For most people, it’s the weekend. Time for shopping, routine chores, perhaps a lie-in, after a busy week at work. For me, it’s just another day of the week now, one when shops will be more crowded, car park spaces harder to find, and staying at home is definitely the best option.
In the past, Saturday was the best day of the week, as far as I was concerned. My parents were usually at home, and my comics were delivered early on Saturdays too. I could read them in bed, delaying having to get ready to accompany my Mum to the shops. Men didn’t go shopping in my youth. That was something wives did, as a rule. The interiors of the cooked meat and cheese shop, the butcher’s shop, or the genial greengrocer’s display, such things were unknown to male shoppers. Their retail experience only extended to visiting the tobacconist, getting a suit measured, or popping into the barber’s for a haircut. And shopping involved walking, not driving. If a certain shop was too far, then we had to catch a bus to it.
Mostly, we walked to local shops, most only a few streets away. The owners of those shops were familiar. We knew their names, and the names of their children too. They might be invited to a family party, and shoppers would enquire about the health of their relatives. If something new was available, they would suggest my Mum might like to try it, and if she didn’t have the right change, or was short by a few pence, she could drop it in later, no questions asked. I walked around with my Mum, listening to the shop-keepers say things like, “He’s getting big”, or “What happened to his curly hair?” I stood patiently, as she gossiped for ages. They talked about local young men, away in foreign countries on National Service. They discussed people who had just had surgery, speculating on how they might, or might not, recover.
The climax of such Saturday shopping expeditions would be a visit to the bustling street market in Southwark Park Road, known as ‘the Blue’. Shouting stall-holders offering supposed bargains, people crowding around their gaudy displays, and the smells of everything from the jellied eel stall, to the overwhelming odour of frying from the fish and chip shop. After my duties as companion and bag-carrier, I would be rewarded with a doughnut from Edwardes bakery shop. This was usually a simple one, but would occasionally be a cream-filled split. I didn’t know the cream wasn’t real cream of course, and I didn’t care.
The string shopping bags would cut into my hands, causing me to keep swapping them from one side to the other, in the hope that would make some difference. I had to keep putting them down too, to pull up my long knee-socks, as they never wanted to stay up on their own, despite the elastic round the tops. When we eventually got home, lunch would be ham rolls, with fresh fragrant bread rolls bought at the same time as the doughnuts. My Dad would be watching TV, always sport, and I would be allowed to go out and play, if the weather was good. Otherwise, I would go to my room, re-read those comics, then take down a book, perhaps my World Atlas.
Saturday night was a big night for my family. The adults would all be getting ready to meet at the local pub, wearing their best clothes, and smelling of after-shave and perfume. I would have to go to my grandmother’s house, where all my cousins would congregate, awaiting the return of their parents from the pub. They came back happy and laughing, smelling of beer and cigarette smoke. Sometimes, I would already be asleep, and would have to be woken up to go home to my own bed.
Saturday was a long day back then.