Just before winter kicks in and we all hunker down, let’s have a trip to the shops, and spot a few windows.
Are there enough windows here for you, in the featured photo, at the entrance to one of South Korea’s bigger shopping complexes? Once we’ve looked round, it’ll be time for a coffee: who knew that Starbucks had spread its reach so far? Not that we actually went inside here – independent coffee shops for us, every time.
Let’s come back to England now, and stay local, in Ripon. We’ll pop into our favourite bakery, then saunter along to the pie shop. In both cases, reflections will offer us views of the street too.
Let’s go to Kirkgate, and more independent shops: You’ll get a mood-improving slogan at Karma, and if you’re lucky, live music to cheer you along.
A few miles away is Pateley Bridge. I wonder if the shops there still have the displays they had when the Tour de Yorkshire was in town?
We’ll finish off by going to Harrogate. From behind other shop windows, we can get a snapshot of Starlings, the bar where we could finish our day with a drink and a very tasty pizza.
Last week the visit to my London primary school way back sixty years ago seemed to go down quite well, so today for Fandango’s Flashback Friday, we’ll go back to that era again, to the post I wrote in 2016. But this time, we’ll go shopping.
Off to the shops
In 1953, my family moved from Yorkshire to London. At first we lived in Earl’s Court. In the years following WWII, it was where Polish immigrants congregated and lived, so that’s probably how we ended up in this busy, grubby, cosmopolitan area.
It had shops – exotic shops to country hicks like us. There was an Express Dairy, a supermarket, one of the earliest of its kind. Rummaging round on the shelves, my mother found unknown surprises such as yoghurt. It was thin, acidic, an improbable shade of pink and none of us liked it. Not even my father. Yet my father taught my mother to set out soup bowls of milk to sour and eat as a cold, refreshing soup. It was a part of his Polish heritage.
She found chinese gooseberries. We didn’t like those either. These days we call them kiwi fruit and realise the ones we had bought must have been rancid and fermenting.
Now let’s go on to Tachbrook Street Market. That’s where we mainly shopped, once we’d moved to Victoria. I loved it. It was a whole community of shopping streets and market stalls. Even though I didn’t then drink coffee, I loved to pass the coffee blenders’ shop, and smell the rich aromas drifting through the door as the coffee beans gently roasted and toasted on giant metal grates.
I remember the neighbourhood Italian restaurant. We didn’t have the money to eat there, but I could see through the window and watch as waiters wielded those giant pepper grinders they seemed to like so much.
We’d pass the neighbourhood grocery store – ‘Home and Colonial’ . I seem to remember we actually got our groceries in Sainsbury’s. There was a Tesco store, a very early example of a supermarket. We didn’t shop there (‘Supermarkets won’t catch on’ opined my mother).
There was a MacFisheries. I was fascinated by the glistening fish laid out on the marble counters of the open shopfront and watched as my mother’s choice for the day was expertly de-boned and filleted in seconds.
There were fruit and vegetable stalls. I loved to hoard the richly decorated tissue papers that protected each orange, each tangerine. Occasionally, in late summer, my mother would buy us a peach each, as an exotic treat.
Once I got to be about eight or so, I’d be sent off to Apple’s the Hardware Store to buy a gallon of paraffin (Aladdin pink, as opposed to Esso blue) to feed our paraffin heaters. There was Mr. Apple himself, with his bristly grey moustache and his grubby brown overalls. The paraffin glugged out of its storage tank into our can. I’d count out the money, then I’d struggle home, the heavy can banging against my shins, the contents splashing my socks, along the street, and across the busy Vauxhall Bridge Road.
Because my father was Polish, we did quite a bit of shopping at the delicatessen near Buckingham Palace Road.
Here were thin sticks of kabanos, the drier the better. Nobody but me ate this at school, and my friends assured me it was donkey meat. There was Polish boiling ring – a horseshoe shaped sausage that was my favourite meal, boiled and served simply with mashed potato and cabbage. Sauerkraut of course, and bigos. The plain cookery of 1950s Britain was largely unknown to me apart from school dinners, but that’s a whole other story.
Besides Polish foods, we’d often have pasta or risotto or wienerschnitzel. Oh – apart from two things. On Saturdays, my mother always bought a pint of brown shrimps from the above-mentioned MacFisheries. Saturday tea times would see us all sitting round the table with a pile of brown bread and butter, peeling those fiddly shrimps. And she was very partial to a kipper too.
I can’t leave out ordinary grocery shopping though. We went to Sainsbury’s in Victoria because it had fresher, better goods according to my mother. It wasn’t a supermarket. We’d go into the shop, with its brightly-tiled floor, and there, to left and right were the counters. Dry goods, dairy products, bacon and ham… and so on.
Young women, their hair concealed under net caps, skilfully wielded wooden butter pats to reduce great slabs of butter into manageable half-pound portions.. Others bagged up sugar into dark blue ‘sugar paper’ bags. There was always a man at the bacon slicer, turning a lethal looking metal disc to slice bacon and ham according to the customer’s particular requirements (Thin? Thick? Gammon rasher?) .
There were glass-topped tins of biscuits – digestives, custard creams, Lincolns, nice, arrowroot…..: these were sold loose. People on a restricted budget would choose a mixed bag of broken ones. My mother regarded all of these with disdain. We made our own.
And when it was time to pay, we’d find that all our receipts, from each counter we’d visited, would have arrived at a small wooden kiosk near the centre of the store. An efficient type would add it all up, we’d pay her ( it was always a ‘her’) and we’d go off with our groceries.
The scenes played out here are so clear in my mind, but I can’t find a single image to support them. Not one. Can anybody help?
One thing we never had to buy at the shops was milk. That was delivered, every single day including Christmas Day, in glass bottles which we rinsed out and returned, on an electric-powered milk float something like this….
I remember our shopping trips fondly. They were time-consuming, certainly. But the rich variety of a morning walking from shop to stall to shop again was quite a highlight in my week.
Last Monday in South Korea we went shopping for string, elastic bands and spam – oh, and books.. Today we’ll go instead to one of the large shopping centres – Shinsegae in Seoul maybe (where I was astonished to find a branch of Waitrose) or Lotte Trevi (yes really) in Busan. We could spend the day there, strolling around the sleek and elegant displays. Maybe we’ll stay for lunch in the food hall, and choose from the many outlets featuring foods from around the world, though particularly from the Far East. Out of town shopping centres like these are popular, as in Europe, but the average city shopping street is busy from morning till late into the evening too, with young people toting large carrier bags full of new clothes . ‘Shop till you drop’ seems to be the motto.
When I was a small girl in London food was a big part of my life. I don’t mean eating, but shopping for food and cooking it – I’d made my first Christmas cake when I was four after all. It’s possible I had some help. And I certainly licked the bowl.
This Sainsbury in 1950’s Streatham is a close cousin of the one we visited in Victoria (sainsburyarchive.org.uk)
Because my mother taught all week, weekends meant a Saturday morning trip to Sainsbury’s in Victoria. I would watch as the shop girls reduced large yellow slabs of butter to half pound blocks using large wooden butter paddles – look, we still have some domestic-sized ones –
while others weighed sugar into dark blue paper bags. I looked on impressed as the man on the bacon counter turned the whining, shining wheel of his slicing machine – ‘Thick or thin madam?’. After she’d bought all we needed, my mother joined the queue for the cashier’s window and fumbled in her purse to find the right change.
This is the kind of sight that greeted us as we shopped for groceries – counter service only (sainsburyarchive.org.uk)
It was the greengrocer’s stall on the market next. I liked collecting the decorated tissue squares that oranges and tangerines were wrapped in.
This is a market stall in Cádiz 2020, not London in 1950-something. But you get the idea.
I liked helping to choose the weekly vegetables, and learnt when to expect the different apples coming into season. Discoveries came first, even before the autumn term started. Then James Grieve, Worcester Pearmain, Laxtons (Supreme and Superb), and round about Bonfire Night, the brown-skinned Russett. Oranges and tangerines were for Christmas time. I always hoped that there might be enough money left to buy a seasonal treat – perhaps a single peach.
Ellison’s Orange (all three photos were taken at Harloww Carr Gardens Harrogate, where they have a splendid collection of traditional English apple trees).
Best of all was the delicatessen. This shop wasn’t at all the preserve of the moneyed middle classes, reviving holiday memories by buying exotic food stuffs. Instead it was a refuge for the stateless, rather rudderless foreign populations of shabby 1950s Britain. There were huge numbers of Poles who’d served out the war in the UK – my father was one; Italian ex POWs; Hungarian Jews – all the flotsam of Europe.
A cheese counter, probably in present-day Germany. (Waldemar Brandt Unsplash)
Here we’d buy Polish boiling ring, cooked simply in water and eaten with buttery mashed potatoes and sauerkraut or cabbage. I loved the wizened dried sticks of kabanos, a thin sausage that my school friends assured me was made from donkey meat. There was Polish rye bread, speckled with caraway. It was at the delicatessen that my mother learnt about pasta. We started eating spaghetti bolognese in about 1954, long before it became a British standard. We bought Samsoe from Denmark which makes the best toasted cheese in the whole world. My school friends found our food odd. That was alright. I found theirs odd too.
A selection of sausage, quite possibly from Argentina (Edi Libedinski, Unsplash)
Very occasionally on Saturday afternoon we would catch the tube all the way to Trafalgar Square and walk into Soho and the Italian store there. Those impossibly long packets of spaghetti! Those solid piles of Italian sausage: pink fat-studded mortadella; Neapolitan salamis the colour of dried blood! A great wheel of parmesan from which some cheery Italian with lots of smiles but little English would hack crumbly fragrant slices with a seriously stout and heavy knife! Aromatic roasted coffee beans clattered into special scales used for nothing but weighing coffee! And Italian voices, laughing, chatting, shouting and thoroughly at home. I don’t think we ever bought a great deal here. We were there for a spot of sensory overload, and a few small treats.
Impossibly exotic in the 1950s: pasta neither hoop-shaped nor in a tin with tomato gloop (Markus Spiske, Unsplash)
Many of my childhood memories centre around preparing the food that we bought. But that’s a story for another day.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
To travel is certainly to discover. If I told you that we were off to start the day at an animal sanctuary, followed by a picnic, followed by a spot of local shopping, you might imagine our spending an hour or two with distressed dogs or donkeys, maybe some homeless hedgehogs. Then you’d picture us with a pack of sandwiches, maybe sharing a bag of crisps and some Jammie Dodgers, perhaps on a park bench, or dodging the cow pats in a country field. Then you’d suppose we’d nipped into Sainbury or Tesco on the way home.
But this is my Indian Adventure, so you would be wrong. Our animal sanctuary was Dubare Elephant Camp. This is where elephants who’ve had a long career working transporting logs for the Karnataka Forest Department go to live out their retirement years.
We watched them enjoying their daily bath in the River Cauvery. One elephant needs maybe three young men to bathe them: good tough scrubbing brushes required to give that hard leathery skin a good old scratch.
Look for the trunk poking above the water!
We were in time for their breakfast. There was a cookhouse where an appetising mixture of jaggery (a dark brown palm sugar), millet and vegetation was boiled up and formed into giant balls of nourishment. Just because they ate it daily didn’t stop them finding it delicious.
Making breakfast for the elephants
That was it really. But we had to set off for our picnic in any case. With some difficulty, we waded through paddy fields, where the young rice plants were an impossibly citric green, vivid and vibrant. And there, at the end of our walk, was the River Cauvery: a perfect scene from a travel documentary: tall palm trees, knotted and intricate tree roots, little islands among the fast-flowing waters.
Off for a picnic
The walk back home
We were glad to climb into our costumes and plunge into the river – muddy, but otherwise clean. There was quite a current, and I wasn’t strong enough to swim the width of the wide river, so stayed close in to the banks.
And then it was time for our picnic: something special, this. Staff from our host’s residence clanked down the hill with great metal cans yoked over their shoulders: rice; sambal; a wonderful bitter curry made out of some dark green leaf also used to de-worm children; chicken curry; a sour and bitter sticky chutney; curds; and a gorgeous buttered cabbage curry. It truly was a memorable feast.
The picnic arrives
On our way home, we stopped off at our local town, Madikeri, to do some bits and bobs of shopping – get our photos onto CDs in the days when memory cards didn’t have much capacity, buy sandals, that sort of thing.
Oddly, I took few photos here, but I’ve used others from later in the trip, because with their rows of tiny shops, Indian shopping streets are standard in their own way. No M&S, Boots and Costa certainly, but there’s still a certain uniformity in the small shop fronts with goods stacked and hanging outside, and pedestrians, bullocks and auto rickshaws all jockeying for position in the crowded streets. Here’s the auto rickshaw that four of us (and our driver of course) contrived to travel home in after our trip…
The rickshaw that somehow got four passengers and a driver back home on a ten mile journey on a bumpy road.
I wasn’t so much wrong about India as didn’t have a clue.
Seasonal walnuts and chestnuts on a greengrocery stall
Sheepskin slippers for winter.
One of the bread stalls ar St. Girons.
A busy Saturday in St. Girons.
We’ve just come back from a Saturday morning strolling round Richmond market. It’s a pity for Richmond that our most recent Saturday-strolling-round-market experiences date from our days in the Ariège. The Saturday morning market in Saint Girons is an incomparable experience which Richmond couldn’t match.
Saint Girons has fewer than 7000 residents, but it’s the administrative centre of the Couserans, and the centre of gravity not only for its own inhabitants, but for townspeople, villagers and farmers for miles around. Saturday is the day they come to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, charcuterie, cheeses, dried fruits, hardware and haberdashery, plants for the potager, and to link up with friends and neighbours over a coffee or a beer in a local bar. Saturday is a day when they might themselves be stallholders. Among the joys of the market is the pleasure of finding small stalls selling just a small selection of say, goats’ cheeses, produced that very week by a ‘petit producteur’, or asparagus picked no more than 24 hours before, and only available for a few short weeks in April or early May, or home-produced charcuterie, or mushrooms and fungi foraged from the woodlands and meadows round and about. There’ll usually be a crowd surrounding these specialised stalls, which may not be there every week, or in every season, because they can only put in an appearance when they have enough good things to sell. And the market sprawls between two squares, along the banks of the river, and up a couple of other streets. You won’t get away in a hurry.
Compare Richmond in Yorkshire. It too is the main town in its region, Richmondshire, and only a little larger than Saint Girons: it has somewhat more than 8000 inhabitants. But its market barely extends beyond the handsome market square. There are several good greengrocery stalls, an excellent fish stall, which is well-known throughout the region, others selling home-produced sausages and other prepared meat products, and plant stalls with herbs, bedding plants, bulbs and seeds. Best of all is the wonderful cheese van, ‘The Cheesey Grin’, whose knowledgeable, enthusiastic and cheerful owner has the best variety of cheeses from Britain and Europe, from small producers, brought out for sale when at its very best, that we’ve seen in quite a long time. But that’s all. You can be done and dusted in 15 minutes. I fear that markets, or at least the ones local to us, are in decline. Ripon too has noticeably fewer stalls of any kind than was the case only a very few years ago, and a smaller number of stalls selling well-produced or sourced local food. Still, small shops selling these things seem slowly to be on the way up, so perhaps we’re exchanging one kind of market for another. Perhaps it’s not a death knell. As a French friend of ours said recently, ‘I don’t hope so.’
I’m not fully adapted to country life yet. Forward planning – or lack of it – is my failing. I haven’t yet learned to anticipate whether we’ll need more milk, potatoes or whatever before the next planned trip to The Great Metropolis (aka Ripon), and quite often find myself grubbing around at the back of the cupboard for acceptable substitutes.
Saturday, though, is the day we treat ourselves and buy the paper. There’s enough reading material there to get us through several days, and the sports section, discarded immediately, is perfect for any number of little jobs such as lining the rubbish bin. And yet today we had no excuse to visit Ripon, so would we have to go without our newspaper?
Well, no, there is another solution, but we have to reckon on leaving the house for well over an hour to complete the three and a half mile walk. The round trip to the paper shop involves leaving home along the path through the woods, walking along the riverside path to Sleningford Mill caravan site, dallying by the weir for a few minutes, battling along the narrow path now surrounded by chest-high spring flowers, and finally reaching the bridge at West Tanfield.
The shop in the village is where you’ll find most things. There’s food, drink, first aid and stationery – and a Post Office. There’s a community board where today I found news of someone selling chilli plants – I’ll be buying some of those . And there are newspapers. I bought our weekly fix. Then I set off home by a different route. Out of the village on the road, up the hill, turn right at a farm gate. The path here’s been slightly diverted, because the farmer’s made wide beetle banks to boost the number of farmer-friendly insects and spiders on his land. Through several fields of sheep, who come to inspect me, and along the drive of Sleningford Park, a country house. A final yomp along paths running alongside fields of wheat and barley, and I’m home once more.
It wasn’t quick. But I came home refreshed by the birdsong I’d heard; the sight of birds, rabbits, squirrels and sheep I’d passed; the flowers I’d spotted on the paths, different already from the ones I’d spotted only a few days ago; and all those country smells, from wild garlic to sheep dung to spring flowers. I’d had a better morning, I reckoned, than if I’d either gone without, or jumped in the car to grab a newspaper at the petrol station four miles away.
Charity shops. Staple of the British High Street, and a really important source of revenue for many charities. Some parts of English towns seem to have few other shops these days, and on my visits back to Harrogate and Ripon, that’s where you’ll find me, stocking up on piles of second-hand books at bargain-basement prices. And not just books. I have a classic lovat green Loden coat, much admired by whoever sees it, current selling price anything up to £500, which I found in St. Michael’ Hospice Shop in Harrogate for £10.
So here in France, I miss charity shops. Emmaüs, the international charity focussing on poverty and homelessness concentrates in its large, warehouse-like shops on quantities of furniture and household goods, and a bit of everything else too, but they’re often away from the town centre. Our local one in Lavelanet is daunting in size, shabby and a little unappetising.
Secours Populaire here in Laroque, as in many towns, provides a lifeline for families in difficulty. It sells donated clothes and other goods, but it doesn’t advertise itself, and is mainly appreciated by those whom it sets out directly to help. The branch here is in an upstairs room, and is staffed for one afternoon a week only by a cheery team of volunteers who see no need to market the service they provide to a wider constituency, or to go in for careful artistic displays of the goods on offer. It’s clearly not a shop in the ordinary everyday sense.
It was a bit of a shock then to realise a few months ago that the shop that was being refurbished up near the cross roads was going to be a Red Cross Charity Shop, ‘Vestiboutique’. It opened with a ceremony reported in the local press, and has been trading on 4 afternoons a week.
It’s a great place. As in England, there’s a mixture of donated goods, and ends-of-line donated by clothing manufacturers. As in England, the shop window and the stock within have been displayed with taste and care. In the backroom, donations are mended, cleaned and pressed if necessary, before being put on sale. Everything second-hand is either one or two euros, the ends-of-line goods very little more. The day I first went, I found some cheerful trousers, an elegant high-quality pair of ankle boots probably worn only once by their first owner, and a new fleecy hat for winter walks: I parted with 7 euros.
The two members of staff were happy to talk. They’re not volunteers, though they’re not paid much. They were excited to be part of this new development. This shop is the only one in the region, and was sited in Laroque to provide a service in an area of economic difficulty. Trade was brisk they said, and already the shop was much appreciated locally. I told them about the huge variety of English charity shops, from international charities like theirs, to shops for charities seeking to combat disease or support animals, to hospice shops. They were astonished, and couldn’t really imagine the picture I was trying to paint in their minds. Though there are parts of France – Paris for instance – where you’ll find more shops like this, there are no streets like say, Commercial Street in Harrogate, where about a third of the shops now seem to be charity shops. Vestiboutique, for the time being, is unique in the Pays d’Olmes.
It was 5 years ago when we were first in Laroque round about Christmas time. There were no signs of its coming until well into December, and we thought it wonderful: no decorations, no adverts, merchandise or muzak, just a bustle of festive activity from about two or three weeks beforehand.
The first signs, as in England, were in the shops. Unlike England however, most shopkeepers didn’t usually buy tinsel, baubles, and several packs of cotton wool to introduce a Christmas theme into their window display. Instead they had a seasonal design applied directly to the window. We once saw a scene-painter busily decorating a local window, and wondered what he did the rest of the year. Shops in small town high streets like Laroque’s would all be unified by being the same but different. The same folksy interpretations of Christmas motifs, the same limited palettes of white, red, greens and yellows. Some would choose scenes of reindeer amongst the Christmas tree forests, others Father Christmas, snowmen, or radiant candles.
Garage in Laroque
Five years on, hardly any shopkeepers are keeping up this tradition. They’re decorating their shops, but in their own way: dressing up their window display with baubles, snowflakes and Santa Claus figures. They’re nicely done too, but I miss the particularly French idea, which I’ve seen nowhere else.
Here are the few traditional window scenes I’ve been able to find this year. Maybe next year even these will be part of the past.
Winter has arrived. How do I know? Although the nights are cold, the afternoons are still for going walking or tidying up the garden wearing a tee-shirt, beneath a duck-egg blue sky. So until the other day, I thought we were clinging on to autumn.
But on Thursday, the Orange Man arrived. This is exciting enough news for it to be worth phoning a friend. Every year, once winter kicks in and the orange harvest is well under way in southern Spain, a huge container lorry arrives in Lavelanet. It parks up at a disused petrol station on the main road into town and becomes an impromptu shop.
The man with the lorry, the Orange Man, speaks only Spanish, and sells only oranges. Not singly or by the half-dozen, but in large 10 kilo boxes. 10 kilos, 10 euros. What a bargain. These oranges, though sometimes a little knobbly and in irregular sizes, are the juiciest and tastiest you’ll ever eat, and it’s no wonder that whenever you pass, you’ll see someone pulling up their car and opening the boot for a case or two. Our Spanish friend won’t have to stay long. In a few days the entire container-load will be sold, he’ll return to Spain …. only to return when he’s loaded up again.
When he departs for the last time at the end of the season, we’ll know for sure that spring has arrived.