Sunday, April 11, 2010

Couscous and Messages

Yesterday (Saturday) I went grocery shopping. This would have to be one of my most unfavourite things to do.  I really resent spending good money on trivialities ... like food.

Anyway, as I was struggling up the aisle with the stupid shopping trolley (let me just say here that I firmly believe that shopping trolleys were invented by men for the sole purpose of crippling the whole of womankind), I overheard a young teenager talking on his mobile phone:

"I've found the couscous," he roared. "Yeah I've found it! ...  Yeah, yeah ... d'ya want anything to go with the couscous?" .... Well ... it might be a bit bland on it's own..."

This one-sided conversation replayed itself in my mind over and over during the course of the day and gave me much pause for thought.

I mean ... who had any inkling that young teenage boys (whose voices are still rising and falling at the whim of their hormones) were au fait with words like "bland" ... and ... "couscous", for heavens sake. Hell's bells, I only discovered couscous myself, five minutes ago.

This got me thinking again about how things were when I was a child.

Children in 1950s suburban Australia did something called "the messages". This activity took place after school. It entailed hopping on your bike ... if you were lucky enough to have one ... otherwise you took something called "Shank's pony" ... and heading off to the corner shop, clutching a coin purse, a string-bag and a list written on the back of an envelope  in your hot, sweaty paw.

This is a bit like what a string bag looked like back then.

The corner shop ... usually called "the grocer" ... stocked all manner of food items and they were all stored on shelves behind the counter ... no impulse buying in those days. You handed your list to the Grocer or maybe the Grocer's wife, and stood and waited while your string-bag was packed with the things on the list. And ... you can bet your sweet bippy that couscous wouldn't have been in there. 

Your after school shopping list usually contained things like a packet of Nurses Cornflour or a half a pound of brown sugar, or maybe even a half a dozen eggs, because the chooks had gone off the lay. The sugar would be scooped out of a huge container and skillfully poured into a brown paper bag, the top of which would be neatly folded over a couple of times and snappily sealed with sticky-tape. The eggs would be individually wrapped in several layers of newspaper, so that they wouldn't break as they were carried home in the string-bag, swinging from the handlebars of your bike.

However, there were some things you were rarely sent to the corner shop for such as bread and milk, because these were delivered right to your doorstep every week-day. 

Our grocery shop was called ... if I'm remembering correctly ... Tyson's ... and was about a kilometre and a half from our house. If you lost your list or forgot what you had to get, you had to go back home and be reminded ... no mobile phones, of course. Heavens, we didn't even have a landline back then.

I was in Adelaide late last year and went to visit some of the spots I remembered from my childhood.

This is how Tyson's looks today. Alas, no longer a corner shop ... it of course, got swallowed up in the maw of the gigantic supermarket conglomerates which began making their presence felt in Australia in the early 1960s

Such a quaint building. To think that it was once a  thriving little business, run by people who knew their customers by name, and who probably prided themselves in personalised, efficient service. 

And ... all without a single bone-jarring, muscle-twisting shopping trolley in sight!

Sigh ... It does make me yearn for the good old days.


  1. Remember when mum would make us take the shopping trolley and we would squirm with embarrassment. String bags always seemed to have whole in them and the bike tyres were always flat. I vividly remember the eggs being wrapped in newspaper. Gawd we're old!

  2. I meant to write hole. give my spelling a big red cross Miss.