Saturday afternoon shopping

After dinner (or for those outside of Gods County, lunch) our mother would wrap us up warmly in hand knitted woollen clothing, even in summer she would wrap us up warmly in hand knitted woollen clothing, she’d put Ned in the huge pram, tying him in there with the aid of the belts and straps that it was equipped with, tie my shoes up for me, give me a clip around the ear for good luck and the instruction “Don’t dawdle”, then off we’d go – shopping on a Saturday afternoon.

Shopping on a Saturday afternoon was a task for the women of the house, women and children, I hardly ever saw a man go shopping down Kirkstall Road on a Saturday afternoon, our own father for instance took the Shopping on a Saturday Afternoon interlude as an opportunity to go to his club and play snooker and billiards all afternoon, he would have died if he’d had to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon with us.

Let me first say something about our Neds pram.

Of course it had been my pram at first but I have no recollection of riding in it, maybe it hadn’t been my pram, maybe I didn’t have a pram, but by the time Ned came along and possibly because of his frailty in his baby years they used the pram an awful lot for him.

It was huge, the car that we currently have is smaller than our Neds pram, as a three year old I always had to trot alongside it, arm upstretched to hold either our mothers hand or the handle of the pram, and frankly it was like running alongside a bus, the wheels were taller than I was and I spent many a Saturday afternoon in fear of my life as we speed-walked down Cardigan Lane, constantly torn between the need to keep up with our mother and her gargantuan baby transportation and a fate underneath the huge rear wheels, we’d trot all the way downhill towards our target, the myriad of shops on Kirkstall Road.

It was a well worn path and most of the women and children of the district trod its sandstone flags every Saturday afternoon, many propelling similar huge perambulators for not only did they provide baby transportation but they saved you having to lug several large leather shopping bags down to the shops – shopping was simply dumped inside the pram on top of whatever baby resided within.

I trotted alongside and sometimes I copped for a clip around the ear and a “Don’t dawdle”, sometimes I’d be dragged by the scruff of my neck around the back of the pram by our mother as another mother and her massive pram came along in the opposite direction for death could occur on those pavements, those prams were not easy to control and like an oil tanker took an age to stop or turn, a small child trotting alongside his own mothers pram could easily take a head-on hit from an approaching pram and the other mother wouldn’t even know about it, especially if she “had the hood up” for if she had the hood up on the pram to protect her kinder and shopping from the rain then she could not see anything forward of her pram at all.

And so we would make our way down Kirkstall Road, a mile long street of shops, in those pre-supermarket days the housewives only source of goods and fodder for her family, and in those days of low ownership of refrigeration equipment, a trip that had to be undertaken every Saturday without fail, interspersed with visits to your street end corner shop every day for perishables.

On our arrival onto Kirkstall Road we’d start on “the opposite side” and work our way down the dozens of independent traders, each a specialist in their own field of vending, if you wanted vegetables you went to the fruit and veg shop, need some tinned goods you’d go to the grocer, a new mop would entail queueing outside the hardware shop – I say all of these things because the solution these days is to “Go to {insert your local supermarket}” to obtain any household goods of any description – in the 1960s your mother still shopped at little local independents, a practice that is now largely unfamiliar to this current supermarket generation.

The only problem with this arrangement was that all the other mothers in the neighbourhood shopped in exactly the same shops at exactly the same time, and these shops weren’t self service either, oh no, when you eventually got to the front of the queue you stood on one side of the counter and the shop owner stood on the other, with all the goods on show behind him, you told him what you wanted, he went and fetched it, you gossiped a bit about the weather, paid him and left to join the queue outside the shop next door.

And so we would slowly wander down one side of Kirkstall Road and back up the other, all Saturday afternoon it took and at each shop our mother would have to queue for service and I would wait outside with the pram, still clutching its handle with a grip that a Titan could not release for if I was spotted letting go of the pram then woe would betide me, for as our mother would explain at each and every shop, “You wait here with the pram and if I see you letting go of it, well, woe betide you, thats all”

Even when that revolution in womens Saturday shopping, the first Fine Fare supermarket, opened halfway down Kirkstall Road, , even then we still did the tour of the independents for like other women our mother did not like the supermarkets, the gossip in the queues complained endlessly of how you had to go and get your own goods off the shelves, can you imagine such a thing, and then queue at a till while that dopey girl who lives up in The Harolds unloads your basket and leaves you to put the stuff in your own shopping bag, ridiculous, it will never catch on they said, not while this nice Mr Hardaker gets the stuff of his shelves for you and then puts them in your pram as part of the service, anyway, you’d never get a pram down those Fine Fare aisles – a ridiculous idea, it won’t last…

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