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‘I’ve got a Little List’ (W S Gilbert)

September 19, 2011

In 1959, when I was almost 10 years old my mother had my baby brother – I already had two little sisters and as the oldest I became mother’s ‘helper.’

One of my tasks was doing the weekly shop.

First, I had to go to my father’s workplace and pick up five pounds from his pay packet (he got nine pounds a week) at 12 noon when he got paid.  Then, I walked along a foot-path on the side of the river Hamble for about one and a half miles to the nearest shop, I had two bags, carefully crafted by my father from a sail that was no longer usable – for a little girl they were heavy enough even when empty.

With those and a shopping list carefully written by my mother, I hurried to the shop that would shut at 1pm on the dot for the weekend.

If asked I am sure I could recite the list verbatim: 6lbs potatoes, 2lb sugar, 1lb beef sausages, a can of condensed milk, ¼lb  of tea, a can of processed peas, ½ lb margarine, a large can of luncheon meat , and ½ oz of Digger Shag, packet of green papers and a box of matches.

The shop-keeper always kept me waiting until all the adults had been served but I was fascinated by the way she transcribed my mother’s list into a blue duplicate booklet and marked the prices in the column at the side, which was so worth waiting for.

I was always watchful as the lady carefully packed my bags, as my mother was exceedingly explicit in her choice of goods.  Always Fussell’s condensed milk not Nestles.  Not for any ethical reason, it was the cost, only a few pence but not inconsiderable in those days.  Streaky rashers, thinly sliced on the bacon slicer as instructed.  That, with beef sausages -cheaper than pork – and mushrooms for my father, were an economical treat for Saturday lunch.

Luncheon meat for Sunday – not the expensive Spam for us – the cheaper Unox was mother’s choice.  This was served with processed peas not garden peas, and boiled potatoes with a knob of margarine.   Echo – was the choice – much cheaper than butter and a little cheaper than the new soft style margarine like Stork or Blue Band which with its new modern packaging was very tempting.

PG Tips, rather than Typhoo, was the desired tipple not for its delicate fragrance or smooth after taste, but for its value for money.

I was careful not to overspend and to enrage my mother, but I was allowed to spend a few pennies on a Fry’s Five Boys chocolate bar or a Milky Way as a reward to eat on the way home.

This was not a journey of delight it was an expedition of need, my family depended on my return. I was a child of the river and like a child of the city or jungle I was instinctively aware of the dangers – the tides and the A27. More of this later.

Francis Frith (2011). “The bridge c1955 Burseldon “.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2014 10:06 am

    Reblogged this on Living, Libraries and [Dead] Languages and commented:

    While my daughter is here in the UK our days have been punctuated with gifts and tea … and a ceremony usually of mutual admiration … but I remember times when tea was just tea …


  1. Yesterday I … | Living, Libraries and [Dead] Languages

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