Saturday, 26 May 2012

Brighton then

It was quite by accident that you got two from me yesterday - something to do with heat stroke, perhaps - but I'll make amends today by just giving you one story linked to today's photograph.  You might recall me mentioning that our friends Chris and Mrs Chris came round for coffee during the week.  In honour of their visit I decided to discard my usual tatty dog-walking attire and drew from the wardrobe a pair of smartly creased (in the right places) trousers I had not worn since last summer.  Obviously the fairly recent rains had got to them as they had shrunk rather alarmingly and were just a tad tight around the waist so next day I reluctantly decided they were no longer for this world - at least, no longer for me.  There is still life left in them so they may well end up in a charity shop.  But I needed replacement strides so I took me off (complete with trusty camera) to catch the bus into town.

Now, I have reached that stage in life where there is more to look back on than to look forward to, when memories come more frequently than dreams.  Those memories can creep up on one at odd times and certainly catch me unawares.  It happened on Thursday.  I got off the bus at Churchill Square and looked around me.  I was instantly transported to the mid-1950s and my first ever visit to the gaudy town of Brighton with its rather seamy reputation.  (Keith Waterhouse famously described Brighton as a town that looked as though it was helping the police with their enquiries - but that's another story.)

My father was then coming to the end of his 22-years' service in the Royal Navy and had been offered a job in the Civil Service based in Brighton - well, Hove, actually (and that's another story!).  We - my parents, my brother and I - drove down for the day during the school Easter holidays.  We went first to the outlying suburb of Woodingdean.  The name had attracted my mother and she rather thought she might like to live there.  Bungalow town and a long way out.  It still is.  We headed for the town centre.

[Another paranthetical explanation is called for.  My father's strategy when driving into a new town to visit the town centre was to head in what he thought was the right direction and park the car when we seemed to be nearly there.  We would then proceed on foot, seeking directions from passers-by as necessary.  This did sometimes lead to problems, like the day we went to Bristol.  He parked by a red-brick cigarette factory.  Half an hour later we had decided we were never going to reach the centre of the city and wanted to catch a bus back to the car.  Having found a bus going the right way, he asked to be put off by the cigarette factory.  "Which one?"  "W H Wills."  "They've got three.  Which one?"  "The red brick one."  "They all are."]

Asking a lady for directions to the shops, she enquired which shops we wanted.  "London Road, St James's Street or Western Road?"  It was decided we wanted Western Road and we set off again.  We reached Queen's Road leading downhill past the Clock Tower into West Street and on to the sea.  Shops!  Big shops.  Bigger than we were used to, but not all that many of them.  But just wait a minute.  Turn right at the Clock Tower into Western Road and, "Wow!"

We wandered along until we came to something new, something we had never seen before.  It was a large (for those days) shop selling food stuffs.  Back then, our experience of food shopping was limited to the local shops like the grocer, the greengrocer, the baker, the butcher and so on.  Apart from just a couple of others in the High Street - the International Stores and J Sainsbury.  Both of these were national chains (as was Maypole but I don't think Mum used them very often).  At Sainsbury's one would queue at one counter for bacon, move to another counter and another queue for butter and a third for cheese and so on.  At the International a shop assistant behind the counter would collect the items one ask for - tea, sugar, coffee etc.  In both shops one presented ones string bag or wicker basket in which the purchases would be placed for one to carry home.

What we had here was a supermarket!  People picked up a wire basket on their way into the store and walked the aisles selecting their goods.  There were (I think) five tills just inside the window.  Mum decided to pop in but Dad, my brother and I waited outside.  Men did, in those days.  Dad was fascinated by the whole concept and stood adding the takings t one of the tills (mental arithmetic was one of his strengths).

"Good heavens!" he proclaimed.  "That till alone could take as much as £75 in a day!"

The shop is no longer there and Western Road has been changed almost out of all recognition since that day.  But one thing remains the same.  On that 1950s day I was staggered by the number of red buses that passed along the road.  I had never seen so many buses together before - except in Oxford Street in London.  Even today it can sometimes be difficult to see the shops between the buses.


Uncle Skip, said...

About the only time one would see that many buses around here is if they went to the transit hub.

Buck said...

Ah, you've managed to fire off more long-dormant synapses for me. I was but eight years old when my father was posted to London in the way-back and was most amazed the first time we went shopping in the High Street in Southfields. Amazed, because we had to go to SO many little shops to get the things on my Mom's shopping list. She kept saying "Isn't this FUN!" and I don't think my father thought it was all THAT much fun. Me? I was just taking in all "the new." And different.