On the making life bearable trips that they took into Colchester, they would take us along if we needed new shoes or such like for school. We thought that it would be quite good missing school but it was terrible. They spent hours and hours in the shops, or it seemed to us, and there weren't that many open but what were they went in. We had to sit still and try on all these shoes, and every time the shopkeeper brought a shoe to try, I had taken off the wrong shoe so that in the end every time we went into anouther shop and I had to sit down I took off both feet automatically.
The one shop we didn't mind going in was the Boots the chemists. It was always interesting in Boots for sometimes they had sweets. You had to be there just about as the doors opened or they would be gone. They were locally made and although they were sweets they were usually honey based and they were good and sticky.
We'd go to Sainsbury's the grocers where the marble counters ran either side of the shop door to the back of the store. Mum and aunt would walk the length of the store looking over people's shoulders to see what coupons were buying what.
You didn't get very much meat for a coupon so you would save them up hoping for something to appear in the shops, like Irish sausages or corned beef. Uncle could sometimes get a small cut of meat from a farmer friend, but now it was war everybody wanted to befriend the farmer, and although uncle had the animals in the back garden you still wanted to get full benefit from the coupons that you had. People didn't queue for vegetables or cheese or bread, well sometimes you did, but there was always a queue for meat. It was corned beef today, released from a government store and cheddar cheese from Cheddar.
After Sainsbury's it was down to Maypole grocers to see what they had, and there was a line along the pavement and we didn't wait, instead on to Timothy Whites for mouse traps. Auntie had seen a mouse down in the cellar. A door near the stove in the kitchen led down steep steps which we were not allowed down.
After all of that, if they could afford it, we had tea in the Buffet at Colchester Station which was full of soldiers and kit bags and workers and umbrella's. There wasn't much on offer. Horrible little sandwiches with a sliver of cucumber or fish paste, of which the top bread slice was curled and dry. The white haired lady from the WVS hiding behind the glass case wanted to know:
"Did the little chaps want sandwiches? I do have some cake that I save." Home made and moist. She was nicer than I realised.
What we found out to ask for after a few trips was cake and lemonade that came from a bottle with a wired stopper. Meant that it was fizzy. The milkman in London delivered evaporated milk in these glass bottle with the white ceramic stopper spring wired. Sometimes in the cafe we could get stone bottles of ginger beer.
When we got wised up to these shopping trips of endless shops, we started trying to go with uncle John if he went to Colchester Station to do things. Going to the station was the only time that the ladies got a lift down and sometimes back, so that they planned them for when he had to go.
"Got to go to the office on Thursday to pick up the routing sheets. Going first thing." He would say at tea.
"Do we need anything?" Aunt would ask mum.
"Mmm. We are nearly out of soap and flour is getting low." Aunt would look in the flour bin.
"That's it then."
We would drive down St Botolph Street, the back way to the station and uncle would take us into the Stationmaster's office to get his papers. We always got on well with Mr Longmuir, the Master, but uncle wouldn't let us play around the station when he was working as he said that he did not want to know what mischief we would get up to or other people would get us into!
On the days that uncle could drive them back home, mum and auntie contrived to get their hair done, and if his business was over in a short space of time, he would drive up to the hairdressers and we would wait for them.
There was this line of old brown hairdryers with women sitting under them with their heads inside the domes and their hair covered in twists of coloured paper.
The smell was deadly.
They looked like something from Flash Gordon. They didn't seem to mind; just sat there dozing or knitting or shouting at each other.
After about ten minutes, uncle usually found an excuse to leave and not come back until the torture was finished. Mum's hair, which was all tight curls and looked like it had come out of a tin, smelt bad for days. Aunt had hers dyed a bright reddish colour and the smell lasted for weeks.