Our local Homebase closed some months ago. People wondered what was to become of the site. I fancifully hoped for an undercover food market. Sort of a Borough market equivilent comes to Swindon. Definitely a pie in the sky idea and just ain’t never going to happen!

My idea of market heaven.

So what did we get instead? A Lidl, that’s what we got. There’s an Aldi just five minutes away one way, and another one ten minutes if you go in the opposite direction. Where ever you look there’s a Lidl or an Aldi. The town is being overtaken by them. I have nothing against either. The quality of the food is good and of course they are great value for money which is a godsend for the majority of people who are on a tight food budget. Our shopping habits have changed over the years to suit people’s lifestyles and that we aren’t a ‘one car family’ society anymore. Gone are the days when we had to walk to the shops as the man of the house needed the car to get to work.

Saying that though, how come then in countries such as France and Italy still rely on local shops and markets to buy their food? Families surely have more than one car and their budgets must be similar. Yes they do have out of town supermarkets which they obviously use but in their high streets you can still find butchers and bakers and maybe even candlestick makers! Why have these businesses survived whereas ours have closed down?

I find it very sad that many children today don’t know what a greengrocery, butchers shop, bakery, newsagent or grocery store is because they’ve never seen one let alone been in one. To lots of them shopping means loading a trolley or basket with pre-packaged food whilst wandering up and down aisles. Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic but it’s a shame that children may grow up never knowing the joy of getting to choose a sticky bun from a shelf loaded with tempting goodies, or learning about the different cuts of meat and seeing an expert tradesman preparing joints or chops on a butchers block.

The joy of choosing a sticky bun from a cake shop display.

I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in Bristol and all of our food and much more came from the shops just up the road. Pretty much everything we needed could be bought a five minute walk away in rank of shops. There was Rogers minimarket, the closest thing we had to a supermarket. It seemed huge back then but was in reality only two aisles long and wide.Mum loved it as it was self service which was still unusual back then. Also in the rank was a wool shop with a haidresser at the back, bread shop, butchers, greengrocers, hardware store, chippie and a newsagents where we used to spend our silver tanner weekly pocket money on penny sweets every Friday. The choice was amazing but my favourite was the sherbert pips. You got a lot for your money and I used to eat them one at a time so that they would last longer. I can still remember the fizz on my tongue! On Bonfire Night my sister and I were allowed a packet of Golden Wonder crisps from the newsagent. It was the only time of the year we ate crisps!

This reminds me of the mini market mum did her daily shopping at not far from our home.
image The Woolworth Museum

Long before you could order food online and have it delivered we had tradesmen who who would appear weekly in our road. The Corona van was the most popular. Mum’s housekeeping didn’t stretch to fizzy pop and I really envied my friends who were allowed the additive laden and neon coloured cherry and lime-ade. We also had a grocery van stop in our road. I owned up to my mum years ago that I once stole money from her purse to buy chocolate from the van. Not one of my finest moments! The days of vans with goods to eat haven’t entirely disappeared from our streets. We still have ice cream vans, deliveries of organic fruit and vegetable vans and vans delivering milk, although I’ve never seen our milk van as he comes in the dead of night.

My earliest memories are of the rag and bone man on his horse and cart shouting out for any old rubbish. Wouldn’t it be great today if you could pop your broken down washing machine on a cart outside your door instead of having to lug it to the tip!

Earlier this week I watched Back in Time for the Corner Shop on BBC 2. Although this week’s episode was centred around the turn of the last century, it reminded me of how a corner shop played a big part of my childhood and early teenage years.

My nan owned such a shop on the Eastville end of Fishponds Road in Bristol. When I was very little my sister and I lived there for while as my mum had to run the shop when my nan broke her ankle. I don’t really remember much about that time but I spent most of my Saturdays there helping out once I started secondary school.

Nan’s shop was a true corner shop rather than a convenience store. She served her customers from behind a counter, probably with a fag hanging from the corner of her mouth. There were chairs available for people to sit, chatter and no doubt gossip! The shop was an important part of the community and Nan valued her customers and knew them by name. At Christmas she gave them all sherry. It was my job one year to pour out glasses of sweet sherry. I also poured myself one regularly throughout the day. Nan was more upset that I’d got through more bottles of the stuff than me being dangerously close to suffering from alcohol poisoning!

Long before online grocery shopping, Nan offered a home delivery service. One of my jobs was to carry boxes of groceries to customers houses. I loved doing this as I was often invited in for squash and a custard cream. I think this might be regarded as a safe guarding issue these days!

To a child her shop was a treasure trove and a place to explore. There was the tins of loose biscuits, a sort of pick and mix, which included a tin of broken bits. Nan used to let me choose six biscuits to take to bed if I stayed over. There was the big table where the bread orders were sorted out. Having only known sliced Mother’s Pride I discoved loaves called Bloomers, Split Tin and Concetina. Nan cooked her own ham which was sliced on lethal looking machine, along with bacon. No food hygeine stars for her then! One room was taken over by loose bags of dog food. I can still remember the smell now. There were things on the shelves and in the fridge that mum never bought for us to eat at home. Nan let me take packets of Tuc biscuits and Dairylea triangles for my tea. I still consider them a treat!

The shop wasn’t an Open All Hours kind business. It shut at 5.30pm, wasn’t open on Sundays – this was before Sunday trading was introduced – and it closed for lunch so that Nan could get her pint at the local Working Mens Club. Quite a character was my old nan!

The shop bit the dust after she sold it. Quite literally. For years it was propped up to stop it falling down and eventually it was demolished. In its place now is a new building housing an accountacy business.

Sadly there are no photos of my nan’s shop. This could well have been the same shop decades before Nan owned it or it might have been a shop on the opposite side of the road.
My nan !

I went to the new Lidl the other day for a little mooch. I was impressed with the choice and will use it but a little bit of me wished that it was my Swindon version of Borough market !