“Half a pound of tuppeny rice ...”
Except that it was no longer tuppeny rice and nothing was sold in pounds any more.
Dora tagged along the supermarket aisle with the group following the dietician who was educating the group to be better, more discerning shoppers. It was a large group and Dora a small, elderly person. In the press she was elbowed aside, trodden on and pushed to the back. Being also somewhat deaf she found she was losing much of what was said so tried turning up her hearing aids. Then someone dropped something heavy right behind her and it sounded like the store was crashing down. Her fingers hurried the hearing aids back but in her shaky haste she turned them back too far. The group moved on and she was left behind sorting out the hearing aids.
There didn’t seem to be any point in trying to keep up, trying to hear the dietician’s voice as she turned from one side to the other answering questions in between making her points about the desirability of reading labels and noting the levels particularly of salts, fats and sugars. Dora sighed. Grocery shopping was no longer a pleasure. Even viewing the long aisles with the multiplicity of labels was not an adventure; it had become a chore, a drudge.
The group disappeared around the end of the cereals aisle into the confectionary and biscuits aisle. Dora’s feet were tired and her back was sore. A ladder stood nearby where someone had been packing a higher shelf but for the moment she was alone in the aisle. She climbed the ladder and sat gratefully on the platform, safe from dieticians, groups and groceries. At her back were several yards of cereals, above her head shelves of boxes towered, and in front of her a shelf-packed aisle stretched into eternity. She put her elbows on her knees, face in hands and thought about grocery shopping in the days when the grocer weighed all the items from bulk containers on the shelf at his back. The days when you could buy half a pound of tuppenny rice...
Instead of miles and miles of aisles there were little shops each specialising in its own product: butcher, baker, dairy and greengrocer, as well as the grocer with his shelves of dry goods, cans and bottles. In each little shop the presiding specialist knew his customer as well as he knew his product. In the butcher shop a ‘nice bit of rump and half dozen sausages’ were wrapped with a smile and a comment of the weather. The baker tucked a still warm high-topped loaf into a paper bag, exchanging it for a sixpenny coin with a cheerful salute. The dairyman asked with a smile, “Jersey or Friesian today, Mum?” and wrapped a pat of golden butter with style while Mum tucked the bottle of milk into a corner to keep it upright.
Dora skipped along beside her mother munching the baker’s shortcrust gift. Next would be the grocer with the exciting spicy aromas where Mother would buy her flour and sugar and whatever other needs she had. If there were several items the grocer would send his errand boy to deliver them to the house. Usually the last call would be the greengrocer with the seasonal choices of fresh fruit and vegetables, local produce all.
Choices were simple and shopping was a friendly progress. None of this pushing a trolley through miles and miles of aisles, examining labels, looking for heart ticks and scanning for best before dates.
From her vantage point on the ladder Dora spied the owner of the supermarket heading her way. He was hurrying and he looked harassed. There was a time when he too was young, making his living as a greengrocer in the town. He spotted Dora on the ladder and stopped, looking up in astonishment.
“What are you doing up there?”
“I was thinking about what groceries I needed to get and I wanted to sit down while I thought about them.”
They were old acquaintances and Dora could see that this was not a satisfactory answer. He looked around.
“You don’t have a trolley.”
She shook her head. “No, thank you. I only want a half a pound of tuppenny rice and a bottle of Jersey milk.”
Climbing down she left him shaking his head at the unaccountability of elderly women before hurrying away to attend the onerous duties of a supermarket owner.
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