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Shopping and Running the Home

In went the brown paper parcel, eggs on top. To my horror, they slipped down and were all broken and dripping from the bag.


Mrs Cottis, our upstairs neighbour was a lazy woman and Mother used to clean her home and also do the big pile of washing she used to accumulate.  She used to kick on her floor in the flat above us and I had to go running to do her bidding, whether it be to look after Arthur, her son, two years older than the baby, Jean, or go on an errand or fetch coal up.   I liked Mr Cottis; he was a nice man, he used to ask me upstairs to listen to Children’s Hour on the crystal set.  I put on the earphones whilst he tickled the cat’s whisker and I used to raise my finger when I could hear the programme.

I used to get Mrs Cottis’ shopping at the Co-op, which was the biggest grocery shop at that time.  They didn’t have much pre-packed stuff in those days.   The assistants were very deft at making packets from squares of paper.  Mainly blue, and no fancy checkouts then; they used to reckon up the goods on the side of the sugar bag.  If you bought a fair number of things, they would parcel them up neatly in brown paper, except the eggs, which were put in a paper bag – no egg cartons.

Once I remember, on a shopping expedition, I had a string bag, so in went the brown paper parcel and the eggs on top.  I went merrily on my way home and halfway there, to my horror, the eggs had slipped down and were all broken and dripping from the bag!  They all thought it so comical that I didn’t get punished.

The assistants used to put the bill and the money tendered into a wooden cup and screw it to the cap which was fixed to a pulley wire and pull the handle and it was sent along to the cashier who sent back the change.

I got 1d from most people for whom I went shopping and more often than not, would give it to Mother to put into the gas meter.  She got three hours of gas for that.  It was a good day when the man from the gas company came to empty the meter, once in three months.  Mother would always get a rebate, perhaps a shilling or more, but it was always welcome.

Where I liked going best was Miss Brown’s.  I used to take her bets; it was street betting in those days.  She lived with her father and he looked quite old to me, but he was very nice.  He would be singing hymns to his tropical birds, whilst Miss Brown was studying the ‘Sporting Man’.

He always gave 2d for going with bets, always with the warning to watch out for the police as street betting was an offence even then, although there were no betting shops.  If her horses won, she would give me 6d, which was wealth indeed, I always gave it to Mother.  She could buy a pound of sausages, or put 1d towards it and buy one pound of stewing steak, “best Argentine”, as Father would say.  It needed slow and careful cooking; it was not of the best quality.  A lot of Argentine meat was imported in those days.

Mother did the washing and ironing for about four people: Mrs Cottis; Mrs Cowan, the dressmaker; and the stationmaster’s wife Mrs Boyd; and the Erlingtons, two sisters who lived together in Westmoreland Avenue.  Washing was a long and tedious process in those days.

First, the fire had to be lit under the set pot to heat the water; that was in the washhouse in the yard, then the pre-soaked clothes had to be put through the big wooden rollers of the mangle, then scraped with a bar of blue mottled soap.  The towels and dirty articles had to be scrubbed with a hard brush on the bench in the washhouse.  Empty the big wooden poss tub and put in the hot water with some carbosil, a kind of powdered soda; quarter of a packet would be about right.  It was 2d a packet, no soap powders available till later.   Compo was the first one I can remember from the Co-op.

The customers used to provide the soap etc., so Mother often didn’t have to buy any except some soap to scrub the lino on the floors in the house.  We all used to get washed with blue mottled.  A lot of things had to be starched, no easy-care material in those days.  Mother would stay up till late doing the ironing so that I could take the clean aired washing in a big clothes basket to the respective customers before going to school.

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