Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Shopping in my street as a child

My grandparents who had a hairdresser's shop
With Christmas approaching we all start to think of last minute shopping. I have fond memories of the street on which I lived as a child, and have used them in many of my books.

My grandparents ran a hairdresser’s shop just a few doors away from our shoe shop. Grandad was one of the first to do permanent waving, building his own machine which was clamped to the lady’s head with curling grips. What would have happened had there been a fire I dread to think. Women saved up in a club for a perm, queuing up the stairs for their turn.

My favourite shop was the bakers where there was always that tempting smell of freshly baked bread, a delicious array of cakes, muffins and currant tea cakes. A custard slice for our tea on a Saturday was our weekly treat, following a hot meat and potato pie, the pastry rich and crisp, the smell of it so intoxicating I can recall it to this day. The baker also sold cold ham, roast beef and tongue, potted meats, polony, raised pork pies, and sausage rolls. Queues would form outside the shop every lunchtime in eager anticipation of a delicious snack. Tuesday was roast pork day. I would ask for a quarter, thinly sliced, and the baker’s wife would take the chunk of pork over to the slicer and quickly carve some off then wrap it in greaseproof paper. She never weighed anything, except in her hands.

The ironmongers smelled of paraffin, varnish and firewood. There you could find everything from candles and scrubbing brushes to knitting wool, shoe polish, glue, torch batteries, bicycle pumps, and any size of screw and nail you might ever need. It was owned by a big, jolly man whose eyesight grew so bad over the years that he would have to hold the screw right up to his nose to judge its size. He wore a khaki apron that reached to his ankles and would take infinite care to find just the right size of screw to fit your bolt, or weigh out your pound of one inch nails till it bounced on the scales.

Jolly Mr Greenwood and plump Mrs Greenwood ran the little grocer’s shop. Grocers wore long white aprons, were very civil to customers if not always to children. If you happened to be in a hurry then you would just have to wait because he took his time as everything had to be cut and carefully wrapped. Butter would be cut in slabs and patted into shape with long wooden bats, then wrapped in grease proof paper. If a man was in a hurry, however, he would generally be served before a woman, even if she was there first. Her permission for this was never asked. Children were frequently overlooked completely. I was generally ignored until everyone else in the shop had been served, then Mr Greenwood would give me a few currants as if to reward my patience and say: ‘Now, Freda, I have some nice sliced ham your mother would like.’ Even mum had to be grateful for whatever he offered, so I never refused. I was great friends with their son who spent much of his time sulking in the back room, though he was a useful friend to have as he could provide a ready supply of sticks of liquorice and Coltsfoot rock. He was also allowed to stay up late and listen to the radio, and later a twelve inch television set, which we didn’t have. I was hugely jealous.

The milk cart called every morning. You knew the milkman was on his way when you heard the rattle of wheels and the clip of the horse’s hooves over the setts. He wore a trilby hat pulled right down over his ears, and he would call out in a loud voice, ‘Muilk, muilk! He ladled this from the big metal churns into the jugs the women brought to him. I certainly remember running to the back of his trap with my jug and watching as the frothy fresh milk was poured in, no doubt unpastuerised. Coal, fish, fruit and vegetables and many other things were sold in the same way. The horses were always trimmed up with bows and ribbons on May Day.

All the shops would decorate their shops for Christmas, and often display a nativity in the shop window.
 I remember the lady in the draper’s shop at the end of our row. She was a thin, very proper looking woman with tightly permed hair and a slight lisp. She sold ribbons and laces, knitting patterns and wool of every colour and hue. Her shop always smelt new and exciting, and she could measure a length of tape or blue ribbon without recourse to tape measure by stretching it from the tip of her nose, along the length of her arm to her fingers.

As for the man in the fish and chip shop, he was fat and blubbery in a soiled apron who fried the fish and chips to perfection, crisp and delectable on the outside, piping hot within. His head was bald and gleamed as if greased from the fat on his hands, and he never wore any other expression but a grin on his round face. He was called Charlie. Everyone would go to Charlie’s for their fish and chips.

Now Mrs Addison at the toy shop had the patience of Job. She’d stand for half an hour while a child agonised over how to spend their Saturday penny. Her shop was filled with treasures. Foreign stamps from countries with mysterious names like Mauritious, Aden and The Gold Coast. Dinkie cars, farm animals, plastic water pistols, marbles with swirling patterns on them, tops and whips and skipping ropes with coloured handles.

She also entered into the community spirit by stocking a library of romances for overworked mums. For a penny you could borrow the latest Ethel M. Dell for a week. And she also sold gob stoppers, dolly mixtures, aniseed balls, pear drops, Pontefract cakes, rose creams and Sarsaparilla. Perhaps this was my favourite when I was very young.

Later it was the record shop where you could stand in a booth and listen to the latest Elvis Presley number played to you before you bought it. But whatever my age, shopping in our street was always a joy.

Harriet, who works for her mother Joyce in a hairdresser's shop on Champion Street, does not have to deal with a risky perming machine, but she does have other problems.

It’s the day of her beloved father’s funeral and Harriet can hardly take in her grandmother’s words. Joyce, the woman she has always called Mam, isn’t her real mother after all. At least that explains why Joyce has always favoured Harriet’s brother, Grant – blood is thicker than water. Her emotions in turmoil, Harriet discovers a streak of rebellion that puts into jeopardy everything she holds dear. Can she come back from the brink or will her life be full of lonely teardrops?

You can find it here: Amazon 

Happy Christmas everyone, and do enjoy your shopping. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

A Writer's Day

Hi Again,
I am often asked where I write and when and so on and what my average day is like, so here goes, though.  it's not exactly riveting stuff.  My routine varies depending on the seasons because, fitted into my day, I have to walk my dog and as early as possible.  This is no problem to me as I am a natural early riser. so in the summer I am on the beach or up the hills near my house.before seven.
Conwy Mountains.
The Great Orme where my grandsons were collecting Fossils

However, as the days grow shorter I have to go out later and later, so that now for example it is eight o-clock before it's light enough, but I wake at the same time, so in the winter I spend time at my computer before the walk.  But what ever time it is, that walk sets me up for the rest of the day.  It really wakes me up, gives me a chance to play with my dog, or catch up with fellow dog walkers, or to have some thinking time.
Once home again, and with the two of us fed and watered, I go up to my study and stay there until lunchtime.  My husband organises lunch and when I have that eaten I go back to the study to open emails, look on Facebook and Twitter .and edit work I have hopefully done hat morning. before returning to my work in progress.

I stop work  about 6.30 and return after dinner if I have a lot on, or a deadline looming..  If I do not need to go back to the study it's time to relax, gin and tonic in hand and listen to music, watch a bit of telly or read. As, like many writers, I spend a lot of time alone and so it's nice to go the Novelistas once a month and meet with fellow writers where I also feel supported and encouraged.  Check us out, we are a friendly lot Novelistasink.blogspot.co.uk .  I also like to go down to London occasionally to see editors and agents and for writing parties and functions, but however nice all this junketing is, a great deal of time needs to be spent at home to get any books written at all.

So there you have it.  An average day in my life.  Didn't I warn you it wasn't interesting?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Christmas Carol

On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens’s ‘Christmas Carol’ was published. The story is one of my favourites. Not just because of the seasonal plot line, heart-warming characters and cracking dialogue, but because the real essence of Christmas is conveyed with a delightful simplicity. The story is about a family and one wealthy but lonely and disillusioned man. We join Scrooge in his misery and poor Bob Cratchit, in his hope of being released from his labours in time to celebrate Christmas with his family. There is crisp white snow falling, perhaps a piping hot succulent turkey to come. Dickens shows us it’s the love shared in a family who hardly have enough money to feed themselves, that is most important. And, more. At the heart of Christmas Carol is the promise of transformation. Scrooge, haunted by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, mends his ways and brings to both himself and the once doomed Cratchit family, happiness beyond belief. A bright future. Just as the Bible tells of the hope of Christmas, a new life born into the world that will change our lives for the better. All religions, faiths and belief systems have wonderful, uplifting stories of their own to share. When times are hard, we have these stories to inspire us, none the least, A Christmas Carol. Thank you Charlie, for your gift, published well over a hundred and fifty years ago. So happy Christmas everyone! And, like the Cratchits, may we all remember to enjoy the small blessings just as much as the big ones. Very often, they are the most precious.