Low Fell Shopping 1970’s Style

“Just give me the money next time you’re in.” 

A quote I’ve been in receipt of twice in the last fortnight. The amiable utterances bestowed by owners of two local businesses when experiencing brief card payment issues, when I’d no alternative means of payment.

The sums on both occasions, around £5, not vast, however the act itself indicative of why these small local shops must be preserved. Procuring, in my opinion, goods from these small businessmen ordinarily rewarding we customers with higher quality products. delivered with a personal touch and trust.

Yeah, they might cost a bit more than megastores who’re able to fulfil the most niche of patrons requirements. But is the personal trust bequeathed to me twice in two weeks, because they knew me as a regular customer, not worth the supplementary few bob?

Of course it’s everyones own choice. Personally, though, I’d suggest receipt of excellent customer service is (if finances allow) well worth the ancillary cost. Especially when the calibre of the fare procured is top notch.

In middle-age, I fondly remember out of town shopping of the later 1960’s/early 1970’s. This ordinarily a decent walk from my family home on Chowdene estate, along the length of Low Fell’s Durham Road.

A challenging walk for my siblings and me during fledgling years. The toughest bit the initial climb up the unforgiving southern part of Cromer Avenue. A street whose steep incline I oft pondered was a suitable training venue for British mountaineer Chris Bonnington prior to Everest expeditions.

However, scaling Cromer Avenue wasn’t the worst part of the shopping experience for my siblings and me. That played out when mum licked her hanky and cleaned our faces when failing to reach the cleanliness standards her strict regime demanded.

This unwanted episode generally undertaken with an arm in a vice like maternal grip to prevent my brother Ian, sister Helen and my escape. Although a slender woman, mater’s grip in those days was a force of nature.

The strength borne from wrestling alligators in Roundhay Park, Leeds, during her childhood, rendering any hope her young offspring had from escaping her clutches futile.

When the sojourn along Low Fell eventually reached Durham Road, we’d wander past the Low Fell library, cross the top of Chowdene Bank, and ordinarily stop first at the Post Office. Here mater would cash her family allowance in preparation for the upcoming purchase of comestibles.

Next stop was Bert’s Pie shop, twenty yards north of the Post Office, on Durham Road. My memories are a little vague as to the exact product Mrs Strachan (Maggie) would habitual buy at this south Gateshead establishment. However, I’d venture it’d have been aa pie of some sort!…… Unless it was a pasty……. Or a sausage roll……. Or……. well you get my point!

Aussie Meat Pie and Sauce
A pie similar to what Bert made!

Next stop, might be a wander over Durham Road where Maggie would demand one of James Thows barbers furnish our Ian and me with the arbitrary “Give their hair a right good cut!” This instruction of good by the Leeds lass meaning to cut lots of hair off, not a demand he avoided cutting her offsprings hair poorly!….. I think, anyhow!!

If it wasn’t haircut week we’d stay on the same side of Durham Road, where mum would allow us to stare at the jars of loose boiled sweets in the window of Reeds confectioners. If we were really good, she also allowed us to witness other Low Fell kids eat the sweets they’d just bought in Reeds.

After growing tired of responding “No you can’t!” at several minutes of her children asking “Can we half a quarter of Bon Bons, mum?”, she’d lead us with vice like grip further north along Low Fell.

Next stop a weekly filling at Mr Davidson’s dentists, who resided above a shop next to the footbridge across Durham Road. Maggie figured that having a dental restoration every seven days, whether we needed one or not, was character building. This sadism going on to inspire author William Goldman to write the book Marathon Man, in 1974.

With her offspring’s mouths swollen and weeping saliva, mum would then lead us across the aforementioned footbridge to the butchers, whose name escapes me, to purchase the main course for evening dinner. This generally turned out to be sausages, mince or bacon….. If we were lucky Ian, Helen and me were even allowed some!

To be honest, though, with my mum’s cooking and serving techniques the luck was probably not being allowed a visit to the Strachan evening smorgasbord. Maggie’s the only person I’ve every met who fries soup, which when brown she serves to the table in a basket!!

After leaving the butchers, we’d head south along Durham Road. The return journey habitually including my mum idiosyncratically curtseying outside of the Wesleylian church, buying herself a quarter of Bon Bons, prior to returning to our Dorchester Gardens home on the Chowdene estate.

Ah!!….. The good old days!!

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