Chapter 9.

Mom had what seem now peculiar shopping habits.   Most things could be bought from shops a couple of hundred yards in either direction, but newspapers came from Clara Smith’s, half a mile’s walk away at the top of Evans Street.

Groceries were from Edwards’ shop round in Francis Street.   To get there, she had to pass other grocers, but that didn’t seem to count.

She probably had long-standing reasons for it all, but never told me what they were.

When she took me to the barber’s, it was at Geoff Terry’s along Dunstall Road, even further away than Clara Smith’s – though Mr. Evans, in Staveley Road, had a good reputation for hair-cutting and he did it two hundred yards from our house.

Geoff Terry’s shop was lined with sullen men who talked nothing but football.   The barber went quietly about his business, deaf-aid much in evidence, adding the occasional comment about The Match.

I gathered that none of the Wolves should ever have been allowed on a football pitch.   Cullis was a bag of nerves and Big Mac was fat.   The only ones worth watching were Bert Williams and Little Johnny Hancock.   Young Billy Wright wasn’t bad.

So terrible were the descriptions of Soccer that I’ve had an aversion to the game ever since.   Geoff Terry let Mom and me jump the queue so that his shop could be a total male reserve as quickly as possible.

At Edwards’ shop, short, plump Mrs. Edwards bustled about putting on an accent which she hoped would pass for educated but didn’t fool anybody.   The flat Staffordshire “last” would become the BBC “lahst” which was passable.   But when a customer asked for jam, Mrs. Edwards gave them jahm.   Her husband seemed to hover in the background, serving only occasionally.   I heard he once entered the shop with no clothes on and had to be put away.

A great tumbling mess of books, periodicals, sweet jars, knitting wool and general debris characterised Clara Smith’s.   The tiny shop, the converted front room of a small terrace house, always smelled of dark pipe-tobacco.   Her customers – and there was always a shopful – had to squeeze into a space about eight feet by three, pressed against heavy, glass-fronted cupboards and each other.

Clara Smith weighed out twist and liquorice sweets one after the other on the same scales without cleaning her hands and knowing that nobody would complain because they were all her friends.   And it didn’t matter in those days, anyway.

I remember bumping not-very-hard into a pile of paperback Westerns.   They bit the dust, bringing with them all sorts of assorted delights into the customers’ area.   Mom was red with embarrassment.   It took us ages to pick everything back up and balance them in their original positions.   Clara Smith kept saying it didn’t matter, but you could tell it did.

Mom used to buy my comics from Clara Smith:  Film Fun, Radio Fun and Knockout.   Sometimes, I’d have something different like The Funny Wonder, but never the Beano or Dandy because I could read them when my cousin, Johnny Muir, had finished with his.

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