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Another Christmas piece.

A Shopkeepers Christmas

My parents kept a corner shop on the Parkfield Road (on the corner with Windsor Road. It was mainly vegetables and fruit, with eggs, poultry and a few flowers. We didn’t have the selection you get in the supermarkets today, having to keep mainly to whatever was in season, plus a few imports, such as oranges and bananas.
Once in a while dad would come back from market with something that was very unusual, like a bundle of asparagus, which only mom knew how to cook. This was then displayed for a day, before we enjoyed our little treat.
In the early days money was tight and we had a few unusual sidelines. Until the mixamatosis we sold rabbits and mom had quite a nice little sideline in selling the skins, which she deftly removed from the carcasses on behalf of customers, to a dealer.

One year Dad decided to sell paraffin and duly had a 200 gallon tank installed next to the shed at the top of the yard. Every day, before he left for work at the Lanesfield GPO Depot, he and mom would fill gallon and five gallon containers, then carry them down the yard to be stored in our verandah until needed. When a customer wanted paraffin they would bring a container which we then carried into the verandah and filled from our cans.

On Friday nights, dad would load the van (actually an ex-army jeep) and we would visit customers at home to deliver their weekly requirements. That vehicle was just about the coldest I have ever sat in. While dad did his business, I waited in the passenger seat huddled under my warmest clothing and trying to escape the chill winter winds that blew in via the open canvas back.
One year dad caught a cold, which turned to bronchitis (as it often did with him) and we called into the doctor’s surgery on our way back home. The doctor, Doctor Kemp, told dad to go home and take a double port and brandy and get to bed. It worked, if only doctor’s gave out such prescriptions today.

Every day from Monday to Saturday the shop was open from before 8 am until 10 pm and even on Sundays we opened for a few hours in the morning and teatime. Our one complete guaranteed day off was Christmas Day and even then a few customers asked us if we would open for frozen foods in the morning and ice cream to have with their teas in the afternoon. Many of them didn’t have fridges in those days, but mom and dad felt that, having worked most of the other days in the year, just taking the odd Bank Holiday, they should have one day off.

We finally gave up the pink paraffin business when one Christmas we were seated at our dining table, which was next to the living room window, about to enjoy our meal of a freshly roasted chicken with vegetables, roast potatoes, stuffing and ‘pigs in blankets’, all with a good giblet gravy. Dad was just about to take the first forkfull of his well-earned dinner when he looked up. There was a group of customers carrying their paraffin cans walking through our open back gates and down the path to our back door, expecting to be served.

There were about eight of them and I swear they each had a different type of vessel to carry the oil home in, including the actual tanks from their heaters, which it was illegal for us to fill. Our shop was open seven days a week and for long hours, but they still expected to be served on our one guaranteed day off in the year.

Having been practically non-stop in the shop all day for the previous two days and just about to enjoy a ‘slap up’ family meal of chicken and all the trimmings for once, my parents were less than pleased. The potential customers were given a short talk on the pleasures of shopkeeping and turned away, like the foolish virgins in the parable, to find another source of oil

© Eileen Ward Birch