Shopping Without Shops

There is speak in these internet days that the high street shop may have its days numbered such is the proportion of us using virtual shops that don’t even require you to get off your arse to buy things, except if you’re out when the postman arrives and you’ve to go to the sorting office to collect your parcel, which sort of takes all of the fun out of shopping from your chair in the first place.

And the youth of today firmly believe that this is their brave new world of shopping from your chair, a world of shopping without leaving the house except to pick up the parcel fromt he sorting office because you forgot that you’d ordered something and anyway you always had to go out this morning and it always gets delivered on the one bloody day that you have to go somewhere.

But they would be wrong in their misguided belief, for in the 1970s we too had shopping from your chair, or at least we did at 31 Wrenbury Avenue for 31 Wrenbury Avenue was where my father ran his dodgy emporium of goods that you were never allowed to ask where they’d come from.

My father could sell anything to anyone and he could sell you things that, up until that minute, you had never realised that you desperately needed those things. Things like a nice plum coloured blazer with eight inch lapels and six brass buttons in a double breasted style, he shifted a dozen of those in various sizes when Cyril over the road “found” them after a show one weekend.

Cyril over the road was one of my fathers suppliers of goods that you were never allowed to ask where they’d come from, he lived over the road from us, hence the name “Cyril over the road” and in his job as a very senior manager of a Leeds clothing manufacturer he had access to mannequin clothing, that is the clothing which their designers had made up for the fashion shows to show to buyers of large department stores ready for manufacture and retail next year, and here’s the thing that you never thought of – all shop mannequins are the same size and none of them have pockets in their clothes.

I know this because for a few brief years in the early 1970s I was exactly the same size as a fashion mannequin and so seizing his chance to make a few bob off my father Cyril over the road would regularly bring home suits, trousers and all manner of gentlemens attire that had just been shown to buyers for next years stock and in doing so he accidentally made me the trendiest kid in the district for when I walked down the street to the bus stop in a pair of Prince of Wales check Oxford Bags exactly six months before they would be available in the shops, people would point and say, “Look, there goes that trendy kid again ahead of his time, we’ll all be wearing Prince of Wales check Oxford Bags in six months time, you mark my words” and indeed they did, except that they always had pockets in their trousers and mine mannequin ones never did so I had to stuff my hankie up a shirt sleeve like a girl.

Cyril over the road turned up one evening with the dozen plum coloured double breasted blazers and asked my father if he thought “he could shift them” which of course was nothing of a challenge to a born salesman like my father, he shifted them all by the end of the week, every one of them to every sales manager in every region of the country from the company he worked for, including the sales director who was sold the line that this beautiful plum coloured blazer with eight inch lapels and six brass buttons in a double breasted style was a one-off, a “special” made only for exhibition and never to be put into production, it was a bespoke plum blazer and there would be no-one else wearing such a thing in the world, ever.

The sales director paid a top premium for such a beautiful blazer and right smart he looked in it too with his shirt with unfeasibly large collar and a kipper tie all in clashing colours, until they all turned up at the next sales meeting wearing the same blazers, my father had to give some money back for that little faux-pas.

Bennett was another of my fathers suppliers and his delivery slot was Sunday evening. Bennetts supply routes were myriad and because you were never allowed to ask how he came by the stuff that he dropped off at our house every Sunday evening we never discovered where any of it came from other than the word “Burtons” which seemed to be sewn on the inside of lots of the things that he dropped off, suffice to say that Bennett knew the security guards at the largest clothing factory in Europe which coincidentally was located in our fair city and, well, some of the stuff that Bennett dropped off at our house every Sunday evening had Burtons labels in it, I’m saying no more.

He once came into the house with a brown knitted mens cardigan in that 1970s style and asked me if I’d like one like it, in fact this very one, I politely declined as it looked rubbish and far too much like the sort of thing that an old man would wear, but then he unbuttoned the cardigan buttons to reveal underneath a v-necked sweater of exactly the same brown wool and declared that “This is next autumns fashions, cardigans with matching jumpers underneath” and I gasped for I had never seen any such thing anywhere, who would have thought of the concept of wearing a cardigan, with a jumper underneath, and both in the same knitted style ?

I had to have such a thing of course, why no-one else in the Woodman in Headingley would have such a thing and I’d once again be “The Face” the “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, why everyone would approach me, feel the quality of the wool and marvel at my matching jumper underneath and ask “But where can a person buy this incredible clobber from ?” and I’d reply “I am sorry my friend, for you cannot buy this incredible clobber anywhere for at least six more months yet, but I may know a man who may be able to source another one, for a premium of course” and in doing so I would make my fortune.

It was later on that evening as I entered my bedroom to gaze lovingly again at my cardigan and sweater combo that I smelled a very strong smell of something burning, the sort of smell that sets the animal instincts jangling and initiates the flee reflex in a person, I dashed back into the living room and informed the family that the house must be on fire for my bedroom absolutely reeked of burning, its a sort of burning smell that is nothing like cigarette smoke, its a genuine burning house smell, wood burning, tar burning, carpets burning, an awful clinging smell that is acrid and damp and could come from the very pits of hell itself.

My father gathered up a bowl of water from the kitchen and dashed with me back to my bedroom but though the smell was even stronger now we could find no source of fire until my father, who’s sense of smell was always incredible (though he did have a large nose to assist him) detected that the source of the awful burning tar pit smell was my beautiful cardigan and sweater combo – we threw it out of the bedroom window and there it lay for days on top of the coal bunker inviting lots of neighbours to come around and inform us that there was a horrible burning smell coming somewhere from our garden and had we set fire to the compost heap or something ?

My father interrogated Bennett the following Sunday until eventually he admitted to having salvaged some fire damaged stock from a warehouse that had had an unfortunate incident just the other week with a can of petroleum and the close proximity of a match, apparently, but I should consider myself lucky for the fire brigade had said that the soaked box that my cardigan and sweater combo had come out of was the only one that hadn’t suffered actual flame damage or presumably Bennett would have been flogging a cardigan and sweater combo with half an arm shriveled up.




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