Shopping with our dad

It was just hard-wired in his brain, our dad would never buy anything for full price if he could get it second hand, or knocked off.

Everything we owned in the house was either pre-owned (nowt wrong with it, Sammy in the club told me about it, just lying on a pile of rubbish round the back of the bins it was), knocked off (I’ve got some in the boot of my car Frank, a fire sale it was, just don’t ask who started the fire ok) or came from the Green Shield Stamp shop at the bottom of Briggate.

I must have been about eight years old when I went out one Saturday morning with our dad, he worked in his office doing paperwork every Saturday so I sat there at Doreens (his secretary’s) desk and drew on her blotting pad for a couple of hours then with the car blocking the alleyway around the back of the Metropol Hotel and leaving the keys with a Sergeant in the Army Recruitment Office just in case it needed moving we walked up Briggate to Lucas the Jewellers, a Jewish jewellery wholesalers of his acquaintance where he bought the clock spares for his other little sideline in repairing watches and clocks (he had several little sideline earners – they paid for our holidays), and after an indeterminable amount of time spent chewing the fat with the most outrageously stereotypical Jewish traders – all waving arms, false outrage and “Oye Vays” – we walked down to Leeds Market.

It was strange being in the market with my dad, our mum dragged us down there for the food shopping every Saturday afternoon but I hardly ever went anywhere with my dad, he had his work and his snooker and his several money earning sidelines and little time to spend with Ned an I, but we strolled through the market this Saturday morning and he pointed out to me where the traders were hiding the bad fruit and palming it into the bottom of bags when women weren’t looking, he told me not to ever buy meat on butchers row because it wasn’t fit for dogs and they weren’t proper butchers anyway (they were but who was I to argue at eight years of age) I made him walk up pets row and showed him the hamster that I wanted, “they smell a lot” he said (they didn’t but who was I to argue at eight years old)  and finally we came to the open air market stalls at the bottom end of the markets where he declared we had been sent on a mission by the woman of our household to buy a lamp for the top of the telly.

Every house had to have its decorative lights, usually a “standard lamp”, a six foot high candlestick with a big flouncy frilly light shade on top that stood behind the man of the house’s chair illuminating over his shoulder so he could read the paper, or in our case a smaller affair to sit on top of the TV set, in case for some unexplained reason the TV set needed illuminating.

In fact in 1960s houses illumination was big business, in our house we were illuminated from at least four different sources, all of them containing light bulbs of at least 150 watts, most winters nights you could turn the heating off and rely on the light fittings to keep our front room warm and the brightness of the room hurt your eyes and faded the print off that nights newspaper within hours of it arriving.

We walked the row upon row of stalls selling all sorts of household goods and assorted crap until eventually we came upon an auction stall, the sort of stall where the trader gathers a crowd around and then starts piling plates and cups and saucers up on his outstretched arm and promising the housewives that they’ll never see a bargain like this in their lives again, this all has to go today and I’m not asking two quid for it, oh no, I’m not even asking thirty bob, all this love, all of this for just twenty five bob and I’ll throw in some side plates too – and the women loved him and threw their money at him whether or not they actually needed a new tea service that week.

Our dad stood and watched intently for a while, we stood for what seemed like ages to me, our dad never saying a word, just catching the auctioneer’s eye now and again and nodding as if they were old friends – he’d never met him in his life but you could see that the auctioneer was intrigued now.

After three or four auctions of tea services the auctioneer could stand it no longer, he paused, glanced over to our dad and asked if there was something he wanted – the dozens of women shoppers all turned to stare at us, I hid behind my dads legs.

“How much for the cat lamp ?” he asked of the auctioneer and it was then that I noticed on a shelf right at the back of the stall a pottery Siamese cat with an elongated neck and a light shade on its head – a cat lamp – someone in a pottery factory somewhere had obviously decided that the new range of pot cats would not be big sellers and so had stuck a light bulb on their heads, its the only reasonable explanation I can think of.

“A fiver mate” replied the auctioneer
“pfft!” replied our dad with a dismissive wave of his hand and made to walk away
“Hang on mate, tell you what, make it four quid for cash and its yours” and he started to take it down off the shelf
“I’ll give you a quid for it”
“Nah mate, its worth more than that, call it thirty bob”
“Fifteen bob”
“Hang on, you just said a quid before”
“I’m going off it, call it ten bob” and he started to walk away again with me still clinging to his trouser leg
“DEAL MATE !” the auctioneer cried to our dads back as he walked away up the row of stalls.

I got to carry the light shade back to the car, my dad carried the pot cat, “That son, is how you barter for stuff” he told me like a wise old sage, it was advice that I have never once put into practice for I just can’t do that, I’d have given the auctioneer five quid and thanked him for the exchange, ultimately as I grew into manhood I disappointed my dad so many times when I brought stuff home that I’d bought and he’d ask “How much did you pay for that then ?” and on every occasion he would know someone who could have got it for half that price.

Our mother went crackers when she saw the cat lamp and I have to admit that it did look ridiculous sitting on top of the TV set with a light bulb on its head but it stayed there for the next twenty years.


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