Going with Grandma to the grocer’s shop

Tuesday 23rd August   

Going with Grandma to the grocer’s always seemed an adventure.  Maybe because I was at school most of the time, so I only accompanied her a few times a year.  And do I hear you saying to yourselves “What is so remarkable about going to a grocer’s?”  Well, this was way before the advent of Supermarkets, and looking back one wonders how on earth we all managed without them.  Let me set the scene for you.  Ray and sons was in Putney High Street, and I am sure that Ray was the surname; today’s familiarity of shop names was unheard of in the mid fifties.  The shop was really quite large, but was arranged totally differently from today’s serried aisles straining with everything under the son.  Ray’s sold food only, and not even fresh vegetables, you got those in the greengrocers, or meat, which was only available at the butchers. Every high street had a full complement of food shops; one would never have imagined them all under one roof.  Despite this the shop was really quite large, cavernous, I seem to remember. Everything was in different sections; teas, cheese, bacon and tinned goods all had their departments. Grandma would present a list to the floor manager, who would walk around the shop parcelling out Grandma’s orders.  Grandma would be sitting in a high backed wicker chair to one side, occasionally being called over to adjudicate on the size or quality of the wedge of cheddar that was cut for her with a cheese-wire.  The tea was made up to her own blend – two parts Ceylon and one of Earl Grey, stirred and poured into a tea block, where a small sheet of brown paper had been folded to make a paper box for the leaves to be poured into, and sellotaped over to seal it.  The bacon was sliced to her preferred thickness, and weighed in front of her. Each department would scribble sales dockets and pop them into little cages that were transported by some sort of pulley system up the walls and across the ceiling on a network of wires to the cashier’s office where the bill would be totted up.  A small army of shop assistants had beavered away to prepare her weekly order.  The bill paid we would head for home and a small lad would peddle furiously past us, (not forgetting to doff his cap) with our groceries in a cardboard box balanced in a frame in front of the handlebars, as he wibble-wobbled his way to our house, where we would find the box on our doorstep.

The first supermarket opened on the High street sometime in the early sixties. I can remember the excitement of actually pushing your own trolley around the store; picking your own goods; loading it onto the conveyor belt, and carrying it home yourself. Rays closed down a few months later, of course.