There are files to numerous to mention in The Museum of Recollections, most of which aren’t recorded in date order at all but in a sort of random order that only becomes apparent when your browsing the filing cabinets – you’ll turn up a record card with “Baby Bear Frightens Me” for instance and stapled to the back of it will be another completely and seemingly unrelated event entitled “Eating Soup Under An Escalator” and its only when you’re standing in my shoes that you understand the perfect symmetry between these two record cards, and why they are stapled together.
Baby Bear frightened the life out of me once when I was very small, so much so that if I ever meet a proper grizzly bear in the wild then I will run for a mile, at least a mile, even if its not chasing me, and believe me, for me to run a mile would be some achievement but when you meet a real life grizzly bear in the wild its no use looking around for a taxi to take you that mile away.
Every christmas in Leeds the department store known as Lewis’s would decorate the toy section on the top floor, they’d make a Santa’s grotto and have a tunnel of animated stuff for kids to marvel at and for parents to pay for kids to marvel at, if we’d ever stopped to make note we’d probably have realised that it was the same animated stuff every year but still, it was a magical childrens world of glitter, christmas lights and animated rabbits that waved as you walked past and you waved back.
One year they assembled a small house, nothing more than a kids play shed really but they put some twinkly lights on it and a small table and chair inside and hung a sign on it informing everyone that THIS was the three bears house and to prove it your kids can walk inside and there on the table are three bowls of porridge, a big bowl, a medium bowl…anyway, you know the story.
So the four year old me lets go of his Mother and his Auntie Beattie’s hands and he runs inside the three bears house and sits down at the table in true Goldilocks stylee and I’m shouting out of the window at my Mother and my Auntie Beattie that this REALLY IS the three bears house and they must all be out for a walk ro something when there’s a noise at the door and my Mother and my Auntie Beattie are laughing at something…
…and I turn around towards the door, and there, filling the doorway, is Baby Bear, and let me tell you, it might have been a Baby Bear to the adults but to the four year old me it was the biggest frikkin grizzly bear I had ever seen so far in my short life, still is actually, being the only one I’ve ever seen in my now bit longer life so far.
I shat myself, no-one had told me that there would be bears and everything.
Eating soup under an escalator was another Lewis’s one from way, way back, no further than that, way back in the early 1960’s someone at Lewis’s department store decided that what their customers really wanted when they came to shop in their huge multi-floored department store, the sort of department store that sold EVERYTHING, the sort of department store that doesn’t exist now, it had floor walkers in suits, everything, what they decided in their wisdom was that their clientel, like my mother for instance, what she would really like while shopping in their emporium of everything you could ever wish to buy, would be a bowl of soup.
“But where will we sell this soup Mr Lewis’s ?” the general manager must have asked and the answer came back via telex from head office, “Find somewhere”, and so the call went out into the department store for all of the department heads to search hard on their floorspace for a small unused area that could host a soup counter and maybe four or five small tables and believe it or not soft furnishings came up with such a space, a space that was of no use to them, the space underneath one of the escalators.
And so each week, as a special treat, our mother would take us, and sometimes our grandmother would come too, to that small counter underneath the escalators where a specially selected small woman tended the two soup cauldrons, and I’d get to pick from one or the other, tomato or minestrone – in theory the choice should have changed, but in actuality it never did, “Whats on today ?” my mother would ask more in hope than expectation, “Tomato or minestrone” the specially selected small woman, specially selected so that she wouldn’t keep banging her head ont he sloping escalator roof to her soup counter, would reply – its where my still present taste for minestrone soup was acquired, bowl of soup and a bread roll, sit at a small iron table in your winter coat while other people shoved past you on their quest to select soft furnishings.
And in the same filing cabinet of retail memories I find a record card with the title Greenwoods in the County Arcade writ in my own handwriting and I think to myself “But surely not, for as everyone knows, Greenwoods was the sort of shop where your dad shopped”, how on earth would a trendy 1970s teenager like myself find himself shopping in Greenwoods in the County Arcade ?
The answer is of course “The vagaries of fashion” for ’tis the vagaries of fashion that found me standing inside Greenwoods Mens Outfitters in the County Arcade with Patrick Stewart, waiting to be served by an ancient old man who appeared to be frightened by our presence as well he may for Patrick Stewart was wearing his skinhead uniform of Crombie overcoat with red ‘kerchief int he top pocket, two peaks sharply pointing forth, in fact it wasn’t a red ‘kerchief carefully folded at all but two pieces of red cloth stuck to a piece of cardboard but the old lad didn’t know that – patrick Stewart wasn’t a skinhead by the way, he just thought he was, the haircut sort of gave him away though for the fundamental first principle of being a skinhead is that your head should be shaved and his wasn’t, in fact his hair was longer than mine and thats saying something.
Me ? I was clad at that time in what I called my “hippy phase”, ex-RAF great coat which reached all the way down to the heels of my three inch platform boots, a great coat that smelled of mildew, indeed when I found it upstairs stuffed into a damp corner of the Army and Navy Stores on Briggate it was indeed black with mildew but I wanted a grey one just like it and not the khaki ex-Army great coats that were on proper display so I took the smelly damp ex-RAF great coat home and asked my mother to wash the smell out of it and despite putting it through the twin tub seven or eight times it always smelled of neglect, people would stare as I walked past wondering at how young tramps were getting these days.
So we stood in Greenwoods in the County Arcade, that bastion of traditional mens outfitters that retailed mens clothing in a way that is best described to todays young people as the Argos of its time for you could not handle any of the clothing in Greenwoods until a man had brought it to you, you stood at a counter and described to him what you wanted and he went and fetched two or three for you to look at on top of the counter, I suppose their shoplifting incidents were minimal but it wasn’t very interactive.
“Yes young sir, what can I interest you in this evening ?” the old man asked, not wishing to engage Patrick the Crombie Boy in conversation, preferring instead to speak to the scruffy looking one who smelled faintly of old tramp.
“Why my man, we wish to peruse your finest silk paisley patterned scarves, for my friend here is considered the purchase of such an item” I explained and the old man looked at us in a quizzical fashion, then deciding that there was nothing left on display that was worth nicking he bent down under the counter and removed a drawer full of silk paisley patterned scarves.
It was the trend that I am proud to have started, well, when I say trend, I mean the only followers were me and Patrick and I only wore my silk Paisley patterned scarf because it was my dads and I’d borrowed out of his wardrobe one day and forgot to put it back, we bought an identical one from Greenwoods that evening and Patrick and I had our own fashion going, soon all of Leeds would be wearing them but we were the first and all because I’d nicked it out of my dads wardrobe.
Patrick also got himself another red ‘kerchief for his Crombie that evening in Greenwoods in the County Arcade but I’m pretty sure he never paid for it…