How memories contribute to identity


Memories from a visit to the Blists Hill outdoor museum plus feelings of identity standing in a Cumbrian field have awakened even more intense memories that I am sure have a lot to do with my past 6 months family history research. Rolling all of these things together takes me back to when we had no supermarkets in England, no plastic bags polluting the planet, a different shop for different foods, and a conversation in every shop with neighbours in our village community. So how did it work?

Ten bob, or ten shillings from the mid 1950s equals 50p as a direct conversion in today’s UK currency. But using a Purchasing Power Calculator it would actually be worth £11.80 in value today

I walked out of the front door at 2 Bankfield Rd, Haverigg, Cumbria with a ten bob note in one pocket, a shopping list in the other, a rolled up leather shopping bag under my arm, and a quart metal container in my hand. I knew what it said on the list, but I was thinking more about what sweets I could get for a tanner, 6d (or 5p value to you in today’s money). Wine gums, acid drops, sherbet dips, liquorice tablets. Hmm, not a school day so the effect of the liquorice wouldn’t be so disastrous!

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First stop was Floyds towards the top of the village for paraffin for our lamps. I needed to get that first then come back down the street for the rest of the shopping closer to home. Old man Floyd filled my can from the pump and took my ten bob note in payment. He held it up to the light inspecting it like it was maybe from a Christmas cracker or Monopoly money. Thankfully it passed inspection and I was given my change which I slipped into my pocket and set off back down Main Street to the civilised end of the village!
I walked slowly past the sweet shop on the corner of Atkinson Street, Milligans, but didn’t stop as I didn’t know yet how much change I’d have left from my dwindling ten bob.
A few yards further on I slipped into Singletons, the vegetable shop. “Is Chris in?” I asked Mrs S, “no you’re too late son, he’s gone out up Three Cornered Woods I think”. Damn, I wanted to go up there myself today and had missed out. Ten minutes later I had leeks, onions, carrots and a large swede making a mess inside my shopping bag as the soil from the carrots and leeks decided life was better at the bottom of my bag.

I now walked past the butchers and the fish & chip shop before crossing over to enter the best shop in the village, Fox’s.The smell inside Fox’s is something that stays with you for life. Imagine this; fresh ground coffee beans, smoked hams and bacon. This was an old fashioned grocers or dry goods store as the Americans would call it. Sacks of dried peas, split peas, lentils, white beans; sacks of coffee, tins of teas; hams hanging on hooks and bacon lean and streaky on the counter. And a marvellous slicing machine, hand cranked, sharp as a razor which gave me the 6 slices of bacon required, cut number 5, whatever that meant! I also bought a pound (lb) of dried peas and a pound of lentils for overnight soaking ready for the soup pot tomorrow. Now I could go back to Milligans for my liquorice tablets and still have plenty of change left from that dear old ten bob note!

Why this day came back to me so late in life I have absolutely no idea. It is a day that was repeated so many times, sometimes different shops, often different items to buy. But some things were constant, like paraffin at Floyds and dry goods at Fox’s. There were no supermarkets in those days and nothing was self service; you waited in line then told the shopkeeper what you wanted. Everyone knew everyone else, they asked you about your mum, your school, how things were in the garden or allotment, there was conversation in every shop. Real people, real conversation, real community. What happened to it?

11 thoughts on “How memories contribute to identity

  1. This is lovely. I would give so much for any of my ancestors to have just written down “a day in the life,” or even a few hours of an afternoon. We tend to think the small details are mundane and who’d want to read them, but we have no way of really predicting how much life is going to change and in what ways and what younger generations won’t be able to even really understand without this kind of context. “Things are different now” might be true, but *this* shows people *how* things are different and what that really means for people and family and communities… what it *means* to really feel like you’re from somewhere, of somewhere, instead of just *being* somewhere… neat stuff, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And, thank you for commenting in such a thoughtful way. The experience I described happened around 60 years ago. I’m really surprised I remembered 😂😂

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  2. What a nice memory. Thanks for sharing it. The community we live in Spain is very friendly and people do stop and chat. Perhaps because most of us come from somewhere else and miss our friends and family. Also, many of us are retired and have time to shot the breeze. One of the things I like about living here.

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  3. In small town Saskatchewan (where I grew up) we had our choice of two general stores that sold everything you needed and nothing you didn’t. But the rest of your shopping experience is the same as what I remember — everywhere we went, be it store, bank (when we still had one), post office, garage or grain elevator, we ran into neighbours and spent more time visiting than we did shopping. Definitely not today’s shopping experience unless you still live in a small town. I think we developed a much stronger sense of what it’s like to belong to community than you do these days in big cities where everyone, except maybe your immediate neighbour, is anonymous.

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    1. Agree totally Margaret, I haven’t felt like I belonged to any community since the 1970s except when visiting my wife’s home in Kathmandu. And, thank you for sharing your experience too 🙏🙏

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  4. We used to get a thrupenny bit for sweets sometimes after school, if Mum was in a good mood. Round to the corner shop near home to choose our four-for-a-penny chews and other tooth-rotting goodies. Those were the days…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And another! Ten bob was what I got paid once for working a whole weekend on a local farm, milking cows in the morning and digging ditches the rest of each day!

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