the local Grammar School we didn’t have cookery lessons, and I learnt a lot from that book. Both Mum and Dad were busy on the farm, though Dad had recently had the first of the heart attacks that later carried him off, so Mum at that time was particularly hard stretched, and my cooking the Sunday Lunch served a dual purpose. We had for those days a wide and varied menu as I tried out my minimal skills on the various recipes. I don't know what it tasted like, but I never heard anyone complain.
So having decided the menu I had to work out how my money would stretch as we always had a main course and a pudding. On Thursday lunchtime, which was Market Day, the school was allowed out before eating, so I would rush and check the week's prices on the various joints and then had a couple of days to calculate how much meat I could afford. The 'Family Butcher' we used had a tall thin assistant who invariably served me for my Saturday shopping. When I went in with Mum he would always cut off the joint required then say 'That's a little bit over – is that alright' to which Mum would automatically nod her approval. When aged eleven and on a tight budget I went in alone he cut me a leg of lamb – 'That's a little bit over – is that alright'? Not even realising the implications of it I said no it wasn't and advised him to cut off the fatty bit where they always managed to include a bit of the backbone and the topmost part of the tail. Needless to say whatever I asked for in the future was cut to within less than an ounce of my required weight.
As there wasn't a Poulterers in the town, they often had some dead fowl on display, sometimes plucked but with the feathery neck and the feet left on, but more often just fully feathered. And you were nothing of a housewife if you couldn't pluck and dress a fowl.
Then there was the pork butchers. This had a different smell, as in those days they all made their own brawn, and pork pies, cured bacon and cooked hams, and sometimes there would be faggots, and behind the counter hanging from hooks would be links of shiny sausages and black puddings. The meat was in trays in the window and often the bottom half of the shop window would be open to the street, and somewhere would be the obligatory tray of pork scratchings as they were known in the Midlands
The bakers all made their own bread, and if it was a market town there would be two or more, each with their own specialities and flavours of bread though I never remember any brown bread other than Hovis. The one in Bromyard which my mother used made wonderful big cottage loaves, and chelsea buns, and deliciously greasy, warm fresh-baked lardy cake. Stodgy Bread Pudding cut into big squares, and sugary jam and cream doughnuts which looked appealing but had horrid artificial cream. Egg custard tarts and pies and big white puffy meringues all home baked. The bakers had wooden floors and counters with the bread in wooden racking behind, the fancier cakes being in glass cases, and everywhere the smell of the baking wafting out from the ovens at the back
Though I was not of the era for a candlestick maker, the hardware shops, again with swept wooden floors, and everything on shelving or in little wooden drawers on the walls behind the counters, and perhaps with a display of pocket and penknives in a glass case and a selection of shotgun cartridges and rifle bullets framed on a wall at the back. Hanging from the ceilings would be everything from baskets to buckets and brooms. With an all pervading smell of paraffin and polish, oiled tools and oil cloth, and open folded down sacks of seeds and dog biscuits in front of the counter. Before the day started many of the weather-proof items were taken outside and festooned around the crowded windows and piled on the pavements
By the time I was a teenage bride in the late sixities and shopping for myself this was all still in place but disappearing quickly. I remember the first supermarket opening in Worcester probably in the early sixties, and then in Hereford by the mid sixties – one felt really awkward just helping yourself to things, and some of the older folk still waited by the counter expecting to be served
In those days all the shops had a tall-legged chair or two by the counter for customers to sit at whilst being served. At the grocers the tea was weighed on special scales, then tipped onto a piece of brown paper which was neatly folded then tied with string, and the sugar was scooped into thick blue 'sugar paper' bags the tops of which were then folded down and the parcel similarly tied. All the shops delivered out to the farms and outlying houses weekly. In my day you could phone your order through, but if there was no phone, then when they called out you just gave next weeks order written in pencil in a small lined order book. Accounts were usually settled quarterly or at the end of the year, though sometimes folk took advantage and didn’t pay their account for years and years, making real hardship for the shop keepers.
The small village shop and post office tried to cater for the oddments forgotten or urgently needed, and also the smaller cottages who couldn't run an account with the market town stores, though even then most items were written in a book and the weekly account settled when the wages were paid on Saturday lunchtime. So these smaller shops had the smells of everything combined. The wooden floors and shelving, the bacon hanging from the ceiling hooks next to dangling reels of sticky brown paper thickly coated with flies, tomatoes and tinned goods, candles and string, and in the season ice cream, otherwise just a small empty chest freezer advertising unavailable delights such as Strawberry Mivvies and Orange Jubblys .
I bought my eggs and headed back for the garage where the owner greeted me and seeing Thebus said I was hardier than him to drive something so big and a left hooker at that when he knew I was headed for Orkney, though I said I thought I might just be fool-hardier!
Back to cook some brunch, and in amongst all my parcels and packages was a small 800 watt toaster I had ordered from Amazon. Okay it warms and dries out the bread as much as toasting it, but fried eggs on toast with your breakfast saves wasting all that lovely runny yolk on the plate. And – it didn't set off the smoke alarm. Yeah – toast!!