There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.
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Memories of the 1960s: Issue IV – Shopping
My first memories of shopping are not in my birth-town of Chesham but in Trewins, a large department store in nearby Watford. I remember, one snowy, cold December day, going with my mum and another women to Trewins and persuading her to buy me a plastic, friction-drive Comet jet airliner. I broke one of the tail-planes off it quite quickly but it was a treasured toy for many years, being the first that I could actually remember buying. I also remember buying a white, toy Ford Galaxy and later a cattle lorry. I also remember a crying a lot in cafeteria, probably because I was fussy about what I ate in those days.
Most of my memories of shopping after this are in Chesham. Of course, one of my favourites was the toy shop. It was called Littens (presumably owned by Mr Litten) and supplied nursery furniture as well as toys. The girls toys were on the left of the long shop and the boys, to the right. There was a step to a higher level, about half way through the shop, which always made me feel that I was ascending to paradise. The man serving always seemed to be jolly, as well he might, catering for ecstatic customers every day. All the toy cars were displayed on top of their boxes, each in its own tiny alcove within a giant unit which stretched most of the way to the ceiling. Or at least, that’s how I remember it! I don’t remember the shop stocking plastic kits; I think you had to go to Woolworths for that.
Woolworths was where I bought my first record. I seem to remember my dad persuading me that I was old enough to buy a record and convincing me that Two Little Boys, by Rolf Harris, was the single to buy. I rememer it being 45p in new money but that may be wrong. Later, I bought my first album there, Big war Movie Themes by Ron Goodwyn. Later, a dedicated modelling shop opened on the high street, near the bicycle shop, and I remember a friend and I nicking parts discretely from boxes when we ran out of parts for our own kits or found that parts were missing. In our defense, Airfix did have a complaints slip, on which you could order missing parts, but they rarely answered and, if they did, it could be years later.
The bicycle shop was another mecca for kids. I had a second-hand Dawes Dapper for many years. It was so heavy that I thought the frame was made of iron! I used it to jump over ramps, made by my neighbours, and once managed to hit a wall before landing, thus bending the frame. Shortly after this, I left it on the driveway. Somehow, my dad managed to reverse over it in our Austin Maxi. The crossbar of the bike broke in two. Of course, I was blamed! My dad managed to effect a temporary repair by tightening a jubilee clip around the break. But when I was riding up a steep hill, it came apart! I actually had to hold the bike together with my hand to reach my friend’s house and, even then, the bike was flexing with every pedal stroke! This must have looked hilarious to any observer.
It was time for a new bike. At precisely this time, a batch of flashy, 10-gear bikes, designed for Macy’s in New York, somehow got diverted to UK stores. A friend of mine had one and that was it; I had to have one. They were silver, with red, white and blue stripes along the side and were eminently desirable. I have since learned that they were the first bikes with a special new, thin-steel frame so they are collectible. But my dad was having none of it. The Raleigh alternatives seemed good enough to him. He even offered to buy me their 10-gear offering. I held out for almost a year before he succumbed. I understand that he sold something of his to buy the bike. How I loved that bike!
One curiosity in Chesham was a device in Clarks shoe shop. This was at the height of Doctor Who mania and the thing reminded me of a truncated Dalek. Basically it measured your foot size. You climbed some steps on to a flat platform and held on to a chrome railing, while a beam of light measured your feet. Wow! I just did a search and found this image. I don’t think it’s identical to the one in our shop but very similar. Apparently, the beam was of fluorescent light and the device was quite dangerous.
Once each year, we would visit Hamleys Toy shop in Regent street. It was the biggest toy shop in the country but, since many others will have documented its magnificence, I hardly need mention how opulent it was!
Before I come to my final, big memory, I must just mention Darvells, the bakers. When I lived in Chesham, this was at the corner of the Broad Street and Eskdale Avenue. I used to walk down the long hill to the corner when mum needed fresh bread. The bread would be hot, fresh and taste like heaven. On my way home, I would take the bread out of its paper bag and scoop bits of bread from the underneath with my finger. Incredibly, I hoped that the rest of the family would not notice that half the inside of the bread was missing!
So we come to my last childhood memory of shopping. Chesham, being a rural town, has plenty of horses and so needs a saddler’s shop. Cox the Saddler was the most magical shop in Chesham for me. In Memories of the 1960s: Issue I, I talked about my love of angling (fresh-water fishing) and my first fishing rod. This was a blue, solid, carbon-fibre rod of about 6 feet in length and came from Cox the Saddler. As you entered through the low door of the medieval, oak-framed building, you were assailed by the pungent odour of fresh leather. Saddles, riding equipment, dog collars, portmanteaux bags and fancy leather goods were everywhere but, at the back of the shop, was the angling section. Rows upon rows of gleaming rods tickled the ceiling with their tips. To the side were landing nets, keep nets and cases of floats. You could buy everything you wanted.
Desmond Cox, a prodigiously tall, white-hairded and avuncular man, ran the shop. He happened to live at Number Four, the last house in our little road, so I knew him personally. He was an incredibly nice man and every Christmas, I would have a small present from him, under the tree, usually filled with a few floats and other angling accessories. In the shop, he always tried to make time from me and I must surely have been one of his most loyal customers. At the back of the shop. one could always find Wilfred, Desmond’s son. He always wore a bowler hat and when I wanted a pint of maggots, he would disappear into the back yard and return with them. He too always had time for a chat and I came to trust both men completely. I will never forget the happy times I spent in that shop.