MEMORIES OF A SHOP ASSISTANT - Nettie Chisholm
I started work in 1934 with Mr Whitelaw the Grocer in the High
Street. It was very different from the supermarkets of today.
We knew all our customers by name and, of course, had time to
listen to all the gossip and family history.
In those days there were no malt whiskies on the shelf. Johnny
Walker, White Horse and Bell's were the brands stocked and sold
at 12/6d per bottle (62 1/2 p). Port Wine and Sherry was 4/6d
and 3/6d. It was all bottled ale: Fowler's Wee Heavies or dumps,
as they were named, and screwlop ale was 8d per bottle. The ale
was delivered by horse drawn lorry' from Fowler's by Mr D Fraser
and if that poor horse moved, some choice words came forth.
Woodbine cigarettes were sold at 2d per packet of five. Capstan
and Player's l/- per packet (5p). Thick black pipe tobacco was
8d per ounce and had to be cut off the roll by a very sharp blade.
There were different days for weighing out sugar into one and
two pound strong brown paper bags. All lentils, barley etc were
weighed out too. although we were asked sometimes for a pennyworth
of barley and peas to make the soup.
Cheddar cheese came wrapped in cheesecloth like gauze and had
to be stripped and then cut into three sections with the cheese
wire and then it was ready to be cut into whatever amount the
customer wanted. It was only cut as required so was always fresh.
Bacon and cold meats also were sliced as required. No 5 on the
machine for bacon and No 3 for boiled ham or No 2 if they wanted
it to go farther!
We got in bulk whisky which was sold in 1/2 gills or 1/4 gills
or nips, as it was asked for. They had to supply their own bottles
for that. There was a day for bottling cheaper wine into bottles
and half bottles. It was siphoned into the bottles and then corked.
I used to make up bags of brown sugar and nuts for the children
buying to take into the matince at the Picture House next door
to the shop. In these days the shop closed at 9pm on a Saturday
and 7pm weekdays, half day closing on Thursdays. We displayed
a Picture House bill so had a free pass to the pictures.
We took back empty beer bottles and jam jars and paid out one
penny for each one received. It was big business the day after
New Year's Day, buying back the bottles!
Time went on. Mr Whitelaw died suddenly and Mrs Whitelaw took
over and then Jean came into the shop. We were into the war years,
black-outs, food rationing and call up which meant Jean going
into the ATS. Ration books were a headache but everyone got their
equal share of butter, cheese. bacon, sugar and one egg.
When oranges, bananas or bottles of sauce came in. a queue appeared
in minutes. I remember the queue that formed on Hogmanay for whisky,
the quota being one gill per customer. In spite of shortages,
queues and bad news, everyone kept happy enough.
Gradually, over the years, life came back to normal. Jean was
demobbed and came back into the shop which she ran until she sold
it. I went back into the shop in 1970 after an absence of fifteen
years and how trade had changed. Most of the goods were prepacked,
whisky was sold by the bottle. If any customer had bought a bottle
in 1934 I would have thought they really were the folk with the
Gone arc the days of the message boy on his bicycle delivering
bread and a bag of sugar or me running along to the Salt Works
with a phone message from the Railway Station to say that a wagon
of rock salt had just come in, or going round to the Plumber's
to say that there was a burst pipe at Dolphingston Farm. But my
working days were truly happy, employed by a most respected family
in Prestonpans and Jean is still a friend to all.
I now shop at the local supermarket where you are just the next
person in the queue. Cheese. once wrapped in cloth, is today sold
in plastic and a packet ofPersil now costs what a man was lucky
to get in his pay packet to keep his family for a week - in the
days that I remember as a shop assistant.