I have to confess right up front, I love today’s technology. The PC, laptop, iPad and the iPhone are an important part of my lifestyle. Buying and selling on ebay, using Kindle to order and read books, buying DVD’s on line and receiving them through the post and subscribing to articles and blogs make my life so much richer.
However, when I was growing up none of todays gadgets were available or even comprehended. Shopping with my Mother was very special and our trip to the city now seems a far cry from the life I know today.
First we had to get dressed up. My Mother was most particular about her shoes and bags matching each other and her hat suited to her outfit. In winter it was a fur coat or stole and in summer a suit. I was dressed as a miniature adult and my delight at being so very stylish was great.
We walked ten minutes to the trolley bus stop and often were lucky enough to sit on the top floor at the front. The trolley buses came often but they were slow and sometimes the trolley would fall off the overhead cable. The conductor would jump out with his long pole and hook the offending loose trolley back to the line. Then we would start off again. The journey took around thirty minutes and it always held me enthralled with happenings both good and bad.
On the corners men stood in groups. These were the unemployed and were usually scruffy and bowed down with troubles. On the streets kids played with hoops, skipping ropes and balls. I was envious I wasn’t allowed to play out on the roads with other children. Many were undernourished and wore rags but they did seem to be having fun. Near the docks the poverty increased and women with babies held tight to their chests were wrapped in tartan shawls. Even in winter their bare legs stuck below their skirts and shawls and their feet were shoved into ill fitting shoes or men’s boots. Many of the women had children hanging on to their skirts and most begged for food or coins from the passerby’s.
The streets were cobbled and slippery. Once while we were on top of the bus, a horse slipped and broke its leg. It was in agony, caught in the shafts of the cart it was pulling and it writhed in agony. I cried as I watched the carnage. My Mother explained that horses can’t recover from a broken leg and that someone would come soon and put it out of its misery. I didn’t know what that meant and was appalled when a man came with a gun, shot the horse and a group began to pull it from the cart and off the road. That was not a good day in town.
We would start our shopping at a coffee house that ground its own coffee and made the most delicious chocolate coated pancakes. I remember great aromas and lots of brass but no matter how hard I try I can’t remember the name.
Then it was off to the department stores. Most of the stores had a revolving door and if it wasn’t busy I would travel around two or three times. My Mother would try on clothes and take a selection home on approbation. This would allow her to check styles and colours against clothes she already owned. I didn’t mind this as it meant we would have to return the ones unwanted and another trip to town. This practice is no longer available as the shops found people wearing a suit to a wedding or a frock to a ball and then bringing them back. As goods were only paid for when the item was actually kept the stores had no choice but to accept the customer’s word.
At a store called the Co-Op my Mother had a savings account and she liked to add money at least once a month. They also collected the clothing coupons which were needed to make purchases long after the war ended. These were lengthy transactions and my Mother would stand in the queue for what seemed like hours to me.
When I was bored I went along to the shoe x-ray machine and enjoyed looking at the bones in my feet. I would stand there mesmerized staring and of course not knowing that this was an extremely dangerous practice. That equipment has long been gone from stores. I also amused myself by watching the money flying in brass containers along overhead wires and into the office. When the shop assistants opened the brass pipe at their station the rush of air could be heard as the money holder was sucked in and sped on its way. Most exciting was when an overload of containers crashed into one another and flew off the lines.
Lunch was usually fish and chips or steak and kidney pie and I loved it when we went to a cafeteria and I was allowed to push the tray along and select the food. Deserts were apple pie and custard or brightly coloured blancmange which I didn’t like, so I would save my treat for the way back through town. At a small corner shop the woman made her own lollies, toffee and fizzes. I would get a poke of paper filled with mixed lollies and these would last all the way home. I loved the black balls, aniseed, butterscotch and the twisted barley glucose ones best.
Often in the bus back there would be people with produce from the markets; a chicken in a shopping basket, a duck in a cardboard box or a turkey tied by its feet. These were usually live and made quite a to do on the bus trip. Women were laden with produce and had great difficulty getting off and on the bus. Bags of cabbage, cauliflowers, carrots, potatoes, onions and cartons of eggs would be slung over their shoulders or backs.
As our produce came from the plots nearby we didn’t need to carry groceries from town and because of that the shopping of others seemed exotic.
The only bad bit about a day in town was the walk back from the trolley bus stop. I would be tired, carrying packages and the return to our house seemed at least twice as long. But once home and new clothes tried on, treats unpacked and the promise of another trip to return the goods taken on approbation but not suitable promised a great shopping spree the following week.
I love and wouldn’t want to live without my gadgets but how I wish just once in a while I could take the trolley bus to town to go on a real shopping spree.