‘Once there were grocers: How I long for the old days when I do my shopping’

Apr 03, 2021
Are you being served? Jacqui longs for the grocery shopping experience of the past. Source: Getty Images

Once it was simple, you went to a shop full of beautiful smelling cheeses and real ham in a large piece and told the man what you wanted. Okay, that is perhaps a very simplified view of shopping in the 1940s and ’50s. Life moves on, progress pushes us into another decade and the introduction of supermarkets meant we had everything at our fingertips.

The clock had moved forward a little and I was shopping in New Zealand. It was 1961 and I was bare foot wandering across the rough ground, wearing a shift dress and pushing our baby daughter. I only had 5 pounds a week to do all my housekeeping. We lived on a lot of flake (shark) and mince, as I recall.

My supermarket was more of a milk bar, it just had the basics, so I walked to the other end of town for meat or fish. I never had huge bags of groceries; we lived on very little. Big shopping was done sometimes at a department store — Farmers in Auckland on Friday nights — and I could buy exotic things like halva, a sweet treat, or ground coffee; no drinking in restaurants or anywhere else.

The only wine we drank was out at the wineries, when we sampled them all and staggered home. That could not happen now. We could buy a large plastic bottle of sherry or port for very little. Not that we really drank in those days.

Between the 1970s and 1980s, our shopping was done in supermarkets in England. I had three small children, and had to walk to any shops. Carrying bags was difficult, which meant shopping frequently. I had a twin push chair and a child hanging on to the side. I bought lots of cereal and cheese, and again mince to keep us going. There were things like an English special — faggots: tasty ready-cooked hamburger style food.

The children ate well and I counted myself lucky they were not fussy eaters. I made lots of apple pie and sponge cakes, and learned how to make rolls and bread. The supermarket trips were done in the car by the time they went to school. We were filling shopping trolleys and, as my husband became more successful, we were buying at a large food chain that stocked frozen and bulk foods.

When I look back I know the shelves were not as full of diverse products we have on the shelves today. There was no ‘gluten free’ or soy-based foods. If you had diet problems you just coped, I guess.

I remember we able to pay by cheque too, having to write it out as you got through the checkout. No tapping a card in those days.

I often had huge boxes of goods — it was packed in boxes more often then — so I’d to hire a taxi to pick me up and take me home.

The growing family needed bulk supplies. We needed so much cereal when the boys were growing up I bought a large box of Weetbix, a few huge boxes of Corn Flakes and a crate of milk. Yet, the joy is, none of my children have ever been overweight, so I must have got something right.

We often went to out of town complexes that were full of bulk supplies, a little like the Cosco of today. We had a card for one, as my husband had a business. We got into luxuries, like bags of prawns and fancy ice cream cakes, and of course as by then our lives had changed and we were buying wine for dinner parties.

Beyond the ’80s, I was not needing to feed the children as often as they had moved on. One was in London and our daughter had moved into her own home, so when the youngest went off to conquer the world we were able to shop just for us. By 1983 we lived in Bath. We ate out frequently and I shopped for a different lifestyle.

Shops had changed too, specialist grocers had returned. Bath was full of coffee shops, specialist cheese shops and continental meat shops, and beautiful fruit and vegetable grocers with exotic fruits. There was wine and boutique beers, and amazing cake shops. Life was good.

I shopped at Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer in those days. They sold wonderful ready made meals and, according to our daughter, still do.

These days we shop at our local supermarket, and also at Aldi. Our needs are simple, but we live well. Good food, fresh quality; we self-serve, and pack it ourselves.

But at my age, I am 82 this year, I am over it! I am finding searching for the item I need is no longer easy. The coronavirus pandemic means we’ve had to wear our masks when out and about, and although I comply, it can be wearying. I am tired of packing it all away every time and it has not been easy to get the help I need from our supermarket; they have Click and Collect, but in practical terms I just can’t get into it, so I’ve given up.

Take me back to the old days please, when you sat on a chair and the shop keeper served you … I can dream

What are your favourite memories of grocery shopping in days gone by? What do you appreciate about shopping today?

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