Running an Errand

Its an unavoidable  part of childhood, or at least it used to be, not sure now in this new age of keeping your children within arms length at all times whether or not mothers (in the main, or maybe thats changed now too) send their kinder to “run an errand” being as an inexorable part of “running an errand” means that said kinder will have to venture beyond arms length of the parent in order to accomplish the task.

In the days of my particular youth, the 1960s for example, the phrase “run an errand” was a toxic phrase to most of us for the very last thing you ever wanted to do as a child, or worse, as a youth, was to “run an errand” for your mother, I say Mother because the museum of recollections has not thrown up one single example of my father asking me to run and errand, I don;t know whether he ever had any errands to run and didn’t want to pester me, or ran all of his own errands, or just got my mother to middle manage the running of the household errands, whatever, my father never used the toxic phrase, not even once.

So it would be my mother who, spying us sitting in front of a TV set watching “Robinson Crusoe” or “Why Don’t You…” on our school holidays would deem this to be a disgraceful use of our time and energy and instead call us into the kitchen with “Come here, I want you to run an errand…” a phrase that would cause the heart to sink into despair at every mention.

It was partly my fault of course, for years I had begged and beseeched my mother to buy me a bike, any bike would do, just a bike would be a good start, an excellent bike would be a drop-handlebar Raleigh sports bike in British Racing Green with three, count them, three Sturmey Archer gears just like the one that Stuart Ackroyd had, but any old bike would do for starters – then when she bought me a second hand brown bike with no gears and those old fashioned wrap-around handlebars, a bike so unlike Stuart Ackroyds Raleigh sports bike as to hardly be a bike at all, I nagged her some more for a better bike, one that I wouldn’t be totally embarrassed to ride abroad on the streets in our locality, as I was.

So she bought me a brand new bike out of the catalogue on the strength of my promise that I would run any errand she liked for many, many years to come, if only she’d buy me a new bike, she did, and then she started to cash in on that promise, for years to come.

“Oh it was different when you wanted a bike” she’d say as I huffed and puffed about having to break away from Robinson Crusoe to run an errand to the Co-op, “when you wanted a bike you said…” and I would submit to the inarguable position that indeed I had promised to run errands on my new bike for the rest of her natural life, I was till running errands for her on my bike when she finally expired from THE CANCER, my last errand being to pop down to the chemist to pick up some more morphine.

Oh, thats turned the tone down a little hasn’t it.

Where were we, ah yes, I’m 10 years old, school summer holidays, new bike, watching Robinson Crusoe on TV while outside its a bright sunny August morning as it always is on school holidays in the museum of recollections, “Come here” she cries from the kitchen, “I want you to run an errand…”

“Aw mum…” I start to reply
“Oh it was all different when you wanted a bike…” she started
“OK, ok, ok, what do you need…”

She gave me a one pound note, “Go to the chemist” she started and the film music of dread hit my brain like it does in films at times of peril, DAH-DAH-DAAA-AAAAH!!! it goes as the actors gaze in shock and awe at the camera, moment of peril, pause to gaze in shock and awe, and then I missed the rest of what she’d said.

Going to the chemist was a moment of peril for a 10 year old boy for two reasons, firstly because it was at the top, at the very top of the very highest hill around these parts and would take at least ten minutes of hard peddling and pushing up the hill to get there, and secondly because it was THE CHEMIST, and there was always the off chance that your mother would be sending you there for lady-things, the things that you weren’t supposed to talk about as a ten year old, stuff for ladies to talk about in whispers, “towels” that was one of the words I’d heard them talk about in chemists, “towels” in whispers and mimes, god forbid that your mother ever sent you to the chemist for “towels“.

“Eh?” I said by means of requesting a repeat of the orders.
“A bottle of Sally Hansons Hard As Nails” she said in exasperation at her child who never seemed to listen.
“Sally Hansons Hard As Nails ?” I repeated
“Yes” she said, “ten shillings should be enough, bring me the change”
“But what is it ?” I asked
“Never you mind” came back the stock reply

“Never you mind” was the mothers stock reply to everything in the world that did not concern a ten year old child, “Just do it and never you mind”, and so I set off for the chemist on top of the hill chanting silently to myself “Sally Hansons Hard As Nails” whatever that was.

I had to queue in the chemist, queue behind a hundred women all of whom whispered things to the chemist when it was their turn, I heard the word “towels” whispered on several occasions and the chemist would return with something in a brown paper bag, I shouldn’t be there, I was a ten year old boy feeling uncomfortable in a Chemists queue – when women ask why men do not ever go and seek medical help when they have things wrong with their plumbing or similar it is for this reason alone, its your fault ladies, you made us feel so uncomfortable when we were mere boys standing in Chemist shops having to listen to talk of “towels”.

Eventually it was my turn and despite having chanted “Sally Hansons Hard As Nails” over and over again for the last half hour, I completely forgot why I was there.

“Nails” is all I could remember, so thats what I told the Chemist as he peered down at me over the top of his half moon spectacles, “Its to do with nails” I told him.

My mother was not impressed when I returned home with two bottles of pink nail varnish.


“The Divi” was another problem on an errand, we had a Co-op just a few short streets away, a small Co-op with proper counters in it and everything, a butchers counter, a bakers counter, not self-service, you had to ask for stuff and then a man in an apron would get it for you, no I’m not a child from the Victorian age, this was in the 1960s in the Co-op, and we had a “divi”.

Or rather our mother had a divi number which you chanted back to the man behind the till when he was tapping away at the keys to get your bill, you gave him your divi number and he tapped it onto your receipt and by some miracle of the 1960s a small percentage of your bill would be credited to your Divi Account and just before christmas every year you’d get that money back in order to re-spend it back at the Co-op again for which you’d give your Divi number and another small percentage would be credited back to your Divi account again, yes I know it hardly makes sense does it, its like a snake eating its own tail giving you discount off your discount off your discount and so on until in the end the retailer is paying you to shop there, but thats how it was.

Or at least thats how it was as long as you could remember your Divi number, three pairs of numbers to remember, a six digit code, sounds easy doesn’t it, in fact it was a very easy number to remember, so easy that our Ned can still remember our mothers Divi number 50-something years on, but I can’t, I really should have asked him what it is/was before I started writing this, it went something like 62-40-21 and you sung it to yourself for the remembering, it never sunk into my brain, not even once did I get it right.

“Whats your mothers Divi number son ?” the butcher would ask me while I was running an errand for some mince
“Err, 62-40-21” I’d reply and the butcher would look puzzled
“Thats not a Divi number son” he’d say, “try again”

… and so it would go until eventually I’d hit upon a combination of numbers that WERE a Divi number and some random woman from somewhere else in the country would get the credit onto their account for my mothers 1lb of mince.


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