Thursday, 24 July 2008

Let's Go Shopping

It's just about summer at last, and there's something about the orange haze of a July morning that puts me in mind of holiday trips to the local newsagent-cum-general store round about the turn of the '80s. Leave your bike outside in a casual heap and enter its subdued, welcoming, blue-and-white vinyl floor tiled, no-cheques-cashed-thank-you interior.

Most important, on a day like this, is the little deep freeze with the two-way sliding top and the achingly outdated stickers on the front. This is, of course, owned by the company which makes both the contents and the little tin sign spinning out front in the breeze - Wall's if you must, but more properly Lyon's Maid, signified by that bucolic dancing troika of a small boy and two small girls, captured in the middle of a raucous round of Ring-A-Roses with alarming disregard for the safety of their Mini Milks.

The contents of the freezer depend, of course, on whether 'the man's been'. If he has, fill your boots with Fabs, Funny Feet, Starship 2000s and the urban drug legend magnet that was the 2-Ball Screwball. If he hasn't, it's a sad scrabble round the bottom of the unit forthe best of the dull stuff - Jubblies, popsicles (not even Cola flavour left), Callipos and, most spirit-crusing of all, big brown unopened boxes of boring wafery sandwich things and the ubiquitous family brick.

It's important to note that Cornettos and other posh fare were never spotted in these units. At best, you might have seen the occasional rogue King Cone, looking lost and nervous outside its natural habitat of a shoulder-mounted tray in a darkened Odeon. If you're really unlucky, the good stuff in the tiny deep freeze will be sharing freezer space with savoury abominations, usually Patsy Kensit peas and Findus frozen boil in the bag dinners, featuring the most suspiciously smooth slices of roast beef you ever did see.

But never mind that, if there's nothing to be found in the freezer, the pop's all there, lined up on a shelf to the right. Naturally, there's no refrigerator here - not for another three years, at least - so your tins of Lilt and first-generation Tab (the beautiful drink for beautiful people) have to sweat it out among the Panda Pops, Trendy Pops and Rola Colas. No preferential treatment here. Other uncomfortably warm drinks come in space age all-plastic packaging, like the listlessly fruity Tip Tops (there are probably fewer toxic elements in the tub than the contents).

On the floor beneath, the family-sized bottles with the dimpled necks and 3p deposit caps, lined up in serried ranks temptingly reminiscent of a 'lemonade fishing' fete stall. Again, brand egalitarianism rules. Amongst the big name liquids with bubbles which have passed their fizzical are the regional pop brands. It was Dayla round my way, but if you lived elsewhere it could've been Alpine, Larkspur or, for those lucky Yorkshire folk, pop bottled by father of future Tory leader Charles Hague. All delivered either by the milkman or via a good, solid beige Bedford van with the driver's semi-hard son sat in the back, flicking Big D nuts at dogs through the open tailgate.

And we have the sweets, of course. They've been pushed temporarily into third place for the season as, with the possible exception of those new-fangled Trebor mints with the hole blocked up, they're not in any way chilled (well OK, neither are the drinks, but that's more a psychological thing, I suppose). But one tradition still holds sway in the heat - the purchasing of too many old fashioned sotrage jar sweets in a big bag. Maybe it's their 'behind counter' taboo, or the fact they're slap next to the fags, sometimes even mingled with Castellas, St Bruno and other 'OK' smoking ware, but something always ensures the buying and wolfing of far too many Styrofoam bananas, coconut mushrooms or representatives of the mysteriously resilient mojo/fruit salad duopoly - these are sweets you'll be seeing again 2 hours hence on the wasteground behind the prefabs, like old friends.

Above all this sits the 'adult shelf' stocking swanky dinner party fare such as Black Magic, Dairy Box (the winsome lady on the top of a big two-pound box cloaked in a tell-tale Miss Havisham layer of dust), the dadcentric Spartan hard centres and Terry's Pyramints. Never mind 'gentlemen's relaxation periodicals', once upon a time anything placed 5' 5" or more above ground level instantly attained an aura of grown-up mystery. Height equalled sophistication. This despite the continuing popularity of Eli Woods and Tommy Cooper.

And of course, every proper shop of this kind has a mysterious vestibule which lies behind a mystical curtain of blue and orange plastic fly-proof strips, full of wooden shelves lined with wax paper in a red gingham check or wavy blue line pattern, affixed by drawing pins on the underside, yellowing and brittle in what sun there is straining through the tiny square rear window, which some obliging soul has partially cleared of dust with the finger-daubed legend 'DALGLISH 78'.

This is a sort of half-shop, half-storeroom area, which is kind of exciting as you're never sure if you're actually allowed in here, but generally contains a lot of dull, non-child-friendly sundries. Odd-looking paper-bagged bread, in particular the oddly disturbing 'milk roll'. Cylindrical and corrugated, everything about this weird, OAP-endorsed loaf seems wrong, resembling not so much bread as we know it but a calcified version of the wobbly tube of 'solid nourishment' perpetually bisected on Pedigree Chum ads.

Other oddities hang about, ever-present, never bought. A faded card bears brown shoelaces, folded up in little paper tubes. There are always exactly four missing. Great big Ever Ready batteries, plastic coated and the size of a Tea-Hee mug, present their weird spring contacts to the air. What are they ever used in? A cardboard presentation tray of sachets of Rise 'N' Shine, or some other alchemically powdered 'orange drink', defy you to guess their age.

And at the bottom of the ninth circle sits the mystery box, a rough cardboard pallet containing as sorted small tinned items that could have been there years ( and probably have, judging by the circular rusty grooves they appear to have worn in the base of the box). Toast Toppers, pea and ham baby food, Brasso, Colman's Mustard Powder, DioCalm - you pays your 10p and you quite literally takes your chance. But of course nobody does. Although Mrs Michinson's boy likes to rummage around in there of an afternoon. Always said he was a bit funny.

Coming up in five months' time: The Co-op at Christmas.


Chris Hughes said...

Who needs Proust?

In my mind, the "pop" is always mounted on a red, scaled-down version of the Judd-era Blue Peter shelving units, bearing the reassuring Corona typeface.

Oddly enough, despite orangeade being the "flagship" of the Corona range (well, all the bubbles in the adverts seemed to be orange, didn't they?), I never really got on with it. I much preferred their cherryade or limeade, or even their doubtless horrific answer to the real thing, namely 'Coola'.

I think my first exposure to the concept of inflation was the increasing deposit on Corona bottles, as delineated in bold type on the lid. I also remember the media frenzy (ie some adverts in Cheeky Weekly) circa '79 when Corona introduced their 'wide-mouthed' individual bottles.

On the subject of King Cone, I recommend this:

Planet Mondo said...

My parents ran a newsagents (on a corner too) from 82 to 89, and that is exactly my world during that time. For me the smell of summer is the frozen cardboard of ice lolly boxes.

We also had a beaten up R Whites bin outside, which dog owners would tie their mutts to. Of course the dogs would bolt with the bin attached, after any cat that caught their eye.

Modern shops just don't have the waft and giddy mix of tobacco and sweets anymore.

Couple of lost classic lollies are Lord Toffingham, Lollygobblechocbomb, Whizz Bang (lemonade flavour with sherbert inside I think). Midnight Mint choc Ice'. That big ol' dark chocolate heart on a stick and Dracula lollies.

Phil Norman said...

Chirs, I too recall the wide-neck bottle announcements. The shape of bottles was a big thing in those days - didn't the entire country go mad when milk bottles changed from the tall, slender 'pinta' to the stubby, easy-grip 'pintie'? Or was that just me?

PM - Gawd, the young me would have given anything to have had that sort of confectionery connection! Did you get to 'finish off' on-the-turn prooduce, or taunt the other kids with insider glimpses of new lines before they hit the freezer?

FeedbackReport said...

Of course, nearly as bad as having to settle for the ice creams nobody else wanted, was realising that you only had enough change to purchase an Orange/Lemonade Sparkle, or worse still, the dreaded budgetarily-advantaged Mr Men Lolly.

Another mainstay of eighties newsagents was a brief and usually disastrous excursion into other supposedly lucrative areas - that inevitable revolving stand full of paperbacks, rental videos ('nasty' ahoy), or really piss poor ZX Spectrum/C64 games...

Phil Norman said...

Ah, the embarrassment of being skint and having to plump for the 'baby' ice lollies, you're quite right! Hmm, there's a big fat boring Mark Lawson 'thinkpiece' to be written on how this sort of thing 'forged a generation of capitalists', and Margaret Thatcher did start off in the ice cream industry, didn't she, aaaaaah...?

A Kitten in a Brandy Glass said...

Thatcher, Thatcher, The Mini-Milk Snatcher?

Five-Centres said...

It was always a joy, that slightly lost its allure when I became a paperboy, but hey, I was always a Wall's man (boy), as I preferred ice cream to ice lolly. Still do.

I liked Revels, a quarter of Kola Kubes or some coke bottles made of that jelly gum. I was not a fizzy drink lover, just Corona cherryade at Grandma's house.

Oh, and of course, a Five Centres.