We all knew the old corner shop when we were kids. Every street had a shop, usually owned by a family, where you could buy almost anything for long hours every day, except Sunday, of course. You could buy anything from a candle, during a power cut, first aid supplies for accidents and even boxes of chocolates for your sweetheart, in addition to a myriad of grocery items.
The corner shop was always a palace of delight for children as they all had the “penny tray”. This would be a large tray or drawer filled with all sots of disgustingly sweet offerings designed to rot little teeth. Some things were two, three or four for one penny and some things one penny each.
With the patience of Job, the shopkeepers would let their littlest customers drool and paw over everything on the proffered tray. These were their future customers and their parents were regulars, so they catered to the grubby kids with pennies clutched in little dirty fingers. I used to give my four girls a few pennies each on a Saturday morning and knew that I could probably clean the whole house while they were ogling the penny tray and making their choices. Once home, they would all sit outdoors with their bounty and chomp their way through the lot.
These shops were overpriced, carried goods of dubious quality and were not always too clean, but they were reliable. You could quite often buy just one cigarette, if it was nearly payday and your purse was banging on empty. If you were out of cash altogether, you could get credit, or, as it was known in Lancashire, on tick!
“On tick” was a very common way to go in those days and the corner shop could always be relied upon to supply goods when you had no money to buy them. Because of this, the higher prices and poorer quality were forgiven. If the potatoes had a couple of sprouts growing out of them or the bread was less than fresh, at least you could make a meal when funds were short, or non existent.
Bigger stores frowned on this way of doing business so being poor meant putting up with poorer stuff but still being able to make dinner. I think that many people owed half their wages to the corner store so, once they settled their account on Friday evening, they started buying on credit again, by Monday.
Those were the days when the week always lasted longer than the wage packet as wages were low and families were quite often large. Our meals were cheap and cheerful but always filling and always followed by pudding, as dessert was called in England.
Apart from smoking, people didn’t spend much money on luxuries. Very few people went out in the evenings so Saturday was usually date night. Friday was reserved for family bathing, usually everyone in the same water, the youngest first. But Saturday morning saw hair up in curlers as chores were done and then Saturday night was the big night of the week.
Young couples usually went out dancing at the local dance hall, even small towns had a dance hall, if not one of the churches put on a dance. Mums and dads usually went to the pub or a club on Saturday night, usually the Legion or somewhere similar, where you spent the evening with the same friends week after week.
Sunday was always church followed by a big lunch, always called dinner, and then most families got together for a walk in the country usually followed by a family tea. In those days, most married children lived in the same area as their parents, so grandchildren were left “at gran’s house” if needing to be looked after. No such thing as day-care back then. Mothers usually stayed home and looked after their own children, at least until they were of school age. Nobody thought to earn extra money for a second car, in fact very few people had one car.
Cars were indeed a luxury as most people worked within walking distance of their home or, if needed, they would catch a bus. The few fortunate souls who did have a car only used it for outings. Grocery shopping was done near home and on foot as supermarkets had not yet come on the scene, so everyone shopped locally.
There was usually a rather bigger shop that had a better quality of goods and a bigger variety of options, but usually a green-grocers was used for all produce and a butcher for the family’s meat and just dry goods from the general store. These were our weekend shopping venues, but once Thursday rolled around and the money was gone, it was back to the old corner shop.